Austin City Limits 2010 Review
To make it easier for any who may not want to read this entire lengthy review, I have put stars [***] next to the writeups of my favorite performances, and have also bolded all of the band names for easy roaming. Be sure to catch the Superlatives section at the end!
After being voted onto a team of writers who got to write official previews and stories on bands performing at this year’s ACL for the official festival website, ACLFestival.com, I was rewarded a free Media Pass for this year’s show. So before I get started on what I thought of it all, a big thank you for all who voted for Sunset in the Rearview as one of the best music blogs in the South, and to C3 Presents for giving me this opportunity.
I arrived in Austin on Friday afternoon and headed straight over to Zilker Park to catch some great shows. The weather was good to us all weekend – sunny, blue clear skies all three days. It was hot during the afternoons, but not brutal. Sundown brought a nice relief from the sun, and a beautiful setting for nighttime set light shows. The full list of bands I saw includes: Beach House, Slightly Stoopid, Vampire Weekend, Phish, Balmorhea, Lissie, Bear in Heaven, Broken Bells, Temper Trap, Monsters of Folk, Blind Pilot, The Morning Benders, Edward Sharpe, Band of Horses, The Flaming Lips, The National. It was truly an unforgettable weekend.
Reviews of Shows I Saw:
Beach House, a dream-pop band whose music I enjoy, sounded good live. I was looking forward to seeing how they would present themselves and if the dreamy music that comes through my headphones sounding hazy and mystical would sound anywhere near as good live. Indeed it did. Even if only for an hour, I forgot that I was in Austin and felt like I was relaxing at a beach house. Ironic?
Slightly Stoopid, I must admit, I was not very familiar with. I knew the name, knew of their music, but couldn’t sing a song off the top of my head. But man, they got me going! I was dancing up a storm. Always a good sign!
[Photo Courtesy of ACLFestival.com]
Vampire Weekend was a madhouse. Due to their unbounded success over the past few years, the crowds were PACKED and people were anxiously pushing to get to the front. But it was all for good reason; Ezra Koenig and company yet again showed off their ability to sound great live.
I ended Day 1 with Phish, whom I have never been a huge fan of. Main reason being that Trey Anastasio’s voice bothers me. And I’m not really one for jam bands, which is bizarre since I’m such a huge fan of music. I think if it were another genre of music that was improvisational, I would melt on the spot. But something about their guitar-heavy music just doesn’t do it for me. I will admit, however, that they are extremely entertaining to see live. Seeing a group of old men, one of whom was wearing a smock that reminded me of my elementary art teacher, really hand it to you live was incredible. When “You Enjoy Myself” came on and the trampolines were brought on stage, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had heard this might happen, but actually seeing these old men jump around in sync on trampolines while playing guitar really got me laughing. I was watching the show with some hardcore Phish phans, and I must say, the songs are much better when you know the stories behind them.
I had my bells and whistles on for Day 2. Up first for me was Balmorhea, whom I caught live at Hopscotch and practically drooled over. Their set started at 11:15, so I made sure to show up at 10:45. As it were, the gates didn’t open until 11. So I waited in line, and sure enough, right as the clocktowers struck 11, music was blowing out of the gigantic speakers, and it was as though the gates of dawn had been opened. Festival-goers grabbed their belongings and ran in different directions, all headed to their destination of choice to catch a front row spot.
***When I got to the Austin Ventures stage, where Balmorhea was to perform, I saw lead singer Michael and keys/guitar/singer Rob standing under the tent waiting for their set to start. I stopped by and said hi, and they seemed thrilled to see a familiar face (we met first at Hopscotch) and to be playing a hometown show. Their performance was once again great. Perhaps not quite as intimate as their show at Hopscotch, because this one was outdoors and there was music seeping into our seemingly protected world at Austin Ventures stage from other bands performing nearby. But the music was just as moving. Favorite moments included when Michael joined the drummer and watching two men attack the drums simultaneously, and when Rob was stomping his foot to the beat of the drum kicks and seeing the dust rise off the stage with the power of his kicks. It sure does help to have a front and center spot when you’re seeing a band as powerful as Balmorhea.
***Next up on my agenda: Lissie. After writing a preview for her show for ACLFestival.com, she was one of the performers I was most excited to see live. And she played her part of that deal extremely well! I was not at all disappointed. Her voice is so natural and raw, it seems to have the ability to warm my heart. Just as I expected her to be, she showed up on stage barefoot and in a long hippie-style dress, hair in a side-braid, allowing many strings of hair to fall out and appear uncombed on one side of her face. That’s her personality. She doesn’t want anybody telling her what to do. She’s blazing her own trail. And while she’s doing that, she’s picking up thousands of fans around the world, many of whom seemed to be present at ACL to see her perform.
