ACL Fest 2015: Amason is Swedish for Amazon

Amanda Bergman of Amason performs during Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday, October 11, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Amanda Bergman of Amason performs during Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Sunday, October 11, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Amason are one of those pop bands who you can’t quite place, but later surprise you by being Swedish.

I’m no Swediphile. Those bands start off piquing your interest but tend to wear thin. This band, Amason, though, wears better than most.

They started with a driving number, propelled by sparkling synthesizers and guitars. The drumming was slightly suspect, but it was an upbeat, fun mood.

A lot of that was due to the gorgeous, smoky voice of lead singer Amanda Bergman. It”s reminiscent of Cat Power’s, but Bergman’s has a higher range with a sweet falsetto.

After such a strong start though, Amason’s second song turned down the mood a little too quick, extinguishing their energy with a slow ballad. The set quickly picked up again, but there was never enough momentum to propel the crowd’s interest. It was just a lot of ups and downs, as opposed to a mapped out set with a climax and a come down.

Still, Amason is often worth watching. Not that their live show has the same 12 minute jams, but Amason started to give off a War On Drugs vibe, and you could see their potential there. These were songs that were going somewhere. And a War on Drugs, but with a female singer at the helm … How cool would that be?

Alas, the band’s output onstage is usually more subdued, which is too bad, because once you dig a bit you realize half of Sweden’s movers and shakers are on stage here. You’ve got folks from Miike Snow, Dungen, and the songwriting duo who did Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” Come on!

“It’s pretty warm. It’s pretty cold in Sweden. That’s why we have turtlenecks (on),” said co-vocalist Gustav Ejstes.

Fair enough, but it’s hot and sunny here. Let’s try and play accordingly.

ACL Fest 2015: Too early for a Knifight

Knifight performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Sunday October 11, 2015.  JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Knifight performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Sunday October 11, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

It was a stunning morning at Zilker Park for the final day of Austin City Limits Fest 2015. The fields were almost empty, the sun was shining, and up came a generous westerly breeze.

Ideal weather, then, to catch a band called Knifight.

They’re an Austin synth pop band, via Tyler, Texas, and like Ume, another serious, intense, Austin group playing in an awkward noontime slot best left to chill acts, they did their best to work the crowd into a mood. No easy task.

But they played a tight, focused set with a big brash sound. Their bio says they’ve opened this past year for another intense (almost emo) electronica act, Future Islands, as well as Duran Duran. How’s that for an interesting fit.

This time slot is about numbers–meaning, there aren’t enough of them to go around this early in the day.

The Hunts

An hour later, Virginia folk band The Hunts had an audience four times the size as Knifight’s, at the same Austin Ventures stage. The Hunts’ music is definitely a better fit for this time of day, but they also have the benefit of that many more people in the park.

The Hunts’ music is cute. They’ve got singable parts, a relaxed vibe and some soothing harmonies. There’s even whistling. Once you find out they’re a seven piece, and all brothers and sisters, it’s enough to make fans of pulsing synth rock sick to their stomaches. The only problem is that those fans weren’t there before noon.

ACL Fest 2015: Modest Mouse are a little too modest

Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse performs during the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Saturday, October 10, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse performs during the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Saturday, October 10, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Modest Mouse commanded a huge chill out section of people on blankets. It was stretching nearly to the beer hall.

But on the strength of a middling new record, Modest Mouse fans seem nostalgic. They want to hear the band’s (one?) radio jam, “Float On,” and some of them, with longer memories, want to hear the really old stuff.

Onstage, Modest Mouse mostly seem to be doing their normal thing. The band is always interesting, there’s banjo, cornet, violin, but it’s hard not to sense, for those who’ve followed them for years, that modest mouse don’t carry the same weight they once did, at least not this time out.

Lead singer Isaac Brock is still a source of tireless energy, and they always look to be having fun on stage. But there’s an essential tension in their music that often renders it in a darker energy. No easy anthems here.

“How are y’all doing?” Brock said at on point. He paused. “Where the f***’d you get a giant Gumby inflatable?” You could see its green head bobbing around. Man, half the stage banter at ACL is about the weird flags and icons out there floating around.

It was really nice to hear “Dramamine,” a shout out to old fans who wore that CD out *ahem* driving to it, alone in their cars. But the goods for most fans came when they played “Float On.” And it sounded fine. A solid festival tune, for sure. But Brock had a habit of singing off-mic, or drifting his head down to look at his guitar, before finishing the line. Maybe His vocals were a bit low in the mix too.
Life’s hard, and you shouldn’t pander and sacrifice your art, but just to be all #firstworldproblems about it, life ain’t completely easy out here on the lawn. There are lines, throngs of people, heat and dry grass. This dark stuff only goes so far. In other words, we’d take some cushy stuff, whatever you have to do to make that happen.

ACL Fest 2015: Sturgill Simpson commends the crowd on its lewd flags

Sturgill Simpson performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Saturday October 10, 2015.  JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sturgill Simpson performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Saturday October 10, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

As Sturgill Simpson took the stage for his set, with those next-gen country lyrics, about drugs, cheatin’ and lovin’, a pot dealer was doing excellent business in front of me at the Honda stage.

It was a fascinating scene on Saturday. Hippies smoking weed over there, hipsters tappin’ their toes, and a ton of guys in sport team shirts who definitely were here to see country’s quotable man of the hour.
The crowd was hot and subdued. But that doesn’t mean Sturgill was. Quite the contrary, he was juiced up and obviously having fun. He had a huge grin on his face, added a few shouts out to the crowd’s curious iconography:
“That’s a very nice penis you have sir!” He said, to the owner of what we suspect (and hope) was a flag in the crowd. “I want  to commend you.” The crowd had a good laugh at that.
At one point, Sturgill explained his tour bus had a close call en route back to Austin. “We had flat fire and almost died, so we’re really glad to be here Austin! That s**t would suck.”
The crowd was definitely grateful he was still alive and well enough to be here with them. They definitely skewed a little older, into the late 20s, early 40s. And they were comfortable, in fact, more like the usual chatty crowd at an Austin club show. Two guys in the crowd started ironically yelling, “Save country music!” They know that the lyrics in country music haven’t been this strong in ages, but a bit of yelling never hurt.

ACL Fest 2015: Father John Misty lets fans rub his chest hair; Water & scalper traffic pick up

Father John Misty performs at Austin City Limits Music Festival. Suzanne Cordeiro for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Father John Misty performs at Austin City Limits Music Festival. Suzanne Cordeiro for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Who knows if it was the UT-OU game, the long line at the gates, or just the relatively early set time, but the weekend two Father John Misty show seemed less crowded. And maybe a not quite so high strung. Just a feeling. It was also hot hot hot, so instead of heading towards the packed stage right, it felt like a good time to grab some shade by the porta potties.

http://twitter.com/Claudiah127/status/653008122554900480

Judging by golden tweets like this one, FJM’s crowd-mingling antics continue to be a hit. Last weekend an adorable middle-aged Austin couple nearby were admiring Josh Tillman’s irrepressible swagger. “He is smoooth,” the man said. “You know Shiny Ribs?” He asked. “He is exactly like this.”

Tillman’s intensity and sarcasm were a hit in the hot ACL day stage once again. Instead of ragging the crowd for what he declared was undoubtedly a veritable orgy of hedonism, on weekend two, he sarcastically suggested methamphetamines to keep the energy up.

WATER
Drugs aside, there was a hit new drink trend making waves at Saturday’s ACL. It’s called water, and judging by the lines at the filling station, mid-afternoon, it was beating beer ten to one.

For good reason. While waiting in the long water line, a girl in front of me sat down. When she got up, she gave her friends a fright by simply taking off. “She went to throw up,” her friend said. Heat stroke is real, folks. Welcome to October in Texas.

At last weekend’s Father John Misty show, a petite young woman near us just dropped, like a puppet whose strings were cut. Police came after awhile, and EMS a whine after that. Heat stroke again, it seemed.

After Father John went out on a banger, came Shakey Graves, in his Macho Man Randy Savage sunglasses. Even the local boy hollered at the heat as he brought his band back. “At this portion of this eveni…aftern, uh….seering hot oven…”

SCALPERS
After waiting in a line to exit the festival (hooray for re-entry, but this is so annoying, ACL), you came upon the dusty, chaotic corner where the throngs enter the fest and the scalpers congregate to do their thing. This corner’s already been a mess of golf carts trying to cross the path as hundreds of people trying to get in. The fest now has de facto traffic cops running traffic, but it’s a whistleblowing mess.

And it got messier Saturday afternoon as there seemed to be a congress of scalpers buying and selling wristbands, in serious numbers. Maybe some of those folks were waiting for friends, but as I left to cross the street, a security guy hollered real loud, “If you don’t have a wristband, you have to leave!” He said that a few times and seem to get a dozen or more folks to to at least cross the street, but that’s as far as they went. Later in the evening, the same spot was full of kids debating jumping the fence, or making deals with scalpers. Lesson here? People really want to see Drake.

ACL Fest 2015: Moon Taxi rage … against … the machine?

Moon Taxi are a Tennessee rock band, with a polished sound, a really bad name, and enough tricks up their sleeve to make things interesting.

For a second I wondered who would even be attracted to the Austin Ventures stage while, right next door, Run The Jewels’ was stampeding off to another banger of a set. That is, until you remember that not everyone’s into southern rap.

Moon Taxi definitely worked for these folks, and then some. In fact, it was one of the fullest Austin ventures shows I’d seen,  the crowd’s edged leaking out into the normal walking paths.

The band is pretty conventional, and lead singer Trevor Terndrup has a Maroon 5 vibe going on, but they’re also capable of hitting some poppy anthemic moments. When the first one came, their light show was going full blast, and a team of grackles in the oak tree behind the stage decided that was enough, and fled.

The tricks aren’t tricks, exactly, but little nods to the electronic age, like samples of a backup choir. Though in the quiet moments early on, it was hard not to forget the intense sound bleed coming from the jewels being run next door.

Meanwhile, a couple bearded dudes next to me launched a 2-bearded-dudes dance party and tried to recruit passers by.

This band is light, fun, and may or may not be around in 10 years, but they’re doing it for this crowd right now, at this time in their lives.

What was a little off, was their last song, a totally straight cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Wake Up.” Surprise?

Moon Taxi’s love of RATM is well established, but it’s not a natural fit at all. They do a solid cover, but it seems so earnest that it almost comes off as comical, compared to their (fluffier) original stuff. It kind of leaves you wondering where these guys are at.

Having said that, totally ready for the Rage Against The Machine reboot.

 

ACL 2015: Disclosure & Flosstradamus go “Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce”

The dance scene was strong Friday night at ACL’s weekend 2, as Chicago hip hop-remix outfit Flosstradamus segued into Disclosure, the non-Foo Fighting headliners.

Flosstradamus is fun and ridiculous. They asks people to throw something into the air, and when the beat drops, a thousand objects, paper, bandanas, cans, and God knows what, go flying.

The rest of the time, the crowd’s baseline of activity is constant movement.

Flosstradamus performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Friday October 9, 2015.  JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Flosstradamus performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Friday October 9, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

They’re egged on half the time by one of the Flosstradamus guys, perched on top of the stage setup (which, incidentally, looks like a one-storey rock castle, complete with basement door, a flag and strobe lights), yelling to the crowd, “bounce bounce bounce bounce.”

They definitely got the message.

All manner of sights were on display in the crowd as the sun went down. A 50 something dude with a green Yeti coolers baseball cap, was hanging back, nodding his head. Three people walk past in matching where’s Waldo outfits. A sign in the crowd reads, simply yet inexplicably, “NON SEXUAL GAY STUFF.”

In a sense, party DJs/Trap/EDM outfits have an advantage. They don’t need to be headliners—they can just spin the headliner’s records.

“How many people are to see Drake?” Flosstradamus asks the crowd. Then they just sample him into the mix. “All I gotta do is put my mind to this …” as the crowd sings the Fetty Wap chorus.

Last weekend Run The Jewels compared their show to a Zoomba class, but this is the real Zoomba, and the crowd danced, whether in cowboy boots or spinning a lit hula hoop.

Things got a little boring in this show. The call outs to the crowd start to sound forced “get your lighters and cell phones out!” Ditto for calls out to “Hoodie Nation,” the duo’s superfans.
But there are a lot of goofy grins on faces — it’s hard not to do that with a dance party. Especially one with bits of Rihanna, some vintage DMX and Daft Punk.
Towards the end, half that crowd started filtering out, some definitely towards Foo Fighters, but maybe half walked directly over to watch Disclosure.
You have to respect Disclosure’s musicianship. They sing, plays bass. They even played cowbells. It’s like turning an electronic outlet to analog.
It’s not the same, drop-everything and dance, urgency of mixtape artists like Flosstradamus, but it’s interesting and fresh (in an 80s revival kind of way.) Judging from the crowd, the UK duo are just speaking to this generation in a shorthand that Foo Fighters fans can’t begin to understand.

ACL 2015 Review: London Soul talks about mothers, channels the Delta

Tash Neal of The London Souls performs during the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Friday, October 9, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Tash Neal of The London Souls performs during the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park Friday, October 9, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

London Soul are proof of a new trend: the two-man blues band. Not that’s new, actually, but it’s definitely been revived in the wake of the Black Keys’ massive succss.

At just about the same time London Soul played the BMI stage at ACL Weekend 2, Royal Blood, a British two-piece blues band, were taking the stage across the field. (In an airplane above, advertisers had changed their tactics from last weekend: they were dragging an ad for condoms.)

What’s not totally clear is how hot the demand is for these bands. The Black Keys had better than average lyrics, some vocal and guitar quirks that made them stand out. And since their early blues work, they’ve morphed into style that channels hip-hop and pop. In other words, a hard act to follow.

Still, London Soul had a satisfying sound with some retro touches, on the laid-back BMI stage. You could hear a smidge of Hendrix, maybe even a drift of The Who.

The lyrics are pretty standard “beggin’ you please” blues stuff, though the lyrics of a couple songs were clearly more contemporary, with lines about respect for women, “we’ve all had mothers.” Those songs often had catchy guitar riffs and a beating kick drum.

And that’s pretty pleasing, as far as it goes. It helps if you’re a sound of the blues, but London Soul (an American band, incidentally) are soulful, and mostly lighthearted. They’ll totally do the trick.

ACL Fest 2015: B’lieve Kurt Vile is doin’ fine

10/04/15 Kurt Vile and the Violators performs on the Austin Ventures stage at ACL Music Festival on Sunday, October 4 2015. (Suzanne Cordeiro/American-Statesman)
10/04/15 Kurt Vile and the Violators performs on the Austin Ventures stage at ACL Music Festival on Sunday, October 4 2015. (Suzanne Cordeiro/American-Statesman)

It started very chill, they played some new stuff, it got a little boring, and then there was a sick sax solo.

That’s the Kurt Vile set in at Austin Ventures in a nutshell. He’s got a new record out, called “B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down” and there are a couple of tracks on there that did very well on stage, especially the catchy chorus from “Dust Bunnies.”

“Don’t know much about history/Don’t know much about the shape I’m in.” Vile sings, with that slight hint of menace.

Then there was the slow, creep-up-on-you hook of “Pretty Pimpin.” Probably the standout of the new stuff.

All the new material has those patented Vile vocals: jaded, but loaded with a take on his world that demands close listening.

“This is our first festival ever!” Vile sarcastically told the crowd.

This was an audience that knew what it came for — that laid back, smart groove of Vile and the Violators.

There was a point though that the set got bogged down, it sounded like Vile had played the same song three times, and my mind wandered elsewhere to the sounds bleeding in from other stages. But they picked up the pace with a rocker, that saved the day, complete with a massive, unexpected saxophone solo. That really put the energy back on top.

“Dwight Yoakam’s gonna come up in a minute” Vile said at one point. Then paused. “Not with us,” the crowd laughs, “but wouldn’t it be cool if he did.”

Yes, it totally would.

All in all, a perfect fit for Sunday festing.

 

 

ACL Fest 2015: Ben Howard brings something unexpected to the headliner’s stage

Ben Howard during the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for American Statesman)
Ben Howard during the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for American Statesman)

Ben Howard has been called a UK singer-songwriter, but he’s more like an anti singer-songwriter with a jam-band behind him.

It’s atmospheric anti-pop. Like, imagine if Damian Rice had Explosions in the Sky backing him, and you get close to what Ben Howard’s doing on stage.

There’s nothing radio friendly about this band. They do everything imaginable to avoid the verse-chorus-verse trope. There are few, if any hooks. Instead, the band raises a slow beat and Howard sing-talks some emotive lines that just sort of float in that space.

Then the songs tend to get blown up by the rest of the band, in a full stage jam. The result is really unusual stuff for the main headliner’s stage — even mid-afternoon.

You get the sense that a lot of Howard’s work lies in the lyrics. His Youtube videos are intense, a little emo, and beloved by millions. But if you didn’t already know his work, I’m not sure you could’ve made out the words to connect to them. Common enough, sure. But a little surprising from someone who’s been called a folk singer, no matter how wrongheaded that term sounds.

It was niche, to be sure, but Austin crowds usually have time for musicians who are doing something different, especially on the big stage.