Austin City Limits Festival Closes Out Great Season
A bit under the radar goes the Austin City Limits Festival… most likely due to it’s big brother The South by Southwest Festival but with a reported 70,000 music fans in attendance it can certainly be considered one of the biggest in the U. S. and with the quality acts it attracts one of the best. As this marks the close of the major festival season and as I have been fortunate enough to attend the majors, I have heard many of the acts that played ACL at least once…therefore, I will not go on again about how much I dig THE xx, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, YEASAYER, THE BLACK KEYS, THE STROKES, SPOON, THE NATIONAL or MUSE but if you have not checked these acts out yet you need to cut and paste their names in your iTunes search box and GET TO LISTENIN’!…You are truly missing some of music’s current great artists!
While I was unable to bring you daily reports, here are some highlights of the acts you may want to look into if you haven’t already…
WAYNE COYNE AND THE FLAMING LIPS are just strange. This is no newsflash to anyone who has seen them live or read an interview but somehow it all works and feels organic. This set found Wayne rolling thru the crowd in his famous plastic ball and hordes of people on both sides of the stage in bright orange jumpsuits just dancing and jumping around sometimes with pink houses on their heads. (no…this was not due to “there’s some bad acid out there man”) It was some of the craziest audience participation I have ever seen as Wayne led the audience thru a kindergarten like song in which he asked the audience to act like the various animals in the lyrics. It is some sight to see 40,000 people all growling and clawing like a bear but as I said for me it all worked and musically…well I am not sure you will find anything out there that is more interesting. Her Gaganess might do well to take in a Flaming Lips set to see a stage show that truly feels organic and non-manipulative. It’s just how Wayne and the boys do things and it doesn’t feel weird for weird’s sake.
I took a course it 20th century music in college studying Schoenberg, Anton Berg and the like. I began to get a little concerned about my musical sensibility as this a-tonal seemingly non-cohesive music began to make sense to me. I feel a bit the same about SONIC YOUTH who continue to bring in the noise. But this noise surrounds and permeates some of music’s most wonderfully innovative alt rock sounds born out of the New York underground in the early 80s. The cacophony of distorted guitar sounds all made sense as actual composition and it certainly functions for the people making it and therefore functions for the listener. It was simply great alternative rock played by one of it’s flagship bands. Almost 30 years into making their own brand of ear challenging yet rewarding music and even when compared to today’s newest acts, SONIC YOUTH like The Pixies, still feels totally relevant and groundbreaking today.
Closing things out were THE EAGLES…love ‘em or hate ‘em (personally I love ‘em). They have sold over 120 million records and surprisingly have the top-selling disc of all time in their Greatest Hits 1971-1975. I don’t know… but 5 Grammys, 5 #1s and being members of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame make this a group of legend and vast influence worth at least a working knowledge of. It was hit after hit for a 2-hour set and we were treated to some of the great solo work of Joe Walsh (even a James Gang tune) and Don Henley. Fortunately, as of the start of the encores when I started trying to beat the crowd, we had not been subjected any of Glen Fry’s solo activity. I have no way of knowing but I SO hope that there were no “flown in” or “click-tracked” background vocals as the voices were stunning for their clarity and near recording quality perfection. Has Auto-Tune taught us not to believe in musical heroes? Don Henley proved why he is still one of pop’s greatest singers and Joe Walsh sounded…well…just like Joe Walsh while Glen had a bit of a struggle to recreate the great vocals of his youth. The refreshing surprise was the beautiful vocal of Timothy B. Schmidt on I Can’t Tell You Why….virtually indistinguishable from the record. Along with CSNY, these LA rockers with an ounce of Nashville thrown in set the standard for what group vocals should sound like and very few have even come close to achieving their sound and blend. While I can’t say I dig the heavy-handed, politically charged EAGLES since the 80s, I still can’t help but love them for the great sing-along classics that were their hits of the 70s and a backdrop for a time in my life when I really began to learn what good music and good group singing was. Not to mention that I think, along with Jackson Browne, they penned one of the greatest verse/chorus lyrics in the history of pop music on Take it Easy…you know… the one with the “girl my Lord in a flat-bed Ford”…tell me it ain’t so!