***After Lissie came Bear In Heaven, whom I also saw live at Hopscotch. Just when I thought they were as impressive as could be, I landed myself a front and center spot at their show and was even more impressed. Their drummer is, hands down, the most impressive drummer I have ever seen live. And I’m consistently impressed by the singer’s ability to completely change his voice between talking sessions and singing sessions. The music they make is incredible. I highly recommend seeing them live. My only complaint is that, in the words of my boyfriend, “Sometimes it seems as though the only thing the guitar player brings to the table is his moustache.”
Broken Bells was next. My excitement to see them live: boundless. Expectations: through the ceiling. Outcome: disappointing. Foot-stomping, brow-furrowing, eye-squinting disappointment. Not to say they were bad, that’s not it. They just didn’t impress me. I have a better time listening to their music on headphones than I did at their live show. The main spectacle was getting to see James Mercer and Danger Mouse in person. That’s it though. The music doesn’t sound great live, but I guess that’s because it’s meant to be produced. Anything Danger Mouse touches is meant to be produced.
Temper Trap impressed me! I already liked their music, enough to write about them for ACLFestival.com, but didn’t know what to expect live, really. Main singer Dougy Mandagi really does have an incredible voice. And what’s best, he seems to be able to use it in different ways. Sometimes it’s got that light, airy feeling that you hear in “Sweet Disposition,” and other times it’s more solid and heavy. Very impressive.
Last show of Day 2 for me was Monsters of Folk. What a classy group of men. Dressed in suits, playing that good old fashioned folk music. What a delight. Great way to end the day!
I didn’t want to open my eyes on Day 3. No way it could already be Sunday! So soon? Einstein, you bad dog, you really were right about time flying when you’re having fun. But alas, up I rose, arriving at Zilker Park only in time to catch the ending moments of the Blind Pilot show. I was bummed to miss their show after being so anxious to hear them, but the tiny bit I caught seemed spectacular. Their fans are so loyal. They’re really one to watch right now.
You wont believe what happened next. Or maybe you will because you already read about it. Or maybe you wont even care because you don’t have anything invested in this. But let me just tell you: I had my emotions invested in seeing Gayngs live. Made sure to show up to their stage at least an hour in advance so that I could secure my front and center spot. With little protection from the sun, I sat in my spot on the metal divider separating the fans from the stage, likely inching closer to skin cancer by the second, just so that I could see this incredibly large supergroup show me their skills from only about five feet away. So just imagine my disappointment when the security guard came and told those of us waiting that Gayngs would not be performing at ACL this year. Bam. Just like that. Dreams shattered, hopes turned to dust.
***Luckily, I’m a resilient soul and I managed to jump the hurdle and frolic over to another stage in time to get a front row spot for The Morning Benders. Fair backup, if you ask me! They sure proved to be, anyway. What a nice looking group of young men. I want to be friends with all of them. Friends who can pack picnics and go to the park together. And I wouldn’t much mind if they brought their guitars, drums, keys and voices along with them. Because on Sunday, The Morning Benders healed my post-Gayngs-saga wound with their soothing voices and contagious spirits. I had a smile on my face throughout the entire show.
***What came next was perhaps the most wonderful thing that’s happened in my life in quite a while. I trotted over to the stage where Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros were to play, and somehow once again landed a front row spot. I knew from the start that this was going to be a show to remember, but was unaware that I would essentially fall in love with a man with a head full of long, stringy hair, something I have never found remotely attractive. But Alex Ebert, frontman for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, somehow manages to make it sexy. From the second he stepped on stage, Ebert never stopped moving. And by moving, I mean dancing a bit like a monkey, hopping around stage from spot to spot, climbing onto speakers and jumping into the crowd. At one point during his crowd surfing, Ebert seemed to float across the audience just as Jesus walked across water. When he smiled, it seems the Heavens opened up. You can see the pure elation in this sweet smile, as if to say “Thank you everybody. This really is where I am meant to be.” The energy built as the concert went on, ending with the large band playing “Home,” followed by “Om Nashi Me,” in front of a crowd of thousands of joyous and eager listeners.
***Next, I split my time between Band of Horses and The Flaming Lips. Needless to say, these two sets were very different. Band of Horses played a calm and subdued set, and to put either “calm” or “subdued” in the same sentence as The Flaming Lips seems preposterous. I missed the opening of the show when frontman Wayne Coyne was entrapped in a plastic lifesize bubble, singing from a megaphone and being tossed around the audience. But I did catch him singing in front of an ENORMOUS visual of an eyeball staring out at the audience and a naked girl dancing along to his music. He told little vignettes between songs, and the oddities that came out of his mouth confirmed his role as a performer and a nutcase all in one.
Last, I caught a bit of The National. Sound pretty similar to how they sound on headphones. To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed.
More Photos (these courtesy of ACLFestival.com):
The Flaming Lips:
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros:
Most Talented Musician: Joe Stickney, drummer – Bear in Heaven
Best Performer: Alex Ebert, frontman- Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Best Set Design: The Flaming Lips
Favorite Overall: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros