20 September 2007

P+R: ACLFest Day 2

Day 1 review
Day 1 photo album
Day 2 photo album

The call was for a little cooler temps on Saturday, but if anything with significantly less cloud cover it was even hotter. The music selection trended the other way, cooling off a bit from the sizzle of Friday. No matter, in the end it just meant I was seeing larger chunks of da kind instead of spreading myself thin all over the site.

Once again we were in on time and got right to it. I caught a nice chunk of Willy Mason's set before heading over to the big stage for Dr. Dog. This was "make up" day since The White Stripes would not be closing the Saturday festivities, so Dr. Dog got the replacement slot and bumped everyone forward on the spreadsheet. Personally, I was just as excited to finally catch Philly's own Dr. Dog as I would have been for the Stripes. The crowd was a bit thrown off by the schedule change, but those that stuck around got some nice action from the scab players. Actually, the band started off a little shaky, particularly with their vocals, upon which much of their strength relies. It might have been the soul-piercing sun or just the early start time blues, but they were just plain off and I had that sick feeling in my stomach like they were going to blow their big chance... but my fears weren't all that warranted, they licked their wounds and by the first "jam" in the first tune, they were locking horns and getting everyone to sweat even more with the now-patented ACL shuffle (which includes waving a free ad-ridden giveaway fan at your face as furiously as possible and a slightly perceptible head bob). Let's just say I fucking loved this set from the Dog. They rocked out, the vocals started clicking, they were strutting around stage like true rock stars and everything else on down. The album kind of keys them in on a Beatles/Beach Boys throwback, but live they really opened things up superbly. I am happy to report that I took in the entire set from soup to nuts and would have been happy with another 45 minutes on top of that. The crowd grew to respectable proportions and the only thing lacking was the band's inability to mention who they were, which was particularly egregious since they were a fill-in not even listed in the officially handed-out schedule. Dunces, but what do you expect, it's Philly.

Back Door Slam are like the British Rose Hill Drive. Replace long-haired stoners from Colorado with baby-faced Brits and rewind about 5 years and you get the idea. Bands like this begin and end with the chops of the guitar player and this guy had 'em all well and good. Just straight up Band-of-Gypsy's inspired blues/rock power trio stuff. Once you get over how flecking British these guys look, you'll have no trouble pulling the air guitar/bass/drum triumvirate. I still think the bass player looks like he's training at Hogwarts (rock the house Ravenclaw!), but damn he's got the goods.
Unfortunately there were big gaps in the "want to sees" Saturday afternoon, but never fear, The Big Squeeze convinced me to take a dip in the cool waters of Barton Springs which are just a stone's throw from the main stages. It was a quick refresher and a much needed one, but by the time I was dressed and back on the grounds I was already a sweaty mess again.
There was a little Paulo Nuntini, but I headed to the shade to get a nice jump on Railroad Earth. Haven't seen those guys in a while, but was much impressed with their brand of bluegrassy jamericana. It's a big sound that I liken to a sort of WidespreadPanician string band. The second tune, "Seven Story Mountain," was an epic jamdown, with a big, fat wall of sound wending around the tent in fuck-yeah fashion. That was definitely a highlight track of the weekend; powerful stuff.
I would have liked to stayed for more, but I felt obligated to get in close at the Austin Ventures stage for St. Vincent. She was another late add to the festival and one I was more than just a little psyched for, being the psycho Annie Clark lover that I am. I got there a bit early and settled in up front with the rest of the faithful. From there it was easy to hear a nice big chunk of the Cold War Kids. Those guys have a couple of masterpiece-level songs and they played them of course, but they are one of those bands that just don't have that magic in the live setting. Not that I have seen, at least. It makes you appreciate the bands that do totally have it going on on stage and this year's ACLFest made me realize that there are a ton of bands that just flat out kick ass live... what could be better.

