Correspondence from Austin City Limits: Day 2

photo by Jim Bennett

One of the great things about Austin City Limits, I guess, is the ridiculous abundance of signal flags that people seem to have no problem toting around all day. I’ve been to plenty of festivals, and am familiar with the long poles adorned with distinctive flags or markers so that friends can find friends easier, but this year at ACL it seemed like you couldn’t take five steps without running into someone with a backpack that had a flag pole or bamboo shoot (it was growing outside Zilker Park) protruding from it. Not only did this make it easy for us to find our friends (we had no problem mooching off others’ markers), but it’s was non-stop entertainment to see all the different designs or setups people brought in. People were waving different color balloons, local college flags, cardboard cutouts of I-35 signs, Shiner Boch (local Texas beer) flags, goldfish windsocks, and, of course, more UT Longhorn flags than I’d ever seen in my life. You’d also recognize the more distinctive ones at different performances throughout the weekend. For instance, I think I noticed a pair of phallic cardboard cutouts with “Have a blast!” and “Cum to me!” written on them at about half the shows we went to. All good fun. On to Day 2…

a small sampling of signal flags

For various reasons, we were a bit late getting in the gates on Saturday, and after relaxing for a bit in a tented beach area full of misting fans (in case you didn’t read the Day 1 recap, it was hot as hell), we headed to the AMD Stage to see Broken Bells, the excellent project of Danger Mouse and James Mercer of The Shins. It seemed like there were at least seven or eight musicians on stage, however, including Danger Mouse playing live drums, which sounded great. We were pretty far away for this show, and down a bit of a slope, so we couldn’t really tell exactly what was going on with the instrumental arrangement, but they sounded good as they went through most of the songs off their debut album, including “The High Road”, which seemed like it sounded particularly good, although this might have been because it was the only one I particularly recognized as a Broken Bells song. They also played a cover of The Black Keys’ “Everlasting Light” and Mercer’s voice sounded so remarkably similar to Dan Auerbach’s that I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me it was actually Auerbach on stage singing the high-pitched vocals. I regret not being able to get closer for this show.

We hadn’t really that close for anything yet, but there was no way this was going to be the case for LCD Soundsytem, who were scheduled to go on an hour later across the festival at the Budweiser Stage, which served as ACL’s Main Stage. Now I’m no veteran LCD fan, and to be honest, I don’t even really listen to them that much, but I know from experience that James Murphy and Co. are absolutely INCREDIBLE live. After deciding what everyone wanted to do and stopping by The XX for a minute or so, we booked it across the sprawl of trampled dead grass and shimmied our way up as close to the stage as possible. Firmly entrenched, all we had to do was wait, and we ended up getting into several conversations with people standing around us about how amazing the show we were about to see was going to be. Everyone knew what was up and as soon as the band came out it was a non-stop party for the next hour. We danced the sun down behind our backs as they played a good deal from their 2010 release This Is Happening, as well as plenty of old favorites (with the exception of “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”). And just as was the case when I had seen them before, they sounded their best and the crowd was the rowdiest during “Yeah”. The bouncy, indelibly catchy bass combined with Pat Mahoney’s workmanlike drumming and James Murphy absolutely wailing a series of “yeahs” sounded almost too good to be true. Anyway, this might have been the best show of the festival, and seeing as they are tragically breaking up in the near future, I strongly urge you to see them if you have the chance any time soon.

sun setting on LCD Soundsystem

Night had fallen just in time for the end of LCD Soundsystem and the beginning of Deadmau5, a show that for obvious reasons must been seen at night. Because we stayed until the end of LCD, we couldn’t get very close at all for Deadmau5, but his always incredible light show was clearly visible from a distance. I heard the next day that a fuse was actually blown at two different instances during his set, and that the second time it happened he took off his mouse head and threw it down in disgust. I didn’t see any evidence of this though, and all the songs I recognized, of which I know none of their names, sounded great to me, and probably even better to all the dance-hungry rollers down in front.

After a quick parousing of the ACL Arts section of the festival, which included some great photography displays, as well as other kitschy knick-knacks for sale, we made our way back to the Budweiser Stage for Muse, who would close out our night at Zilker Park. Muse might put on the most grandiose, over-the-top rock shows touring today. Some of my friends who recently saw them in San Diego put up pictures of their stage setup, which was on par with something you might expect to see from U2 — the three members were each perched on their own gigantic pillar and surrounded by an array of lights and lasers. At ACL they had to settle for one of the most amazing laser shows I’ve ever seen, as waves of extremely powerful green lasers were constantly zigging and zagging over our heads. At the center of all of the flashing strobes and lasers, they played several little one minute or so interludes, which included parts from the Star-Spangled Banner, “House of the Rising Sun”, and some Rage Against the Machine songs, before launching into recognizable Muse classic after classic. All of this prompted a good deal of headbanging within our party. Their music was certainly massive enough to go hand in hand with all of their visual shenanigans. Excellent work, Muse! After thirty minutes of shuffling out of the gates like cattle, we were free to ride the wave of good times right through Austin’s fabulous watering-hole scene before sucking it up to power through Day 3 in the morning. Stay tuned…

Seeya Saturday!

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