ACL 2012 – The Year of Jack White

It’s standard stage banter to tell a city how fantastic it is, and how amazing the fans are, and what an excellent festival they have going on. So standard, in fact, that it can start to lose meaning and sound like pandering. But there’s something so genuine in the delivery of bands performing in Austin that makes it feel a little more real — and it should. Compared with Coachella, Lollapalooza, and even across the Canadian border to Osheaga, the Austin City Limits Music Festival stands out because of the diversity of fans, and their dedication to the music they love.

There is still a fair and unfortunate collection of those who will talk over your favorite song, but overall, the passion and adoration our town gives to music is something special. That’s why, when Los Campesinos! frontman Gareth David say, “We really love Austin, and it’s a great place to play,” you can trust when he follows that up with, “And I know that people say that all the time, but other U.S. towns really are shit, and this place is awesome.”

Because of our Live Music Capital reputation, we also have the privilege of securing some of the best talent from around the world to play for us, and ACL 2012 was a diverse, impressive representation of just that.


ACL 2012: Dissection of a Fest

M83 at Fun Fun Fun Fest – photo by Eric Pulsifer

I am very excited about the Austin City Limits festival this year. The lineup is solid with enough left-field acts to keep us interested and exploratory, and the headliners are a nice mix of staples and legends that truly rock. There’s a healthy does of electronic stuff for the never-let-go-ravers, and a lot of my own personal favorites. Saddle up and read on for AWM’s annual must-see list.


Osheaga 2012: one wild and wet rumpus

The biggest selling point for Osheaga 2012 was its incredible lineup. It truly felt like someone had just raided my own personal iPod, picking my favorite acts and setting them on a complimentary schedule so I’d be able to see everyone I wanted to. I was revved up for the music and a festival experience, so when I arrived at Osheaga and found that the layout was going to be more difficult to navigate than I expected, it was disappointing. I also had high hopes for the Canadian music-lovers, keeping my fingers crossed that they’d be more like the Austin crowds of old. Wrong again. These kids were as fashion-minded as Coachella attendees, with the every-man-for-himself attitude of the Lolla ’10 crowd. Though these factors were certainly disappointing, Osheaga still delivered on amazing festival amenities, as well as unforgettable performances that will last a lifetime.

Photo by official Osheaga photographer Tim Snow

I kicked off my Friday far later than I wanted to, but was still able to make it in time for the much-hyped Of Monsters and Men. I was excited to see this Icelandic band, mostly because they were Icelandic but partially because I had high hopes for their abilities. Maybe it was the heat, or the trip exhaustion, but I just was not impressed with these kids. They weren’t doing anything particularly innovative — they sounded just like a replica of the Head and the Heart, and all of their songs sounded very similar, with big swells and lots of hand-claps. Even the band’s fairly undeniable hit “Little Talks” didn’t keep me drawn in, and I left in the middle of it to seek shelter from the surprising heat.

Yes, it’s summer everywhere and no, I don’t think the north is always supposed to be cold. Still, I expected some refreshing breezes or kind clouds to allow some shelter from the sweltering sun. No dice. Thus I chilled out on a bean bag under a vendor tent, in between the two side-stages located quite literally over the trail and through the woods from the festival entrance. I got to hear all of the Dum Dum Girls’ set, which was like a less-snarly Best Coast and a perfect summery soundtrack.

Besides excellent surf-rock, Osheaga was smart enough to prepare for the heat by featuring huge water blasters at the main stage that they’d hit fans with periodically throughout the day, soaking them and refreshing them back from the brink of heat exhaustion. They also had multiple water refilling stations so you didn’t have to shell out money every time you wanted a drink, as well as misters at both ends of the grounds so you could soak yourself at your leisure. The abundance of water sources was excellent and, as far as I know, unmatched in any festival I’ve ever been to.

Photo by official Osheaga photographer Tim Snow

Gary Clark Jr. was the first musician I was really floored by. His guitar riffs are simply on fire, and his bluesy rock scorched through the warm summer air. Men all around me moaned with envy and adoration after Clark would wail, emoting through his guitar, and in between songs, choruses of male voices raised, proclaiming, “Gary! Gary! Gary!” It filled my heart with pride to watch this hometown guitar hero be so embraced by a foreign crowd.

