Music Editor Survives Hot, Hot Sun, Big, Big Crowds At Austin City Limits Music Festival! 
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Written by Charles Andrews   
Thursday, 05 October 2006

Got a passion? Mine’s music. Whatever yours is, imagine the near-ultimate. Cloud 9. Nirvana. Hall of Fame All-Star Weekend. All you could ask for. As good as it gets.

I’m tempted to stick one of those labels on the Austin City Limits Music Festival I attended last month. Three days, eight stages, 130 bands. Everyone from Ben Harper to Van Morrison, Flaming Lips to Willie Nelson, Matisyahu to Raconteurs to Nickel Creek, Thievery Corporation to Deadboy & the Elephantmen, Explosions in the Sky to Asleep at the Wheel to TV on the Radio, Ween to Los Lobos. I should have been ecstatic. I think I would have been, if I hadn’t been so exhausted. And hot. And exhausted from being hot.

Those eight stages lined the edges of the very large (400 acres) Zilker Park, off Town Lake on the Colorado River not far from Austin’s downtown and the University of Texas. I wish I had been wearing a pedometer – God knows how many miles I logged in my pursuit of the most/best/most interesting music. I caught 52 bands in three days (22 + 19 + 11). But the mileage decreased each day, not because I wasn’t willing but because the crowds got thicker. Early Friday I was practically jogging between stages, succeeding at catching parts of shows scheduled at the same time or with overlapping time slots. By evening, and by Sunday, it was a much slower pace, trying to not crash into or step on people. Huge crowds gathered in front of stages with even moderately popular performers. Bands who might not sell out a 500-capacity club looked up to see 10- or 20- or 30,000 people in front of their stage. That’s got to be a thrill. Official press releases reported that each of the three days sold out the maximum 65,000 tickets, but it sure seemed to me the crowds got bigger each day.

Hot Ticket
The year before was not the year to have attended. Tickets sales in 2005 were not limited and reportedly went above 80,000/day, the temperature soared to 107 (and Austin is pretty humid), and the park turned into a dust bowl that had people digging black boogers out of their noses for days. (I’m not trying to be gratuitously gross – I read that description over and over.) This year they had a sprinkler system that eliminated the dust problem, there were a lot more water stations and groupings of giant mister fans (you cannot exaggerate how heavenly they felt), and the temp hit triple digits only one day, low-to-mid-90s the other two, with a little bit of relieving rain Sunday morning and evening. (Note: there are maybe three shade trees in Zilker Park.) Texans are fond of saying they don’t even notice until it gets over 95. Though the heat was nothing like the blast furnace and instant sweat drenching I felt each time I stepped off the plane in Jamaica for Reggae Sunsplash (in August!) – I, being non-Texan, did notice. Heineken’s perfect-sized cardboard fans and AT&T’s tiny battery-operated blue plastic propeller ones (with built-in mister) made them the most savvy sponsors there. Smarter yet: AT&T operated out of a very chill air-conditioned tent they called the Oasis, and the blast of frigid air you got as you stepped inside was life-altering.

I watched the Raconteurs very comfortably, thank you, from the Oasis deck, under an umbrella and with mist floating everywhere, having been rewarded with a precious chair by a group of ladies who thought I could settle a bet about the “Bang Bang” song the Racs were wailing on: yes, Nancy Sinatra did it (“Kill Bill”), but it was a Sonny & Cher song first. (I made a slight error: it was Cher solo, and of course music/lyrics by Sonny.) Because I’m such a Terry Reid fan I had to add that these guys weren’t the first to rock the song up – 19-year-old Reid’s first album, nearly 40 years ago, was titled “Bang Bang You’re Terry Reid.” (Yes… I know… Vanilla Fudge rocked it too, but – no comparison.)

3 Ways To Deal
There were at least three ways to deal with the mind-boggling number of bands and the logistics. You could Play Favorites: decide beforehand who you were going to see that day, probably five to seven at most, then get to their stages early and plant yourself. (I nabbed a spot on the front fence, but off to the right side, for closer Van Morrison Friday night by getting to his stage an hour early, squeezing my way up to the front of the already-large but not yet too densely-packed crowd, then sitting on my butt on the ground for a boring hour of staring at knobby knees and waiting. And had to pass up four acts I would’ve liked to have seen. Decided that was not worth repeating, for any performer.)

You could Wander: have no agenda but to drift to wherever it sounded good. (Did that once, first thing Friday, as the sounds of Asleep at the Wheel on a nearby stage drew me like a siren’s call after the dissolving last notes of my opening pick, a very fortunate lead-off homer, local legends Beto & the Fairlanes. It was the first and last time I did not consult my tattered schedule for my next move.)

Or you could Overachieve (yours truly): cram in as much as possible because there was such an embarrassment of riches (and because I was trying to be a good reporter). There were disadvantages to that strategy. The only entire sets I got to see were Morrison and Flaming Lips, and sometimes taking in only part of a set leaves you with a different impression than catching start to finish. When it got really crowded, there were some acts I saw and heard without even stopping, it took so long – a couple of songs – just to walk past one stage on your way to another). If you didn’t arrive way before an act’s scheduled start time, you wouldn’t get very close; I like very close and it’s best for reporting, and worming your way to the front then reversing it to exit was often too large an investment of time. If you weren’t at least toward the center you might not get perfect sound, or a good look. My nourishment consisted of apples, nuts, energy bars and gallons of water because the food lines took 30-60 minutes; by all reports the food booths were really good, as were the arts and crafts and other vendor stands, but I didn’t go there to eat or shop. Final disadvantage: physical exhaustion.

Pluses & Minuses
Pluses: An amazing lineup each day, a mix of stars, known, unknown, cult and locals, remarkably consistent in quality though lacking somewhat in breadth of genres, made possible by the promoters’ good judgment and reportedly a performer payroll of nearly a million dollars (reduced dramatically by paying Willie in weed). Really low ticket prices – hard to pin down after the fact, but it seems it was about $100 for a three-day pass, less for an entire day than you’d pay for one show by one of the bands in a club, maybe even that night in town. Few scheduling conflicts, indicating a real effort to put bands that might draw similar crowds on at different times. Sets that started amazingly on time, though some ended before their scheduled finish time, leaving you to walk up expecting to hear a good 20-30 minutes and instead catching only part of the last song. Nearly perfect placement of stages and monitoring of sound levels, so you only heard who you wanted to hear, yet at sufficient volume. I don’t think I witnessed a single equipment malfunction, except maybe the sound for TV on the Radio. Even more startling – not a single altercation did I see, not even a discouraging word did I hear, with sardine crowds and 200,000 hot tired sweating mostly-under-30s sucking down colossal quantities of beer (think it would be that peaceful in other cities?). It was an overwhelmingly white crowd, so no racial tensions to speak of, and the rowdy youth factor may have been missing because, well, Austin’s just a very laid back place where people, at least at this huge gathering, seemed to respect each other and just be looking for good music and a good time. The vibe was exceptional.

One more kudo for the organizers: they had interpreters for the deaf for at least three quarters of the performances, and they were a smiling, dancing, hip-shaking bunch who added to the good feeling. I spoke to a couple of them, who said it was pretty fast-paced as they scooted from stage to stage to start or relieve in 20-minute shifts, that they had to listen very carefully to catch lyrics (though the Flaming Lips seemed to provide a notebook), and that, yes, they did almost feel like they were part of the band. The best moment I saw was when Terri Hendrix went into a low-growled scat that sent the surprised interpreter into a finger-bending flurry.

