Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Recap | 2012 Austin City Limits Music Festival

Neil Young | Photo by Nate Burrell | www.beforetheblink.com

This is the first post of a two-part series covering the 2012 Austin City Limits music festival. The second post is a photo gallery of the festival, with shots taken by Nate Burrell (www.beforetheblink.com). You can view the photo gallery here.

The 2012 Austin City Limits music festival, in its eleventh year running, represented an end of an era. A singular, exclusive era, that is. With the festival moving to two weekends in 2013, we'll no longer be able to definitively say "I saw Neil Young play 'Cinnamon Girl' at ACL" or "I saw Jack White play 'Seven Nation Army' at ACL." Because there will now always be two separate experiences, taking place on two separate weekends. An improved business model? Sure. A better experience for all? We'll have to see.

Of course, the trick about huge music festivals is that everyone is having his or her own experience, and it's difficult to keep that in mind when you were having a bland time watching Florence + the Machine a football field or so away from the stage. The same exact performance from a better spot in the park could have been someone else's highlight of the weekend. That's just the way it goes.

So, before I rattle off my 10 favorite moments of the 2012 Austin City Limits Music Festival, please keep that in mind: this was my own experience, and where I was located for each performance affected my attention span/enjoyment greatly.

With that being said, here we go.

Big K.R.I.T. | Photo by Nate Burrell | www.beforetheblink.com
10. Big K.R.I.T at the Honda stage

While I didn't catch his entire set -- I settled to only hear the latter half -- Big K.R.I.T, the rapper from Meridian, Mississippi, sounded just fine, and proved he has the stage presence to lead the biggest of stages. His set also proved that hip-hop was alive and well in Austin, and that makes for a better ACL for all. 

9. Justin Jones at the BMI stage/ Ben Howard at the Honda stage

He sort of sounds like Jakob Dylan at first listen. Not too hard, not too soft -- somewhere in between lies the beauty of Justin Jones' songs, and they work quite well in a festival setting ("As It Turns Out," "Miracles"), especially at the comfy BMI stage. Keep an eye on Jones, and listen to his first album, Fading Light.

Meanwhile, Ben Howard and his band effortlessly cranked out most of his debut album, Every Kingdom. "The Wolves," played near the end of his set, was spectacular. 

8. Nikki Lane at the BMI stage

Via Nashville, Nikki Lane has some country-folk-rock spunk to her that's hard to deny. "Sleep For You" is my favorite, and after seeing her live, it still is. She opened up solo acoustic, but Dan Auerbach and members of The Black Keys joined her for the final few songs. How's that to start your Saturday at ACL? 

7. Alabama Shakes at the Barton Springs stage

While they didn't play "Hold On," which seems very odd to me still, the Shakes did smash out "I Ain't The Same," which rocked and made for a great Friday evening moment as the sun went down. The crowd was massive, and Brittany Howard proved the be one of best female leads of the festival.

Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes | Photo by Nate Burrell | www.beforetheblink.com

6. LP at the Austin Ventures stage

Opening with "Someday," and closing with "Into the Wild," LP attracted a nice crowd for her afternoon set in the sun. Really, a perfect way to get things rolling; "Into the Wild" is an anthem that has already created a stir, and once more people hear it, she'll gain more deserved attention. (Side note: Just before her performance, I was whisked away on a golf cart with LP, interviewing her while we moved through the backstage ACL traffic.) 

5.  The Lumineers at the Austin Ventures stage

So, you've all heard "Ho Hey" by now, and as great as it was to hear it outdoors, "Flowers in Your Hair," "Slow It Down," and "Stubborn Love" were just as solid. Although the vibe was odd because the smaller stage couldn't quite fit the audience demand, The Lumineers still brought it, closing with a cover of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," and a new song that was performed as a duo with Wesley Schultz and Neyla Pekarek sharing vocal duties.

4.  Gary Clark Jr. at the AMD stage

I've seen Gark Clark Jr. numerous times over the last few years (we interviewed him at ACL last year), and this year's set at ACL was the best. He walked out, eyes wide open, looking overwhelmed and thankful to see the sea of people in front of him. Clark Jr. delivered, blistering through "When My Train Pulls In" and "Dont' Owe You a Thang," and later giving a glimpse of his new record, Blak & Blu, with the solid "Ain't Messin' 'Round."

Black Thought of The Roots | Photo by Nate Burrell | www.beforetheblink.com

3. The Roots at the Bud Light stage

Good Lord, The Roots were phenomenal. And I know next to nothing about The Roots, other than Questlove is the drummer, and that they canceled their LouFest performance last year (I'm just being honest). If I had to choose, I would say their Beastie Boys tribute was tops. (Oh, and it rained before and during their set. Oh, did it rain!)

James Shaw and Emily Haines of Metric | Photo by Nate Burrell | www.beforetheblink.com

2. Metric at the AMD stage

Even though I had just seen them in St. Louis at The Pageant the week before, I had to do it all over again. And it was just as good, if not better. Emily Haines and James Shaw know exactly how to rip out a set that rocks -- "Help I'm Alive," "Artificial Nocturne," "Youth Without Youth," "Sick Muse," and "Gold Guns Girls" all brought major heat. And right before the sky opened up and drenched us all, Haines and Shaw gave us an acoustic "Gimme Sympathy," which, surprisingly, worked quite well with the giant crowd. Many were singing along: "We're so close to something better left unknown." What a moment.

Neil Young | Photo by Nate Burrell | www.beforetheblink.com
1. Neil Young & Crazy Horse at the Bud Light stage

About an hour before Neil Young & Crazy Horse's set, I heard a few young dudes say that they would rather see Jack White than a washed-up old guy. Perhaps the younger generation equates Neil Young with the impression that Jimmy Fallon gives them -- that he's always with an acoustic guitar, singing songs that do not rock at all.

The problem here is that a Neil Young & Crazy Horse set is so far removed from a Neil Young solo set, that I'm sure many had no idea what to expect from Young at ACL.

Well, well, well.

Young did give us two solo acoustic songs -- "The Needle and the Damage Done" from Harvest, and a new song called "Twisted Road," both performed with Young using a microphone attached to his harmonica so he could walk while singing and strumming (which, actually, was a nice touch, even as simple as it was).

But the meat of the show was Young jamming with Pancho Sampedro, Billy Talbot, and Ralph Molina of Crazy Horse. And I mean jamming. Young opened with a smoking "Love and Only Love," which left an imprint on my memory with the lyric: "Love and only love will endure." Young then blasted into "Powderfinger" from Rust Never Sleeps, which led into an epic new song, "Walk Like a Giant," which gave us a good seven minutes of thumping feedback at its end. This moment proved to be the most divisive -- if you're a Young fan, you totally got it; if you're a casual Young fan, you probably chose to wait it out; if you knew almost nothing about Young, you probably left at that exact moment to catch some of Jack White's set. (And I don't blame you if you did, it was a long period of noise.)

If you stuck it out, though, you were more than rewarded with the "hits," including "Cinnamon Girl," the first "Down By the River" with Crazy Horse in nine years, and the closing "Hey Hey, My My," which ended with Young screaming, "it's better to burn out than to fade away." And it just doesn't get better than that.

Until next year, ACL.

1 comment: