Covering “Baba O’Riley” and going quietly into the night with a meaty, playful but resonant “Star-Spangled Banner” from guitarist Mike McCready, Pearl Jam valiantly closed the 2014 Austin City Limits festival just on the mischievous, neighbor-bugging side of 10:00 p.m. Sunday. Eddie Vedder politely shouted out his co-headliners during his band’s brilliantly sharp set, “St. Vincent, OutKast, Eminem–they’re all very kind people.”
That may be true, but now that we have two weekends of data, we need a definitive, poll-driven rankings of the six headliners. It should be noted that Lorde, Iggy Azalea, and Sam Smith popped beyond their allotted time and stage in the late spring, summer, and early fall window between booking and performing. Each enjoyed headliner-level density. Maybe next year.
I had some of Austin 360’s most dangerous minds (Peter Blackstock, Deborah Sengupta Stith, Eric Webb, Eric Pulsifer, yours truly) rank each headlining act one through six. A No. 1 headliner received six points; a No. 2 five, and so on. The artist with the highest point total wins. The results shouldn’t be surprising.
6. Skrillex, 6 points
“[As] a music festival show, it seemed insulting to spin through so many familiar songs (Beastie Boys’ ‘Intergalactic,’ Salt n Pepa’s ‘Push It,’ Schoolboy Q’s ‘Collard Greens,’ heck, ‘The Circle of Life’ from ‘The Lion King’), as if it was just an oppressively loud night at the Blind Pig. When those time-tested standbys sandwiched Skrillex’s own ‘Bangarang,’ it started to feel presumptuous.” — Eric Webb
5. Beck, 13 points
“Eclectic, one might say of Beck’s approach. Schizophrenic, another might suggest. Still, most of it worked on this night. Even when he dramatically shifted from more upbeat hip-hop and pop material eight songs into the set in favor of the much more melodic folk-rock of ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘Lost Cause,’ he seemed in his element. About the only wrong turn was an ill-advised attempt at falsetto-style blue-eyed soul in the encore.” — Peter Blackstock
4. Calvin Harris, 15 points
“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’s 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.” — Ramon Ramirez
3. Eminem, 20 points
“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.” — RR
2. Pearl Jam, 23 points
“Jim Moir is in from Scotland to see Pearl Jam tonight for the 36th time since catching his first Jam set in 2000. ‘It’s a good excuse to travel and see the states,’ he said, but added, ‘I wouldn’t do this for any other band.’ While Moir has been waiting all day, he said he has little interest in any of the other bands playing this afternoon. ‘The work is going to be worth it.'” — Eric Pulsifer
1. OutKast, 29 points
“In interviews Andre 3000 has indicated he’s ready to retire, that he doesn’t really get much from performing any more, but he genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself in Zilker. And what wasn’t to love? Outkast’s musicality has always has always been at the forefront of the music and playing with a band they would later introduce as lifelong collaborators the layering of sound was incredible, glorious harmonies woven into rich sound beds.” — Deborah Sengupta Stith
While the rest of us were busy knocking the mud off our boots, posting those last Instagram pics we couldn’t get across in the field and gushing about how we can’t believe a 17-yr-old could be capable of dropping the stunning performance that Lorde delivered, ACL Fest organizers went and got all 2015 on us, announcing next year’s dates and the early bird ticket sale via their mobile app.
ACL Fest 2015 will take place on Oct. 2-4 and 9-11. Early bird tickets go on sale Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. Early bird tickets for next year’s festival will set you back $225. Yes, that’s the same price as this year’s regular tickets, so it’s safe to assume that prices are going up across the board. Regular tickets will go on sale next spring and headliners are usually announced close to summer.
As soon as the opening note to “Glory and Gore” sounded Sunday, arms holding smartphones shot up en masse. Lorde, already iconic, emerged in an all-black ensemble. And that’s exactly what half the festival was there to see.
Why wasn’t Lorde a headliner?
As soon as the opening note to “Glory and Gore” sounded Sunday, arms holding smartphones shot up en masse. Lorde, already iconic, emerged in an all-black ensemble — crop top, harem pants and a diaphanous sleeveless kimono. She jerked her limbs without inhibition, with every industrial beat and droning synth blast. She thrashed her body up and down, using her wavy, brown plumage to maximum effect. She looked like a goth comet.
