Starting way before the whispers of a line-up have begun, Austin City Limits is already selling tickets. Loyal customers blindly buy three-day passes, banking on the consistent line-up delivery each year. In its 10th year, the Live Music Capitol of the World’s festival has risen to prominence and can easily stand its own against classics like Bonnaroo, Coachella, and Lollapalooza. Featuring legendary acts and indie darlings side-by-side, this year’s line-up, Friday-Sunday, October 8th-10th, went unmarred by last year’s cancellations and downpour.
The Mountain Goats (2 – 3 p.m., Budweiser Stage)
Bands like the Mountain Goats always have their stock following of loyal fans that crowd their way to the front and could confidently scream the lyrics to every B-side and leaked release, but as I gleefully pushed my way through the crowd I heard several groups of those who, by fate, ended up in front of Budweiser Stage that day. Their commentary was the same, “I thought these were young guys…”
If you are unfamiliar with the Mountain Goats’ stellar 19-year run, it would be an easy mistake to make. John Darnielle lead his band with the same gusto and energy that he is known for, taking to the stage barefoot and eager to entertain. The set evenly displayed work from each stage of their career, and even introduced some new material into the mix. They covered their bases with well-known tracks from their better-known albums Sunset Tree and Tallahassee, but during Darnielle’s customary solo set he ventured fearlessly into unreleased material, acknowledging that he could lose some of the crowd. After a precursory warning that he could forget the words, he, well, actually forgot the words. Cue aforementioned loyal fan. An emphatic woman clinging onto the stage barrier screamed the line without hesitation, and an unembarrassed Darnielle continued with the song without a second thought.
It is this kind of humility that shows in the Goats’ songs and gave them their longevity. The set was both nostalgic and adventurous, and was a great comeback from a largely retired touring band.
The Black Keys (4 – 5p.m., AMD Stage)
The Black Keys may be a duo, but their sound emits with the force of an army. Known for unrelenting live sets, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney returned to Zilker Park for their second ACL appearance. Much like their 2008 appearance followed on the heels of Attack & Release (QRO review), Black Keys came ready with new tracks from their increasingly popular latest album, Brothers (QRO review). While they may be getting MTV time, their impending wide reception leaves the band with the same raw sound they’ve always had. Brothers single “Tighten Up” was played early in the set complete with able whistling from Auerbach, followed by new classics like “Your Touch” and “Strange Times”.
Auerbach and Carney have a kind of authenticity to their live sound that is hard to translate even to their hard-hitting studio tracks. Not only is their performance quality unaffected by burgeoning popularity, but also even the staunchest of music snobs that Austin is infamous for seemed unaffected by a lightly bigger crowd at the AMD Stage.
Beach House (5 – 6p.m., Honda Stage)
Lush sounds from Beach House were best enjoyed on the hill that sloped down towards the Honda Stage. The sun was still shining down on the mild afternoon, and normally antagonistic and wired crowds seemed to dissipate into a mutually blissful group as the sun faded from blazing to a gentle sunset. Fresh off of a summer of touring to promote their third album Teen Dream (QRO review – eat your heart out, Katy Perry), Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have perfected a set list largely comprised of their new material.
Legrand’s husky vocals rang out over an intentionally fuzzy organ-guitar mixture, crooning the crowd to submission despite the raucous sets on the surrounding stages. Beach House’s success in a festival setting was largely speculated upon, but the band pushed through doubts that the sound would fall short. Legrand proclaimed her gratitude for the crowd saying toward the end of the lovingly crafted set, “You are the most loving, patient happy people.”
Sonic Youth (7 – 8p.m., Honda Stage)
Contrasting their Honda Stage predecessors, Sonic Youth stormed the stage with an arsenal of guitars and effects pedals. If the Beach House set was something to be enjoyed while relaxing, Sonic Youth was an instance calling for front row, uninhibited rocking.
