Kanye West, Bright Eyes, Big Boi and free water refills are amongst Day 1’s highlights.
Zilker Park plays host to over a 100,000 people who migrate to Austin, Texas, for the ACL Festival. This year’s 10th anniversary crams over 130 bands onto 8 stages in 3 days; and then there’s the heat. This year’s festival organizers, performers and fans alike faces the unknown challenges that a caustic heat wave brings to thousands of people crammed into one spot. Some bands succeeded, some didn’t— but not because they didn’t try, the heat was brutal.
Chicago’s Smith Westerns eased the kickoff with a shoegaze synth & punk driven set, performing songs off their recent LP, Dye It Blonde. Hazy, glam, melodies worked well with a mid-afternoon crowd, still pouring in.
Big Boi and his band battled a sweltering sundown, on one of the main stages, with a sweaty set featuring a few Outkast songs, and many off of last year’s under-rated, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. The crowd’s response was matched equally by Patton’s (Big Boi) rhythm section, featuring a nasty drummer— especially on the classic, Bombs Over Baghdad.
Conor Oberst’s Bright Eyes outfit nailed the crowd with a passionate performance. Bright Eyes, with secret weapon, Mike Mogis on guitar, have taken the cheesy-synth rock genre in the last decade and reinvented it better than many of their peers. It shows with their live performances, mastering the grand stage and winning over a large audience. Taking a break to mesmerize the crowd with the folky, long, Land Locked Blues from 2005’s I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, Oberst & company picked up the pace again with Shells Games and Approximate Sunlight from 2011’s The People’s Key. Out of all the modern bands taking stabs at synth and glam, Bright Eyes appear to be doing it the best, but it’s Oberst’s down-home songs and folk intuitions that make Bright Eyes a top-notch live act.
Kanye West. Whatever you think about the guy— the man brings it. 3 acts, hit after hit. The intro to his show was magnificent, rising from the middle of a packed crowd on a scaffold to Dark Fantasy, and slowly working his way to the stage. Kanye worked it hard for about 90 minutes, accompanied by a 4 man ‘band’— well, not really a band—and a stage show loaded with ballerinas and laser lights. West breezed through selections from each of his records at a frantic pace, the crowd with him on every word and beat.
Selections from ‘808s’ to start Act 2 (Love Lockdown, Heartless, and Pinnocchio Story) providing the only break before the heat and the pace took a toll by the time Act 3 hit. West dragged out Runaway longer than it needed to be; but it didn’t matter. Kanye West ruled Austin City Limits anniversary kickoff with a bravado performance.
Let-downs were few; Kurt Vile’s intimate, lo-fi recordings didn’t carry so well to a live, festival setting (I’ll blame the heat); and Foster The People’s set was near impossible to catch 5 minutes of due to an overwhelming amount of sweaty, almost-drunk, hipsters in everyone’s way—which can be blamed on the ill-posiitoning of the Google+ stage, located between 2 main stages. Oh, and, I missed Mavis Staple set. I can’t blame the heat on that one but I’ll blame the beer and Austin’s famous, Stubbs’ BBQ line.
Aside from the heat, ACL’s 2011 Festival is off to a great 10 year anniversary start.