Minuses: Besides the few minor points already mentioned, only one other Big Bad Thing stood out: the buses. There was no parking at the grounds, so everyone who didn’t bike (a bit of a ride in nasty traffic) or hike (a very healthy hike, especially considering that’s all you’d be doing for the next 10 hours) or take a taxi, had to come on shuttle buses which all left from one point downtown – not so bad, because people showed up at various times. But they also returned from only one … one … one little curb at Zilker Park, where about 64,850 people were in one line, trying to leave at about the same time. Friday night I did the turtle shuffle for an hour and a half before joyously plopping down in a gloriously chilled bus. Saturday I thought I’d get smart and skip the bus death march for a quick jump into a taxi – what could it be, five bucks for a shared ride back to downtown? – well worth avoiding the infinite line … only to discover that no one else had that bright idea and I was the only one going back to Republic Square. I had to pay the full 15-dollar fare for a solo ride (with a driver with a non-Texas accent who had no clue where the center-of-Austin landmark square was – I gave him directions) – after an hour-plus wait in the taxi line. Sunday it was back to the bus brigade, thankfully not nearly so long because I did the smart thing and … skipped festival closer Tom Petty. Moan if you will (I’m used to it – everyone has their favorites, and AVRev VP Bryan Dailey could barely hide his disillusionment with me when he found out I did not catch Ween – scheduling conflict!!), but thankfully my willingness to skip Petty was a minority opinion or the line wouldn’t have been so short (though I definitely had lots of like-minded company). I laughed and loved sharp-penned Austin Chronicle scribe Joe Gross’s preview piece in that morning’s paper that advocated my bail early strategy: “A geezer no matter how young he was, Petty and his lousy voice ripped off the Byrds for 30 years without ever stealing the good stuff… This wheezer is worth missing ‘The Wire’ for? No. Not then. Not now. Not ever.” Call me, Joe. I’ll make a place for you at AudioVideoRevolution. Around here, we value writers who don’t mince words.

Best Act
People have asked me who I thought was the very best act, out of that cornucopia of offerings, and I have to fudge a little and say that while everyone should see a Flaming Lips show once in their life, and the Raconteurs are the best band alive right now, and Van is the Man, the best group I experienced all weekend was not at the festival but Friday night at the Continental Club, when dumb luck put me in front of Alejandro Escovedo. A buddy of mine in L.A. insisted I look up his fellow car enthusiast friend Steve Wertheimer, who owns the legendary Austin rock dive. I had scanned the newspaper listings for a better show to go to Friday night after the fest and was surprised to find nothing that appealed to me, and didn’t see a better night that weekend on the Continental schedule, so despite not being a big Alejandro fan I decided I’d go and pay my respects, then maybe split after a couple of songs.

Sometimes you feel like that Higher Power gives your dumb ass a gentle shove in the right direction now and again, because my impression of Escovedo was formed by my contempt for his early cow-punk L.A. band Rank and File (hmpff! – obviously these guys have never in their lives heard real country music) and the occasional song of his through the years that seemed melancholy and unremarkable, my qualified disinterest fueled by the praise critics heaped on his solo albums, especially in the last few years (elitist pretenders, like him, I sniffed). Of course, I was always aware my opinion was based on very little or very old information, that I really wasn’t all that familiar with his work and even though I was inclined to think I wouldn’t like him, I always, always keep a musically open mind. It was a delightful, funny moment for me when I was chatting with Escovedo after the show in the Continental’s basement dressing room, and told him I had seen Rank and File several times in L.A. and never cared much for them, and he grinned and responded, “Neither did I!”

Escovedo has always tended toward a slim suit-and-tie look (he’s a slim guy), and would probably be the first to tell you he doesn’t look at all like a rock star. But in his mid-fifties, he could give master classes in flat rockin’ out. I caught him again a week later in the tiny Santa Monica club 14 Below (check their calendar if you’re in L.A., they sometimes snag amazing acts). With two of his grown daughters sitting stage front he took an extended storytelling break to introduce a song about his mother, telling us his Mexican-born father who influenced his music so much lived to 97 and had 12 children, eight of whom became professional musicians (his brothers Pete and Coke were in the original Santana and went on to form Azteca and play in Malo, Sheila E. is his niece, and I just found out from googling that El Vez is his cousin!) – yes, we are taking this country back, he laughed, in reference to the illegal immigrant debate, and we’re starting with the entertainment industry. Then he got back to the mission of thrilling and delighting the packed room, as he did at the Continental, where he just tore the roof off the joint and elicited screaming cheers matching anything at ACL.