After canceling their appearance at last year’s ACL festival, Sonic Youth’s show was even more anticipated. The crowd was a hodgepodge of personalities, ranging from the younger generation of listeners (probably sold by the band’s reference in Juno) to a considerable older crowd. Thurston Moore traded off vocals with the ‘First Lady of Indie Rock’ Kim Gordon, but never really made it out of the gate on many songs. But for any fan of Sonic Youth, the insightful lyrics were never the draw. The guitar hammering started early in the set and bled from one song to the next without pause. The only slight break for any in the band was when stagehands rushed them their next guitar to abuse.
The Strokes (8 – 9:30p.m., AMD Stage)
If there was a Sonic Youth for the generation that dominated Zilker Park for ACL it would be Julian Casablancas and his infamous crew. Not that the sound is even remotely similar, but the level of nostalgia for the preceding generations has a similar quality of generational unity. That being said, The Strokes waxed nostalgic, cutting back into their catalogue for earlier hits.
The Strokes played with their characteristic swagger and snark, but also a practiced sound from a summer of playing comparable large sound venues. From the epically jammed “New York City Girls” to the steady and persistent “12:51”, Casablancas, Fabrizio Maretti, Albert Hammond Jr., Nikolai Fraiture, and Nick Valensi exhibited their legend status for the ACL crowds. Any band that can play a set list that would listen like a greatest hits compilation is sure to have at least a satisfying show cut out for them, but the band pushed it over the edge with their unrivaled energy. Plus, they played a snippet of the Hellcats theme song, which can never hurt. Flouting the encore tradition, the Strokes pushed through their set until 10p.m., and Casablancas noted that the tradition seemed excessive.
“We know we’re supposed to go off-stage and do a fake encore, but fuck that, we’re just going to keep on playing.”
Lucero (2:30 – 3:30p.m., AMD Stage)
In their first ACL performance, Lucero brought out a sizable if passive crowd with their country-rock fusion. The band wasted no time kicking their afternoon set into gear, launching into punchy chops that had boot-clad cowboys and tattooed hipsters bobbing their heads side by side. Ending each of their songs with a “thank ya,” Lucero simultaneously rocked and charmed their audience.
Mayer Hawthorne & the County (3:30 – 4:15p.m., Austin Ventures Stage)
Since Jamie Lidell’s (QRO album review) performance in 2008, ACL has lacked the quintessential white boy with soul. Luckily, Mayer Hawthorne was 2010’s solution to this missing link. Early on in the set the breakout R&B artist drew crowd involvement, asking for dance moves, hand claps, and shouted responses that were gleefully reciprocated. Hawthorne’s soulful voice poured over the crowd, its sultry feel complimenting the sweltering middle afternoon heat well. Hawthorne was comfortable with the crowd, confiding that he had recently signed an autograph in a record store, only to be asked if he was Michael Buble. Cutting in Snoop Dogg’s (QRO photos in Austin) “Beautiful” into his set catered to the new converts to the Mayer Hawthorne experience, but the smooth choices from their own repertoire were enough to lock in fans.
Local Natives (4:45 – 5:30p.m., Austin Ventures Stage)
I will try my hardest not to wax poetic about Local Natives, although I have to admit that I have been gushing about their live show since catching them at South by Southwest (QRO recap). Apparently the news had spread. Compressed crowds at the tiny Austin Ventures Stage stuck around after Mayer Hawthorne’s show, waiting for the recent indie rock superstars to begin their all too short set. The show length, however, seemed to work to their advantage. Every song they played seemed so calculated and perfect in its placement and execution that any longer could have depleted the perfection that was their set. Songs off of their debut Gorilla Manor dominated the time, but they peppered in some new songs along the way. Local Natives’ sound was made for live crowds. Their harmonies soared flawlessly over the crowd with a kind of spellbinding and organic solidarity that is impossible to shake.
LCD Soundsystem (6:30 – 7:30p.m., Budweiser Stage)
ACL seemed to have bands in two categories: hip new buzz bands and old stock rock. While both of these niches had a lot of draw and variance, there were few that rested on the in-betweens, in other words, the burgeoning indie rock classics that are just seasoned enough to be nostalgic but are still making new material. LCD Soundsystem fit this bill perfectly. They were just removed enough from the emerging electronic and dance acts to be the only ‘classic’ dance party at the festival. A neat combination between the new (This is Happening – QRO review) and their old material made for a well-formed set that kept the crowd on their toes.
deadmau5 (7:30 – 8:30p.m., Zync Card Stage)
It seemed like the dance party created by LCD Soundsystem would have been continued just a football field away at deadmau5, and I’m sure it did for those fortunate to be somewhat near the sound booth. The crowd flowed back through the field, mixing with an already forming fan base for Muse’s (QRO album review) closing set. Although the DJ had all his usual tricks, the sound didn’t translate as well in a festival type setting. Moving collectively as a unit, the crowd moved up and down, back and forth in time with the music, but the energy seemed to dissipate the further the crowd extended back. Overall, deadmau5 seems to resonate better where his electronic aren’t free to disappear into the open sky.
M.I.A. (8:30 – 9:30p.m., AMD Stage)
M.I.A. took to her second ACL performance with a considerably larger amount of fan recognition. The execution, however, came off a lot less theatric than her previous performance and more of complacent. Her show may as well have been finished after “Paper Planes”, and even that offered faint vocals that failed to break over sloppy back tracking. M.I.A. was carried by the flurry of activity going on around her onstage, but as a semi-rapper semi-soprano her voice failed to hit home with the same intensity as it does on her recordings.
Devendra Banhart & The Grogs (2 – 3p.m., AMD Stage)
Although his sound is exotic, don’t let Devendra fool you. He is a native Texan hailing from Houston. Despite this, the folk crooner rarely makes it to the Live Music Capitol of the World. Banhart’s set ranged from funky to folked-out, taking the afternoon crowd on a delightful roller caster blend of styles that caught all of fans ranging from devotees to his organic beginnings to his Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist converts.
Yeasayer (4 – 5p.m., AMD Stage)
Perhaps my hopes were too high for Yeasayer. Odd Blood (QRO review) tore through my spring and summer playlists, and countless references have raved about their fearless live shows. I am going to give it up to being an off day, because the band’s sound lacked their usual vivacity and punch. Instead of the regular crunch of their bass beats, Yeasayer seemed to ooze out the sound rather than perform it. After a heavy-touring summer, this could be explained by exhaustion, or maybe too much partying the night before. Yeasayer wasn’t necessarily bad, but there was something that was not translating correctly between their album work and live sound.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (5 – 6p.m., Zync Stage)
The energy is unavoidable with a twelve-piece band. Crammed on the Zync Stage, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros faced a giant crowd surely lured there by their infectious single “Home”. The band had the connection of a family, playing together with synchronicity and a jubilant air. Even with the melee of instruments present on stage, the sound never once became cluttered, but remained pure and light. Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos’ vocals soared jubilantly, and their affection and familiarity gave the impression you were watching a private jam session rather than a giant festival performance.
The Flaming Lips (6 – 7p.m., AMD Stage)
What to say about Wayne Coyne and his motley crew? You can go to any Flaming Lips performance with certain expectations and they continually and effortlessly deliver. After a warning from Coyne that he would be taking to his renowned ‘space bubble’, and rolling over the crowd during parts of the show, the Flips launched into a raucous set that zoomed through the expanse of their career. From the fuzzed out guitar of “She Don’t Use Jelly” to the ambiance of “Do You Realize??”, the Flips’ set was perfect, save for its brevity.
The National (7 – 8p.m., Honda Stage)
If there could be a perfect band to chill out to before venturing to the obnoxiously large crowd that was already gathering for The Eagles, it is The National. Not to say that the set was unexciting, but the crowd seemed more in awe of the swell of sound pouring from the Honda Stage rather being concerned with if they could squeeze three feet closer to the stage. In the midst of their tour with Owen Pallett (QRO live review), The National seemed to slip into a well-oiled set that featured the brightest points of their career, most notably drawing from Alligator and Boxer (QRO review), but including fresh material from High Violet (QRO review). Their performance can be equated to the most satisfying moment of calm before a storm, keeping everything tucked into neat and practiced mediums but simultaneously unleashing a whirlwind of energy.