Trying hard not to be drowned out by the CWK, Annie Clark got her set started with a bit of a whimper. For the first time I was a bit disappointed with her set. I was hoping it would be full band again like it was at the Bowery a couple months back, but she was just solo and a bit fussy it seemed. I don't know if the whole festival thing was overwhelming or what, but she didn't have her A game and I'd be curious to see if she made any new fans at ACL. For those who are already converts like myself, it was highly enjoyable, but I wanter her to nail it and she didn't. Still, I'd take a half-assed St. Vincent set most days of the week and somehow managed to enjoy the hay out of the entire set, note for note. One cool surprise was the cover of "Dig A Pony" which was a thrashing, bluesy, off-kilter and totally disjointed rocker in contrast to her somewhat subdued set. The festival was lacking in a few spots and cool, surprising covers was one of them... the others were sit-ins and big, bigger-than-the-music spectacles.
It's sad to say that at this point I was kind of struggling to find something to latch onto for the mid-afternoon. The Ocote Soul Sounds provided a little uplift out of the WaMu tent, getting a big band Afrobeat thing going that would have been called the Budos Band had they been in NYC. Still, even the thrill of some funky "soul sounds" got tiresome after a while. A small taste of Butch Walker also left something to be desired.
At this point it seemed like I was still running on the fumes from the Dr. Dog fumes early in the day, but it wasn't all that bad. This festival just breathes goodness and if anything it was just being spoiled with an overwhelming glut of the Ragu on Friday that made the middle of Saturday seem a little pedestrian. That being said, thank the music gods for Andrew Bird!! Hands down, the most eclectic and electric set of the festival and probably the most talented mofo on site. Bird is one of those "how could anyone not love this?" type of musicians... the kind of guy who you see live once and kick yourself in the groin for ever missing in the past. He played with a small support staff of a drummer and a bass player who were talented and all that, but really just basking in the light. Mr. Bird played guitar and violin (straight up and also plucked expertly like a high-end mandolin) and ran samples of himself playing and singing and whatnot which he grew and pruned like Bonsai trees into marvelous sonic shapes. And the music from there traveled through these circus sized amplifiers and Leslie-type spinning things that brought even more subtle sophistication to a sound that was already luscious, sweet and juicy. Most impressively, though, was the whistling. You've never heard anything like the otherworldly whistling of Andrew Bird and instead of coming off like a freakish gimmick, it represents the next-level foundation of all his music. Of course, it's all nothing without the songs and the lyrics and the vocals... he is the full package and knows how to wrap it all up in a bow live on stage. It still makes me smile thinking about it now.
By the time Bird was winding down, it was approaching the magic hour when the sun hits that angle and you don't fear for the deadly heat stroke/melanoma combination. We made it over for a small dollop of Zap Mama, grabbed a meat-lovers bite to eat and then completed the voyage to the AT&T stage for Damien Rice... i.e. the poor man's Irish Andrew Bird. Well, not really, but some of the same elements in a bit of a bigger/smaller sound combination. Rice has recently lost the secret weapon of his ensemble, Lisa Hannigan, who is an grade-A+ vocal talent in her own right and the music has definitely taken a hit as a result. The songs are there and Damien is still a powerhouse singing and playing guitar and piano, but that little something extra that made his shows something special is most certainly absent and we could feel it noticeably in Austin. Still, Rice is a helluva performer, his songs, while a touch on the cheesy love song side, are still amazing and the set was well worth our attention. We happily stayed for a good fraction of Damien & Co's set and then moved on to set up the endgame for the evening.Aterciopelados, having the most difficult-to-pronounce band name of the festival warranted a song or two. Wonderful world beat kinda stuff, perfectly placed in the tent. I have no doubt that 75% of the people in the big top think/know that they were the best shit happening all weekend. That's the way it goes at ACL. Could we possibly pass up a chance to see at least one song from the Indigo Girls? What song do you think they opened with? My better half told me that it was called "Galileo," and then shuddered through some bizarre high school flashback. A crappy "new song" or two later and we eased our way back toward the masses gathering across the park. This entailed walking by Cross Canadian Ragweed who were much louder and raunchier than I thought they might be. They had a monster crowd rocking out in front of the Austin Ventures stage which seems to specialize in closing out the evening with surprisingly loud and raunchy rock and roll. We caught up with some new friends and settled a ways back from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah who were good and got the heads a-bobbin' but didn't seem to compete too well with sitting down, relaxing with some friendly conversation.
Close-out slot on Saturday was supposed to be the big showdown between The White Stripes and Arcade Fire, which, to me, seemed like a fairly even match, but with the Stripes dropping out and Muse sliding down to be the big bopper, it wasn't even close. The Canadians had a nice crowd, but it was totally manageable and way smaller than I would have guessed... just goes to show how much I know, Muse was most certainly mobbed. I can't imagine what the split would have been like had the White family actually made it. Oh well, all the better for us. We didn't bother moving up too close, but close enough to feel the mad energy, exquisite arrangement and all around good vibrations of an Arcade Fire show. The band seems to grow with each viewing, not necessarily with new members, but with power... the force grows strong in them. The new material was much tighter and blazing hot than when I saw them in the church this past winter. The confidence just oozes on all fronts and makes the largeness of the show -- the antics, the lights, the heavy lyrics -- seem natural. Still, when they closed the show out and needed to bring it up a notch, it was with the older Funeral material that they got the biggest rush out of the crowd and really, from themselves as well. I once thought these guys might have been flash-in-the-pan ready, but something tells me they might have a little more sticking around to do.Every night we walked back to our car and got to listen to the band closing things out somehow get louder and cleared the further away we got. Thank you Muse for the walking music.

SSO -- Saturday: 20, total: 43
SPO -- Saturday: 10, total: 25

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