Day One is in the books at the Austin City Limits Festival, weekend one, and I’m hustling so I don’t miss Deap Vally.
Keep in mind there are still tickets available for weekend two, which starts next Friday. Here’s a rundown of my first day experience.
The highlight of the day was JD McPherson in the Zilker Tent. Oklahoma’s hottest retro rock God is a study in simple pleasures from the unvarnished sound of his often quavering guitar to the tinny sound of the piano that evokes visions of a juke joint where Jim Thompson sidled up to the bar with a glass of bourbon to work out the plot points to a new hard-boiled detective novel. McPherson is joined by the dynamic Jimmy Sutton
whose style and precision on the stand-up bass is responsible for a good portion of the high-energy act. McPherson hasn’t compiled a group of musicians who play this style because they never learned to play anything more complex than three-chords and a cloud of drums in 4-4 time. These are expert musicians on a mission to pay homage to the best of rock’s recent past and keep it alive by pushing it forward. While most of the festival was at Arctic Monkeys or Vampire Weekend, I have a hard time believing any of them saw a tighter set than those of us in the Zilker Tent.
Electric Six are not exactly new kids on the block, but definitely new to me. These irreverent Detroit rock cityans put on a high-energy rock show with a sense of humor. One guitarists dons neck brace and faux cast while the bass player dons a white leisure suit to fulfill his El Lobo Blanco persona. Lead singer Dick Valentine (portrayed by the real-life Tyler Spencer) draws from a tried-and-true bag of tricks to entice the crowd beyond his ample vocal style. At one point, Valentine called out the Freebirds concession booth that served him what he called a “deadly burrito” that cost him “an hour in the porta-john” earlier in the day. Their performance of “Gay Bar” was a crowd-pleaser. The song with a soul of irony would bring the dance floor at Angles to a screeching halt — a seemingly impossible feat.
What happens when you throw four elite rock musician on stage with two extra live sessionists? Loud, noisy Queens of the Stone Age. Phil Spector might’ve invented the “wall of sound,” but QOTSA blew it apart and built a white hot wall of metal. These noisy butt-kickers brought a huge show to a small stage aimed at brain-melting riff combinations that were a welcome reminder of how much wannabes like Nickelback suck. QOTSA is a less self-conscious Metallica and definitely not for children under 48 inches tall, those with heart conditions or the pregnant.
With QOTSA going five minutes over on a facing stage, Muse started their show at 9 p.m. as scheduled only to have the first song stopped cold by a faulty generator, delaying the inevitable rock & roll equivalent of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.” Matthew Bellamy and friends mix unrelenting guitar hooks and heat-seeking percussion with lyrics and stage effects Morgan Freeman would welcome on “Through the Wormhole.” Whether Muse is the new Rush, their stage show is undeniably muscular and energetic. This was my third time seeing Muse at Austin City Limits Music Festival and delivered the kind of send-off for the evening audiences have come to expect. Unfortunately, the technical glitch at the beginning was bookended by another outage as Bellamy’s vocals began to climb on the penultimate song. However, the trio returned to the stage a few minutes later, though a good portion of the crowd opted to use the stoppage as an exit cue, and finish big with “Knights of Cydonia.”
Bits and pieces: I caught a little of Arctic Monkeys and was struck by the harder edge of their sound. Covers heard: Jimi Hendrix version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Muse, A Gleelicious cover of “You Can’t Always Get What you Want” by Fun.. The Blind Boys of Alabama played both Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit of the Sky” and Tom Waits “Way Down in the Hole,” which served as the theme to “The Wire.” Arctic Monkeys played some Black Sabbath, McPherson did “Country Boy” and
The Food: Thanks to a large and in-charge breakfast at The Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas, that included a homemade doughnut built for two the Food Court didn’t appeal to me like usual. However, I did have a terrific and hearty carnitas burrito from Chilito’s to go with a couple cups of Sweet Leaf Tea and Tito’s Handmade Vodka, both of which are made in Austin, called a Tito’s Sweet-O. It was pointed out to me that my dinner was a Chilito’s Burrito with a Tito’s Sweet-O. Pretty sure the lead singer would’ve been less surly over this burrito experience than the one from Freebirds.
The festival continues today, and I’ve got performances by Deap Vally, Haim, The True Believers, Wilco, Kendrick Lamar and Kings of Leon in my sights. The Cure closes out the day, but I believe I will be saving that experience for weekend two.
Take a look at the schedule for today and tomorrow here, and let me know if you think I’m missing out on a good act on twitter: @TheFoodDude. Once inside the grounds, texts and tweets come and go thanks to the volume of usage, but I’ll do my best to keep up and report.
Meanwhile, here’s some more photos from McPherson’s performance…