|All photos by Katie Moulton|
Words and photos by Katie Moulton
It may have been the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Festival, but it was two days of firsts for this reviewer—first time attending this festival, first time in the city of Austin, first time manning official photo pits (not soundboards or general admission), first time eating tacos for breakfast. And along with all of these new experiences came sweat, thrills, and snap judgments.
This was the first year that ACL has expanded into two weekends. The lineup was mostly unchanged from weekend to weekend, and the crowds were enormous—75,000 people (the max amount allowed) on the plains of Zilker Park—and fans who attended both weekends told me it only felt slightly less crowded than the first go-round.
Unfortunately for the music-loving masses, this was also the first time in ACL's twelve-year history that festivities have been cancelled: On Saturday night just as The Cure finished their set, the skies opened up and ended Austin's drought. It rained. And kept raining—with gusto—for another twelve hours, causing flash flooding and rendering the festival grounds unusable for Sunday.
Before the storm, my weekend was already a whirlwind. Between running from pit to pit, setting up interviews, getting tips from the photo pros I met in the press lounge, and scamming my way into the VIP and one of their coveted golf carts—the days were a fantastic blur of music in the sun.
Sane people don't run around a festival the way I did. As a fan, I loved the variety of catching glimpses of so many sets. As a fan, I hated not settling in and soaking up an entire show. As a critic, I couldn't help but make judgments in the limited time available to snap photos at the foot of the stage before security ushered us back into the crowds.
Here's what I saw and heard:
Friday, October 11
This was my second time catching this cool post-punk British band in the blazing mid-day heat, and they brought it once again. Jehnny Beth came with her piercing glare, jerky and dramatic gestures, and haunting wail—but the crowd remained docile.
|Jehnny Beth of Savages|
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
Thao Nguyen continues to surprise me with the innovative sonic space she keeps creating within a alt-folk genre I think I know—and she surprised me again with her commanding (yet friendly) stage presence. Highlights included the yipping rendition of the title track of latest album We the Common, a song whose buoyant sound masks the razor's edge of its lyrics.
Shovels & Rope
The Charleston, South Carolina husband-and-wife duo is sunny and sultry, and Cary Ann Hearst has pipes that'll leave you breathless even as you're bouncing along. Their debut O'Be Joyful is a down-home alt-country gem with attitude—and that magic was only enhanced by the couple's onstage chemistry.
The Verve Pipe
I wandered into the Austin Kiddie Limits section of the festival grounds—feeling, I'll admit, pretty creepy due to the sign that advised the area was only for children and the adults they drag around. That, and the conspicuous camera slung around my neck. This VIP-for-VTP's (Very Tiny Persons) was awesome, featuring video karaoke, punk rock hairdo's for the kiddos, something called action painting with youngun's dressed in what appeared to be mini hazmat suits, and a hilarious hip hop workshop. Under a big tent in the center, adults and their adorable spawn reclined on the grass listening to '90s radio rock hitmakers The Verve Pipe belt it out about scavenger hunts. (No, they did not play “The Freshmen.” In fact, they announced at the start of the set that they weren't going to play it, and a good number of fans packed up their toys and went home.)
If I could've been two places at once: Local Natives—everyone I spoke with raved about the performance by this lush, sophisticated indie-pop-rock as a highlight of the day.
After spending the afternoon conducting interviews, meeting media folks, drinking Jim Beam Devil's Cut (to right myself after the adventure in babeland), and doing other professional things in the press lounge, I rejoined the ever-growing crowds for Arctic Monkeys' sunset set at the big Samsung Galaxy stage. The British punk revivalists led by Alex Turner sounded slick and mature, with a polished rock-naughtiness that had the fans dancing to hits from all five albums, beginning with latest single, “Do I Wanna Know?” Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age even came out for guest vocals, but Turner was in total control.
I've never been to an EDM show (Girl Talk doesn't count, does it?), so I wandered over to the spectacle of international celebrity deejay Kaskade. There were beats, escalations, big drops, hands in the air, stage pyrotechnics, and plenty of glowing hula hoops in the crowd. That's pretty much all I can tell you.
The rain began just as the Canadian future-pop duo took the stage under glowing other-worldly orbs. It shorted out their sound system on the first beat, but the glitch was fixed in just a moment, and the young crowd was more enthused than ever. Megan James delivered the goods more than I could have hoped—she stood way out at the front of the stage and, though diminutive, loomed over the audience, leering and ethereal as an extraterrestrial Stevie Nicks. The crowd was held rapt all the way to the last beep and boop of set-closer “Fineshrine.”
Ok, let's be honest. I'm not a fan of Depeche Mode—most likely because I'm completely uninitiated—so I spent their set at the edge of the Barton Springs Beer Garden where I listened from afar...and kept one eye (ok, one and half eyes) on the big screen playing the Cardinals game. Eventually, both the music and those thirteen innings ended.