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Concert Review: Austin City Limits Music Festival 2009: Day Three

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If yesterday at Austin City Limits Music Festival was the day of rain, then today was the day of mud – acres and acres of the stuff, which smelled quite a bit like dead fish. All the beautiful green grass was covered by the slippery muck, across almost every single section of the park.

There were three categories of people today: those that came prepared with galoshes; those that wore regular shoes and refused to take them off, instead choosing to coat them in layers of ooze; and those that embraced the mud, walking barefoot and feeling the pleasant squish-squish as they walked across the park. I'm convinced that how people reacted to the environment had a major impact on how much they enjoyed themselves. Let loose, everyone!

2:00 PM – The B-52s, AMD Stage

As my friends and I walked – barefoot, if you're curious – over to our first concert of the day, I realized this: I had absolutely no desire to see the B-52s. They made the song "Love Shack," I believe, and not too much else. The clincher was when the lead singer said, "This is a song that's set maybe about ninety years into the future. It's called, "In The Year 3000."

Logic fail, my good man.

3:00 PM – Heartless Bastards, Dell Stage

This group was a great way to really, truly kick off the day. They play with a fairly standard rock layout, producing a sort of blues/funk music that toes the line between mellow and energetic. That sounds a little strange, I know, but it's true. Also: they've got a female lead vocalist, which completely caught me off guard. If you're casually listening to Heartless Bastards, I guarantee you'll think it's a guy singing. It not a bad voice – rather good, in fact, with great range and power – but it's low and husky enough to make for some confusion.

The Heartless Bastards had a much more low-key vibe than a lot of other performers, but played a good set. By the time we left on our way to the next stage, I definitely wanted to learn a bit more about them and maybe pick up an album.

4:00 PM – Arctic Monkeys, AMD Stage

Strong, swaggering Brit-rock is what these guys are, no doubt about it. The lead singer has one of those British accents that all the girls love and all the guys wish they had. He had a habit of sort of mumbling his way through talking in between songs, then belting out full, strong vocals during their songs.

 One of the standout tracks of the performance was "Brianstorm" which was a great showcase of their musical skills. Also, I've got to add that their drummer means business. He tears through their songs with some seriously difficult stick work that had my friend and music fiend Jamey exclaim that the guy "has chops."

5:00 PM – Passion Pit, Xbox 360 Stage

Have you heard of these guys? If not, stop reading this and go listen to them on an internet radio site or YouTube or something. You'll thank me later. Passion Pit is an electro-pop outfit that has 80s-styling and enough falsetto vocals to make any grown man blush. They're best known for "Sleepyhead," which was dutifully rocked for the crowd, as were others like "Make Light" and "The Reeling," all of which come from their most recent album, Manners.

Despite all this, the performance seemed to lack that extra "oomph" that sets apart a good performance from a truly exceptional one. Maybe they were tired from all the relentless interviews they've been doing this weekend (i.e., almost every single radio station in Austin and then some).

6:00 PM – Ben Harper and Relentless7, AMD Stage

Superstar Ben Harper was in fine form this evening, performing with his new band, Relentless7. He's known for his slide guitar playing, and he didn't disappoint in that regard, sprawling in a chair and cranking out tunes for over an hour. He played with an air of confidence and ease not seen in many other artists. I don't even really know what to say – he impressed me, that's for sure. His singer/songwriter skills made listening worth every minute (though I missed The Dead Weather to see him, and I'm a little bummed about that).

7:00 PM – Michael Franti and Spearhead, Dell Stage

Michael Franti blew me away. It wasn't just the reggae and hip-hop influences on his rock, though those added wonderful color to what he played. It wasn't the fact that he seemed truly happy to be playing at ACL, although it was refreshing to see such a down-to-earth artist. It wasn't even when he invited all the children in the audience onto the stage, though that was wonderful of him and everyone got a kick out of watching them try to sing along with songs they'd likely never heard before tonight. It was some combination of all of the above, and a little more. His music seemed to encourage a camaraderie among audience members.

