The Walkmen, Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses, Elbow, Randy Newman, Fleet Foxes and ACL closer, Arcade Fire.
Day 3 of ACL’s 2011 t0 year anniversary had a little bit of something for everyone and a few surprises. Lots of sun and a little rain— credit Manchester’s Elbow for bringing it with them. As any Elbow fan knows, their music is perfect for a little rain. Before their late afternoon slot hit, The Walkmen blazed through an early afternoon shift while the sun beat down on everyone.
Lead singer, Hamilton Leithauser, sporting a suit in the sweatiest of circumstances, wears it well, and sings it well- and the band brings enough energy to make fans wonder how they got stuck playing the early slot. Either way, The Walkmen proved to new fans and older one aline that they’re ready for larger venues. Great performance up against unbearable heat to start the day.
Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the slot, having promised my assistant I’d catch what she dubbed, the Crazy Heart guy. Truth be told, not only were they fantastic, their performance was my runaway surprise gig of the weekend.
I expected nothing from the singer-songwriter and his roots rockers based on the recent music-marketing rash of ‘T-Bone Burnett’ produced projects, but I was proved wrong, thankfully. Songs from his most recent Junky Star didn’t sit well with me on a few listens months ago, live at ACL though, they’re how they need to be heard.
Scruffed up alcohol stained growls against a nice wash of guitars, fiddle, electric slide, keys and drums- but loud and trashy. ‘Crazy Horse’ venom was running through Bingham’s Dead Horses veins Sunday afternoon. Anyone there expecting some ‘Crazy Heart’ junk (I mean that lightly, for the sake of Bingham’s strong ACL performance) may have been a little disappointed.
Surprise act of the weekend for this guy, hands down. Take a listen below to the band, recorded at ACL 2011.
The great veteran Manachester band, Elbow, lead by Guy Garvey, brought the rain but their slow-burn tunes are all the more better with a little gray and drizzle. I’ve always likened Elbow as being the band many UK bands have ripped off- Coldplay for one—but none come close to their morose yet majestic anti-anthems. Their set moved at a slow pace which was ok— so do their records—focusing mainly on songs from Build a Rocket Boys!
Fleet Foxes are meant for a theater. I know they’ve been doing the festival circuit and they’re a great live band, but I’ve seen and heard them in a theater with those 5 part harmonies and intricate parts up close, where audiences stand in awe waiting for pin drops- those kinda moments. Those parts and harmonies carried well on the big stage and with a large crowd but I like listening to pastoral, chamber folk with my headphones on. The best part about the Foxes was that I met an Austin music lover, Alex, who let me and my assistant relax for a bit in his chairs. We had a great chat but I had to skip out early, the most anticipated act of the weekend (for me at least) was playing right after the Foxes across the field.
Randy Newman was the one act I couldn’t wait to see since the day ACL announced he’d make a rare appearance. The legendary, sarcastic songwriter who’s made a killing out of being known as the guy for writing Disney tunes in the later part of his career couldn’t have been scheduled under a worse situation to play under- a tent stage (like Gillian Welch on Day 2) tucked between loud stages. The crowd reacted emphatically regardless, but the audio on Newman’s piano and vocal were barely audible from straight center, barely 10 yards outside the tent. I stuck around for the whole gig, barely deciphering songs like the late 70’s performance of It’s Money That I Love to kick it off only to be discouraged by subtle sing-alongs without being able to hear the man himself.
A great festival letdown, I hope to see him in a theater where I can appreciate the sound of him and not people around me. Apparently the Houston Press thought he was great, (That’s what front row press photo passes will get ya, a better review.) Next time, Randy, sadly.
NOTE: I met many people who were confused by my desire to see Randy Newman. Many think he’s just the cartoon Disney song guy. He’s not, he’s one of our great pop, American, composers.
Arcade Fire closed the event. I have nothing to say about their set as I was too upset about the sound issues at Randy Newman to focus or absorb properly. Strangely, the next morning en route to Chicago, the Arcade Fire (all of them +) sat coach with us peasant folk returning to our midwestern abodes as they were hopping over to Toronto for another award.
By the end of the weekend, one thing was certain, Austin is pretty hot and music is in the air everywhere. ACL Festival is a work out for music lovers but the city does it well. So well that I haven’t mentioned til now what makes ACL a template festival (and still learning, see audio issues mentioned, and a bad transportation system (none), unmentioned); they truly support their local businesses. Corporate sponsors are visible on stage set ups- and a few scattered tents.
ACL is a flagship festival for supporting a city’s infrastructure. Water refills were free. Local eateries (Stubbs, Torchy’s, Amy’s Ice Cream and many more) had their own tents; and Waterloo Records had a makeshift record store there.
If the rest of the country seems to be doing horrible, Austin appears to be doing it right and people are flocking to ACL whether locals there are ready for the growth or not!
Thank you, ACL and to those I met who made my stay welcomed.