My old friend TW (forgive the anonymity--dude works in banking and, like, feels grateful even having a job these days) headed down from New York to attend his first Austin City Limits Music Festival. He asked me a while back if he could write this year's post-festival review and, not being able to attend, I was happy to have him weigh in. Your own thoughts on this year's festival in the comments below. (Also be sure to check out ATVS's festival thoughts here.)
I'm back from my second trip to Austin and first stab at ACL .. I still haven't taken off my bandana or made a serious effort to remove the Austin.com temp tatt I got the first day .. My only basis for comparison is my April trip out to Coachella Music Festival in California .. Lineups aside, the edge has to go to ACL given the amenities that come with corporate sponsorship .. The Dell and AMD stages might not be as cool as the Mojave or Sahara tents but if large-cap tech branding comes with better logistics I'm all for it .. ACL had more porta-jons, multiple exits at the end of the night, even better grid booklets and entry wristbands .. Austin natives might also find it hard to believe that Coachella has designated "beer gardens" so you can't actually drink while listening to your favorite band .. Quite a contrast from the 24oz Lone Stars they were handing out at Zilker Park .. Only upsides to Coachella were more art exhibits, the dance tent, and less children .. I hope to have kids one day but I don't look forward to explaining what "that smell" is .. After three diligent days in the sun, here are my key takes .. Thanks to PB for letting me sound off and apologies that my photo journalist "forgot" her camera.
BANDS I LIKE MORE POST ACL: Delta Spirit who has a solid album but sound even better live. "Trashcan" is by far their best track which sounded as good as I imagined and "People C'mon" was a lot of fun. Okkervil River reminded me how much I liked them with an awesome version of "Black." It was also the first time I got hit by a beach ball at a show and I totally blew the volley. Stars played a great set and "Take Me to the Riot" stood out. Hot Chip played a cool new version of "Over and Over." And Band of Horses played an incredible twilight set kicking off with "The First Song" & "Is There a Ghost" while the sun was still out and finishing with an upbeat "The General Specific" and a cover of "Am I a Good Man" in pitch black.
BANDS I LIKE LESS POST ACL: First up is Vampire Weekend who deservedly drew a big crowd but new songs fell flat and the lead singer's Sperry Shuffle dance wasn't doing it for me. Second is MGMT who was on a second-tier stage with only limited competition on the grid. It took me 20 minutes to weave my way through the largest non-headliner crowd of the festival just to get to a crappy spot next to a family. "Time to Pretend" still sounds awesome live but they lacked a certain stage presence. That aside, I'm still scheduled to see both bands in NYC over the next 3 months.
BEST SONG: Winner is Beck's "Loser." I missed Iron & Wine to get a "good spot" for Beck which ended up being between the cow flag and the pooh flag and still forced me to stand kind of sideways. Still awesome though and midway through "Loser" I officially lost my voice for the weekend. Honorable mentions to the beautiful Swell Season's "When Your Minds Made Up" and always pumped up Foo Fighters' "Times Like These."
FAVORITE NEW BAND (AT LEAST NEW TO ME): Fleet Foxes played a heartfelt noon set and blew me away. At first I thought they sounded like a modern-day Crosby, Stills & Nash with Jim James thrown into the mix but in subsequent listens to their albums I'm picking up more nuances. They also win ...
BEST CROWD INTERACTION: Commenting on troubled corporate sponsor Washington Mutual the band noted "Isn't it comforting to know that even banks can't manage their money, just like people." (BEST SOUVENIR goes to my WaMu yellow wristband). Honorable mention to Sharon Jones who brought some dudes on stage to dance. She's awesome.
BEST COVER: Tough category but winner has to be Okkervil River using the chorus of Beach Boys "Sloop John B" for "John Allyn Smith Sails." Gnarls Barkely doing Radiohead "Reckoner" was something I'll never forget though. Honorable mentions to Coner Oberst doing Paul Simon's "Kodachrome" and What Made Milwaukee Famous covering fellow performers Delta Spirit's "Trashcan." There's something about one indie band covering another indie band that makes you dance harder.
BEST COLLABORATION: Goes to the only one I saw with Gillian Welch bringing up Alison Krause for "Go to Sleeep Little Baby" from "O Brother Where Art Thou."
BEST OUTFITS: Despite the 90-degree heat most bands kept it hip in their pencil jeans, ties & blazers. Man Man had the right idea though coming out in their undershirts & boxers, though I think that's just what they always wear for shows and it just worked out well for ACL.
BEST JOKE: Christopher Denny killing time while his crew dealt with tech issues - "A dog walks into a bar with his arm in a sling and says, 'I'm lookin' for the man who shot my paw'"
MOST SAD THAT I MISSED (IN ORDER): Iron & Wine, David Byrne, Slightly Stoopid, Xavier Rudd, John Fogerty, Drive-By Truckers, Yeasayer, Old 97s, CSS
POLITICS: ACL was much lower key on the politics than Coachella which featured a live Obama pitch from Sean Penn. At ACL I think I only counted nine or 10 Obama shirts and only a handful of bands even referenced the election. N.E.R.D. basically said no matter who you vote for make sure you vote (i.e. Vote or Die), a prego Erykah Badu said no matter who wins Obama has shown us that change can happen, and Stars dedicated their song "Going Going Gone" to Bush.
BEST SONG TO HEAR WHILE WALKING BY A HEAD SHOP ON THE WAY TO YOUR CAR: Fat Boy Slim "Praise You."
BEST NON-ALCAHOLIC FESTIVAL BEVERAGES: Winner is Vico coconut milk which I bought every night on the way back for $2. Close second was Sweat Leaf Tea mint & honey which you could get inside for $6. Honorable mention to Steaz energy tea which they were giving out for free near Jack in the Box the first two days. These were all new to me but I'm told you can find them all at Whole Foods.
BEST AUSTIN FOOD: Winner is Gueros for the unlimited nachos just when I needed them and the sick mole sauce. Honorable mentions to Freebirds (Chipotle w/ options) and Kerbey Lane (which I'm told beats the piss out of Magnolia). Also have to give a shout-out to Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas because what's better than mozz sticks & beer while you're at the movies.
T-SHIRTS I BOUGHT: 1 ACL standard festival shirt, 1 blue tie dye "Keep Austin Weird" shirt, 1 Okkervil River shirt, 1 What Made Milwaukee Famous shirt. For some reason bands now insist on having their logos printed up on American Apparel T-shirts which means unless you're a cokehead or PB then you have to do 200 situps a day to wear them.
OVERHEARD AT ACL
"My friend's dad was a roadie for pantera"
"Bring out phil collins!"
"I wonder if they have chinese sign language"