I’m going to take the fall, but we all took it on the chin, so I’m not bitter; just let me lay out the facts for you as I attempt to conjure the tension, heat, and occasional ecstasy that accompanied this year’s Austin City Limits festival. Quick aside: Why am I so obsessed with music festivals? Time and time again, I slog over to these things and ask myself “WHY, OH WHY?” Then the next time something comes around I hitch up my buggy and do it again. FOR WHAT? Well, it’s the memories. For some reason, festival memories linger longer than isolated-one-off-show memories. I just wish sometimes those memories were easier to procure. Scrambling for a parking spot, frying in excessive Texas heat, and talking to other parents is not my idea of a compelling festival experience.
And there’s more: Despite all the distractions, despite the shorter sets by just about every band, despite the humiliation of trying to blast out human waste into a port-a-potty seat on which I refuse to actually sit, I love the feel of a good festival. I can even bring my child and people don’t look at me like I’m crazy (guess that Cannibal Corpse show was a stretch). I’m sorry if the day-by-day format bores you, but it’s all I’ve got:
Quick note: The first thing I saw upon arriving to get my press credentials was a woman in a see-through outfit with a thong underneath. I pointed it out to my wife (not really thinking about the potential consequences), thinking, “Huh-huh, kick-ass,” when she noticed there was a photographer, kneeling about two feet away, taking pictures of the woman’s bare-cheeked buns. A violation? Certainly! So we decided one of our drawings should depict this odd, awkward situation.
Oh, and I should mention this: I might as well have pitched my tent early on Friday because, by dint of the nutso bus-shuttle scene, I missed Smith Westerns — aGAIN — after promising myself I wouldn’t let it happen, and there was a sniffle or two; I’m not gonna lie. I recovered in time to hit up Big Boi on… one of the stages? And I realized I haven’t even seen Outkast, and here I’m expected to watch this fool go solo? Turns out it wasn’t so bad. Boi isn’t afraid to play the Kast classics — “Mrs. Jackson” or whatever it’s called, a tune or two from Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and I think I heard “Elevators” from group-best ATLiens in there — and his solo stuff at least brings bodacious, beet-red beats to the table to match his typically crazy-ass, scattin’ lyrics.
Ray Lamontaigne’s strange, hoarse-y whisper could be heard in the air as we headed over to see Bright Eyes. Imagine me, Grant Purdum, at a Bright Eyes show for a second. It was about as uncomfortable as it could be. It’s just been so long since I even gave his stuff a chance. I remember listening to his records in 2003 and moving on fairly quickly (I remember a few good songs from Lifted), and upon re-upping with him in 2011, I was ready to move on just as quickly. Not as good as I remember, and I don’t remember it being good.
I told Carolina we could watch Coldplay as long as we left as soon as they played “In My Place” and booked it over to Kanye West. The strategy worked, and we only saw two Coldplay songs, which is the longest time period I can imagine enduring without also weathering rashes, shakes, unexplained sores, and milky discharge.
Aside from a nugget here and there, I’ve never been thrilled by the majority of Kanye West’s recordings. His live show, however, has been amazing on the two occasions I’ve been fortunate enough to see him do his thing. This round was no different, West pumping out a crystal-clear cavalcade of bouncy bass-boosts, Auto-Tuned melodies, and relatively well-worn narratives. I don’t care who you are: If you put on a slamming show, I’ll forgive you, no questions asked. If you look good doin’ it, more power to you.
Iron and Wine
Saturday, you ask? Yeah, Saturday sucked ass. They wouldn’t let my wife in because her media wristband wasn’t scanning, and wouldn’t have been THAT bad, but we were listening to Iron and Wine’s bluesy set unravel tantalizingly before our ears while we were trying to argue with the poor teens who really had no idea what to do with us. Finally, I just said, “Carolina: Come on.” She looked at me funny, so I said, “Just walk through; who cares what they say?” I repeated iterations of this statement a few more times and then, BY THE GRACE OF GOD, a kindly young lady in an ACL Staff shirt said, “Just go.” And for that I thank-a you, ticket-taking stranger.
With this behind us, we walked up to I&W’s stage — is that a fuckin’ saxophone? — and got ready to fully imbibe the vibes we’d been sucking in secondhand since we got there. I must say, Sam Beam has managed to up his festival clout considerably over the years. I saw him perform at Sasquatch one year and once at the Sub Pop Reunion, and both times he seemed dwarfed by the festival environs, tiny-voiced and helpless to rise above the din of chatter. At ACL, he was nothing short of a revelation, packing a full band and sounding natural doing it. What a difference a few years makes, I suppose. Beam-ya!
