ACL Festival 2012
Part One by: Kaela Van Pelt
Austin City Limits festival is one of the most anticipated local music events by not only Austinites, but music lovers everywhere. I was equally stoked to be going, especially with the people I love and as representative of HM. So, this is my experience and point of view with ACL fest 2012.
The Wombats (****½)
My knowledge of this band prior to ACL was very limited. I’d heard a few songs by them and had been hearing about their music nonstop for weeks, but never really took interest. They opened with “Our Perfect Disease,” but their opening song was far from perfect with multiple technical difficulties. However, to my surprise they completely redeemed themselves. The British indie-rock band had loads and loads of wit and were incredibly easy-going in pleasing their fans and crowd. They made jokes throughout the show and put on an incredible performance, probably even the best sounding I heard all weekend. During the middle of their set the bassist even broke a string – so needless to say, it was very evident they gave it their all. If there was one thing I’d wish to change for this band and their set, it would be that they had the crowd size that they deserved. Having had no expectations for the Wombats, I entirely underestimated their musical talent and ability to play a great live show. This band is definitely worth looking into, and there is no doubt in my mind that they will continue to broaden their fan base and become more and more popular as time goes on.
I have always been a fan of Weezer, since my early days in middle school. Their songs are so well written and catchy, I think everyone had high hopes for this particular set. I have to admit I was let down with this show. The mix didn’t seem to complement the sound and the vocals weren’t the best live. It happens in live music, all the time – not every concert will be outstanding, so I understood my disappointment was simply a reaction to just a mediocre night for Weezer. The crowd was huge, but like me, people just weren’t really into it. The usual and expected quality of sound Weezer holds themselves to was just not there.
I’m not some ecstasy-loving rave goer, but I absolutely love the sound and vibes involved in an electronica show – it really practices the saying “feel the music.” That being said, I was looking forward to this show more than any on ACL’s first night (Friday). In fact, I skipped the Black Keys (a favorite of mine) to see it. I have no regrets for missing anything for seeing AVICII, because their set was absolutely phenomenal. The DJ stood in the brain on top of a probably 80-foot head with lasers and lights coming from all directions. I was in the middle of the crowd, so it was nearly impossible to estimate how packed it was; but, from what I could see, the crowd was enormous and every single person in sight of me was dancing. It was an amazing show and a great time. If you ever have the chance to see them live – I would not recommend passing up the opportunity.
The Lumineers (***½)
Aside from being trampled on the way to this show, it was incredible. They played on the Austin Ventures Stage, which probably was on the smallest (not including the Austin Kiddie Limits Stage), but there were just as many people who showed up to watch any other of the bands. It wasn’t crazy dance music or hard rock, but it was chill, up-lifting music that complimented the weather on Sunday.
Crystal Castles (***½)
I hadn’t heard much about this band, but I was familiar with the genre, so I though I’d give them a try. They played Sunday night, so, by this time, almost everyone attending was exhausted, drained and muddy beyond belief – not exactly in the best moods, either. Despite these not-so-great feelings, they played SO well. Crystal Castles has a unique sound like no other – and their show was just like it.
Part Two by: Doug Van Pelt
I enjoyed Weezer’s laid-back set and the crowd seemed to relish reliving the older hits, like “Buddy Holly” and lit up with excitement during more recent hits, like “Beverly Hills.”
Jack White (*****)
I didn’t know what to expect from this creative genius and I got more than I could have hoped for. While I became hooked around 2002 with the release of Red Blood Cells, I never got to see The White Stripes live, so any opportunity to see this guy brought with it the reluctant and deep-rooted hopes that I’d get to hear some of those tunes that I’ve traveled so many miles with. Even though sometimes it was delivered with White on piano instead of just guitar and drums, tunes like “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “Hotel Yorba,” “We’re Going To Be Friends,” “Ball and Biscuit,” “Seven Nation Army” and “The Hardest Button to Button” sounded lovely to these ears, as did The Raconteurs tune “Steady, as She Goes.” Instead of having to patiently wade through a lengthy performance of White’s new art, he threw out a ton of popular hits. While I probably would have enjoyed anything he delivered, I was pleasantly surprised by his musical menu. I felt like a kid on Halloween again. I smiled a lot.
Kopecky Family Band (****)
This six-member band was huddled in front of drum riser just prior to the start of their set, as if in prayer (they probably were) and the set came off like an answer to prayer. It was nearly flawless, dynamic and fun. The first song sounds starts like that Choir tune with Leigh Nash (“After All”), with lots of delay on the flanged guitar. It set a “stop and listen / catch the moment” vibe immediately. The bumps and thumps of the drum and bass quickly sped things up.
The Kopecky Family Band is a splendid musical recipe. In addition to atmospheric guitars (sometimes three at a time), bass, drums and keys, there was a cello, extra floor toms, trombones, shakers, tambourines, hand clapping and whistling. All the ingredients are whipped together in an organized fashion (i.e. good songs) that make for a swell listen. That first song included a little variety, with the frontwoman Kelsey Kopecky playing a big floor tom that was set out near the front of the stage. The second song started with a whistle, which gave way to Kopecky’s cute yet sultry voice. Then there’s a little Xylophone during the tune for more texture. The third song was a new one from their full-length, Kids Raising Kids. It features lots of sing-along-able “nana-na-nana’s” (a lot of ‘em) and some major thumping bass. This band seemingly wants you to listen to their words, but also get up and move. The fourth song was an older one (“Animal,” from Of Epic Proportions) about a girl. It speeds up midway with the inclusion of lots of harmony vocals egging the audience to join in with the rhythmic “body-up-ba’s.” They asked for some syncopated clapping to start off their newest single, “Heartbeat,” to which the happy audience obliged.
