ACL Band Recap

Ok, so I promised this writeup a week ago.  I’m gonna make sure I crank it out today, even it it’s shy of perfection.  Sorry I’m tardy.

Overall ACL was a fantastic experience.  I was looking at as a chance to hang out with a couple of friends who live elsewhere, with bonus of getting to go to a famous music festival that I had heretofore never attended.  About a week before the festival, the trip got much more exciting as we found out that a member of my old band was going to be performing with Mates of State.  With a little peer pressure, we talked the final band member into joining us in Austin, so we had an informal band reunion.  It was a blast, and seeing all great these bands was just icing on the cake.  Now, on to the bands.


1:30 – What Made Milwaukee Famous

I had heard good things about this band, and I had heard one of their albums and liked it but had trouble “getting it.”  I was curious to see how they would sound live, and they were a good start to the festival for me.  They were good musicians, and played a tight set with good energy.  Still, at one point my friend John turned to me and asked earnestly “what is keeping me from really liking these guys?”  I couldn’t answer the question, but I felt the same way.  Part of the problem is that they seemed to have a vibe that was better suited for night time in a dark club rather than lunch time in a huge outdoor venue.  Still, they seem to be all over the map with their sound and it makes it hard to latch onto them as a band.

My favorite song they played was actually a cover of “trashcan” by Delta Spirit – a nice gesture by WMMF in an effort to convince the crowd to go see that band next.  We didn’t go see that band, but I did buy the single and it’s a great song!  Still, it was a good set to start the festival for us.

2:30 Vampire Weekend

Loyal readers know that I’ve seen these kids before, and in that review I claimed I probably wouldn’t watch them at ACL.  I lied.  There wasn’t anyone else I was dying to see, and I was more interested in hanging out with my buddies (who wanted to see VW) than venturing out to see someone I’d never heard of.  The set was very similar to the one I saw before with a couple of notable exceptions:

  • The crowd was HUGE!  The speed of this band’s ascent to stardom must be hard for them to comprehend.  Still, good for them – so far it doesn’t seem like the fame is going to their heads.
  • They finally played “Kids don’t stand a chance” which is my favorite track on the album, and which they never seem to play live.  I don’t know why the avoided it – it sounded great.  I figured it would sound thin, or the singer would struggle with the high falsettos, but neither was the case.  They did have a strings section for a few songs (including this one), so maybe they feel like they need strings to pull it off.  In any case, it was a nice surprise.
  • They played a couple of new songs.  One sounded like it was straight off of Rhythm of the Saints by Paul Simon.  But they were decent, even if they weren’t much of a stretch from what their first album sounds like.

Overall though, they were still short on quality banter with the crowd.  They also didn’t play any covers, and I really think they should.  But I really enjoyed the set, and after my last review I kind of thought I was over this band.  Glad to know I was wrong.  I still don’t have tremendously high expectations for their second album, but I hope they surprise me.

Oh, and the keyboard player was wearing a scarf!  In 95-degree Austin heat!  He is really dedicated to maintaining that douchebag look no matter what.

3:30 Jamie Lidell

I knew a couple of my friends were into this guy, and I was familiar with one of his songs.  I think in the past he had performed without a band, just himself and a laptop.  That gave me low expectations for his set.  He wound up being the biggest pleasant surprise of the festival.  He is a skinny British guy who sounds like a fat soulful black guy.  His band was great, his sound was great, and even though I didn’t know most of the songs, they were very enjoyable on a first listen.  His sax player played double sax on a couple of songs (two saxes at once).  I hadn’t seen that trick since I saw the band Morphine way back when.

He also did use his laptop (or some other technology obscured from view) a lot for loops and effects, and they were AWESOME.  He recorded a loop that was somewhere between a vocal bassline and a beatbox, and then just kept adding loops on top of it.  He did a 2 or 3 part vocal harmony of “a little bit more, a little bit more.”  The song just kept building up, and the band fit right in with the loops.  It was really impressive and sounded really cool.

Near the end of the set he played the song I know “Multiply.”  He played it very different than the studio version though – he played it nearly a capella (see picture above).  The only instruments were bass and various percussion.  The rest was just everyone in the band singing different vocal parts and they pulled it off magnificently.  This is exactly what I was hoping for at ACL – really discovering an artist that I wouldn’t have ever delved into under other circumstances.  Bravo Mr. Lidell!

5:15 Mates of State

Good Set, but I had seen them before.  I like thier sound, and I like their schtick, but there isn’t a whole lot of variety in their sound.  So the set was about what I expected, with one exception: the Cello was awesome (at least one of them was)!

6:30 David Byrne

I had heard he was going to have interpretive dancers, and it worried me.  He did have interpretive dancers, but they weren’t bad.  They were even kind of cool at times, especially the cute ones.  His set was great, his sound is timeless and he’s a really good performer.  He also makes gray hair look cooler than anyone else I can think of.

We opted to leave the festival before The Swell Season and Manu Chao so we could have some quality time hanging out together (this was the only night everyone was going to be in town).  Thanks Linnea for forgoing Manu Chao in favor of our company!  Had some great Tex Mex for dinner (and every meal that we were there), and even made a pit stop to watch some of the debate for the nerds in the group.  Overall, the first day was fantastic.


12:30 Fleet Foxes

That’s right John, 12:30!  Not 11:30!  We got to the festival a little earlier than we needed to because we thought this band was starting at 11:30.  It was fine though, as it gave us some time to check out the merch tent and hang out a bit (and drink a beer before noon).

Fleet Foxes took the stage looking like they just woke up.  Then, they took a while to just BS with the crowd before they played anything.  Those dudes are funny!  They made a lot of cracks about the financial crisis, and how they wished they were playing at the WaMu tent so they could make more jokes about it.  Vampire Weekend should take some notes from them about how to work the crowd.

When they started playing, their tone and harmonies were amazing.  Their sound is so rich, I was very skeptical about how they could sound live, but they really pulled of the sound brilliantly.  After a few songs, though, all the songs started to sound similar.  The impression that I got was that the songs don’t change much.  They build and twist the harmonies nicely, but they just start to sound a bit redundant.  I would go see them again, maybe after I got more familiar with their material.  They are tremendously talented, and good entertainers, but they weren’t compelling enough to keep me from wandering off to see some of the Old 97s set at the other side of the park (at the same time slot).

1:00ish Old 97’s

Exactly what you’d expect.  They were fun, sounded good.  Rhett Miller was wearing red pants.

2:30 Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

This band ran the risk of being over-hyped by my friends, but they wound up delivering on the hype.  Awesome band does a couple of jams before they introduce Ms. Jones for an offical entrance.  The music was great here, but the big thing is that she is a great entertainer (the whole band is).  On two occasions she asked for someone from the crowd to dance with her.  Both times she chose hefty white guys, and the interactions she had with both of them were fantastically entertaining.  You also got great musicianship from everyone in the band.  If you want to be entertained, go see this group when you have the chance.

5:30 Spiritualized

They opened with a loud dissonant song, and I never got that bad taste out of my mouth.  My friends really enjoyed the rest of the set, but they didn’t do much for me.  This could also be affected by the fact that it was really hot, and I was sunburned at this point and a little fatigued in general.  My attention span for new stuff is only so broad, and I think this time slot would have tested it no matter who was playing.  Still, I’m not a convert on this band.

John Fogerty

I had low expectations and he was great.  Played a ton of songs I knew and sounded really good while he did.  His drummer was also awesome – an older dude who beat the shit out of his kit.  Really added a lot of energy.

The Black Keys

I don’t know them that well, but they got hyped immediately before they played and I was unimpressed.  They sounded thin, and I think any band without a bass is going to struggle at a big outdoor venue.  I’m biased though.  We didn’t stick around to hear all that much of these guys.

Iron & Wine

We only listened to a little bit of I&W because the park was getting obscenely crowded and they’re just not the best band for an outdoor festival.  What we heard sounded good, but since I’d seen them at a nice seated indoor venue I didn’t mind missing most of their set.

