Mud no match for Iggy Azalea’s boom and clap

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“Bro she looks like a power ranger,” a halfway there male said to his girlfriend just before Iggy Azalea launched into worldwide single and obvious closer, “Fancy.” By that point I’d traversed the mud moat, and made a horseshoe circuit around a crowd that extended all the way to the porta potties, back to the water filling station, and across Zilker Park toward the art tent. There were mud lanes and pits in between. A fist-pumping club bass pulsed forever.

My Azalea experience began stage right, under the big screen, in what was basically where the parents gathered.

“A lot of the kids are somewhere here,” a Latin American dad said to his buddy with a thick, serene accent.

Next to me a pair of dunces in Native American head gear looked excited for the imminent 50 minutes or so of cultural appropriation. Some poor kids held out for a reunion with their classmates: “Clarissa and Mimi should be here any sec, we have to wait.” Didn’t happen.

Beach balls were punched mid-air because that trick is forever, some guy put his GoPro camera on a stick and held it high with hopes of capturing something great. Ten minutes before showtime, a teenager decided to move center for a better view and did so by jumping on strangers and crowd-surfing inward.When Azalea hit the stage–decked out in pink spandex accompanied by DJ Wizz Kidd and her gaggle of black and white spandex-clad dancers–the scene was an overcast get down of shrieking teenagers bouncing like it was the last time. History has shown us this familiar pop scene, but this was kind of neat because a wave of affluent-appearing teen girls were ardently rapping along to set opener, “F**k Love.” Girls climbed trees, at least five climbed each of the the porta potty dividers to watch from a perch.

“I see a lot of little girls in the audience and I’m concerned because I don t want to offend anyone,” Azalea said just before “Pu$$y.”

At least the big fans were forced to see something interesting, experimental, and original during Tune-Yards two hours earlier. One had to in order to secure a splash zone seat. As for the performance? As a rapper Azalea rhymes “something” with “nothing” with “bluffing” and it’s OK. But everything about her is alarmingly stolen from influential and seminal African-American artists. The voice is Trina. The dancing is Big Freedia. No matter how catchy  songs like “Work” and “No Mediocre” are, they are built on the backs of musicians that will never have this type of pop exposure.

Hey putting OutKast against Beck was tremendously unpleasant

“Who is that? Do y’all hear that?” Andre 3000 asked his Honda Stage audience as co-headliner Beck bled over from the Samsung Galaxy Stage across Zilker Park.

“Turn us up,” Big Boi said.

Beck performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Friday October 10, 2014. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Beck performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Friday October 10, 2014. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Weekend one of Austin City Limits found a loose and enthusiastic Andre ribbing about sports (“Austin are y’all Cowboys or Texans?”) and bringing grandstanding kicks to live versions of songs from his solo LP “The Love Below.” “She Lives In My Lap” was downright vaudevillian in its dramatics. “Prototype” was richly musical, sold on his falsetto, and like most of Beck’s “Midnite Vultures” album—just the right amount of absurd. But Andre is a complicated dude, and his boredom with the OutKast banner is basically the reason the band has spent the last decade largely dormant.

I think we got cranky Andre last night, as evidenced by his band shaving 13 minutes off the set and wrapping up at 9:47 p.m.

Like last week, the atomic spectacle of opening the OutKast reunion with “B.O.B.” and then “Gasoline Dreams” and then “ATLiens” and then “Skew It On The Bar-B” enjoyed enthusiasm reserved for bands that tour with The Lumineers. But whereas last week people seemed consciously happy to be at an OutKast show, Friday’s salty populous of entitled and detached brats made the experience unavoidably tense. How is the hook to “Gasoline Dreams” not moving the needle?

Don’t everybody like the smell of gasoline?
Well burn mother****r, burn American Dream
Don’t everybody like the taste of Apple Pie?
We’ll snap for your slice of life I’m tellin’ ya why
I hear that mother nature’s now on birth control
The coldest pimp be looking for somebody to hold
The highway up to Heaven got a crook on the toll
Youth full of fire ain’t got nowhere to go

It’s one of the most harrowing, anthemic choruses ever put to wax. Friday night at Zilker, however, youth mostly complained about people jostling past them for position between checking their phones. That’s why this was so difficult—I think the guy that opened for OutKast at the Austin Musical Hall in 2001, Ludacris, put it best, “Move, get out the way.”

OutKast isn’t yet a niche nostalgia festival mainstay. Big Boi was a competent ACL solo act just three years ago. I maintain that no other hip-hop entity is better. Hell, I won’t be 30 for another five months. In any case don’t’ complain about people stepping on your blanket during the opening rush for OutKast real estate. Don’t make a face when the brown dude next to you screams “f*** the police” because he is singing along to a song and holds a great deal of institutional respect for local authorities in real life. Police-related headlines are suffocating; it is a healthy release.

I talked to a guy from El Paso last week that left work late Thursday and drove through the night so he could meet a Craigslist wristband merchant at 9:30 a.m. The road trip was planned around OutKast. Both ticket scalpers I chatted with Friday said that OutKast was helping to drive their costs—one had a single-day pass for $160, the other had a three-day pass for $350. Early Friday, a gentleman in a black OutKast shirt desperately asked incoming patrons if they were selling an extra. I mistook him for a scalper, and he was rightfully indignant. My on-site and informal straw polling was one-sided for Team OutKast. Even an elderly couple standing in front of me during Jimmy Cliff broke party lines with their Beck-endorsing daughter, “Nah I think we’re going to check out that OutKast.”

If the OutKast crowd was dense and static, Beck’s had wiggle room to comfortably mingle. I caught “Sexx Laws,” a delightfully quirky pseudo-funk gem about doing weird stuff with “Sports Illustrated moms.” I loved “Debra’s” r&b shtick about courting a JC Penny employee, and taking her to Glendale in your Hyundai. “Where It’s At” has emerged as his go-to closer these days and that’s probably appropriate. But the R. Kelly “Trapped in the Closet” banter, and Sugar Hill Gang cover were smug and on the wrong end of the appropriation spectrum.

Or maybe I was just projecting because the notion that Starbucks rocker Beck got the bigger stage (although he did finish his set at the budgeted 9:30 p.m. slot, making OutKast the true closer) over the fleeting, vital hip-hop reunion was wrong. There are event planning logistics, contract issues, and demographics data that render my complaint moot, but it’s still inherently hogwash. Especially when you could stand along the Honda Stage rail and hear Beck blasting from across the park between OutKast songs.

What the heck is The Lonely Biscuits?

Grady Wenrich, vocalist and guitarist of the Nashville band The Lonely Biscuits, performs on the BMI Stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park during Weekend Two, on Friday, October 10, 2014. TINA PHAN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Grady Wenrich, vocalist and guitarist of the Nashville band The Lonely Biscuits, performs on the BMI Stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park during Weekend Two, on Friday, October 10, 2014. TINA PHAN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“We’re going to do a little trivia,” said BMI Stage bottom-feeder Grady Wenrich Friday afternoon. “What does the ‘L’ in ACL stand for?”

Wenrich fronts a Nashville area band made up of Belmont students called The Lonely Biscuits. It closed with a song called “Butter.” It had a song about the first day of school (“Look for your name on the attendance sheet; I really want to know your name”). It had straight-faced Biz Markie and Biggie covers. Wenrich rapped early and often on original material. His band’s Twitter bio reads, “We make phunky phresh music.” He tweets at Lena Dunham.

Think Sublime meets modern stoners (that’s not a band name) meets the sweetness of the kid that freestyles by the soda machine in high school. There’s a masculine lightness to Wenrich and co-frontman John Paterini’s vocals. They are talented dudes playing in a sort of jam band that can’t really jam out.

But again, Wenrich raps armchair discussion group philosophy like “You’ve been living with your hands tangled /guess I’ve been looking at life through the wrong angle.”

And between songs said: “That was a reminder to you Austin, Texas, to keep on rocking in the free world.”

Some bros next to me nodded and gave me Corn Nuts. We were the “Guinea Pig” crowd, Wenrich said. They tested several new songs: “Let us know which ones suck and which ones are cool.”

The one called “She’s On A Beach” was fairly terrible. But the one about the first day of school was charismatic punk.

But I’m grading on a learning curve here. This is music for people that think that The Lonely Biscuits is a charming band name and that the world could use more Chili Peppers-esque reggae rock.

It was honest and, hey, people like covers. We’ll give the Biscuits an incomplete.

Jones Family Singers turn up the Zilker Tent

It took 10 minutes for Bay City, Texas’s best 13-piece gospel band to turn the Zilker Tent into an honest revival. Not bad considering it took the Jones Family Singers–five sisters, their two brothers, their dad–more than 20 years to release an album.

“You could make all sorts of money if you just switched over to rock and roll,” lead singer Alexis Jones said. “But we rockin’ Jesus and then we roll in the Holy Ghost.”

The Gospel Brunch alums are a Friday ACL asset here on the strength of April’s “The Spirit Speaks.” Last week the ladies donned matching pink shirts and denim skirts, today was more casual (non-matching t-shirts) and perhaps as a result, the band inspired a slightly more energetic and unguarded crowd of hand-clappers. I stopped counting the earnest, fedora-wearing nerds in running shoes but their unpretentious tendency to dance loosely to anything that sounded good was to be commended.

“Anybody like the blues?” asked the lead singer and part-time beautician, Alexis.

Baby brother guitarist (and chief studio engineer) Fred Jones, Jr. proceeded to rip one off one of the most technically sharp and melody-laden solos anyone is likely to hear this weekend. A lifetime in the family business helps keep the chops in top form.

Three of the members from Shields of Faith, that had just performed prior, clapped like a hometown team quarterback sack.

“I’m not afraid of The Lord Jesus Christ,” patriarch and band leader Bishop Fred A. Jones said as pixies with hula hoops spun indiscriminately in the crowd, “When they invite me to the White House, you know what I’m going to do?”

Like the rest of his gospel tent compatriots, Bishop Jones proceeded to shuffle his feet like they had holy soles.

Shortly after, the band wrapped with bassist Kenneth Jones performing a fam-approved rap over Joe Cocker’s “Woman to Woman.” Jones, Sr. nodded like a proud pop.

Calvin Harris packs lasers, hits into top shelf ACL dance party

DJ Calvin Harris performs at the 2014 Austin City Limits music festival on Sun., Oct. 5, 2014 at Zilker Park in Austin, TX. ASHLEY LANDIS/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the 2014 Austin City Limits music festival on Sun., Oct. 5, 2014 at Zilker Park in Austin, TX. ASHLEY LANDIS/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Scottish DJ Calvin Harris became at least the weekend’s third ACL artist to treat crowds to Disclosure’s “Latch” Sunday night at the Honda Stage. Sam Smith handles vocals on that one and performed the smash during his densely populated set; Zedd’s DJ playlist used it to dramatic effect (in that it got the people going); and early into Harris’ performance the track helped curious dads and learned first-graders close the weekend with a toxin-releasing dance cleanse.

“I wanna see you jump this time,” Harris barked in hoarse, guttural fashion. That was basically all he said.

He spun other top 40 atoms that had been performed over the weekend during his blowout closing ceremony: Icona Pop’s genius “I Don’t Care,” Capital Cities’s “Safe and Sound.” Texas got a dap with Riff Raff’s “Tip Toe Wing in My Jawwdinz.”

It was sugar sweet vibes all around. A crowd surfer that landed over the barrier got a fist bump from security as he was escorted out of the pit, hobbling from an apparent blow to the lower back. He required no medical attention.

Breakout dancers included the charisma-oozing trio of interpretative translators for the hearing impaired that soaked in the constant spotlight with frenzied moves. I spotted several delirious Dallas Cowboys fans relishing Sunday’s victory over the Houston Texans. One Tony Romo did the worm on the Zilker sod by himself. One dude erected a Dez Bryant jersey on a stick. No less than 10 strangers offered up high fives (oh right, because I had on ‘Boys gear).

The Sea World after dark light show was unspectacular and droning. Was Harris musical? He reportedly tours with just a flash drive of requisite jams at the ready. But that doesn’t matter. The frequent shots of kids losing their minds with the enthusiasm of a maiden voyage concert left me staunchly pro Harris.

At the 30-minute mark he began to drop some of the mellow hits that have made Harris on of the business’ highest paid producers. “Sweet Nothing,” which features Florence Welch, is his most realized, swelling song and here he let it breathe–cutting the audio to let the audience carry the performance. Rihanna duet “Love In A Hopeless Place” enjoyed the same dramatic live fate. This summer’s failed, forced bid at song of the summer, “Summer,” played innocuous closer and many used it as a chance to dart off, head home when it began. It’s a school night, and besides we’re doing it again next week.

Zedd’s EDM pop party showcases astute, emerging genre master

Past the traditionally roots-driven Austin Ventures Stage, through the football tent and adults playing cornhole in a sandbox, the Zedd party voters converged. The 25-year-old, German-born DJ and producer (real name Anton Zaslavski) dropped an hour of EDM and electro house Sunday night to close the tab on the Miller Lite stage. His set casually reflected the top of the pops.

He’s had a hand in a series of massive singles that feature headliners, and so for songs like the Grammy-winning “Clarity,” the pogo party boat docked for singalongs.

Zedd also fueled the party with remixes to suffocatingly huge singles like Bastille’s “Pompeii,” Sebastian Ingrosso’s “Reload,” and Disclosure’s “Latch.” That powered a bounce house of young, hungry dancers. Flags waved (props to the giant “aqui pendejo” banner), promotional balloons bounced, green fireworks whirled, an onslaught of stage flames heated along the rail. This one particular bass drop after the Bastille lyric “but if you close your eyes” was luminous and moving.

In a plaid button down shirt, facial scruff, and sipping a red Solo party cup, Zedd played nonchalant hipster. When he’d share some of his hits (“Break Free” features Ariana Grande, “Stay the Night” Hayley Williams), he was basically humble bragging. He could afford to close with an Empire of the Sun remix, because the ocean of cell phones and fireworks did his work for him.

Gaslight Anthem’s blue collar romanticism sweet talks Samsung Galaxy Stage

It took 28 minutes for New Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem to revisit the post-Springsteen, sleeve-of-tats dive rock from 2008’s brilliant LP, “The ’59 Sound.” The licks to “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” reminded me why I cared so much to begin with. Thirsty grooves, nostalgia for pinball and Tom Petty, a V8 engine hook.

The band’s subsequent LPs (2010’s “American Slang,” 2012’s “Hand Written,” this summer’s “Get Hurt”) have been, frankly, healthy scratches with an unmistakable pattern of diminishing returns. This is a working class, romantic band playing a fried sound. You probably don’t need that three-guitar formation, and the pay day is wholly tethered to what chief ombudsman Brian Fallon can conjure.

But 39 minutes into a mellow Samsung Galaxy Stage set, the band performed “Great Expectations,” a song about failed youth and botched marriages. It was an air tight rendition that sparked applause from the grey folks enjoying the shady trees, wearing Replacements shirts. The crossover love was not coincidental.

“I’ve never gotten a chance to see The Replacments,” Fallon said, “Probably one of the reasons we decided to be a band in the first place.”

He was affably chatty, squarely sun-soaked, and tangential as a result.

“Pants were a bad idea,” Fallon said, “We’re from New Jersey it doesn’t get this bad . . . the governor sucks.”

He talked about an affinity for boats and also pork. But his band closed with “The ’59 Sound’s” title track, a song about death and crossing over, and all of the pieces snapped back together.

AFI’s dramatic rock finds Sunday afternoon niche

Davey Havok, lead singer with AFI, gets up close to his fans at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014.  JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Davey Havok, lead singer with AFI, gets up close to his fans at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Davey Havok has ditched the mop and guyliner for an industrial beard–but he’s still got the studded jacket. AFI’s other three emo veteran members, Adam Carson, Hunter Burgan, and Jade Puget, still don black; high-kicking and busting out Pete Townsend windmills like they’re in zero gravity.

“Dude I haven’t heard this song in 10 years,” an area man in a CamelBak said after the band opened with 2003’s “The Leaving Song Pt. II.” That track opened the door on Butch Vig-produced breakthrough “Sing the Sorrow.” AFI is still chasing that perfect storm album.

“We used to play hardcore, it sounded like this,” Havok said after singing one while floating on mosh-obliging sympathizers.

He’s always been an underrated rock and roll Jesus as a frontman–theatrics, style, cult of personality. I have at least one friend with a deeply personal AFI tattoo. Having a point of view and ideas can get you a Sunday Honda Stage slot well after the commercial bubble bursts. Here, tiny pockets of gamers surge through and say “sorry we’re trying to get to the mosh” as if that were a fenced off, fest-sanctioned zone.

It wasn’t all good. Some of the newer stuff has electronica samples and recalls Orgy at its least essential. You could differentiate which era Havok channeled by whether he pouted into the mic stand Scott Stapp style (new), or went chord-less and stomped like a punk rock bull all over the place (old). He slid down the median and sang into adoring faces in fashion no one has done as well at this stage since John Legend in ’09. The person in the horse mask lost it.