Alejandro Escovedo live is impossible to label with a style. He pounds out beat-heavy rock and roll, avant-garde dissonance, delicate flamenco stylings, confident progressive configurations and massive arena-ready rock bombast, and in both cities ended his performance with spirited encore blasts of the Stones’ “Beast of Burden” and Mott the Hoople’s/David Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes.” (He also does the Stooges’ “I Wanna be Your Dog.”) All of it with consummate skill. In both shows put together, there wasn’t a single number that wasn’t interesting, and excellent. He’s a damned good guitar player, but shows his real chops by putting great musicians behind him. He said his drummer (an absolute titan) has been with him 20 years, his guitar player (perhaps even more impressive strumming the holy crap out of a small acoustic as he was killing the electric) also many years, bass and keyboards were outstanding and the cellist (!) rocks with the best of them, a distinguished part of his sound. Two of the players (bass and cello) were different from the band I saw a week before, with no difference in the overall power and sound. (Note: I thought I recognized his bass player in Austin, and when they finally got to intros I found out it was Mark Andes, whose rock history is fairly amazing – and I wound up spotting him in two other bands at ACL the next day, both 180 degrees different from the Escovedo band, and from each other – but in my book he’ll always be part of the original Spirit. My backstage greeting to him at the Continental was: I’ve been writing about music for close to 40 years, I’ve got over 7,000 LPs, 5,000 CDs and nearly a terabyte of music on a hard drive, and I say that first Spirit album is absolutely one of the best ever made by anyone, any genre, period. I meant it 100 percent, and I was pleased to see he seemed genuinely taken aback at my over-the-top compliment.)

More Good Fortune
As good a time, and unexpected, as I had at the Continental Club, you’d think I would have accepted the owner’s invitation to come back any time, but I went chasing, unsuccessfully, the club show for Deadboy & the Elephantmen Saturday night. My disappointment was mitigated by a memorable experience in the sports bar where I stopped for a revitalizing bowl of tortilla soup. An amiable young dude from Atlanta, broadcasting from the festival back to his radio station there, pulled up the bar stool next to me and after just a few introductory words treated me to a $25 shot of Johnny Walker blue label (numbered) … and that’s kind of how Austin is. Sunday I looked at the Continental listing and thought, “Heybale! with Redd Volkaert and Johnny Poole Ball,” sounded way too much like “Hee Haw” to be worth even a peek. But when I found myself finishing dinner at midnight only a block and a half from the club, I figured I’d be a mook not to mosey on down and stick my nose in. Having already forgotten, in 48 hours, about that HP ass-push thing.

When I pushed open those swingin’ doors it took me 10 seconds to realize I’d done a really, really good thing for myself. I was hearing Master Musicians play Real Country Music, the Merle-George-Patsy-Buck-Loretta-Johnny-Tammy-Lefty-Hank kind that you just never, ever get any more, even when someone comes close. I’m not going to go into much detail here because I did in my review of Heybale!’s first, live album (which I highly recommend), but Heybale! is a living, playing history of old school country, ripping and shuffling out classic after classic the same way the originals would have – if they had a band this good.

Looking like nothing more than a big burly, jowly flame-bearded truck driver in baseball cap, Hawaiian shirt and sensible black work shoes, Redd Volkaert is simply one of the best guitar players I’ve ever heard in my life. Not only is he as fleet-fingered as any metal monster you can name (and I kept listening for a clam, a missed note, both on stage and on the disc … and came up empty), but he just breathes country music, he embodies it, he is it. I have the notion that if Redd liked another kind of music, rock or blues or jazz, he could excel anywhere. And as a singer, he just blows you away. Clearly influenced heavily by Merle Haggard (for whom he played for three years, along with a list that looks like a Grand Ole Opry roll call), he ranges from high and lonesome to somewhere so low the Devil feels his feet shake.

