“The goal of the people at ACL, is that you leave here and live the rest of your year like there’s no f-king tomorrow,” shouted Wayne Coyne’s digitally super-imposed face, making the actual man in the foreground look meager. Balloons of all colors bounced across the audience; smoke and streamers flew through the air, and naked women danced wildly on the giant semi-circle screen at the back of the stage.
Amidst all the chaos, Coyne, lead singer of The Flaming Lips, had summed up the 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival in that one sentence. Everything that happened at Zilker Park this past weekend came together; every music fan had now learned how to love music harder, and how to live a little more passionately, and to take all the joy, pain, misery, confusion, and love of all the bands they heard with them wherever they go.
The Flaming Lips were preceded by many wonderful bands on Sunday: Portugal, the Man, The Morning Benders, and Rebelution were among them.
John Gourley, of Portugal, The Man, was dressed in a red, white, and blue hoodie, like it wasn’t a hot September day, as he belted it out in a way only his tenor/falsetto voice could. The vibe was just right as the band went through musically delicious renditions of “The Sun” and “The People.” There was also a bit of comedy as Gourley responded to some suggestive card board cut-outs waving in the audience, asking “are those … spaceships!?”
The Morning Benders were absolutely delighted to take the stage, with ACL being the second stop on their tour to promote their new album, Big Echo. The quartet’s performance was at once tender and powerful, building up to musical climaxes slowly and surprising us at the culmination with massive walls of sound.
Rebelution brought reggae flavor to ACL and sang a memorable ode to weed that ironically was quite the theme song for the festival. They played as The Flaming Lips set up their epic show at the stage next door.
There is no way anyone can fully prepare him or herself for a Flaming Lips show. Even if one has seen one of their spectacles before, watching Coyne and his bandmates climb through a digital woman’s vagina never gets old. And, it’s a magical moment when Coyne crowd surfs in his signature plastic bubble, rearing down on the crowd with a wild look of insanity on his face. Within the first few minutes of the show, Coyne had already rocked our world and destroyed our ability to predict what he would do next.
Fans were allowed to dance on stage dressed in wild orange suits and cube heads with happy faces on them. Coyne blew confetti into the air between songs and smoke rose and enveloped the stage. It was like watching the finale of a legendary concert, except the finale was the concert. If that wasn’t enough, Coyne got the audience to act like monkeys, frogs, and tigers during “I Can Be a Frog.” They closed with “Do You Realize,” telling the audience that they all had beautiful faces.
The ACL crowd had been satisfied immensely, but the night was still not over. The National and Norah Jones took the stage at opposite sides of the park. Their performances couldn’t have been any more different. Jones kept it quiet and peaceful, offering candid renditions of “Chasing Pirates” from latest album, The Fall and “Come Away With Me,” the breakthrough hit that pushed her into the mainstream in 2002.
The National attacked their set boldly, and there was pain in Matt Berninger’s eyes as he sang in his low baritone and shouted, crying “it takes an ocean, not to break,” before throwing the microphone down on the stage in a flood of emotion. The band tried to leave the stage, but the audience stayed put, chanting and shouting for more. Berninger gave them what they wanted, and brought the band out for an encore, even as The Eagles were stepping on stage across the park as the festival’s final headliner.
“Hotel California” drifted up behind my friends as we left Zilker Park to head home to the rest of our lives. Coyne’s words echoed in my head as I started to sink into depression about returning to the normal humdrum of life. The crazy man with dusty gray locks reminded me that life would no longer be the same. I knew a little more about living passionately now. One can’t listen to music for three days straight and not be changed. And, I’m sure the people who are behind Austin City Limits know that.
As I returned to work and life Monday morning, I felt thankful. Thankful that an event such as Austin City Limits exists and thankful that I got to take part. It was a powerful, unforgettable weekend, and next year’s festival already feels right around the corner.