Austin City Limits Festival 2011- Day 1

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I was prepared to say that this day of music was the best I have had in my festival going years UNTIL the headline artist took the stage. OK …wait… it wasn’t like it was Lady…ummm…she who shall not be named (no one else comes close to that) but when a headliner puts on a show this bad….well, it put a major damper on the day. Those of you that love a good rant, you got one coming at the end of this piece. All of this being said, the bulk of the day was a great mix of some well-known act and some unknown gems. Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo were tough for me this year as scheduling, distance between stages, weather and…hell, maybe I was just tired…whatever the reason I just didn’t take in as many acts as per usual. But I was back to old form yesterday taking in some 13 acts at the well-scheduled and EXTREMELY well laid out Austin City Limits Festival. This will be my last major festival this year and it looks to be one of the year’s best.


CULTS is a band that I have been trying to catch at several festivals and tour stops this year and I have just not been able to see them. MY LOSS! This excellent band combines dream pop and shoegazer styles into a great alt/pop whole. Lead singer Madeline Follin keeps us listening with a great voice and sometimes one would swear she is channeling the great “chic singers” of the 60s a la Leslie Gore. The themes and substance of their songs (music and lyrics) are deeper than one might initially think and comments on cultic leaders past and present is peppered all around. Maybe I’m wrong, but anyone out there that has seen them can help me here but I swear the drummer, bass player and guitarist are the same dude. Only the subtle distinctions of facial hair placement and whether their 60s style, hippie long hair is parted on the side or butt-cut stylie tells the difference.

It’s official…I’m IN LOVE with BRANDI CARLILE! I have seen her several times over the last couple of years and have watched her grow into an artist who is now embracing her greatness. The style is chic, folksy, country influenced singer/songwriter fare but it is FAR better than many of the men and women in her ranks. Yesterday saw her take one of the big stages at ACL and it looked as if around 30,000 showed up to see her do her thing. As some friends and I were discussing her during the set, we spoke of how she would never probably reach mass success, as her tunes were not necessarily radio friendly. Then she premiered 2 new songs (hopefully from a new record in the works) and well, now I SO hope we are wrong. With her self-admitted penchant for country music she brings a couple of classics including Carter and Cash’s Jackson and Folsom Prison Blues. This was one of those sets where you loved every song and were just sad when it was over.


I like to fantasize and think myself a musicologist or at least someone who understands most musical principals but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what JAMES BLAKE is doing. Wonderfully confounding are the best words I can think of to describe my feelings towards his work. He is billed as a “post-dubstep” artist. Wait…how did we get to POST dubstep? I am still grappling with the definition of dubstep. According to a new feature article in SPIN the genre was “dead on arrival” in the U.S. in the 90s. That’s a whole ‘nother essay but we know dubstep is basically dance/club music brought to us from British clubs and “pirate” radio. One would assume when reading the article and seeing the artists listed (that have worked in dubstep) that dancebility is a major factor but I am not sure how even the most tripped out person would dance to what JAMES BLAKE is doing. Thus the POST-dubstep moniker…I guess. It’s as if (insert favorite hip-hop artist) and Schoenberg (NO…not the one that wrote Miss Saigon) got drunk, slept together and then recorded what they were feeling the next morning. The sense of poly-meter and bi-tonality is rampant and I am just unable to grasp how it all functions. BUT…it does! It’s a big case of…”I’m not sure what it is but I love it!”


I won’t go on and on about how great RAY LAMONTAGNE is. Suffice it to say he had a typically wonderful set with a MASSIVE crowd showing up to hear this great singer/songwriter (it quietly went unnoticed last year that he was nominated for a Grammy for Song of the Year). If you’re a fan then you know…if not get hip to Ray. I will say that his wonderfully gravely, passionate vocal sound has made him one of my favorite singers.


It was the day after Thanksgiving 3 years ago and I found myself in Northern Georgia and decided to pay Athens a visit. There was not a lot going on given the date but a local music guide suggested that those of us losers, who had nowhere to be, check out a new electronica/dance act. The club held MAYBE 200 people max. But what people were there were being driven insane on the dance floor by PRETTY LIGHTS. It has been wonderful to follow this act grow to a point where you can’t get near whatever stage he is playing. With success comes “stuff” and now the extravagant light show fits the name. It is just a cut above other artists of the same genre and the LACK of ego and vanity is refreshing. Very little light is on our man in the middle and there are no jumbot-ron videos of him playing (still trying to get that shirtless DJ Tiesto image out of my mind from Coachella ‘10) as our man is all about the music and getting the crowd moving.


There has been a lot of buzz about CHARLES BRADLEY. Much of it is because Bradley has made his first record and now seeing success at the age of 62. But it’s as if a great soul artist of the 70s was held away from us in a time capsule and now being let out. This brother is so old school that the lessons in his textbooks are being taught by “Dick and Jane”. THIS IS THE REAL DEAL! A voice that reminds us of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and a stage persona reminiscent Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Teddy Pendergrass with a smattering of The Godfather, is no neo-soul act but the real thing. He even has the Right Rev. Al’s well-kempt small size afro circa 1976. While performing, he was in his zone and carried on like someone who had been hitting gigs this big for years but he could not contain his emotion in between songs being seemingly in near tears of appreciation. All you R and B/ Soul singer “wannabees” take note…”there’s a new sheriff in town and his name is CHARLES BRADLEY…y’all be cool!” (A dollar to anyone who can name the movie)


The love child of Clapton and Hendrix is what first comes to mind when describing new blues guitar phenom GARY CLARK JR. But all the greats…Buddy Guy, B.B., Stevie Ray and Derek Trucks are there as well. I found myself staring at the stage and being mesmerized by this man’s prowess on the guitar…it was definitely NOT the first time he has seen one of those things. Just trust me and run don’t walk and check this guy out. While the great traditions of the blues are all there, his compositional ideas take the blues where they have rarely been with chords not often heard in our true American art form. All I know is that when he does hit the true blues…at the end of each song…you wish the form had more than 12 bars.


“Yo, yo let’s start the show with some crazy-ass opera music, a big backdrop that looks like a relief from some Greek temple and a butt-load of dancer girls doin’ crazy sh*t on stage.” Such a statement from KANYE WEST is all I can think of to explain how this headlining set started. But if you are gonna do some sort of faux opera opening you should at least get a singer who knows how to sing it which whatever singer that was on the stage did not. We then were treated to 30 dancers in unitards a la Cirque Du Soliel. Of course hip-hop dancers are nothing new and in fact, quite often, a great part of the show but these folks were standing on their heads, flailing around like they had just had a Martha Graham dance class and placed center stage to show the audience how to clap along. WHAT????…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?????  KANYE… my brother…this is a rap/hip-hop show and you are a headlining act of a major festival. Nobody wants to see your take on performance at and judging by the lackluster crowd response no one did. Let me make this clear…I like KANYE’S music…I thought his last record was a near masterwork but if I had wanted to listen to the CD, I could have stayed at home and hit my iTunes. Oh there were musicians… rather actors on stage doing a great job of acting like they were playing. Quite often they were not seen not even pretending to play and leaving the keyboards (were they even plugged in) setups empty. It was 45 minutes in before KANYE even recognized that there were 50,000 people watching him and spoke to the crowd. It started with “hello Austin” but quickly deteriorated into some socio-political scripted babble-rant. I heard the word “fake” go by in regards to the government or society or something. To that I say…pot meet kettle of an extremely dark color. And brother if you want to sing then SING but don’t give us a 7 minute auto-tuned hip-hop flavored aria. I get that the auto-tuned voice has actually become an instrument in hip-hop and many other genres of music and I actually even like it when it is obvious that is the sound you are trying to make. But hey KANYE, I applaud that you want to sing but let me hip you to a good voice teacher rather than let a computer do it for you. I’m sure I am still dealing with some residual resentment of making me stand in a cow pasture at Bonnaroo until 5 in the AM but KANYE plays a lot of festivals and I try and check him out as I think he is an important artist. But now?… I am DONE seeing him live. MAN did I hate ending such a wonderful day SO pissed off…THANKS A LOT KANYE! I am SO sure he cares. “…and the crowd goes wild”…NOT!!!



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Clem emerged from the underbelly of NashVegas where he began his love of ALL things musical. College found him in the commercial music program at the University of Miami where he actually learned what the hell he was doing. New York was next and whether he “made it there” is still up for debate. From playing in the honky-tonks of Nashville and the dance clubs of Miami to Broadway and theatrical stages around the country, to Carnegie Hall (while practicing one day somebody told him how to get there) and the recording studios of New York and L.A., Clem’s variety of musical experience has transcended the boundaries of genre. He owns a production company, lectures on music in colleges across the country and is on the visiting faculty of Elon Univ. He has a port-o-johns named after him at Bonnaroo, Coachella and Lollapalooza.