Monday, October 5th 2009
Despite the promise of downpours by useless local weathermen, Day Three at Austin City Limits saw nary a drop as The Dead Weather, Clutch, Pearl Jam, Ben Harper and many more stepped up to send the festival off on a high note. That’s not to say the event was dry, however – far from it. Saturday’s showers left the field, and soon everyone on it, an inevitable muddy mess. But goddamn, was it a good time.
Without Pearl Jam photo pit access (they required a separate photo pass, which appeared to be exclusively for print media), it was necessary to divide and conquer the day: being the resident Pearl Jam maniac, I arrived at Zilker park an hour before gates opened and secured a front/center spot on the front rail of the Livestrong stage, where I’d ride out the day and shoot all the acts. Skwerl, meanwhile, was tasked with shooting everything else there was to see. The only regretted omission? Weirdo retro-party outfit The B-52s, who reportedly turned out one hell of a set.
Riding the rail with the Pearl Jam devoted was both a blessing and a curse. While it’s great to share space with like-minded music lovers, there’s no justification for a group of people who sit on their asses the entire day, right up front, leaving gaps of both space and atmosphere in the most coveted spot in the entire park. The sad irony they don’t seem to grasp is the fact that it’s a behavior their sycophantic savior, Eddie Vedder, would fundamentally abhor.
The Dodos were the first to play the Livestrong stage, and while their songs were mostly confined to the narrow range of Maric Long’s electric-acoustic reflections, I was pleasantly impressed.
Clutch arrived to a blazing sun, delivering the pure rock fury with an impassioned, groove-heavy set that won over the crowd, who seemed more than a little unfamiliar with the band. Pearl Jam and Clutch fans aren’t exactly a musical match made in heaven, after all.
After throwing the die-hards a surprise curve with the uncommon live jam Sleestak Lightning, singer Neil Fallon told the crowd, “This is not the way to get over a hangover.” He stuck it out, however, and delivered an unforgettable performance of Mob Goes Wild which got the entire crowd roaring with approval.
The Toadies arrived shortly thereafter, reminding everyone that Pearl Jam aren’t the only ’90s rock survivors still as musically potent as ever. I Come From The Water was a fond memory walk for most of the rapidly growing crowd (in anticipation for The Dead Weather, which were to follow).
After getting some food from the highly-recommended Salt Lick stand (the meat itself is overrated, but the BBQ sauce it’s slathered in is addictive), we caught some of Ontario’s blues rocker Danny Brooks. There was zero buzz for their set, no other publications were present at all, but the performance was good. Nothing wildly innovative, but the band was far more seasoned and skilled than any of the hipster darlings drawing crowds this weekend.
Unfortunately, it seems that Heartless Bastards are living in a self-imposed exposure void. There’s something about them that makes them seem like a dismissible band; at least when you’re reading press releases and looking at promotional photos. But they delivered a decent set at ACL, and they warrant a closer look. Certainly more worth their hype than the British moan-rockers White Lies.
We then went over to check out the Austin Kiddie Limits stage. Warming up for Paul Green’s School Of Rock All-Stars was singer-songwriter-cellist Ben Sollee, performing as a surprise ‘special guest.’ The well-intentioned crybaby was not exactly our cup of meat. The School Of Rock kids, on the other hand, tore that little stage up and melted a small pond of chubby toddler faces. I can’t find the younger of the two shredding guitarists’ name, but he had the most badass ‘rock stance’ out of anyone in the entire festival.
Arctic Monkeys played their set completely on their own terms, opening with Dance Little Liar, closing with If You Were There, Beware. Do Me A Favour was a highlight for us personally, as it’s one of our favorite songs. The performance overall was technically flawless, but there was something about seeing the relatively sedated band on such a massive stage in broad daylight that didn’t do the otherwise amazing band justice.
Next up was the business of reality-checking Passion Pit and Dirty Projectors. The above pic pretty much says it all, no? Hipsters en masse are swooning over both, and they were highly recommended by the one furry ugg-wearing photographer in the rain-and-mud-soaked festival who was shooting with baggies full of actual fucking film. Rest assured, you are not missing a goddamned thing. Don’t fall for the desperate hype from sites looking for the next awesome thing. Passion Pit doesn’t really write songs so much as string together clichés over a steady beat. But I suppose you can dance to it at least, unlike Dirty Projectors, who as far as we could tell just farted into microphones while whining themselves and everyone else to sleep.
Ben Harper’s set with the Relentless7 was a crowd favorite, due in no small part to drummer Jordan Richardson, whose added live intensity made each song larger than on record. Many packed in early to chant for Harper’s arrival, and they didn’t leave disappointed, as many were calling his performance the most memorable of the festival. We wouldn’t go quite that far, but the new band faithfully blasted through all of the best tracks from White Lies For Dark Times as the sun went down directly behind.
The Dead Weather, on the other hand, were an overdose of angry sex and ashtray grooves that blasted away any expectations people may have had. Opening with 60 Feet Tall, the band defied rock standards with the most self-confident performance, at the very least, of the day. Singer Alison Mosshart prowled the stage like a tiger, pawing the mic and pouring her entire heart and soul into the performance. Midway through their set she appeared to be hyperventilating, actually collapsing onstage and missing a couple vocal cues. She regained her composure, as Jack White climbed from behind the kit to take vocal duties on a desperately gorgeous version of You Just Can’t Win.
What’s remarkable about the Dead Weather, outside of the music, is that they came across as a gang more than a band, one that would devour their own young to protect one another. The dark, primal essence of the band is anchored by Jack White’s leadership and buoyed by Mosshart’s blistering spitfire sexuality. She’s the perfect counter-character to White’s cool blues demon, an unhinged barroom tigress with thrice the bite for her bark.
While I was rocking with Jack, Alison, LJ and Dean, Skwerl was sneaking his way into the crowd of random fans that Greg Gillis of Girl Talk had rounded up to bring onstage. His performance was by far the most off-the-wall of the festival, as he mashed together a treasure trove of samples of classics, as toilet paper cannons strafed both crowds, both onstage and off. In this case a picture is worth about 75 words.
Dan Auerbach on the Austin Ventures stage. We were happy to finally catch him live, something we’ve been meaning to do ever since digging Keep It Hid back in February. It was a solid set, though there might be no more accurate way to paint the picture than to simply say it sounded like the Black Keys without its other half, Patrick Carney.
Pearl Jam were the festival headliners, and with surprise appearances by Ben Harper and legendary Jane’s Addiction vocalist Perry Farrell, as well as a rockin-hits-heavy set spanning their entire career, the experience was so surreal that it warrants its own piece. Look for that very soon. In the meantime, we’re gonna focus on getting on an airplane and getting the rest of this mud off our bodies.
Antiquiet’s trip to Austin for ACL 2009 was graciously sponsored by our friends over at camelcamelcamel. They set up a cool little site that lets you track prices of items on Amazon and a bunch of other online retailers. Please do pay them a visit to show your appreciation.