Austin City Limits Festival - Day 3

by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date:
Austin City Limits Festival - Day 3
Austin City Limits Festival - Day 3

The final day of the festival fortunately broke much cooler with high temps somewhere in the 70s.  Cloudy at first, the sun did break through mid-day and by night time it was a bit chilly.  Aside from my disastrous trip to the merch tent where both the t-shirt I was interested in and the stainless steel coffee tumbler were both sold out, it was a great day.  My kids managed to ring me up for a t-shirt apiece though - the girls picking festival shirts, while my son picked up a Run the Jewels retro video game styled shirt (think Donkey Kong), which was pretty cool.  The other crisis of the day was me going back and forth about whether I would stay for The Killers headlining act since I hate to leave the last day early - more on that bad decision later.

Day Wave

I may have mentioned this, but I think the festival tries to put on a mid-tier indie band around 1 or 2:00 to get folks out to the event for the day.  Day Wave played that role on Sunday, getting most of us out for their 1:00 set.  I knew a few of their songs from the radio, but not that familiar with them.  They were a perfectly harmless and fine shoegaze band with a ringing two guitar approach.  They are the musical equivalent of a lager beer, their strength being there is nothing offensive about them and their weakness being there is nothing offensive about them.  Fine for what it is, but pretty forgettable.  They are certainly competent and had a bigger crowd than most bands at that time slot get, but just not that exciting to watch.  I heard they played a New Order cover, which must have been in the last 15 minutes of their set.

Rating:  B-  

Rainbow Kitten Surprise

One of my daughter’s top bands on her list of bands to see.  I was not in the know on the RKS phenomenon, but got a taste of it.  The band has its own logo - a mildly suggestive upside down triangle with a rectangle partway through it.  Hailing from the mountains of North Carolina, they do look like they came walking down out of the foothills and come across like an unhinged trippier Lumineers with more of a groove/funk thing going on.  With song titles like ‘Cocaine Jesus’ and ‘Devil Like Me’, maybe they are more the evil twin of Judah and the Lion.  The lead singer looked like Cat Stevens twirling around continually on the stage and wearing one of the band’s logo hats.  The bass player had a topknot and was wearing an open kimono of sorts, thankfully with pants.  We saw him later in the day at the First Aid Kit set wearing the same thing - so much for blending in with the crowd, but he was quickly mobbed and then disappeared.  To their credit they had a huge crowd gathered for a 2:00 set, but just not my thing.  

Rating:  C (Sorry Lu if you ever read this)

Whitney

My graceful early exit from the above RKS set was paired with the perfect excuse.  One of the bands that has been on my list to see since I heard their debut album last year has been Whitney.  It was almost on par with Tame Impala’s Currents from the year before, and made for a perfect Summer soundtrack.  Formed from the remnants of the Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, drummer/singer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek form the core of the band.  I’m the first to avoid concerts where the band just has a debut out, but their melodic pop/soul approach is hard to resist.  Here they appeared as a six member band, including trumpet and keyboards.  When I showed up and recognized they were playing Dylan’s ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’ for soundcheck I could tell this would be something different.

These guys did not disappoint and were hilarious to boot.  I could probably write a few pages on Ehrlich’s between song banter, which he could not help himself from doing even though he acknowledged they didn’t have to tell us what they were going to do next.  The band had been laying low between weekends, but as they explained it for some unknown reason decided to “abuse their bodies and minds” the night before their 3:00 set.  They nobly rallied, though they took the prize by far of most beer consumed on stage during their set - hair of the dog.  Kakacek even unplugged mid-song at one point and grabbed himself and his buddy another beer.  He also played sitting on the stage for a minute or two.  You would have never known their condition, aside from the consumption and how open they were about it.  Ehrlich is uncontainable with his wit, talking about how he recently met his new girlfriend’s parents and that it went well because they probably assumed he would be a “f***ing psychopath”.  He also quipped at one point they have to play “their whole f***ing album because they only have one and it’s thirty minutes long”.  

As promised, I think they did play everything off their album, with the faster tunes ‘The Falls’ and ‘No Matter Where We Go’ standing out.  Mixing in some great covers including songs by Dylan (same as the soundcheck), Dolly Parton, and Neil Young - all on the more obscure side which is always more interesting.  Aside from their impaired condition, which was not evident in their playing at all, these guys have great promise, a unique sound, and hopefully stick around in this form for years to come.