I haven’t discovered many artists while attending festivals. There’s often so much scrambling-about I can’t set my sights on an unknown act without skipping out on a band I wanted to see. In this case, Skrizza-Skrillex managed to grab our attention while we were heading over to cee See Lo (or something like that). And I tell you this: Skrillex might just be the fuckin’ future, kidz. Armed with nothing but a traditional DJ setup, black clothing, and a strangely Corey Feldman-circa-Lost Boys look — not to mention a horned-midget-from-video-for-“Safety Dance”-looking little man running around onstage and hyping the crowd — Skrillex dumped a metric SHIT-ton of digital doo-doo on the crowd, his strange transitions from beat-to-effect-to-loop rendered seamless despite the drastic changes going on. An amateur would have lost the crowd in a millisecond attempting such halting mid-song fluctuations; luckily Skrillex brings the meat, buns, AND the grill, and prepares it all fresh in front of your eyes. He’s a wizard, I tell you. Of all the groups I saw at ACL, his skill(ex) set was a wonder to behold. I checked out a few of his trax online and didn’t get quite as juiced, but it’s still interesting in a slow-motion Analord/Kid Spatula kind of way. To paraphrase Spice 1, “I live for the Skrillex.”
Unnecessary “Crazy” remix sucks Tony Romo’s balls. Boring.
My Morning Jacket
This is where things get tough. Yes, I realize the legend of Stevie Wonder won’t always be available for me to peruse, but I couldn’t help but agree when Caro urged me to see My Morning Jacket with her instead. I’ve been feeling a ton of post-fest guilt over this move, so spare me the trip if you’re thinking about emailing me, dillberts. Just know that My Morning Jacket were solid as always, by which I mean I was feeling groovy but faaaaar short of riveted. It’s safe to say I don’t quite Get the buzz on these guys and never will, but I don’t hate them either. Let’s call it meh-plus.
The Walkmen are the best active rock ‘n’ roll band I know of, and their set, as I expected, seemed to perplex the ACL crowd. Very little head nodding, very little fanfare, no pogo-bouncing; just evaluatory chin-rubs and nervous glances from side-to-side. Which, as always, is too bad because The Walkmen made the stage their BITCH with favorites like “On the Water,” “Woe is Me,” and “The Rat,” and, for those of us interested enough to even know or care, a trio of brand-new songs that leave me more hopeful than ever regarding their next record, whenever that may come out. No band mixes slow, solemn, contemplative post-post-Dylan with uptempo, dedicated-to-early-U2 rock like The Walkmen, so there’s really nothing more to say. Appreciate them or appreciate them later, it’s your choice brohypnol.
Death From Above 1979
I was fairly anxious to see DFA1979, and it didn’t happen due to extemporaneous circumstances I won’t detail here. Just know that I tried. Also, why do I care so much about DFA1979? Just because they broke up in their prime (leaving me with nothing but a neon-green Test Icicles 7-inch)? Their album is alright, but I think the swirling hype infected my brain. Still would have been nice to take in the show…
I’m not sure what happened between that first record and the sophomore outing, but Fleet Foxes seemed to snap their shit together quickly. Gone are the aimless songs, tossed in favor of fully fleshed Americana — in the best sense — that’s a lot more folk-rock than folk. “Battery Kinzie” is so good on its own I’m prone to forgiveness right away, and the instantly memorable, seemingly familiar tune shone as bright in a live setting as it does spiraling from a slippery, black sphere of wax. I think a lot of dudes end up following their women to Fleet Foxes shows, so it’s nice to hear them put the work in to win over those of us who found their initial wave of glad-handing hype exhausting. This was a show that could be enjoyed even from the farthest distance. A good thing, since that was really the only choice for many of us.
Is there a reason for Arcade Fire’s ascendance to lone headlining slots at enormous festivals wherein even Stevie-fuckin’ WONDER has to share a timeslot? WHAT THE EFF MAN? I mean, the first song from Funeral was fun, but… INDIE-ROCK IS RUINED!!! Melodrama will never be the same!!! Thanks a lot Arcade Fire; go back to where you came from, cafucks.
[Illustrations by Carolina Purdum; photo and videos courtesy of ACL]