And Redd’s only one of three, maybe four really good vocalists in this band I love despite their awful, ludicrously-punctuated name. Earl Poole Ball is the note-holder who can also evoke the Killer at times, and a pretty fair ivory puncher too, good enough to have the Man in Black keep him on for 20 years. Bassist John Lee and drummer Tom Lewis don’t have such rarified histories but are tremendous, the perfect rhythm section for this band, hard-driving the fast numbers and finessing the slows. And there in the middle stands Gary Claxton, no history that would impress you, but … the best boots; trying to stand out in a band already overloaded with great singers, but they chose him, asked him to join, players who damn sure know what they’re doing, and although he shares the spotlight, when he gets a featured vocal he makes you suddenly pay more attention, with a voice full of heart and knowing. That night he finished one song with a ridiculously-long-held note that just caused the room to explode. Most every Sunday night, Continental Club, Heybale! – if you miss this, you’ve missed Austin. Maybe even missed Texas.

It’s A Wrap
Time to return to Zilker Park, and wrap it up. I haven’t been to that many festivals – Sunsplash (three times), New Orleans Jazz & Heritage, the roots-rockabilly Hootenanny at Irvine, CA’s Oak Canyon Ranch, twice – but I was talking in the taxi line to a couple of very young guys from New York who make a lifestyle out of it – one had already hit six big festivals so far this year – and we all agreed that, given the nature of the beast, this was about as good as it gets. Austin’s a pretty cool place, really mellow, one offered. I agreed, but more importantly, I added: they’ve got really good taste in music, and the city honors it as a vital part of their cultural heritage. The City of Los Angeles should require a visit to the Austin City Limits Music Festival (or just Sixth Street on any Friday night) as part of the sensitivity training for police and fire marshals, and pack the mayor and the city council along with them. L.A.’s got more and better music than any place in the world, but could never pull off a show like this in the city limits, and wouldn’t want to. L.A.’s civic attitude towards its incredibly rich musical heritage and its current crop of gifted artists needs some serious work, and perspective.

** THE 52 **

Friday

Beto & The Fairlanes
Great start! Nine-piece, local legends, Latin-swing-fun band, everybody mambo!, lotsa horns, trumpet player can shatter windows, played ACL TV show first year, 1975, so popular they’ve been signed to open ACL fest every year … forever.

Asleep At The Wheel
Also 30-year veterans who epitomize their slice of the Austin scene, no matter what the ever-changing lineup surrounding Ray Benson, they’ve still got it, got a new album, a killer young piano pounder and a terrific new singer Elizabeth. They just keep doin’ their Western swing thing, better than just about anybody.

Terri Hendrix
Tremendous singer/guitar slinger/harp blower and stage presence, great energy, been around 10 years but still an Austin secret, this lady can rock (and blues and country), and had pedal legend Lloyd Maines on guitar to make it oh so sweet.

Greyhounds
Nothing special.

Streets To Nowhere
Pretty much.

Ted Leo + Pharmacists
NJ rock trio, big noise that did nothing for me. Guitar, songs – good. Funny moment: former Chisel-er Ted was making some very brief remarks between songs, then said “I’m gonna stop talking and play ‘cause …” when a very loud voice from the crowd cut him off with “shut up!”

Dears
Very interesting. Black guy vocalist, two female keyboards with good interaction, guitar sometimes smoked it.

Guster
Pulled a big crowd. Too full of themselves.

Joy Davis
Asked the crowd, “Are you ready to rock?!! – then didn’t.