And that’s exactly what half the festival was there to see.
Not booked for weekend one, the “Royals” singer was the crown jewel of a been-there-done-that second weekend. Many who came to Zilker Park on Sunday came for one act and one act only, as evidenced by the ocean of heads that seemed to have no end. The New Zealand superstar on the smallish RetailMeNot stage but brostep has-been Skrillex showcased on the Honda stage? Worth all the side-eye in the world.
An hour before showtime, as Chromeo wrapped up last song “Needy Girl,” the rush began. Beelines to get closer to the RetailMeNot stage, even if just an inch, advanced over massive piles of accumulated mud. Those not creeping up had already been camped out all day. The handful of Chromeo fans trying to squeeze out found an impenetrable, sweaty wall of sorry’s and excuse me’s. Stomachs met backs.
No one got in, few could get out. All’s fair in Lorde and war.
As soon as that famous mane made itself known, the mood shifted in an instant from tense endurance to euphoria. Lorde explained to the audience that she started her U.S. tour at Austin Music Hall in March, and that this ACL Fest weekend two set would bring it to a close.
“I actually had my first barbecue here,” she said. “So there’s that. It’s a sick addiction. This is what you’ve done to me.”
The ante sufficiently upped, Lorde later emotionally explained to the audience that when she played that first date in Austin, she had many reservations about growing up. The intensity of those teenage feelings is reflected in her songs, she said.
That introspection radiated from a cascading “Ribs,” where innocent lyrics sat in sharp relief from Lorde’s wise-beyond-her-years confidence. Midway through the set, the stage went dark. Once the hot white lights flashed back on, a familiar tune started playing: Kanye West’s 2007 song “Flashing Lights.” Lorde emerged from backstage in a white version of her earlier outfit, replacing the black kimono for a flowing, quilted white wizard’s robe. She rapped a couple verses of the song, and if you were a teenage girl, you would have wanted to be her, too.
An easy, friendly give and take between idol and idolaters reigned. After playing “Biting Down,” Lorde announced to the crowd, “I’m going to fix my shoe real quick. It will only take a second.” A male voice in the crowd screamed, “You do you, girl!”
Lorde closed out the set with a knockout barrage of breakout smash “Royals,” recently released “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” track “Yellow Flicker Beat” (which she called a special treat for Austin) and closer “Team.” On the last song, the music, purple lights and strobes all swelled in tandem to an epic fever pitch, magnified by the sound of an entire field of people stretching as far as the eye could see singing every word in unison.
As the song came to a triumphant close, Lorde implored the audience to give her crew the biggest cheer of their lives, waved goodbye, and patted her bandmates on the back as she strutted off.
Pearl Jam and Calvin Harris were already playing as the audience filed out. No one must have told them the show was already over.
While the masses of ACL Fest gravitated to the RetailMeNot stage’s mud plains for Sunday’s weekend-two-only highlight Lorde, and EDM fans flocked to the Miller Lite stage for a spectacle of electronic music and lights with Zedd, the Austin Ventures stage filled up with a comparatively smaller but no less thrilled crowd of country fans taking in the Turnpike Troubadours.
It might have been a sore point to have these Okies in the spotlight just a day after the Sooners defeated the Longhorns in the Red River Rivalry. But all seemed forgiven among fans who gathered for the group that probably does the red-dirt roots-country-rock thing better than any current band from Texas.
A lot of that is thanks to frontman Evan Felker, whose voice rises a cut above most aspiring honky-tonkers and reaches toward the realm of classic vocalists such as Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam. His bandmates offered sure-fire support on songs such as the fast-paced “Shreveport” and the darker “Gin, Smoke, Lies,” for which Felker switched from acoustic guitar to banjo.
The band has built enough of a following through three records in the past six years that a lot of audience members knew most of their songs by heart. Many sang along triumphantly on “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead,” a rousing number driven by hot fiddle licks. The richly melodic quality of Felker’s voice stood out on the heartbreak tune “Wrecked,” which suggested the Troubadours have some kinship with Dallas alt-country heroes the Old 97’s.
Country and Americana have largely been phased out of ACL Fest’s main rotation lately, relegated to sidelight status behind pop stars and indie buzz bands. Yet the dedication of the crowd for Turnpike Troubadours made it clear there’s still a demand for this music among the festival faithful.
Those who caught the Replacements at ACL Fest last Sunday were treated to a blitzkrieg of the band at their best. Cramming 19 great songs into an hourlong set on the Samsung Galaxy stage, they delivered nothing but great music, sans nearly all of the antics that made them ’80s underground legends.
This Sunday, the antics were back in full tongue-in-cheek force. Something clearly was up when two giant hammocks were set up onstage before the set began. Clue number two was Westerberg’s attire, colorful cartoonish overalls with no shirt underneath.
Though they started with blazing versions of “Alex Chilton” and “Left of the Dial,” two favorites that closed the set a week ago, by song three, Westerberg was in the hammock, somehow getting through the early rocker “I’m in Trouble” while lounging uncomfortably (with the help of a crew member holding the microphone).
All bets were off the rest of the way, though mostly for the better. A stab at Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” went a little haywire, but a cover of Texas outlaw-country songwriter Billy Joe Shaver’s “Live Forever” was a classic moment that hit home with local fans. Drummer Josh Freese also made a nod to the city’s musical lore by sporting a Daniel Johnston T-shirt.
About half the set consisted of different material than last week’s show. Sure-fire crowd-pleasers such as “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Valentine” and “Kiss Me on the Bus” returned, but the band dug deeper for the likes of “I Don’t Know,” “Color Me Impressed” and the grand-statement set-closer “Unsatisfied,” for which Westerberg donned a twelve-string guitar that he smashed at the end.
Ultimately it was the hammock-centric moments that defined the performance. Westerberg returned to the prone position for the ramshackle ballad “If Only You Were Lonely,” and remained there for the definitive number “I Will Dare,” with bassist Tommy Stinson joining him in the hammock halfway through. They struggled to keep playing but made it through the song, finally rolling out onto the stage together at the end and laughing hard through it all. “We’re just trying this out for Europe, you see,” Westerberg explained.
They acknowledged that they were aware a lot of folks up front were there to see the headling band on after them. After asking for requests and hearing various shouts from the crowd, Stinson observed: “Your lips look like they’re saying Pearl Jam. But we get our minute first.”
The flags, balloons and signs that are such a common sight at ACL Fest weren’t out in large numbers yesterday — maybe for fear they might act as lightning rods — but elevated landmarks of all sorts were back in abundance on the final day of ACL 2014’s second weekend as the sun broke through the clouds late in the afternoon. The most popular streamers were the flags of various countries, yellow Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, black-and-white “Come and Take It” banners and burnt orange Longhorn flags dancing in the breeze. But there were also some other… odder landmarks in the air Sunday.
It was ACL number two for Sean Leonard of Austin and his elevated sign, a massive photo of his face with the Twitter hashtag “#SeansInTown.”
“It let’s people know I’m here. I’m in town. I’m at ACL, at this exact spot,” Leonard said.
While Sean is kind of always in town now — he moved to Austin from Dallas — the sign is an inside joke from when he would visit. Sean said having the hashtag to check in on is an added bonus, and he’s seen everything from people posting pictures of the sign to using his blown-up face as a landmark to just having a little fun with it. When his face made a cameo on the big screen during Kendrick Lamar’s ACL set last year, he said, “Someone tweeted ‘#SeanDontKillMyVibe’ [a nod to the Kendrick Lamar song] during it.”
Nearby, Nick Perry of Dallas also has a sign with a photo of someone’s face, a less than flattering image of his friend Brittany Marr below a Dallas Cowboys flag. “I did it to torment my friend. We have a group of 20, and we needed a landmark to find each other. So, I looked for the worst picture I could find of her,” he said, pointing to Brittany.
Adrian and Crystal Cruz of Austin flew a more traditional banner, a flag on a telescoping pole featuring a gorgeous photo of a sliced avocado on blue gradient background — the cover of Pearl Jam’s self-titled eighth album. It’s Adrian’s 12th ACL, but his first time with a flag, which was a custom-made anniversary gift. “You have to lug more around, but it’s been well worth it,” he said. “We’re both huge Pearl Jam fans. The Pearl Jam fans come up and get it and others don’t realize what it is and just think it’s an avocado.”
