Austin City Limits Music Festival – Day Two
by Denny Angelle
Saturday, the middle day of the big Austin City Limits Music Festival, offered a little bit of everything for festival goers – a variety that ranged from different musical styles to a choice of weather. “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait a minute and it will change,” goes the saying, and it did.
A warm, humid day finally gave way to strong, intermittent rain showers but the downpours were mostly welcomed by crowds gathered around stages featuring hip hop, bluegrass, country, and good old rock and roll. The grass of Austin’s Zilker Park quickly turned into a muddy quagmire in the more heavily traveled areas of the festival grounds, particularly around the food and refreshment stands and the porta-potties.
When the deep bass thump of a hip hop act on a nearby stage act bled into the quirky, gentle music of Father John Misty, singer Josh Tillman playfully stopped his own set to listen, and dance, along. And when the rain got a little too close to the electricity of British rockers Band of Skulls, they too halted their set briefly so that helpers and attendants could mop up the stage and cover equipment with plastic sheeting.
Tillman, formerly the touring drummer of indie rock sweethearts Fleet Foxes, offers up a sunny bit of singer/songwriter-ness flavored with a little bit of soul and a baggie full of drug-fueled attitude. “Fun Times in Babylon” and “Only Son of the Ladies’ Man” are calling cards for Father John Misty’s Laurel Canyon scenarios, and his mellow band laid back, ready to explode at the drop of a non-sequitur.
The Whigs, from Athens, Ga., rocked harder. The trio’s garage rock exploded over the crowd at Zilker, singer/guitarist Parker Gispert hopping around on one foot like Jethro Tull’s redneck brother. “Waiting,” with its crunchy guitar chording, is the Whigs’ signature, and “Summer Heat” was appropriate for the weather – for the moment, at least.
As the storm clouds gathered we made our way over to the next stage for alt-rockers Band of Skulls, from Southampton, England. Possessing a darker, more driving sound, these Brits gamely tried to keep the rain away but when the fat drops made their presence felt the audience roared in approval. Just a few minutes later, though, the downpour sent the Skulls running away from the humming amps and cracking electric instruments. Once the towels and white plastic sheeting protected everything, the Skulls came out and finished their thumping, driving set. Sorry I didn’t get too many song titles – the ink on my notes simply washed away.
Wet but undaunted, we dropped in on the Punch Brothers, a progressive bluegrass group that could be the American version of Mumford and Sons. That is, if Mumford were as happy and engaging as Punch frontman Chris Thile. Thile’s music is ambitious to say the least – he wrote a 40-minute suite dealing with his divorce – and occasionally the Punch set veered toward some precious experimentalism, such as a cover of Radiohead’s “Morning Bell.”
But they brought it all home and put smiles on our faces at set’s end with crowd pleasers like “Who’s Feeling Young Now?” and the rousing “Rye Whiskey,” with its shout-along “Oh, boy” refrain.
Which was a perfect setup for the next act, the great Steve Earle. The Texas bard offered up “Waitin’ On The Sky” before he jumped right in and introduced “Little Emperor” with: “This song is for George W. and his fuckin’ horse!” I love Steve Earle – but I must admit I cut out on him a bit early when I heard the thump of The Roots finally cease, way down at the end of the park.
That’s because I needed to see Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the night’s nominal headliner. Young at one end of the park vs. Jack White playing on the other end gave festival goers a very tough decision on Saturday, and I opted to head for Neil.
One side note: on the way from Steve Earle to Neil Young a few hundred yards apart, I encountered a very large crowd to see popster Gotye. Slicing through his adoring crowd, I heard a few of his songs. Ugh. Steve Earle to Gotye to Neil Young, that’s not for the faint of heart. I hope I don’t come down with Gotye poisoning later this week.
Possibly the only Woodstock veteran (update: John Fogerty and Levon Helm have also played ACL) to also play the Austin City Limits festival, Young ripped through a fuzz and feedback- filled frenzy that included “Love and Only Love,” and new ones like the goofy ” Born In Ontario” and stomping rocker “Walk Like A Giant.” The latter was a guitar showcase, with Young spraying jagged guitar leads like a machine gun around his veteran backup band Crazy Horse. Just when you thought the song was over (it had already gone on for about 10 minutes) it climaxed with the thunder of giant footfalls and a rainshower of psychedelic feedback (going on for five more minutes).
The crowd, not quite believing what it just experienced, was polite so Young strapped on an acoustic and harmonica to offer up “The Needle And The Damage Done,” as if to thank the audience for its patience. The whole set kind of went that way: a new song or two, followed by one of Young’s favorites to keep everybody interested. “Powerfinger” made an appearance, and after a shoutout to “my sweetheart” Young offered up a rousing “Cinnamon Girl.”
But perhaps the peak of an already incredible set came late, when Young surprised everyone by dusting off the chestnut “Down By The River.” It was awesome – Neil didn’t try (or didn’t want) to match the recording’s guitar work note for note, making this live rendition slightly ragged but really right. “Fuckin’ Up” concluded with Young himself admitting “I fucked up the ending of this song,” and we closed out the night with “Hey Hey My My” and its battle cry “rock and roll will never die.”
What a way to wind it all up. Thanks, Neil.
Our Austin correspondent caught Jack White as we rocked out to Neil Young but don’t worry – we have a few videos from his ACL set and as a bonus (for us) we’re attending his taping of the “Austin City Limits” TV show tonight. Check ya later!
Jack White – “Blue Blood Blues”