Guitarist Gabe Simon, like each member, did double-duty with multiple instruments, but he was probably the busiest of all – keeping busy with acoustic and electric guitars, trombone and, during the next song, blew the kazoo. The bass and drums keep going through the middle of the song when everything drops out. They dove into another song with a whistle intro, which featured a good mix of lead vocals between Simon and Kopecky and lots of BGVs from bassist/tambourine/xylophone/cello player, Markus Midkiff. The chorus of “Are You Listening” beckons the listener with lines of “Don’t be shy now.” The next tune starts off with yet another member beating on the floor toms – guitarist Steven Holmes. The last two songs show a deeper and darker side of the band, delving into tortured people. One paints the truth boldly with the challenge “To see the man that you’ve become … when the lights go out.” The last song starts with pleas from both vocalists: “Wait. Don’t walk to the store…” It’s a story of pain that “no one wants to talk about it.” Sounds like sweet brooding anger, but points to resolution without getting there – “I know it’s something that we both want.” The chorus speeds up and ramps up in volume. For the finale, Simon tossed out a maraca and tambourine into the audience (which he later retrieved). Tunes like “My Way” and “Heartbeat” conjure the fun of Foster the People without copping onto their sound. I look forward to seeing this band live again in the future, because they sure were fun on this occasion.
This popular band strolled onto the mammoth Bud Light Stage with banjos and guitars in tow, starting off with countrified tune about the truth setting you free. The second song reminded me of Third Day. “Wanted Man” featured some rocking and rollicking piano. After the second song the banjo came back out for the third and the piano introduced the fourth. Frontman Bear Rinehart was a consummate showman, directing the experience like a veteran – whether he was sitting on the piano bench, with a guitar slung around his neck or singing a ballad sans guitar. Between songs he confessed about his insecurities and then encouraged the audience to cut loose, asking them if they wanted to dance. Guitarist Bo Rinehart started off the next song with a nice riff. It gave the large audience a rocking time. I never really knew what NeedToBreathe’s musical personality was, but now I know. They major on Southern rock boogie.
Aaron Ivey Band (****)
Just like the awesome worship he often leads at the Austin Stone Church, Aaron Ivey and his band were well into a groove early on in the first tune. A few “oh, oh, oh” choruses got the audience swaying along. Cries of “Waitin’ for the day to come” echoed of a longing inside that resonated between performer and audience. This was no doubt key to their performance becoming a community event. Soon crashing crescendos, percussive clapping and shared singing warmed the crowd. “I will always love you” spoke of commitment, but it underlined passion moreso. Ivey stood with guitar in hand near the end of the set and shared with a sense of grace and humility that “God has radically given us hope.” His next song asked his higher power to “Flood my soul.” This was typical of the Zilker Stage, which has always majored on the Gospel music stream that is oh-so-closely connected to the rock world, but it was slightly unusual to feature a band that might fit squarely into the “modern worship” category. He’s a local and his music has soul, so it’s no surprise that they were tapped to share their joy here this year.
When he was sharing about how “a lot of us have been beat up by the church, but God’s given us something to stand on,” there was some emphatic hope rising up inside my gut. I love that feeling. Later on Ivey introduced another song by sharing, “My wife and I walked through three adoptions. It was one if the hardest things we ever went through. We wanna offer ourselves as a resource to anyone that has questions,” and he left it at that as they launched back into song. The tune was called “Amos Story,” which chronicles the heartache of not being able to reunite with their newly adopted kids in Haiti for a long time:
I’ll find a way to get you here
If it takes my fleeting breath
Another sunrise hits the ground
And it’s a dark lonely sight
Light years away I hope you know
There is a somebody searching
For the way to get you here
I will get you here
Drummer Phillip Ellis put a spare snare drum head on top of his snare for part of song, which was weird and unusual. Ivey again shared about the home longing that is key to the blues, talking about how the world is a jacked up place. “We found hope in Jesus.” For the last tune Ivey was on acoustic, one of his guitarists played a hurdy girdy/accordion-type thing. The other guitarist was on piano and the drummer played with brushes. The finale comforted with words of challenge: “Come brace yourself for His life of bruising. Things may not turn out like you hoped. Rest in the hurricane.” Quite moving.
The Civil Wars (****)
I’d heard plenty of hype about this outfit, but didn’t really know what to expect. Boy, have I been missing out! The duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White is certainly a match made in musical heaven. Much like the duo of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss a few years ago, these two voices blend with each other extremely well – with strengths building on strengths and the concoction really is pleasing to the ears. They played plenty of songs from their Charlie Peacock-produced full-length Barton Hollow.
Oh, and lest I forget… ACL Fest has the best food vendors in the world serving up some amazing food (not just junk, ya know what I mean?) and their art and vendor area is top-notch, too. I fell in love with this artist, whose work would make great album covers, dontcha think?
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