Rather than a flag or sign, Joey Moody of Austin has a Kermit the Frog puppet on a stick who is with him for their second ACL Fest. “His arms and legs are good for dancing to the music,” Moody said, wiggling the pole and instantly making Kermit show off some signature Muppet moves. Besides serving as a landmark for friends and something to amuse fellow festival-goers, Moody’s Kermit has also had a brush with celebrity. “A$AP Ferg grabbed him for a minute at JMBYLA and then threw him back in the crowd,” Moody said.
You could call Phantogram as an easy breakout back in March during South By Southwest when it overloaded The Mohawk for a Friday afternoon day party. Unlike swaths of synth-oriented present-day pop acts, the two-piece Greenwich, N.Y. band stretches out its hollow eyed-mood music into a harder live product with two additional touring musicians. Think almost nu-metal drum kit work.
Extra credit to singer Sarah Barthel for playing hurt Sunday at the Miller Lite Stage.
“We’re so pumped to be playing this festival,” Barthel said almost without a voice. She bantered in whispers between songs that featured soaring vocals.
Dressed in a white tank top, black pants, and adorned in gold-colored bracelets and necklaces, Barthel played the royal. The delicate stage presence masked her savvy and attacking keyboard acumen.
Co-songwriter, guitarist, and singer Josh Carter made the most of his spotlight solo duties, taking the lead sporadically. But Barthel emerged as the indispensable centerpiece–decorating the pulsing “Black Out Days” with a wall of howl. It stomped speakers like the most balanced trip-hop.
This year’s “Voices” is an easy year-end list add. But there are bands naturally built for the great outdoors and those ideal for private listening. Of the many of these bare bones acts attempting to crossover, Phantogram’s bold live palate will help it vastly going forward.
Tennessee-based husband-and-wife duo Johnnyswim and their band were all dressed in black on the BMI Stage this afternoon. Though they were on the little stage at the big festival, their stomping folk rock was energetic enough to not get buried under the sonic debris from the surrounding juggernauts. Throughout the show, Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez tried (and succeeded) to get sing-alongs of simple choruses packed with “oh oh ohs” going from their audience.
While they sometimes followed the format — with elements like that surefire clap-along creating combo of kickdrum and tambourine, cutesy mid-song back and forth baked into songs, and the “I love you, and were going to be together forever” lyrics you might expect from a young folk band — they also had some surprises up their sleeves.
Ramirez sang a verse or two in Spanish and proved he can channel Frank Ocean just as well as the Lumineers with a soulful solo acoustic performance on “Pay Dearly.”
Sudano charmed and amused with stories behind the songs and jokingly invited fans to join the band on tour. “We have a small minivan, but lots of snacks.” Introducing “Live While We’re Young” she explained her opposing interpretation of YOLO. “I think if there’s weird-looking meat, you shouldnt eat it — YOLO. No one has time for diarrhea.”
The sun finally came out as the band was closing with a disco-y cover of Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends.” “You no longer have to remain still,” Ramirez said. The crowd agreed and finished out the show with feet moving.
The band has a Christmas EP due out Nov. 11.
Kongos brought their positive, accordion-spiced alt-rock to a sprawling, enthusiastic crowd under gray skies at the Samsung Galaxy Stage.
The South African band of brothers’ most unique surface-level feature is the use of the aforementioned accordion, but this was no polka. There are hints of Alt-J in the guitar, and while there were glimpses at undercurrents of genres from around the globe not usually found in songs suited for Top 40 play, they have a knack for anthems that feel immediately familiar.
Kongos closed with their hit and live clap-bait “Come With Me Now,” which was the biggest crowd pleaser — with hints of zydecco, honky-tonk, house music and unexpected vocoder. Other highlights included “It’s a Good Life,” a song begging to be used in the intro credits to a feel-good family sitcom; their fun mashup cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” over the instrumental sample from Dr. Dre’s “What’s the Difference” (imagine that: a Beatles cover that doesn’t make you want to roll your eyes so far into the back of your head that they never return); and “I’m Only Joking,” a song that sounds at times so inspired by Battles’ “Atlas” I thought it might be a cover, which I don’t mean as a dig — more people should strive to sound like Battles. Get on it, bands.
“Man, it’s good to be back on Austin. We’ve been here like five times this year — any excuse,” Dylan Kongos said. “We were in Mexico City at 6 a.m. this morning so we’re running on little sleep.”
Sleep will likely be in short supply for the guys in the foreseeable future. The band is heading to Europe next, where they’ll be touring through November.