“It’s so early and it’s so sunny and you’re still here and that means so much to us,” Havoc said, “We’ve been on tour for about a year.”

The band has apparently retired its ’90s throwdown punk epic “Total Immortal,” and so 2006’s “Miss Murder” took us home with a mighty response. Fire’s still there.

Eminem flexes his pop muscle, brings fireworks to ACL

Eminem performs at the 2014 Austin City Limits music festival on Sat., Oct. 4, 2014 at Zilker Park in Austin, TX. ASHLEY LANDIS/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Eminem performs at the 2014 Austin City Limits music festival on Sat., Oct. 4, 2014 at Zilker Park in Austin, TX. ASHLEY LANDIS/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Eminem is still rapping about his absentee father, Saddam Hussein, Biggie’s unsolved murder, former Kansas City Chiefs coaches, Ricky Martin. He’s still attacking George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and, regrettably, using gay slurs. Unlike OutKast’s brilliant Friday ACL greatest hits highlight reel, the Marshall Mathers Saturday parade was 31 songs of modern rock star.

Dressed in youthful black shorts, zip-up hoodie, and cap, Eminem remains a household pop culture commodity, and his stadium show packed sardines around the Samsung Galaxy stage. His recent collaborations with chart-toppers like Rihanna, Haley Williams, and Drake made it rain–“Forever,” specifically, came packaged with Super Bowl pyrotechnics.

“Stan’s” Dido-sampling hook made the flower crown girls sway on blankets; he tweaked a lyric to pander and everyone swooned at Em rapping “remember when we met in Austin?”

“Sing for the Moment,” which samples Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” substituted as hand-waving arena hit.

There was plenty of ring kissing for hip-hop lifers, however. Mr. Porter played deft hype man. Longtime fans got a Royce da 5’9” guest appearance for “Fast Lane,” and verbal nods to fallen icons Proof, Nate Dogg (“‘Til I Collapse”), Tupac, and Biggie. Most thrillingly, he stacked beloved “Slim Shady LP” b-sides “Just Don’t Give a F*ck” and “Still Don’t Give a F*ck” back to back.

Visually, maybe a pinch too literal. A Dreamworks animated film-level haunted house flashed during “Monster.” Some factory assembly line images were shown during “Business.” The drummer’s bass drum had a stenciled on middle finger. Most dreadfully, a mockumentary depicting the fictional little brother from “Stan,” Matthew, as a rapper-kidnapping murderer preempted the performance.

Predictably, Em put crayons to chaos late as debut smash “My Name Is,” king-making “The Real Slim Shady,” (real weak to leave in the supremely dated gag sound effect that drops after the lyric “there’s no reason that a man and another man can’t elope”), and 2002 summer smash “Without Me,” stacked at the finish line.

Then in a rare moment of vulnerable grace, he dedicated “Not Afraid” to
“anybody in this crowd tonight that’s ever lost somebody to addiction.”

He saved the Oscar-winning (!) “Lose Yourself,” for a veritable folding chair-packing gotcha encore. There was more than enough of Eminem’s all ages suburban dread to go around.

Interpol’s efficient rock drives through Honda Stage

Interpol looks cool and sounds great 12 years after its college radio breakthrough “Turn On The Bright Lights,” and a decade after quietly superior Louisville Slugger LP, “Antics.” Too bad the Internet mystique struggles to manifest into troops on the ground.

Turning out the Honda Stage Saturday afternoon, most of the lawn near the sound booth enjoyed gaping holes. No biggie, there were enough of us in college during the early aughts in attendance that we made it work energy-wise. Lots of hand claps, basically.

“Thank you, that was ‘Evil,'” singer Paul Banks said as a pivotal housekeeping note after playing his band’s best song.

Guitarist Daniel Kessler is the other remaining founding member (bassist / trendsetter Carlos D. bolted in 2010), and he was expertly providing the seismic needle, Joy Division-bred jolts his style is built around. Interpol may not be insufferably cool these days (their latest, “El Pintor,” was met mildly upon its release last month), but as modern rockers are focused, rousing, business class pros.

Banks is, unfortunately, kind of a dry spokesman, “Thanks for hanging out everybody this is our first time doing this,” he said late in the 50-minute set. “We’re loving the weather.”

After set-closing sorta hit “Slow Hands,” Banks was dad efficient and gracious: “That’s what we got, thank you.”

Someone get this rock star a pair of Academy-priced Nikes.