Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Austin City Limits Festival: Day One

in which The A.V. Club's lone Austin reporter attempts to cover an entire three-day festival by himself, braving heat, ridiculously massive crowds, and various ill-advised scheduling conflicts that pit many worthwhile acts against each other. Check in each day for increasingly less comprehensive coverage and assorted whining.


12:12 p.m.: Parking is not allowed anywhere near Zilker Park and–since Austin has no subway or other viable mass transportation system–the only way to reach it is by bicycle, taxi, or shuttle bus. I don't own a bike and I'm too cheap to pay for a taxi, so the shuttle bus it is. Unfortunately, our driver doesn't seem to know where the park is. She passes it by at least a half-mile, then makes an awkward four-point turn in a tiny driveway, blocking traffic for a good five minutes. When she finally gets near festival grounds, she makes another wrong turn and ends up in the parking lot of Austin High School. A perplexed security guard leans in to give her directions, but she eventually just gives up and deposits all 100 of us near the pedestrian bridge approximately a mile from the site. We're off to a great start.

12:40 p.m.: A man carrying a six-foot bamboo fishing pole that's dangling an enormous purple octopus is stopped at the gates by a security guard. "But he's been with me to the last four ACL festivals!" the man says. "People love him!" Finally the security guard relents. Such odd accessories are pretty commonplace at ACL, where people carry giant balloons, flags, and other markers in an attempt to keep their groups together. Out of them all my favorite is probably this guy's weird Father Guido Sarducci puppet:


1:36 p.m.: Joseph Arthur has traded his looping equipment for a full band, The Lonely Astronauts, and the result is a weird mix of '70s glam and roots-rock that has none of the swirling appeal of his earlier records. His band, too, is a little distracting: There's drummer Greg "Gee Whiz" Wieczorek, whose puffy mullet makes him look like a refugee from a Journey cover band; lead guitarist Jennifer Turner, who has one of those paint-on eye-masks that Marilyn Manson and Karen O favor; and bassist Sybil Buck, rocking a sparkly green headband and towering red platform boots seemingly nicked from Elton John in Tommy. "Y'all ought to come to my gallery in Brooklyn," Arthur says in between songs. (Sound of crickets chirping.)

2:40 p.m.: Pete Yorn's set is derailed by a massive fire that breaks out on a nearby service road. A huge plume of black smoke fills the sky and ash begins to rain down; chaos ensues as fire trucks race in. The police quickly cordon off a large section of the festival grounds as everyone runs over to take a picture. A family near me poses smiling in front of the smoke cloud, the father saying, "Hurry up before they put it out!"


3:02 p.m.: With the fire finally under control, Yorn can continue. He says, "I'd like to dedicate this to my friends who are playing the stage directly across from me, whom I like very much" before launching into a cover of "Young Folks" by Peter Bjorn And John. Uh, if you like them so much, then why steal their thunder by playing it first? Kind of a dick move, no?

3:32 p.m.: Let's (politely) rock! Peter Bjorn And John take the stage to a bizarre, pre-taped raga version of "Young Folks" played on a sitar, then launch into "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off." It seems like it's at least 20 degrees hotter in front of the Dell Stage, which leads a lot of people to throw shame to the wind and strip down to the least amount of clothing possible, meaning I spend a lot of time rubbing up against guys like this:


4:02 p.m.: Peter Morén says, "So apparently this other guy played our song already. Maybe we and Pete Yorn could do something together? Peter, Bjorn, and Peter Yorn?" Oh, those quirky Swedes. He brings out Mark Keen and Mel Draisey from British band The Clientele (in town for a club gig tonight) to assist on "Young Folks," noting that "Mel is perfect for this because she looks like the cartoon girl in the video." The song gets everyone swaying, particularly the woman from Alive Performance Interpreting, the group providing sign language interpretations for every band today. Surprisingly, whistling in sign language looks a lot like actual whistling.

4:15 p.m.: Stupid ACL Scheduling Decision #1: Putting PB&J; up against Blonde Redhead, who is playing on the opposite side of the park. I catch the last thirty minutes of their set, which sounds appropriately spooky and ethereal even while floating across a sun-drenched field. Kazu Makino says something adorable like, "Be careful out in sun today!" before leaving the stage.

4:32 p.m.: See, now why couldn't they schedule Blonde Redhead or Peter Bjorn And John to play this slot? Instead the choices are Joss Stone, Crowded House, and John Ralston, none of whom sound particularly appealing. I opt to check out the "VIP Grove," which is actually quite impressive: Comfortable lounge chairs under shade trees and giant umbrellas, free catered food from some of the town's best restaurants, free beer, vodka, and wine, and a "mini spa" where you can get bandanas dipped in refreshing peppermint ice water. Sometimes being a respected member of the press pays off.

4:45 p.m.: The insidious curse of "Young Folks" continues, with dozens of people absentmindedly walking around whistling its refrain. This will continue all day.

5:33 p.m.: Stupid ACL Scheduling Decision #2: Pitting LCD Soundsystem against M.I.A., causing a real conundrum for their many crossover fans. I opt for LCD Soundsystem even though I'm definitely conflicted about it. Luckily, the band doesn't disappoint, bringing the day's best set. James Murphy also proves that he's the master of stage banter, offering quips like, "When I was in a punk band I always dreamed that someday I'd play the AT&T; Stage, and bring the rock within five bars of reception. Everyone gets a free iPhone!" and changing the lyrics to "Time To Get Away" to "And me I'm kinda chubby / Which means I'm hungry." Another bonus: With James Murphy up on stage, it's one of the few times I'm not stopped by people mistaking me for him.

6:20 p.m.: The band really lets loose on "Movement," with the guitar player absolutely losing his shit on a guitar solo that would make Phil Manzenara proud. Murphy also points out Hot Chip's Al Doyle, sitting in on guitar. Their set ends in an extended drum solo, with Murphy leading the gang through a white boy funk freak-out that leaves everyone jazzed rather than exhausted. No mean feat, considering the heat is still at its apex, and the post-work crowds are finally turning this into a real clusterfuck.

6:35 p.m.: I entertain myself by taking photos of some of the odder fashion choices I've seen that day. Naturally, finding a way to stand out in a crowd this size is important if you don't want to get separated, but is it worth it to be a walking beacon if it means you have to wear a hat like this?:


Or this?


Or how about this?


Of course, nothing is as bizarre as this guy's panda bear costume (keep in mind that it's approximately 98 degrees out here):


As I said before, most people dealt with the heat by stripping down to their barest essentials, or even indulging in their wildest fantasies like this guy, who walked around flashing his white frilly panties to everyone:


6:50 p.m.: Maybe it's the band's constant touring or it's just the onset of crowd fatigue, but Spoon's set sounds a little tired, even with the addition of a four-piece horn section. The addition of brass and sax is a no-brainer on the Latin-flavored "The Underdog," but it sounds slightly cheesy and out-of-place on songs like "Stay Don't Go." Britt Daniel ends the set alone with an acoustic rendition of "Me And The Bean" that's fittingly anti-climactic. Get some rest, guys.

7:35 p.m.: Speaking of tired, the Kaiser Chiefs' set is unfortunately heavy on numbers from their recent middling sophomore album Yours Truly, Angry Mob, which I find fairly tedious and uninspired, especially when compared to rousing Employment numbers like "Oh My God." Still, the crowd is responsive, throwing their hands in the air at the request of Ricky Wilson, who sounds more than a little hoarse. The band's set is also interrupted by the distracting light show being set up at the nearby AMD Stage for The Killers' set, and there's a crush of people already lining up to see them. The Killers, by the way, are probably the most represented band on t-shirts here today, second only to The Hold Steady (who are not playing).

8:20 p.m.: As I'm walking over to the AT&T; Stage to try and find a spot for Björk, I catch a little of Parisian group Gotan Project. The "electronic tango" group is apparently for people who like the generic dance music of Paul Oakenfold but wish it had a little more accordion.

8:32 p.m.: Björk takes the stage with a huge backing orchestra of women clad in neon, all of them with matching face paint. Björk herself skips out barefoot in a shiny gold lamé dress and huge green lasers shoot across the sky; for Texans this is a landmark event, considering we never expected to see the Icelandic fairy princess anywhere below the Mason-Dixon in our lifetimes (the last time she was here, it was with The Sugarcubes in the 1980s). The crowd goes appropriately nuts.

8:45 p.m.: After getting off to a solid start with gorgeous versions of "Hunter" and "Hidden Place," Björk goes off on a five or six song tangent of slower, experimental fare that takes its toll on a crowd weary from too much sun and beer. The exodus begins, with people packing up their collapsible chairs (good riddance!) and streaming out. Those who leave miss the one-two punch of "Earth Intruders" (sounding much bigger than it does on record) and "Army Of Me," which throbs with huge, sinister low notes. A faithful rendition of "Hyperballad" dissolves into a beat-heavy remix that gets the glowsticks in the air–where the fuck did those come from, by the way? What with the lasers and panda suits, this is all starting to resemble some gross early-'90s rave. I half expect to find people sucking on pacifiers and forming cuddle puddles.

9:55 p.m.: The lasers reemerge and confetti rains down from the top of the stage during an encore of "Declare Independence," leaving everyone who stayed feeling appropriately spent. "Sank you!" Björk chirps, and day one is officially over.

10:10 p.m.: Now begins the absolute worst part of any ACL Fest: Trying to leave. A slow-moving mob takes over Barton Springs Road, marching aimlessly towards the center of the city. Pedi-cab drivers are charging $60 a ride, and surprisingly there are plenty of exhausted folks who take them up on it. I end up trekking nearly 3 miles back downtown (Austin is not exactly a walking city, so this is unusual) in time to catch the Hot Freaks! after-party at Club DeVille, where Grizzly Bear plays to a packed audience. The band's woozy, lovely indie-rock is refreshing and easily one of the best things I see all day–and it was free.

12:30 a.m.: Next door at the Mohawk, Art Brut performs another free set to a surprisingly un-packed audience. Eddie Argos does his requisite jumping into the crowd during "Modern Art," and otherwise leads the band through a top-form show comprising songs from both the recent It's A Bit Complicated and Bang Bang Rock And Roll. Seriously, where is everyone? This is the most intimate show Art Brut has ever played in Austin, the sound is incredible, and the band plays for over an hour. Everyone who just went home is a pussy.

2:15 a.m.: I go home like a pussy, leaving visibly buzzed Onion president Sean Mills behind with the information needed to get into the FactoryPeople after-party featuring LCD Soundsystem. After all, tomorrow is another day.

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