Beautiful sunny mild October day in Zilker Park. Noah & the Whale, Grouplove, Franz Ferdinand, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, Divine Fits, The National
I usually write about ACL Fest on this blog if only so that years later I can provide definitive answers to such questions as “Hey, did we see Allison Krause a few years ago?” by saying, “Why, let me consult the blog.” The answer is that we did see Allison Krause along with Robert Plant back in 2007. And we saw her again, though this time with Union Station on Saturday of last month’s fest.
It was a different kind of year this time around what with a baby and all. We didn’t bring him, but our festival time was dictated by the availability of grandparents to babysit and so, we made it down for only a few acts this year. On Saturday, we saw Allison Krause and Union Station (but you already know that), Gillian Welch (who according to the blog, we caught back in 2009) and my favorite from this year, TV on the Radio.
I first really listened to TV on the Radio this summer and really liked what I heard (their album, To Science). They struck me as a warmer, slightly funkier, Radiohead. Their show did not disappoint. In fact, I consider them the revelation for this year.
Between TV on the Radio and Stevie Wonder, we got a message that a dear friend had died much much too young. We hung around for Stevie Wonder (and probably would have left had it been anyone else) but the wind was blowing Stevie’s music away toward the city and My Morning Jacket was drowning him out from our place in the back. We could just make out “Higher Ground” as we quietly left Zilker Park.
We had no agenda for Sunday. We caught a few bands we hadn’t heard before and came home.
This year’s ACL was good, the weather was okay. No points for endurance as in 2005 or 2009. It wasn’t as good as 2010 (the best one ever), but it was good. Solid good. And that’s fine with me. Next year it will be in mid-October again, and we’re hoping we can bring the little guy along for at least some of the festival.
The night before our son was born, we were flipping through channels and caught a few minutes of the Iron Maiden documentary/concert film Flight 666. I used to love Maiden back in my metallic youth; in fact, the only thing I might have liked more was Judas Priest. I remember riding the bus to school in junior high swapping tapes with friends and discussing the relative merits of Priest classics British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith along with Maiden’s Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind. We also liked Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and even though we agreed the Priest could totally kick Jackson’s ass, we decided that Thriller was still pretty awesome in its own spooky right.
Somewhere along the way, I forgot or perhaps outgrew this music. Maybe it was the fact that the trappings of metal grew so cheesy and convoluted and dependent on hair (thanks, Poison and Ratt) that it just became an embarrassment. I moved on to punk and hardcore and never looked back, which is kind of a shame because when I downloaded and listened to Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” and Priest’s “Freewheel Burning,” I couldn’t believe how much I still liked these tunes. My god how these guys rocked, I thought, and then immediately started downloading old favorites from those albums mentioned above.
Amazing how music transports… Suddenly I remember those junior high years and the long bus ride from our little town up the coast from Naples to the DOD high school on the base. Listening to it again, the sheer intesity and power of the playing is something to behold, especially when Judas Priest starts shredding on “Freewheel Burning” or the raw speed of “Exciter” and “Rapid Fire” or Maiden’s manic “Aces High.” Sometimes the bus ride didn’t seem long at all.
I remember the anticipation we all felt for Iron Maiden’s forthcoming Powerslave. Even after it was out, you couldn’t find it at the base PX. Which is why when we took a family trip up to the UK, the main thing I wanted was to get my hands on Powerslave. I lived inside my headphones much of the way back to Naples on the train, Europe racing along outside the windows to the power and intensity of such classics as “Aces High,” “2 Minutes to Midnight,” and my introduction to Coleridge through their epic retelling of his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Amazing stuff, and I think I was one of the first kids at Naples American High School to have Powerslave, which certainly didn’t hurt my all-important-for-an-8th-grader cool quotient.
Maiden’s lyrics always hooked me. This was a band of readers and history buffs whose interests in science fiction and classic poetry came out in their music. They sounded like nerds who had become cool and that appealed to a kid like me. With Judas Priest, though, the lyrics were almost irrelevant. It was the ax work, the blistering solos and shredding and the operatic glory of Rob Halford’s voice. I thought about Maiden and I felt Priest.
Now, decades later, I find that I still really like this stuff. I’m downloading and relistening, rediscovering these gems from my past. I doubt I’ll venture much further back into metal than these two bands, but I’m not sure I would need to. In my spare moments, I get my rock on and that’s probably the answer to the question of new-parent exhaustion: lots of coffee, some Maiden and a little Priest. And Coltrane too, of course, because the ’61 Vanguard recordings… well that would be a whole other post.
I get antsy if too much time goes by, and I haven’t made anything tangible. Whether it’s framing a print, making a chapbook or making a guitar, I find I just need to do these things. It’s like exercise for me. If I don’t do it, I slip into a dark funk. I suppose making useful objects is intrinsic to being human and for a long time, it was considered the very thing that separated us from the apes (until, of course, we learned that apes and even some birds also make tools). But, to my knowledge, no other animal makes guitars.
The cigar box guitar I made back in August was the most exciting thing I made last year. Perhaps because in doing so I learned so much about how stringed instruments work, but mainly because I made a thing that worked and did a good job of doing what it was made for. That is an exciting thing.
When my dad saw it, he asked if I’d make him one. I thought it might be a good Christmas present and so the week before Christmas, I set out on my second cigar box guitar build determined to learn from the mistakes I’d made on the first one.
The biggest flaw in my first guitar was that the scale length (distance between bridge and nut) was about 2 inches too long. This made it impossible to string it with acoustic strings because the tension added by those extra 2 inches was more than the acoustic strings could stand. I had to use electric strings on mine and while it works, it just doesn’t sound as nice. So I cut my dad’s guitar to a more reasonable 25.5 inches or so, which allowed me to string it up with light gauge acoustic strings.
Other than that, I did pretty much everything else the same; although, I did use a much nicer cigar box. It’s thicker and made of a more resonant sounding wood. I discovered the differences in wood sounds while sitting in the humidor of a nearby cigar bar thumping on empty boxes. This one sounded sweeter and richer somehow so I bought a few of the same brand and wasn’t disappointed.
I didn’t wire it since my dad doesn’t have an amp so that made it simpler than what I did last summer, and I didn’t fret it because, again, it seemed like a lot of chances to ruin the neck and anyway, I like the fretless feel of it especially when playing with a slide.
It was easier to make this one because I knew the tools and the process and didn’t have to rely on trial and error as I did last summer. It was also not 103F in the shade either. That helped a lot.
In the end, I was quite pleased with how it came out. I still don’t have the carpentry chops to make things that look really artful, but it works, it’s playable and it sounds pretty good, I think.
Have a listen:
Another year, another Austin City Limits Music Festival, but this year’s ACL Fest was probably my favorite. A large part of that was the weather, which was October gorgeous. Warm, but mild days with cool nights. Fall is one of the reasons I live here. The ragweed was a problem for me, but that was far better than the year of dust, the year of extreme heat, or the year of mud. For once, the festival didn’t require any real feats of endurance and that made for a great weekend.
We arrived in the afternoon on Friday and saw a little bit each of Beach House and Spoon, but the next two bands were, for me anyway, the highlight of the festival: Sonic Youth and Phish.
Sonic Youth is my favorite band. I’ve seen them a number of times and Daydream Nation is my favorite album. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see them on such a glorious day. Their set was largely material from their recent album The Eternal, which hadn’t really grabbed me until I heard them play from it on Friday. I kept thinking, my god, this is good stuff, so I’ll certainly be giving that record a more careful listen. The highlight of the set was the two closing numbers, both from Daydream Nation: “The Sprawl” and “’Cross the Breeze,” the latter being my favorite SY tune.
Sonic Youth is one of those bands whose music requires careful attention, especially when they tear away from what most folks call music and venture into those dissonant soundscapes where chaos sounds so savagely beautiful and fearsome. These are moments when time can stop and the music truly transports me. Then the noise begins to coalesce and it seems as if I’m waking up inside a song, the one we left, but different now. Changed the way maps look different after you’ve explored the ground they represent. Listening to Sonic Youth is to remember that anything is possible and worth risking when it comes to art. It is freedom and energy and life played loud.
As if Sonic Youth wasn’t enough, just as their set ended Phish was getting started over on the other side of the park. We hustled over and were treated to the kind of show where it’s impossible not to dance. We used to see Phish every time they came through Austin back in the ‘90s, but it’s been at least ten years since they’ve been here, and I’d almost forgotten just how much fun a Phish show is. The played some of their classics (“Chalkdust Torture” and “You Enjoy Myself”) , “Backwards Down the Number Line” from Joy and some crowd-pleasing covers of Talking Heads and Velvet Underground tunes as well as a wonderfully funky “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” also known as the 2001 theme. After Phish, we called it a day.
Saturday we went down late as my allergies were really doing a number on me. The highlights for us were Silversun Pickups, a band we caught back in 2008. I really liked them then and they were even better this time out, especially since I’ve gotten to know their music over the past few years. After Silversun Pickups, we heard a little bit of The XX and then LCD Sound System came on and played an electrifying set as night settled over the park. We went home shortly after that, having decided that this was already the best ACL Fest ever (and I’ve been to all but the first one).
We went down late again on Sunday, which was for our group the least interesting day. The only must-see for us was The Flaming Lips. This was the first time I’ve seen them play, and it was a fun show, the band reveling in its weirdness, perhaps at the expense of the music, but it was still fun. Singer Wayne Coyne came out and rolled over the audience inside a giant beach ball during the intro. He sang one song while sitting on the shoulders of a guy in a bear suit. There were sing-a-longs and audience participation. The highlight, though, was the closer, a wonderful rendition of their song “Do You Realize” which opened the song up, expanding it and letting it fly, making it all the more moving and celebratory. As the song says, “happiness makes you cry,” and I’d say it could have possibly moved me to tears it was so good except the ragweed had already done that.
After the Lips finished, we turned our chairs to the Honda Stage to watch The National. They didn’t play the one song of theirs that I know (“Lemonworld”) but I enjoyed their set anyway. When they finished, we could hear The Eagles on the big stage across the park. I was torn about this. Our friends had an early flight back to St Louis, R and I had to work in the morning, and my allergies were shutting down my nose again. But it’s the Eagles. So we listened to a few tunes. “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Hotel California,” “Witchy Woman.” They sounded great and as a festival closer, they were a good choice, though I still say, Austin City Limits needs to get ZZ Top in here one year to close this thing down.
This was my eighth ACL Fest and it was probably my favorite. The weather was the best it has ever been, and Sonic Youth, Phish, Silversun Pickups and LCD Sound System were all phenomenal. Did I say the weather was amazing? It’s a shame they scheduled it for September next year. Oh, well, I’ll be there. It’s too good a weekend to pass up.
Yesterday, I wrote about the music I’ve been listening to while I work on my science fiction novel and music—a song anyway—is the inspiration for the setting, at least for now. It’s set on Mars at a research station near Olympus Mons, the massive shield volcano at the edge of the Tharsis region.
According to Wikipedia, Olympus Mons stands over 16 miles above the Martian surface and is 342 miles wide, about the size of the state of Missouri.
I don’t know if I’ll keep that site in the final draft, but the choice was inspired by the Pixies tune “Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons,” one of my all-time favorite Pixies songs. Okay, all Pixies songs are pretty much my all-time favorite Pixies songs, but really, I mean a song about a bird dreaming of flying around on another planet?
Did they write the song just for me?
Have a listen.
The pictures are all from Friday evening and came off my iphone, so make of them what you will.
Friday – The Perfect Day
This was my 7th ACL Fest, which means I have spent 21 days at ACL Fest, and in all those days, last Friday was hands-down, the nicest day ever. We arrived around 2:00 to catch Medeski, Martin and Wood, and we were immediately thrilled by the sight of the gorgeous new lawn, all soft and green under our feet.
After some meat pies from Boomerang’s, we heard MMW’s set, which was as good as I had hoped it would be. That was the 2nd time I’ve seen them at ACL, and it was cool to see they warranted a larger stage this time out. After that, we headed over to see The Walkmen, who were good and then Phoenix, a band I really enjoyed. It was the largest crowd they’d ever played for, and the singer was very appreciative of the audience’s enthusiasm.
Afterwards, we were stopped in our tracks by Bassnectar opening with Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days (I’m Going to Cut You Into Little Pieces)” and stayed for a bit of his set. After that I caught a few songs of Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3’s before heading over to Thievery Corporation, which was the high point for Friday.
Post-Thievery, we caught the end of Them Crooked Vultures hard-rockin’ set before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came on. I thoroughly enjoyed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs dramatic set and consider them the big discovery (for me) of ACL 09.
Saturday – The Day of Rain
Yup. It rained. It hasn’t rained at ACL Fest since 2003, and it wasn’t bad. I don’t mind standing out in the rain anyway as long as I’ve got my poncho. We arrived in time for Citizen Cope, who I liked, but when we went to the other side to see …and You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, I caught the end of Flogging Molly, a Pogues-ish Irish folk punk band, I wished I had come over earlier.
I was excited to see Trail of Dead as this is a legendary local band whose CDs I have and whose live show I’d never seen. They rocked as I hoped they would. Next up was Mos Def who came on half an hour late, but still put on a terrific show, rapping from behind a drum kit. The set culminated with some break dancing on the edge of the wet stage.
After Mos Def, the rain started coming even harder, triggering an exodus from Zilker Park. It let up shortly thereafter, a good thing since Sound Tribe Sector 9 turned out to be so good, jamming from the very back of a soggy stage so as to avoid electrocution. They were as good and electrifying as I remembered them from a few years ago, though with a little less funk and a little more hard-edged jazztronica along the lines of Particle. This is a good thing.
By the time Ghostland Observatory started, we had had as much rain as we could stand. We stuck around for a few tunes underneath the twisting Lasers, but left long before the Longhorn Band joined them onstage and went home where chili had been simmering in the crock pot all day long.
There is absolutely nothing in the world to make standing in the rain all day worthwhile like a few hot bowls of fresh homemade chili.
