ACL 2009 Day Two: Phoenix, Robyn Hitchcock and Them Crooked Vultures

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Photo by Matthew Taplinger
The quality of the grass at ACL on Charles Attal's apparent birthday blow out (if projections for "Feliz Cumpleanos" were to be believed) was nothing to sniff at. The great lawn of Zilker Park was emerald and ready to absorb the dance steps of a sold-out crowd with happy feet. The air was redolent with killing kindness, which raised the question of just how family friendly Austin's premiere outdoor music fest really is.

Phoenix showed the crowd that there's more to Paris to love than the Eiffel tower and fresh baguettes. The rousing set was part of beat-filled afternoon that was helmed by the global sounds of Thievery Corporation, raising political and economic consciousness while presenting Brazilian beats and heavy hip-hop refrains. DJ Selector mixed things up, bringing to light guest rappers to fill in the augmented "Vampire," the duo's recent collaboration with Femi Kuti, a song about toxic debt, a problem shared by first and third worlds.

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Photo by Mark C. Austin
Robyn Hitchcock and his latest band, the Venus Three featuring REM's Peter Buck on guitar and Scott McCaughey, entertained a loyal mob at the Austin Venture's stage at the foot of Rock Island. Singing of insects and space travel, and keeping things light, it was almost enough to make up for the bleed through from Rapheal Saadiq's energized set nearby. "Adventure Rocket Ship" was one of the excellent new tunes the band played.

Three cheers for seeing John Paul Jones. If ACL can book Jimmy Page for next year, festival regulars will have a chance to spot all the living members of Led Zep on stage at Zilker - not a bad coup. Them Crooked Vultures recalled 60s-era supergroups like Cream and Traffic, but brought a punk energy largely thanks to Dave Grohl's furious skin work. Per the engine-room theory that you can't rock without rhythm, JPJ and Grohl both brought the thunder. Pearl Jam better watch their backs. Undimmed by muddy mixes, the band broke through a sonic barrier after about the fourth song, and with Mind Eraser and Scumbag Blues, you can be sure Them Crooked Vultures had better soon make good on the promise of a platter of fresh meat to its fans. Mind Eraser = something to remember.

Eddie Vedder must know there's a bullseye on his back after forcing his fans to Target for Pearl Jam's Backspacer. Why else would the Sunday night headliner pop up to share vocals with Caleb Followill during the close of Kings of Leon's set Friday? Clearly, Eddie is a fan of Nashville's so-called answer to the Strokes, and the kids were still chatting about his cameo in line for migas down South Congress the morning after. The Followill boys drew heavily from their recent Only By the Night. Use Somebody and Sex on Fire brought huge singalongs from the faithful as well. Kings of Leon definitely delivered, and if there is such a thing as rock royalty, anymore, they're on their way. Maybe that's what Mr Vedder was doing on stage with those tambourines; maybe grunge's answer to the Lizard King was dubbing his heirs. He was smiling, not brooding, which is a good sign for Sunday too.


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