We all danced and sang along and shared in the experience in a way that didn't happen at any other performance all weekend. We were sharing in something special, and it felt like everyone knew it. While the rest of the the festival attendees were streaming past to get seats for Pearl Jam, the vast majority of us watching Michael Franti and Spearhead opted to stay until the end of his show.

8:00 PM – Pearl Jam, Livestrong Stage

Is it silly to say that I just enjoyed jamming (haha) to Pearl Jam? I don't have much of a connection to them, having been around five or six when they were most popular. I don't know their music very well, and I certainly wasn't drunkenly belting out lyrics like so many of the thirty-somethings in the audience. All I know is that as I listened, I somewhat guiltily became aware that this is one of those bands that I absolutely MUST become more familiar with. They've recently re-released their debut album, Ten, and that's probably as good a place to start as any. It'll be the first in a series of albums I purchase when I get home.

On a quick side note; ACL has been a marathon. Three days of a music festival, with over 130 bands playing on eight different stages, punctuated on either end by a six-hour drive from my home in Oklahoma. It's hard to choose between two or three bands when they're all excellent and all playing at the same time. It's even harder to decide to skip a performance in favor of grabbing a quick meal and hoofing it across the park in order to make it somewhere else in time.

I missed some great bands, no doubt about it, the most painful being Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band. They went on at 12:30 yesterday, and I had every intention of seeing them. Things got a little off-track when I discovered my car had been broken into during the night and had to deal with the Austin police for a few hours (kind and helpful folks, by the way). Even so, this weekend has been an incredible experience. If you ever find yourself with the opportunity to attend a future ACL, I highly recommend it.

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About Brian Murff

  • David

    Dude, the b-52’s probably burned 100 songs that were 12,000 times better than most of the douche water that passed for music in this lineup.

  • Big Mike

    Critics….Great Article

  • Ryan P

    Something tells me he was joking when he said “90 years”. So to the author: Humor fail.

  • “My point was that the band I watched perform was one clearly past its time.”

    Then your point suffered “logic fail” because you didn’t even come close to getting that idea across.

  • Say what you want about how wonderful they used to be, but it has no bearing on the show they put on this past weekend.

    i have no problem with you not liking their performance or that they didn’t fit with the festival, but your paragraph made it look like you’d dismissed them before they’d played a single note.

    if you want to apply Pitchfork-style snotty to something, you should at least make it look like you’ve got your facts straight.

    (note: the B-52’s were a part of a pathetic controversy when they played the university of maine a loooong time ago. apparently, people thought they were lip-syncing. i have no idea if it was true because i didn’t go that night. saw them about 5 years ago and they seem to be playing)

  • That sentence was poorly worded; I meant it as sarcasm. My point was that the band I watched perform was one clearly past its time. The overall tone of their performance wasn’t a good fit for the festival, as far as I’m concerned. It was an awkward series of, “Hey you guys remember this one, right? We’re going to play it now, but not as well as we used to.”

    Say what you want about how wonderful they used to be, but it has no bearing on the show they put on this past weekend.

  • Music history lesson time. The B-52s 1st album came out in 1978 and went platinum with several hits: Rock Lobster, Planet Claire, Dance This Mess Around, 52 Girls, Private Idaho (2nd album), etc.

    They were a major part of the New Wave movement, right as it was transitioning from underground (Elvis Costello, Talking Heads) to mainstream (Blondie, The Cars).

  • “They made the song “Love Shack,” I believe, and not too much else.”

    You’d believe wrong.

    seriously? please, check out the first two cds. i know they came out before you were born, but it won’t hurt too much.

  • Doug Hunter

    I was scanning the airwaves the other day and skipped past Rock Lobster and my 3yo was like ‘Daddy, I want to hear that one!”. He absolutely loved it. They got a cool video on Youtube of them performing it at a club in the 70’s before their first album came out.

  • “They made the song “Love Shack,” I believe, and not too much else.”

    You’d believe wrong.