Deadboy & The Elephantmen
All right, finally, someone to get the juices going. Dax Riggs is a charismatic, passionate singer and fierce guitar player, and Tessie Brunet, the other half of the band (they were supplemented by a bass player), tape on her fingers and tats on her wrists, just mother wails on drums, and if you believe their web site she took up the skins less than two years ago. It will be hard to watch the Meg half of the White Stripes after this.

Gospel Silvertones
Three male singers, one female … good.

Stars
Pop, okay.

Wolf Parade
Spacey with wild keyboards, kicked, stood upon, yelped and yodeled, dripping charisma.

Nickel Creek
Okay, give them another chance to change my notion that they have legions of young fans who think they’re the cat’s shit only because they’ve never heard real bluegrass before. Yes, Chris Thile’s a helluva mandolin player, and I guess he would make my top 10 list (if I can think of 10), and I guess to some small degree he has brought other genre flavors into Nickel Creek’s music, but I’ve always felt his star talent is his cuteness, and now I discover another crucial element: it’s the way he handles that little stringed thing. He plays it like a guitar. The way he beats it, and waves it around and doubles over it. He plays it like a rock god would, and no other mandolin players (with the looks to pull it off) do. Got it. No big deal. Move on.

Danielia Cotton
A funny thing happened on my way to Gnarls Barkley. I missed them, because I passed by this lady’s stage and couldn’t tear myself away. I wasn’t the only one, as her crowd grew more and more sizable as her set progressed. With her kick-ass Pistoleros, a shaved-headed black bass player and two white guys looking like a preppy guitar wizard and a wild black-and-red-mohawked drummer, Daniela’s visuals are great but her music’s even better. Compared to Janis Joplin and Tina Turner, valid touchstones, in fact she’s unique and just one hellfire of a vocalist. I don’t think I’ve ever before seen a black woman who’s so purely a rock singer … including Tina. She ended with a cover she said she’s becoming known for, though she’s never recorded it, and there’s not an AC/DC fan alive who wouldn’t stand up and cheer for her “Back in Black.” You better record it, Danielia – I can’t wait to relive that moment.

Okkervil River
Young local faves, alt rock with a pedal steel and a singer trying way too hard to be righteously anguished. It’s just hard to sing when you’re doubled over with the weight of the world. They got a big hand – but everyone did. Fans. Those who don’t dig you move on.

Gomez
Knew the hype, was hoping to be converted because there was something I had missed. Wasn’t. Didn’t.

Del Castillo
Eureka! moment #2. They were on the one stage that was in a tent, with chairs and bleachers, so it was the hardest to see and hear if you hadn’t staked a place early, and was totally packed for yet another local band of repute. My biggest regret of the weekend was getting to witness only a couple songs from these guys. I read raves after the fact in several papers about the magic of their fraternal guitar duo, but didn’t notice them as much as I might have because I was so riveted by their very tall, lanky, prowling singer who had Rock God written all over his bare chest (with vest). I have never before been so captured by a band who didn’t sing a word in my native language. No, not even Sigur Ros. Or REM.

Cat Power & The Memphis Rhythm Band
How can anyone in their right mind dig this woman? I’ve always been aware of her fanatic following but never investigated her recordings, and figured this was a great chance to see what she was all about. And did I ever. She’s psycho. No, that gives her too much credit. What she is, is way, way too neurotic to be a performer (yes, it’s possible), but apparently as bereft of respect for her deluded fans as she is for herself. She continues to trot out her not even pathetic but stupid and abusive little drama on stage where she’s surrounded by slavering fans who anticipate a meltdown and probably would not go home happy if it didn’t happen. Straps on guitar and asks, Should I play guitar on this next number? No, I think piano. Takes off guitar, walks to piano, sits down. Noodles. Looks confused. Goes back to mike and straps on guitar again. Strums a little. Do you really want me to play piano? Yes, yes, yes!! Moves back over. Can you hear the piano? Is there anything at all I can do on stage that will make you not love me? No, no, no! I’ve seen eccentric performers before, saw Van Morrison storm off a stage for stupid reasons then come back to rock like the world was going to end, but there’s a crucial difference. There is much indulgence for genius, but I caught enough of Cat Power actually performing to know that she’s not so special, and certainly, absolutely, not worth putting up with the kind of juvenile sympathy/endearment ploys I witnessed, for the not extraordinary talent she has to offer. The next time I run into a Cat Power fan who tells me they’ve seen her live, and are still a fan, I will very quickly run away.