Rating:  A+

Run The Jewels

On the opposite end of the musical spectrum from Whitney, my son and I lined up early for Run The Jewels after skipping the slot before.  The rest of our group went to see The Head and the Heart, also on the other end of the spectrum.  There was a huge crowd amassed for RTJ (not lost on me that they also have a logo like RKS, but call me a hypocrite I will overlook it here), and they seemed to have an endless stream of “recreational supplies”.  Sunday was definitely heaviest in attendance and the crowd on hand here rivaled headliner status for a daylight show.  

MC’s Killer Mike and El-P are basically the show here and though I am not a rap connoisseur by any means the old school beats (on the more foreboding side) and more than competent rhymes seem legit to me.  Given their popularity and cross over to the indie crowd there are plenty in their camp.  They trailed out a string of powerful tracks assisted by a single DJ (sorry didn’t catch his name) and kept the crowd engaged throughout.  Though hard to comp to Chance in the content department, these two generally have a positive message and view their fans as a community - at one point Killer Mike asked everyone to take two steps back to alleviate the crush on the rail and El-P gave a moving anti-suicide spiel.  

They ran through many of their best known tracks over their three LP’s including ‘Call Ticketron’, ‘Stay Gold’ and the DJ Shadow collaboration ‘Nobody Speak’.  To the crowds delight, Danny Brown who had performed earlier came out and did a verse on Hey Kids (Bumaye) and Boots and Joi also appeared as guests, with her turn on ‘Down’ being particularly effective.  In spite of their popularity and critical acclaim there is a hint of a brand/formula at play here bordering on a caricature but I'm hoping I’m wrong here.  I have enjoyed their albums, but hope they don’t stray too much to the mainstream.

Rating:  A-

The Killers

I will forever regret my decision to stay for the headliners slot on Sunday night this year - the other choice was Gorillaz and I wasn’t going there.  I have made it a point each year in attendance to stick it out to the end on Sunday night as the official close of the event.  There is a certain camaraderie in walking out with 50,000 of your closest friends at the end of the weekend.  If you want to look up my review on this site of The Killer’s latest album you will see I despised it and was reluctant to attend this.  However, I read reviews of Weekend 1 and noted that The Killers played two Tom Petty songs in tribute and stayed away from their latest album except for the dreadful ‘The Man’, so I thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Man, was I wrong.

Things started out very favorably as they opened with the train wreck of ‘The Man’, so I figured with this out of the way they would run through their older hits and maybe a few covers.  I was wrong about that as well.  The one thing that was hard to walk away from though was the absolute oddity that was Brandon Flowers.  There is no doubt he wants to be the next Elvis and no doubt that isn’t going to happen in spite of his schtick.  I did finally get the answer to the question of “are we Human or are we Dancer?” - the answer is Dancer (whatever that means) as he is not Human as most of us would identify as.  Flowers was decked out in a sequined jacket and with declarations of “this is your new favorite song” introducing ‘Run for Cover’ off the new album (it is the best song on there, but that’s not saying much) and “this is how we do it in Vegas” invoking a gag reflex.  My daughter also noted that the video screens were all in black and white, so Flowers is either trying to elicit a more glamorous era or hide an age line or two.  He is definitely seeking some higher realm and his band is along for the ride or the money.  Flowers would ditch them all on his march to glory if it would serve his purpose, but The Killers are the vehicle of the day (the solo route didn’t go) and he is milking it for all he can.  I know this is a cynical view and I was standing mid-crowd in a mass of full on fans, but it was a bizarre thing to behold.  No Tom Petty covers, no ‘Jenny Was a Friend of Mine’, so I endured out of solidarity with us humans.

Rating:  Me:  D  Most Everyone Else:  A+

In spite of the audacity that were The Killers, it was another great weekend. I probably didn’t see quite as many full sets this year.  My third year into it, I’m probably a little more relaxed about taking it all in and not clamoring for an 11:30am start.  There did seem to be a few more dead spaces this year, though I don’t conform to the “horrible lineup” camp which there are always many of - you can find something good at most time slots if you plan ahead.  Given they have six stages now, acts aren’t quite as staggered which allowed you to catch the front of one act and the end of the other, with more acts starting and ending at the exact same time.  Likely it’s three stages on and three stages off throughout the day or some combination thereof.  Like I said, I haven’t been to other three day, multi-weekend festivals so it’s hard for me to compare, but the folks at ACL have this down to a science.  Logistics of getting people in and out, tolerable food lines, great craft beer/sports tent, and maintaining a harmonious environment where the expectation is that someone WILL return your wallet is a rarefied accomplishment and one I am happy to partake in each year.  Looking forward to 2018.

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