Into the great wide open: Red Bull skydivers soar over Zilker Park during ACL (Photo by Shelley Hiam)
Even Austin’s most reliable music event has its unpredictable moments. After 33 hours immersed in the first weekend of ACL Fest, the spiral-bound pocket notebook “Playback” packs had become a Proustian epic of chicken-scratch observations and critiques. In those scrawls, certain strange and revelatory happenings merit a specific three-letter editing mark. Here are my favorite “WTFs” of ACL Fest so far.
Formerly stark folkster turned ascending rock goddess, Angel Olsen sold out two nights at Mohawk in February, taped an Austin City Limits episode in April, and amassed a headliner-sized crowd at Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival in July. Even so, a mainstream-minded ACL audience didn’t turn out to her Saturday set.
Jacob Banks’ Encore
London’s contemporary soul singer, boasting a booming voice reminiscent of Toots Hibbert, proved a surprise hit on Sunday, amassing a crazed crowd that chanted “one more song” after big closer “Chainsmoking.” Friends side stage encouraged the rare festival encore, but the weekend-one-only performer was fresh out of fully realized material. “Do I have time?” he asked “Playback” thinking I was a stage manager. “Yeah, four minutes,” I replied. The singer returned to try out new song sketch “Be Good to Me.” Later he told me, “That might not even be a song!” It sure sounded like one.
Beyoncé’s Lemonade Stand
Credit C3 Presents for booking husband Jay-Z and first sister Solange on the same night, generating widespread speculation that Beyoncé would make an appearance at ACL. Of course that never happened, but the hive pined for an arrival from their queen both on Twitter and at both sets where fans shrieked “Where’s Beyoncé?” Jay-Z did shout out some honored guests from the Houston Rockets, guards Chris Paul and James Harden.
Biggest Band in Austin: Missio
Missio never enjoyed a significant groundswell of homegrown support, likely because the first time anyone heard of them was when they signed to RCA Records early this year. Nonetheless, the wompy cornball pop act drew a humongous crowd Friday afternoon. The duo dedicated angsty hit “Middle Fingers” to the Las Vegas shooter.
Capyac’s Breakfast of Champions
When life hands you an early set time, make flapjacks. During Capyac‘s dadaist rave Saturday afternoon, a member of the local electro dance collective named Bean cooked pancakes on a griddle and tossed them into the audience.
The Death of Sound on Sound
Local music festivals love making announcements during competing festivals, but it’s safe to say Sound on Sound Fest organizers didn’t go out of their way to steal ACL Fest’s thunder by announcing their cancellation last Friday. Both backstage and in the park that day, the universal topic of conversation was news that a key investor had pulled out and left insufficient cash flow to orchestrate the second-year event. Given the loss of the spiritual continuation to Fun Fun Fun Fest, previously scheduled to host Iggy Pop, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Electric Wizard at Renaissance fairgrounds in McDade next month, this will be the first year since 2006 that Austin music fans won’t enjoy a Graham Williams-booked festival. Makeup show announcements drop next week.
Just before dusk on Saturday, heads turned heavenward to see an airplane p**p out three skydivers. As they floated down, toting sparklers and a Texas flag, a live recording of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers playing “Free Fallin'” at ACL Fest 2006 soundtracked the loudest sing-along of the weekend.
Right when you thought two of Austin’s best bands couldn’t get any better, Black Angels and Spoon – both arriving at Zilker Park after exhausting tour schedules driven by recent peak LPs – turned in defining performances at ACL Fest on Saturday.
Days after canceling an Emo’s aftershow due to an unspecified medical emergency, the Black Angels appeared in fine feather. Their synesthetic sound waves broke in the Barton Springs stage, an isolated platform across its namesake street exemplifying ACL’s altered landscape. Christian Bland‘s splatter guitar effects propelled “Currency,” which unfolded a set list monopolized by new album Death Song. Frontman Alex Maas curled his lip like Elvis while temping “Be inside my dream/ Live inside of me” during a moody version of “I Dreamt,” which felt like a prelude to late set highlight “I’d Kill for Her.” Holding down an usually early slot, they fought the sunshine and won.
An hour later, with festers high on a skydiving stunt and distracted by a dangerously close Longhorns football game, Spoon took the stage to a crowd so large and loving it must have made that week’s gig at Red Rocks seem like a half-empty dive bar by comparison. A divine Jim Eno beat ushered Hot Thoughts single “Do I Have to Talk You Into It,” but the 13-song set list traced a wide swath through the enduring locals’ post-2004 discography, including razor sharp renditions of “Don’t You Evah” and “My Mathematical Mind.” Throughout, the audience and band tossed passion back and forth, their famous frontman touching every part of the stage like he’d been bitten by Joe Cocker. Even after closing with a brawny version of “Rent I Pay,” he still hadn’t broken a sweat. Britt Daniel doesn’t sweat.
Mobley’s “People Sampler”
Singer, guitarist, pianist, drummer, musical mad scientist: Austin’s post-pop prince turned four ACL audience members into a human drum machine on Saturday. Donning bracelets that turned them into electrical conductors, they knelt around Mobley, who slapped their hands to create a variety of electronic percussion sounds.
Chad Smith’s Everywhere
If it weren’t obvious from his preference for backwards hats and sleeveless flannel, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith is a chill dude that likes to jam. Last Friday, he showed up at Kick B**t Coffee and played three songs with local punk ‘n’ rollers the Pistolators. On Sunday, one day after RHCP headlined ACL, Smith got down with Austin’s flamboyant funk tribe Big Britches at the Blackheart.
Yer So Bad
Covering Tom Petty songs at ACL proved absurdly commonplace, but you can’t blame artists for paying tribute to rock’s late, great songman. Here’s our Tom tally:
Asleep at the Wheel: “Won’t Back Down”
The Killers: “The Waiting,” “American Girl”
Andrew McMahon: “Wildflowers”
Lukas Nelson: “American Girl”
Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ guitarist Josh Klinghoffer: “Face in the Crowd”
The Revivalists: “Refugee,” “Wildflowers”
Meanwhile, notable non-Tom covers included:
Car Seat Headrest: “Powderfinger” (Neil Young & Crazy Horse)
First Aid Kit: “The Gambler” (Kenny Rogers)
The Growlers: “Psycho” (Leon Payne), “Good Name” (William Onyeabor)
Cody Jinks: “Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd)
The Killers: “Shadowplay” (Joy Division)
Lemon Twigs: “I Walked With a Zombie” (Roky Erickson)
Portugal the Man: “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” (Pink Floyd), “Don’t Look Back in Anger” (Oasis), “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (Metallica)
Red Hot Chili Peppers: “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (Stooges), “What Is Soul” (Funkadelic)
Whitney: “On the Way Home” (Neil Young), “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” (Bob Dylan), “Gonna Hurry (as Slow as I Can)” (Dolly Parton), and “Magnet” (NRBQ)