We actually opted to leave the park in the middle of their set, which meant we would miss Robert Plant with Allison Krauss and/or Beck.  We were sad to miss Beck, but the park was so crowded you couldn’t get anywhere near the stage and it was hard to walk anywhere.  It was like Times Square everywhere.  We decided to go have a real dinner and chill out a bit before the next show…

Midnight Band of Horses after show at the Parish

The venue was tiny and intimate, which was a very pleasant change after the mobscene we left at the park.  The opener James McMurtry was loud and terrible.  We couldn’t wait for him to finish.

Band of Horses was fantastic.  Their sound depends so much on their guitar effects and that really high unique voice of the lead singer.  I was wondering if the singer could pull everything off live, and he absolutely did.  They did screw up Funeral a bit, but I’m very forgiving.  They also played a new song which the keyboard player sang and I really liked the song.  It had a very catchy hook, and I wish I could remember it but cannot.  I was especially surprised that 1) the keyboardist had such a good voice and 2) sounded almost exactly like the lead singer.  I’m not sure I could have distinguished between them if I wasn’t paying attention.

We also spotted Bill Murray in the crowd of this show, which was pretty cool (even if he seemed drunk and grumpy).  This show was a great end to a very long day.


I can’t lie, it was hard to motivate on Sunday.  The heat was oppressive, and most of our crew was leaving Sunday mid-day, so there were only two of us heading back to the festival.  We had an awesome brunch and chilled out before we headed out early afternoon.

3:30 Stars

I know a couple of songs by Stars that I dig, but they didn’t play them.  I was unimpressed by what they did play.  Just didn’t get into them all that much.

4:30 Neko Case

I only know a little of her solo work (I’m a big fan of New Pornographers), but she put on a great show.  She had a fantastic backup singer who sounded just like her, and that setup afforded them some very pretty harmonies.  She also had a sign language interpreter, which I found very interesting, but will discuss more in a later post.

5:30 Okkervil River

I’m a big fan of Okkervil River, and for the most part they put on a great set.  I don’t love their newest album, and they wisely opted to play more of a “greatest hits” set rather than just showcasing the new stuff.  I had two complaints though.

1) The girl guitarist: I don’t think they’ve always had a female guitarist, and I was unimpressed with the girl who was playing with them.  I think in general I can be sexist about music, but gender aside this person just lacked any kind of energy or stage presence.  Boo!

2) “Unless Its Kicks” closer – probably my favorite song (and I bet many people’s favorite), and they were just sloppy with it.  This song did have energy, but it was unrestrained and just sounded kind of crappy.

Overall it was a great set though, and I’m glad I got to see them.  I kind of wish we could have seen their after show as well, but it conflicted with Band of Horses.

6:30 The Raconteurs

These guys had a very professional vibe, and they were the only band who chose to have the jumbotron screens in Black and White (instead of Color) which was a cool effect.  I didn’t realize that the non-Jack White guy does most of the singing.  They sounded tight and rocked pretty hard.  Jack White wasn’t really on his game though.  He spoke for a while about how he had a slipped disc in his neck and it kept him from singing.  I’m not sure I follow that logic, I would think it would be more of a hinderance to wearing a guitar than singing, but whatever.  He did sing a little bit, but he didn’t sing his part in “Steady as she goes” and it sounded weird without him.  I heard the hits and decided I had had enough.

I was leaving the next morning on a 5:30 AM flight and so I decided I didn’t need to see Gnarles Barkley or Foo Fighters (or another Band of Horses set), so I called it a day and therefore the end of ACL for me.  I just didn’t want to fight the crowds for Foo Fighters.

I loved the experience overall, but I’m not sure how eager I am to go back.  The heat really is oppressive and wears you out by the end of the day.  The third day is hard to tackle with enthusiasm.  If it weren’t for the company I was keeping I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun.  I also got the impression that the headliners will always have such a big crowd that it would be hard to really enjoy the music and the show in the midst of the chaos. If I went back, I would have to be lured there by great daytime acts and great after shows.  But if you’ve never gone and you’re tempted, you should definitely go!

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