Austin City Limits: The Good And The Bad
For the most part, Austin City Limits is a very smoothly run festival. It's relatively easy to get to, if you don't drive and don't mind a bit of a hike, and the Zilker Park field yields a rather nice skyline view of Austin's downtown. There aren't too many trees, so you have to fight for shade, but you wouldn't get that view if it was a tree-filled space.
First the good: ACL has a program set up, all around the festival, that encourages patrons/concertgoers to help with greening initiatives. "Fill a bag, get some schwag" was the slogan they came up with, and it was a simple concept. Take a big clear recycling bag, walk around with it open, and let other concertgoers fill the bag with their empty cans and plastic. All ages were getting in on the action -- and the freebies didn't just consist of a cheap hat and key chain. Nice shirts and reusable grocery bags were the rewards for maybe 30 minutes of "work." If other festivals haven't started doing this, they probably should.
The not so good: last year, the organizers started throwing "official aftershows," where bands from the weekend would play at various venues downtown. Good idea, and last year we saw one of the best shows of the weekend at Emo's, in Blonde Redhead and the National. But certain venues have certain (early) curfews -- like on Sundays, things need to be wrapped up at Stubbs a bit past 10. We ducked out of Foo Fighters a bit early and raced towards Stubbs, getting there at 10 p.m., hoping to see the Black Keys' set last night. Our tickets were ripped, and after cracking that first beer, we heard the band say, "Thanks, this will be our last song."
Mind you, the Web site did say when the doors would be opening (7 p.m. -- which is very much during ACL), as well as the header "after the gates close in Zilker Park, hit the streets for aftershows." But this was very much a during-the-show event, and while organizers probably are trying to maximize fun options, they should consider next year only booking acts at places that don't have to contend with a noise curfew. So, we got to see four songs of the Black Keys set. They sounded great as usual, but ended before our first beer did. -- Michael D. Ayers
Austin City Limits: We Played Wii Music!
When we were offered a bit of a break during ACL's daily activities for a hands-on jam session, we couldn't pass it up. Nintendo has a trailer set up in this year's artist lounge section, and we were escorted there to get a first hand look at "Wii Music." Although the demo version only contained five songs, we were able to try out any of the 60 different instruments it teaches you to play, starting out with a ukulele -- probably not the best choice.
You have to hold the Wii-motes like you would the instrument in question, and through a bit of trial and error, you can (eventually) learn how to harmonize, keep rhythms and time signatures, or beat-box (yes, they have a rap function).
While this is surely innovative as far as education and gaming goes, our first thought was it would be way too time consuming for the "casual" gamer to really get into. But then, as we laid down the foundations of an acoustic reggae version of the "Super Mario Brothers" theme song, we changed our minds a bit.
Nintendo is being super secretive regarding the music tracks the game will come with, but it does promise that you can make your own songs by recording them, and overdubbing/mixing in other instruments along the way. Think your special jam needs a more polka flavor? Yes, you will be able to add that accordion in. It was apparent that even if you're a "Rock Band" / "Guitar Hero" aficionado, "Wii Music" adds a much different dimension to the "be a musician simulation" genre -- you can actually learn to be one. -- Michael D. Ayers
Austin City Limits: Byrne-ing Down The House
The bulk of the show was songs from his recent collaboration with Brian Eno, "Everything That Will Happen Will Happen Today," highlighted by rhythmic, almost tribal versions of "Strange Overtones," "One Fine Day" and "The River." He even dipped back into the Eno/Byrne archive for a Latin-tinged take on "Help Me Somebody" from "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts."
On stage, Byrne was flanked by a troupe of young, fit dancers dressed all in white, just like himself. For many songs they performed choreographed numbers, which initially confused the audience. But people seemed to warm up to them after the dark "Houses in Motion."
At times, they seemed to be matching their facial expressions with the lyrics, and at others, they'd be expressionless, looking like robots. Every now and then Byrne would strut across the stage, his white hair blending in seamlessly. -- Michael D. Ayers
ATP Day 3: Lakeside Lounge
Possibly the best thing about ATP is that you can see very little music and still have a good time. J.I. only managed to catch a few bands yesterday, but after the blistering sonic assault of Saturday, we were ready for some quiet time.
We spent most of the day by the lake, shooting the breeze with friends new and old, eating free ice cream, and drinking bourbon and lemonade. When we did rally to see shows, we were rewarded with a sweet, fuzzy pop set from the Lily's before heading over to check out hip-hop legends EPMD (pictured).
First of all, if you've never watched a bunch of mostly pale 30-omethings rock out to old school hip-hop in a decrepit ballroom, let us just tell you, it's worth seeing. We were stationed in the VIP balcony and went nuts with the rest of the crowd, bouncing and flailing and chanting, so caught up in the moment that we didn't see Kevin Shields standing next to us, looking slightly bemused. At least we didn't lean over and ask when the next record was coming out.
All in all, ATP was a great example of what a festival should be -- manageable, full of cool people and boasting a solid line-up. The slight odor of mold and lame food options aside, it was a pretty perfect weekend.
ATP Day 2, Part 2: Lightning Strikes, Many Times
The late night portion of the ATP festivities kicked off with Les Savy Fav, and their adorably chubby frontman Tim Harrington did his damndest to get things off the ground with a bang. Harrington is known for nudity, costume changes, face paint and sharing his germs with audience members, and he did all those things last night while his bandmates played their angular punk rock as if nothing was happening. From our vantage point at the back, the crowd looked like a whirlpool of humanity, turning slightly redder as the set went on and Harrington shared his wine with them.
We split after LSF to chug an energy drink and watch a few minutes of a Chinese gangster movie before heading back down for Shellac, fronted by the notoriously cranky production genius Steve Albini. The band did their usual question and answer period (sample question: "why does God suck?" sample answer: "There is no God, dumbass.") and played our favorite violent revenge song, "Kill Him." We're still not sure what it says about us that our paramour put this track on a mixtape for us a while back.
And then, lightning struck the crowd. Lightning Bolt set up on the floor and proceeded to deafen the audience once and for all. We watched from behind the band, as the masses undulated and crowd-surfed. Now, we're used to crowd-surfing at, oh, the Warped Tour, but it's truly amazing to see people in their 30s ride across a crowd like they were 15 again.