I am not sure how I first got exposed to Texas music giant PAT GREEN but he has been one of my favorites for some time. While you will find him in the country section of your “grocers freezer” they really should have a section for him all his own. There are certain country elements and elements of the all important distinctively separate “Texas Country” genre but his music is infused with elements of kick butt rock and roll and troubadour singer/songwriter and the writing is really fantastic. This guy LOVES to perform and he turned it on for the hometown crowd on the big stage. PAT GREEN started playing, writing and singing while attending Texas A and M and soon was all the rage on the Texas college party band circuit. He soon became so popular in Texas that a major label deal had to be acquired just to keep up with fan demand in The Lone Star State alone. Now, thankfully he is no longer just one of Texas’ musical secrets. He is not afraid to let all of his influences show and his music is a rich mosaic of well-written well-played songs mixed in with some great covers. What country act could close their set with U2’s With or Without You and it not feel strange at all?
The most electrifying moment of the festival, certainly in my opinion (and judging by all the tweets that went out many others agreed) was the astounding set by electric steel guitar player ROBERT RANDOLPH AND HIS FAMILY BAND. This funky, rocky, bluesy, uber soulful set drove all those in the pavilion and thousands outside of it to simply erupt in an hour-long burst of dance and musical joy. It was an energy I am not sure that I have ever felt in any other show. This is not the steel guitar of Nashville country music but while it is the same instrument it is almost unrecognizable when ROBERT RANDOLPH plays it to sound like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Paige all rolled into one. Randolph was discovered playing in a Church in New Jersey and soon Eric Clapton caught wind of this stunning talent and had him open on a recent tour. Clapton has become a huge fan along with others in the rock/blues/soul world and you would be wise to do the same. It is one of those performances where you simply don’t believe what you are hearing. Without question for me THE act of the festival.
I first heard of and saw THE MOUNTAIN GOATS some 15 years ago at New York’s Knitting Factory. Having released their 16th disc last year, they still bring a fresh, hard-driving, rhythmic and up-beat sound to indie music. The lyrics are reasonably angst filled yet the positive and “up” vibe of the music keeps it from becoming depressing. Heavy issues… fun music with a unique instrumentation of only acoustic guitar, electric bass and drums. Last year’s critically praised The Life of the World to Come is well worth a listen.
The singer/songwriter genre was WELL represented at ACL and the following really deserve a “spin” on your iPod…
Texas favorite ROBERT EARL KEEN gave one of the festival’s biggest crowds all the tunes that he has become famous for. Nothing too complicated here but it is fantastic, heartfelt songwriting and the songs make you feel as good as a spontaneous gathering of old friends at a bar. (Feelin’ Good Again, Gringo Honeymoon). He also has a gift for the funny look at redneck life (Merry Xmas from the Family and Is There Internet in Heaven). For these songs and a quick fix on ROBERT EARL KEEN check his disc Best. I have known about AMOS LEE for some time but this was my first serious exposure to him and you can now color me a fan. No sappy emo crap here…just SERIOUS songwriting and a killer voice. The tunes range from folky and bluesy to some with a tinge of country and my favorites were when Amos turned on a blue-eyed soul croon that would make Al Green jealous. MARTIN SEXTON’S fame as a singer/songwriter continues to spread but he refuses any major label interaction. This solo show showed, his incredible and totally unique guitar playing style and a voice so sweet you’ll get diabetes on the first listen. All this and more is why Martin Sexton is not only one of the current great singer/songwriters but a complete and true entertainer.
There seems to be (and thank God it is so) a soul, funk and R and B revival going on. Famous acts like The Roots (who have a killer new disc with John Legend), Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, Raphael Saadiq and yes a white boy Marc Broussard are leading the pack but 2 groups seen at ACL, THE RELATIVES and KINGS GO FORTH are giving us more of what you crave if this style is your brand new or old bag. Both groups serve up funky, groovin’, croonin’, get down music like a soul food café serves up fatback and fried chicken. Sounds reminiscent of Earth, Wind and Fire, They Stylistics, The Temptations and a little Godfather of Soul made for great sets from both acts. Listening to them was made a bit poignant as we lost King of Rock and Soul, Solomon Burke on this same weekend.
ASHLEY CLEVELAND is a 3-time Grammy and Dove Award winner and to make a whole album of rare “black gospel” songs sung by a white girl may not sound so interesting. But this white girl can SANG and the hip, funky, updated arrangements make you not care about what color anybody is.
New (or at least somewhat new) groups you may want to check out that I REALLY dug include…
…the Laurel Canyon sounding alt country flavored yet decidedly indie DAWES, the jazz students turned genre crossing rockers MIDLAKE, and the alty and intricately woven sounds of FOALS. It doesn’t seem to come across as much on recording but GRACE POTTER’S (GRACE POTTER AND THE NOCTURNALS) vocals bear direct lineage of Janis and Anne Wilson and that helps put her right up there as one of rock’s great female rock singers.
Check ‘em out and KEEP TAKIN’ NOTES!
CLEM…your man in the field!