Los Lonely Boys
Competent but not exceptional rock and roll, a great bar band but I don’t understand what has driven them to such heights of recognition. They drew a huge crowd – with Thievery Corporation competing on another stage.

Trish Murphy
Another striking blonde with pretty good country songs.

Van Morrison
The young hip crowd went nuts for this grand old man of rock, for all the right reasons. I was actually slightly disappointed because despite the privilege of once again hearing this master stylist and being close enough to see him better in the flesh than on the big screen, as excellent as it all was, I had seen close versions of this show a couple of times before, and had hoped for something unusual. But you can’t possibly walk away from a great Van Morrison show where he played harp and sax and ended with “Wild Night,” “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria” with anything but a big grin plastered on your face.

Saturday

Galactic
Big sound, anthemic, Yes-like with sax, brought on Leo Nocentelli of Meters fame.

Blue Van
Great fun, throwback British Invasion sound but from Denmark, keyboard player just nuts, leaping way high off of piano, speakers, anything, and they all know how to give a song a proper big finish.

Ian McLagan & The Bump Band
Being the original keyboard player for the Faces when they were Small, Ian has seen and done it all and now seems happy knocking out solid rockers with his quartet and living the good life in Texas, but soon he’ll get a taste of the old days: he announced he will open for the Stones when they play Austin in a few weeks.

Nada Surf
Nada clue, no notes, but if they had really impressed me I would’ve scribbled something.

Secret Machines
Very good, very Floydish, worth checking out.

TV On The Radio
One of the most anticipated acts, reaction was split and I was on the huh? side, but it seems they had an equipment glitch that left you hearing none of the buzzsaw guitar they’re known for unless you were right in the middle, and without the full sound singer Tunde Adebimpe’s arm-flicking style seemed a little aimless. I must say I’ve never seen a band where one of the players (bass) did not once turn even sidewise and show his face to the audience.

Los Lobos
Yes. Of course. Always great. Isn’t it nice to be able to count on some good things?

Shins
I should like them, they’re originally from my hometown of Albuquerque, but though I thought they were okay their music just didn’t move me at all. A little too alt-conscious. Rolling Stone ranked their show. Maybe that’s why nobody I know reads RS any more.

Charlie Sexton
You know, the guy with the great cheekbones. Once the next big thing, he seems to have settled into a comfortable groove in Austin, playing music he and his bandmates obviously enjoy, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Calexico
Intriguing show I stayed longer for than I thought I would. Starting with accordion, trumpet and drums, adding xylophone, standup bass, three guitars, another trumpet and a dramatic silver-haired Guatemalan singer, an awesome electric bass lead morphing into a space jam with dramatically distorted steel guitar, there was a lot of instrument and style jumping, with consistent high quality. Very impressive in a low-key way.

What Made Milwaukee Famous
Not $4 small cans of beer, that’s for sure.

South Austin Jug Band
Good, pretty authentic, no surprises here.

String Cheese Incident
Again what I expected, but you can’t listen to just a little by a jam band, you have to settle in for the duration and I just had to see …

Raconteurs
Expectations met again, but this time they were sky high. Jack White is deservedly the most lauded rocker of our time, and this quartet is simply a perfect rock band. Absolute intensity. Rock that just can’t get any harder. You’ll have trouble going back to the White Stripes after seeing the Raconteurs. My enjoyment was tempered by my distance from the stage, coupled with my memory of having seen them so close up in their second gig ever, just feet from the stage in the aisles of Amoeba Records in Hollywood.