Sunday – The Day of Mud
I guess we were lucky. All the shows we intended to see were on the hill where there was still grass that hadn’t been tromped down to mud by the combination of 65,000 people and steady rain.
When we arrived on Sunday afternoon in time for the B-52’s, the weather was pleasant if a bit humid, but not enough to get in the way of enjoying the B-52’s who rocked their set and closed with a “Love Shack,” “Planet Claire,” and “Rock Lobster” trifecta.
I could have gone home after that, but we turned our chairs to the XBOX stage to listen to White Lies after which we turned the chairs again for Arctic Monkeys and then one more time for Passion Pit. All three of those bands were new to me and enjoyed them all, especially White Lies.
By now, it was time to go to the lower part of the park for Jack White’s latest project The Dead Weather. That’s when we saw the mud and, good lord, it looked awful. The lovely green beautiful grass from Friday was covered in an oozing sea of mud. Rather than venture out over that expanse we parked ourselves under a tree with some grass and listened to The Dead Weather from all the way back there. They were loud enough to hear. I enjoyed their heavy blues sound, and decided that The Dead Weather is probably my favorite of the various Jack White projects.
Being neither fans of mud nor Pearl Jam we left and called it a year.
On balance, this was probably once of my favorite ACL years. Weather-wise, I’ll take mud and rain any day over heat and dust. As to the music, once Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys dropped out of the lineup, there wasn’t anything I was dying to see, which made it easy to just enjoy whatever was happening while discovering new things.
My favorites for the year? Thievery Corporation, The B-52’s, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, STS9.
There’s been a lot of griping about the mud and ruined grass and how long that part of Zilker Park will be closed for repairs to the lawn, but it will get repaired and the ACL Fest sponsors have said they will cover it. Had it not rained, the grass would have withstood the weekend. As it is, it’s probably still alive under that mud and soon The Great Lawn will look as gorgeous as it did on Friday.
I dragged myself away from (endlessly) hitting refresh on 538 long enough to enjoy last weekend’s ACL Fest. It was a good time. Our Galveston friends came in as usual, though they’d already been here most of the previous week due to Hurricane Ike, so in a way, ACL was kind of the last weekend of a good old fashioned hurricane party.
For once the weather was great. There was dust, though not like the lung-blackening filth permeating the air of 2005. It even got a bit chilly at night! The afternoon highs barely topped 90 making the whole thing so much easier than it has been in years when it gets to 108 and lingers in the upper 90s after dark. Here’s to the festival running a few weeks later in the month.
Offsetting the perfection of the weather was a lineup that was a little less exciting than previous years’.
On Friday we saw The Freddy Jones Band, M. Ward – both at the WaMu tent, though I guess by the time we showed up it had become the JP Morgan Tent if not in name than in fact. Hot Chip was next, an upbeat group that sounded like they’d grown up on New Order. That is high praise.
The highlight of the day, and for me the festival, was David Byrne. I grew up on the Talking Heads and they’re still one of my favorite bands, though I never got to see them except for a performance in 1991 when they played without Byrne – good, but not right. Byrne was amazing. He played some new material, but what really got the crowd excited were his trips back to Fear of Music and Remain in Light. Not just two of my favorite Heads albums, but two favorite albums. They played “Life During Wartime,” “The Great Curve,” “Houses in Motion,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “I Zimbra,” and my favorite, “Crosseyed and Painless.” I couldn’t have asked for a better show. With the sun setting at my back and the cool night settling over Zilker Park, I was in Heaven, amazed by how brilliantly those tunes, that style, hold up after all these years.
After Byrne, we caught Alejandro Escovedo’s set, which made me wonder why on earth I’ve never gone to one of his shows before. We ended with Manu Chao.
Saturday was good. Had I skipped it to watch UT paste Arkansas, though, it wouldn’t have been a loss. For me. It still would have been a loss for Arkansas. We saw The Nachito Herrera All-Stars, who were quite fun. Then John Fogerty for the CCR love, the Black Keys and finally Robert Plant & Allison Krauss, a good set, though I had to be told which songs were the Led Zep ones.
Sunday we enjoyed Gillian Welch, the Silversun Pickups, a taste of Blues Traveler, a band I’ve tried to like many times, but never quite “got:” A little of The Raconteurs and finally Galactic, whose set started late, but was, as usual, very good. We left before the Foo Fighters. I’ve seen them before and as a friend remarked after that show, “Oh, well, whatever, never mind.”
All in all, a good year. It was too light on good jazz and jam bands, and there were no great revelations like Gotan Project, Husky Rescue, Black Angels or Calexico, all bands I had discovered in years past. Still fun, though, and the weather was mercifully cool.
Next year, it’s in October. How cool is that?