Thursday, September 22, 2011

2011 Austin City Limits Music Festival | Day Two Recap + Interviews with The Antlers, The Kingston Springs, and The Belle Brigade

As day two began, I found myself walking to the media tent to be greeted by My Morning Jacket and Stevie Wonder doing their sound checks. Friends, that's when you know it's going to be a great day, an unforgettable day. Which it was.

Let's start at the end of the day, which, of course, was mostly about Stevie Wonder -- everyone was talking about the chance to see the living legend do his thing. As much as festivals are about discovering new bands, they also thrive on old school acts showing they've still got it. I learned this at Bonnaroo in June where Buffalo Springfield re-formed and put on a high-energy show that featured a set-closing "Rockin' in the Free World" where Neil Young unleashed electric craziness with his guitar, Old Black.

A funny thing happened during Wonder's set at ACL, though -- he was challenged greatly by the loud thumpings of MMJ and Yim Yames' powerful voice, which you could hear nearly everywhere at Zilker Park. I was too far back to really fully experience Wonder jamming on his keytar during his opening song, Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)." I guess I can always say I was there, and that I saw Wonder, but I couldn't really hear him, so I trucked back to the AMD Stage to lay down in the lawn and complete my night with the rest of MMJ's set.

Yames and Co. closed with their staple, "One Big Holiday," which, if you haven't experienced live, especially at a festival, well, you need to. I'm sure glad I got experience the moment once again, even if it meant missing the end of Wonder's set. Ah, choices.

The early part of the day remains somewhat of a blur, only because I saw so much. The Antlers greeted my ears with songs from their latest album, Burst Apart, a fine offering from the Brooklyn band, and one of my favorites of 2011. They closed with a gem, "Putting the Dog To Sleep," which turned out to be one of the highlights of my day. After their set, I caught up with keyboardist Darby Cicci.

The Antlers

On playing an early afternoon set:

The early one is good because people aren't drunk yet, and people are actually listening to music, so people might actually remember your set, which is good!

On playing their new songs in a live setting:

In making the record, we were a little more aware that we were going to be playing at more festivals, so we tried to put a little more energy into it. A lot of times when you get into the studio, you can endlessly layer things and make things pretty and make things mellow, which is easy to do when you're sitting in the studio all day smoking weed. You have to force yourself (to keep in mind), when you're in the studio, that someone might be listening to this for the first time, maybe outside, so you try to liven it up a little bit.

On their closing song, "Putting the Dog to Sleep":

It closes the record, and I feel like it's always got this cathartic redemption to it. It's basically a Motown song, it's got that really turned around Motown chord progression, which always kind of makes you feel at ease. Instead of some other songs which can be a little stranger or more minor. It feel like it ends on a high note.

On keeping the crowd's attention at festivals:

I don't know if you can even be aware of trying to keep anyone's attention, it's kind of impossible. I mean, you're fifteen to twenty feet from anybody anyway, so if you carefully choose the order of your set and keep it interesting for yourself, I think if you can focus on that...if you're not bored, then it will help you translate it well. But, today was great!

On if he had a connection to the city of Austin:

I did actually, I was born in Austin. My dad went to UT, and I almost went to UT. Growing up, we left when I was like four, so, we watched the (Austin City Limits) show all the time as a connection Austin. At the beginning, my dad was always excited because they would show shots of campus and he was always like, "hey, that's the Texas tower!"


Before The Antlers' set, I caught The Kingston Springs, a young band from Kingston Springs, Tennessee, who put on quite an afternoon show at the BMI stage. The crowd kept getting larger, and the songs exploded from the start -- it was great to see a bunch of fresh, young faces having the time of their lives playing their first ACL. I caught up with them soon after to talk about their set and their upcoming album due next year.

The Kingston Springs

On an early trip to St. Louis:

James: My elevator Arch experience sucked. I was probably like six years old. I remember getting in the little egg elevator, and people were singing songs, and I was like, "stop singing songs, you're freaking me out, we're gonna die here!" We got up to the top, and I literally couldn't stand up. I looked down and almost pissed my pants. I couldn't stand up, I had to crawl. I was six and afraid of heights, but not no more. I'm tough now.

On creating energy at a festival:

Ian: We're not really trying (to), but especially with a festival set, we just want to keep the set upbeat. Our forthcoming album, it's kind of a mix -- it's got some chill stuff. It's not like we want to get into it, like fake get into it. You can always tell. You can't fake something -- I mean, you can, but it just looks awful. Our energy -- we feed off the crowd a lot, and off each other, too.

On playing for bigger crowds:

Matt: We've played a few shows where there's as big a crowd as there was today, like when we opened up for Girl Talk and Matt Costa in Knoxville -- it was overwhelming, and that was only in March. Today, really, I wasn't really looking at the crowd. I've grown fonder of bigger crowds. But at the same time, we love house parties when there are only twenty people there, and people are just going crazy.

On their upcoming full-length album:

Ian: I say we're about a month away from doing the final touches -- we still have some vocals to do, but it's coming together really well. We're looking to drop it in early 2012.

On their ACL experience:

Matt: We're having a great time at ACL. This has been one of the best weekends. Tomorrow I think is going to be the best day -- Fleet Foxes and Arcade Fire -- two beautiful bands playing on the same stage. Arcade's one of the best live concerts I've ever seen.


After The Kingston Springs' set, I quickly turned my attention to The Belle Brigade, a buzz band from L.A. featuring brother and sister Ethan and Barbara Gruska. They closed my favorite song of theirs, "Losers," and they had a lot of fun with it, cranking up the energy to the point where they were almost yelling the lyrics out to thousands. We had a quick chat after their set.

The Belle Brigade

On the buzz surrounding them:

Ethan: Well, thank you, first of all. I definitely feel fulfilled and that I'm getting rewarded with the hard work, and it is a lot of work. But the great thing about it is that it's pretty much our first year, and so to start off with an upward trajectory is really exciting.

On the energy they created during their set at ACL:

Ethan: A couple people have said that -- I hope we didn't overdo it. We like to have a good time up there. And we have a bunch of goofy guys up there with us and like to dance and stuff.

On their closing song, "Losers":

Barbara: I feel like that's the one song, when we were writing songs for the record, we were kind of envisioning a live show. All of our new songs now, we're kind of thinking about that, but for the last record, it was that (song). There's something about being outside at a festival that we were kind of hoping we would be able to do with that particular song.

Ethan: The lyrics are really fun to scream and yell, and it kind of feels like a little bit of a release. We wrote it as kind of something like a mantra for ourselves, like something to remember. To be able to just yell it out to a bunch of people, it feels freeing in a way.


Before it was time for Stevie and MMJ, I caught most of Cut Copy's set from AMD stage. Their show peaked during "Hearts on Fire," which featured a loud sing-a-long with the thousands upon thousands crammed together. We were about ninety minutes away from the headliners of the day, but you couldn't tell if anyone's attention was drifting elsewhere -- it was a moment where everyone was focused, sweaty, and having a blast, enjoying a fabulous second day at ACL. I'll leave you with a photo I snapped of the crowd.

Stay tuned for Day Three coverage tomorrow!

Click here for Day One coverage.

Click here for Courtney Jaye's 10 to Spin ACL preview.