Explosions In The Sky
Perfectly named. Some classical music influences. Massive crowd. Would have loved to have heard their entire set.

Kings Of Leon
Very good, big arena sound but a bit unimaginative.

Iron & Wine
Pretty much a folkie with a bushy beard, a guitar and a decent voice. What’s the big deal?

Massive Attack
All their fans expected, by some reports a great show, just didn’t hold my interest from so far back, behind about 30,000 people.

Willie Nelson
Yes, Willie. Seen him so many times, always great but more of a sit-down indoor pleasure for me, where you have some chance to see his body, let alone face and fingers. Amazing to see how all those Texans in the crowd who get to see him all the time still flocked, passing up Massive Attack.

Sunday

Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
Gorgeous flowing nearly-floor length dreads, really good backing singers, positive message, cameo from brother Stephen a treat, but the best moments were when he was doing Dad’s songs. However, on the last number, I think one of his own, he did get 95 percent of about 40,000 people to wave their arms the entire song. All praise.

Jack Ingram
Rock with a little country flavor, very likeable and real.

Patrice Pike
Did you watch any of “Rock Star Supernova”? Yeah, I hated it too. But maybe you caught the blond-streaked chick with shoulder sleeve who was really good, and of course was eliminated. That was yet another Austin star, known for her Seven Sisters group and now stepping in front of the hometown crowd for her first appearance since “losing” on national TV, and asking, “Do ya still love me?” I hope Cat Power heard the roar, and she could certainly take lessons from this non-stop dervish of rock and roll energy who stalked the stage and the spectrum of rock’s boundaries, delivering a show I couldn’t break away from.

Buckwheat Zydeco
Nice change of pace in a fest without that much breadth (no complaints, though!). The Cajun legend can’t help but put a smile on your face, and his show in the tent really took you down to New Orleans.

Matisyahu
I loved this hadissic reggae man from Brooklyn the first time I heard his second album, recorded live at Stubb’s, of all places, a famous Austin club. Then the new studio album disappointed, so I was really curious to see him live, here, as was the whole town. One review said, “Matisyahu was the hottest act at ACL … until he took off his long black coat and big black hat.” A joke, but I’ll go with that assessment. He’s visually interesting, twirling and crouching and climbing high up on speaker stacks to scope his band playing, but that band from Brooklyn Heights couldn’t win talent night in Sav-la-mar and anyone trying to perform reggae while denying “his” music has anything to do with rasta, ripping off a culture and inserting his own without giving recognition, doesn’t have a long future in the reggae world. He’s a novelty, and I didn’t hear anything that made me think he’ll still be around in a few years.

White Ghost Shivers
Maybe I should rethink that breadth assessment, as I go from Zydeco to Matis to White Ghost Shivers, just about the most visually and musically … different … band you’ll ever see. Eight musicians crowding the stage, with a tall fiddle player next to the short klezmer-sounding clarinetist then an even-shorter accordian player on the right, a Rocky Horror/Cabaret-outfitted floozy singer out front, a very short pachuco-styled stand-up bass player on the left and a seven-foot banjo picker in the center, playing music from turn of the last century to between the wars (the Europe, not the desert, ones). Entertaining, well-played.

Los Amigos Invisibles
Another group I had always heard so much about, turns out they’re basically a lounge disco band. With a hardcore following.

Flaming Lips
Not going to go into a review. Their shows are legendary. Like I said, you’ve got to see them once, and now I have, and I’m glad, they’re lots of fun, start to finish, but would I buy an album? Not necessarily, and not without listening.

G. Love & Special Sauce
More hype more disappointment, blues-rocky trio, their rapping sucks.

Bodeans
Still the Bodeans. Been around decades. Serviceable soft-edged rock.

Muse
I should have more to say about #52, my last band of the fest, but I didn’t even bother with notes. I remember them as being pretty good.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
I could hear him in the distance as I walked fast! in the short! bus line. Thank you, Tom, for all your fans who stayed to watch you. And got rained on.







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