We were only able to get into and cover one day of ACL this year, but what a day it was! This was my first time attending, and with it being the 10 year anniversary, made for an almost perfect experience. Like any great fest, there were several great artists scheduled throughout the day, forcing fans into making difficult decisions. Unfortunately we weren’t able to secure any press passes, so we weren’t able to conduct any interviews or capture any spectacular photos from up front. Left with no other choice, I had to tackle this assignment Gonzo style!
We arrived just in time to see one of our Top 10 Indie picks of the weekend perform, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. The Detroit duo, who have recruited a drummer, have definitely stepped up their game. Gaining popularity through constant touring and exposure from both television and other festivals like Lollapalooza, their rapid rise isn’t going unnoticed. The 80′s sounding songs were executed with full emotion and intensity, none of which was lost on the crowd. Surprises during the set included both bubble machines and even free Popsicles tossed to the overheated masses. Holding the attention of the audience proved no problem at all during the impressive show. The combination of analog acoustics and digital sound effects with good old fashioned rock and roll sealed the deal, winning over countless fans. It also squelched any doubts that the new band could handle this size of a festival. They played “Nothing But Our Love”, “We Almost Lost Detroit”, and also covered “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood.
Next up was the highly anticipated AWOLNATION. Their accelerated ascension to fame will soon be impossible to ignore. Another of our Top 10 picks for the event, the group did everything possible except disappoint. From the moment they walked onto the stage until the very moment they walked off, AWOL totally had everyone watching right they wanted them. Kicking off their set with “Jump On My Shoulders”, lead front man Aaron Bruno took those lyrics to heart literally, and ended the song by hurling himself onto the arms of those lucky enough to be close to the stage. This naturally gave way to more crowd surfing than I think I have ever seen in my life! There were a few points during the concert that those trying to crowd surf were dropped due to so many others already being passed. Realizing the unique advantage of this energetic gathering, Aaron later took out a small body board and literally crowd surfed. Playing sold out shows nearly everywhere they go, AWOL made sure not to forget the debt of gratitude they owe Austin. In fact, before playing their biggest radio hit “Sail” halfway through their set, Aaron acknowledged local on air DJ Toby Ryan by giving him a shout out. Their setlist also included “People”, “Burn It Down”, “Kill Your Heroes”, “Not Your Fault”, and “Knights Of Shame”. The hardest part of seeing AWOLNATION live is trying to decide when not to film since their fans are some of the most exhilrating anywhere. AWOL also completely sold out of all the cds at the merch table they brought with them, furthering soldifiying their success.
Another band I was totally excited to see was the 2 piece dance punk duo Death From Above 1979. I wasn’t alone, especially when considering what happened the last time they played in this city. While some may be familiar with this group from the work of MSTRKRFT, nearly everyone was conscious of the legendary riot resulting from their now infamous SXSW show. Luckily there was more than enough room this time for everyone to watch who wanted to. DFA1979 put on a much stronger display than even the Mayweather-Ortiz fight the night before. Their intensity is daunting and unmatched. The noisy echoes from the drums and bass seemed to reverberate throughout all of Zilker Park. They blasted through songs like “Turn It Out”, “Dead Womb,” “Going Steady”, “Cold War”, and “Black History Month.” They played for an entire hour, and I don’t think anyone was bored, or even had a chance to be.
These were the 3 shows that we were able to watch the entire hour long performances for. Throughout the rest of our time at ACL, we tried our best to migrate through the multitudes and hop from show to show, watching a half hour at a time. Having to do our best to pick and choose, we were not able to see Social Distortion, Chiddy Bang, The Walkmen, Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses, and The Head & The Heart. We caught the first or last 30 minutes of Gomez, Broken Social Scene, Fleet Foxes, Empire Of The Sun, and Arcade Fire.
I have personally known about Broken Social Scene, but this was my first chance to witness their live set. It was announced right before ACL that they would be taking an extended hiatus, and maybe it’s just me, but that fact seemed to dampen their demonstration. Perhaps it was due to the past 18 months of non-stop touring, but BSS seemed more fatigued and flat then flattering. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to see Gomez or not. By the time of their set, the heat and exhaustion of the day had begun to catch up. We decided to sit on the lawn to observe, and it was really enjoyable. Trying to describe watching Gomez is difficult, even for a writer. About as hard as describing listening to their music–which is really good, just complex.
It would have been great to see Empire Of The Sun, but towards the start of evening the sky began to sprinkle. This required the ACL staff to lower the large screens to the side of the stage. We were present for EOTS, but were so far back could barely make anything out. They sounded ok for being so far away, but we could only tell they were wearing costumes and displaying psychedelic videos in the background. Before attending, I was not a big fan of either Fleet Foxes or Arcade Fire, arguably two of the largest draws. I was actually surprised and impressed by both. While neither completely won me over, I can now understand why I am the exception to the rule. Fleet Foxes sounded stellar, and ACL responded appropriately as you would expect. Arcade Fire was the closing headliner for the weekend, and for good reason. Their big sound, creative lighting, and use of cutting edge video helps explain their broad appeal.
Overall, the 10th anniversary of Austin City Limits was as good of a time as any to lose my ACL virginity. Austin still retains the title of live music capital of the world for good reason. Whether you have been recently or have never experienced it before, it still remains one of the best annual music festivals in existence. Don’t forget, a decade is a long time as far as fests go. And even without a press pass, it is still not a bad way to spend a day at all!