Photo by Eva Blue

Were there other bands I saw in the late afternoon and early evening of Osheaga on Friday? Sure. Did I pay them any mind? Nope. My heart raced in anticipation of Sigur Ros, the band I was really making the trek for in the first place. I secured a great vantage point in the crowd for their set, and meditated on my excitement until the guys slowly took the stage in their coordinated near-military uniforms. They kicked off their set with “Varúð”from their newest album, Valtari, and it was the only new song they played their entire set. It was meditative and lovely, a delicate embrace with the crowd that welcomed us gently into their set. One of my favorites and the song I played more than any other as a college radio DJ, “Sæglópur,” was next, and transported me to that confusing, exciting and youthful time in my life. In that song is that first moment you meet someone, when you think that there might be something there but you’re unsure and you’re waiting for them to call or do something, anything, to indicate they may like you, too. It’s the anticipation, the breath before the answer in a proposal, that rush. They brought it down for the next song, “Ný Batterí,” which is brooding and hurt, and Jonsi’s voice cracked as he cried out his last verse of the song, roaring into the mic. Then quieted down for the beautiful “Hoppípolla” which is my boyfriend’s favorite. We clasped hands tightly, watching the screen behind the band light up with firefly-like sparkles. It was a solidifying moment of magic and transcendence. This melted into “Með Blóðnasir” which, in turn, was suddenly “Hafsól.” Jonsi had been playing his guitar with a cello bow all night, but for this song, bassist Georg got in on the act, playing his bass with a drumstick. The song sped up and erupted at the end with flutes, drums, and strings, becoming a fairytale marching band. “Olsen Olsen” kept this forest-like mysticism floating in the air, and Jonsi led the pack, singing like some otherworldly creature. Finally, the band closed out with their unmatchable anthem “Popplagið”. It starts unassumingly quiet, almost like a heartsick lullaby, but the urgency builds until Jonsi is nearly crying into the mic and Orri continues to speed up on the drums, a spotlight shining down on him. The song builds in a giant, unbroken wave until it hits all at once, pounding the audience and overwhelming them with sound. You are taken in, unable to breathe, until there is finally relief and all that is left are guitars whining up against amplifiers. The band is gone, leaving gorgeous wreckage in their wake. However, because of the applause roaring out from the crowd, they took the stage again as a group for a bow, with Georg’s young daughter on his hip. Of all of the modern musicians we have, I know of very few whose artistic vision is as uncompromising and complete as Sigur Ros’. Thank god we have them.

Photo by official Osheaga photographer Tim Snow

I started Saturday off with a late afternoon set by Saddle Creek veterans Cursive. I’d seen Tim Kasher solo and was impressed by his wit and humor, not to mention his musicianship. In this afternoon festival set, he kept the banter light and just rocked through punky tunes with the band, still taking time within the songs to exaggeratedly emote. They slowed their biggest hit, “The Recluse,” waaay down, so that it was unrecognizable initially. It lost its bite and became instead a pathetic, wallowing tune that just made you want to shake the narrator. Still, despite a very sunny and hot afternoon, the band pulled fans out of the shade and nearer the stage for some rocking out.

Photo by official Osheaga photographer Patrick Beaudry

I’d seen Young the Giant perform at least 3 other times this year, and their set remained unchanged at Osheaga. They mostly performed songs off of their breakout self-titled album, and lead singer Sameer Gadhia was as energetic as ever. As much of a sight to behold as he is, I found myself sitting back for this set, lounging on some astro-turf that the festival wisely laid atop a gravely path behind the picnic benches facing the main stages. Typically I dance as hard as Sameer does, but this time, I let the band’s sound wash over me.

Photo by official Osheaga photographer Patrick Beaudry

What I’d known of Garbage in the 90s was what I heard on the radio and on movie soundtracks. “Stupid Girl” made me fear and admire Shirley Manson, in awe of her punk rock attitude and feisty “eff you” demeanor. I was also endlessly fascinated and creeped out by their song “#1 Crush” on the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack. It and Radiohead’s “Talk Show Host” were about as alt as my pre-pubescent brain could handle, so Manson stood as one of the demigods of rock in my mind. Finally seeing her live brought my image of her full-circle. She seemed frozen in time in some ways, wearing clothes that seemed to belong to 90s punk and grunge, and hair that was a cross between that style and a literal scorpion. She commanded the stage with intensity, and although the band as a whole are aging and therefore coming off slightly less gritty and more veteran, Manson still has the power to brighten the eyes of young girls admiring her.

Photo by official Osheaga photographer Tim Snow

Yeasayer:  j’adore. These guys absolutely enthrall me for their ability to follow their hearts with their art instead of chasing hits, and yet still being engaging and crowd-pleasing. It’s not that they cater to the crowd — they nearly do the opposite, challenging their fans at every turn with minimal beats here, strange altered vocals there. And yet, this only seems to endear their fans to them more. It’s like they are experimenting:  what would happen if we treated music fans as though they could handle something weird? The fans have responded so far by rising to the occasion. The crowd for Yeasayer was swollen and mixed, and when they guys took the stage, all of the songs, both old and brand new and not-yet-released, went over with enraptured applause. Standouts include “Longevity,” which is incredibly beat-heavy live and therefore super danceable, “Reagan’s Skeleton,” which was alien and entrancing, and a totally revamped “O.N.E.” which fans (read:  I) didn’t even recognize until Anand jumped in to sing his part. Still, despite challenging their fans, Yeasayer know how to please, and ripped through “Ambling Alp” before a swan song of “Tightrope” to close out the night. This show ended up being my second favorite of the entire weekend, behind only Sigur Ros, and it made me more eager than ever to delve into the new album, Fragrant World, when it drops later this month.

Photo by official Osheaga photographer Patrick Beaudry

Sunday, it was time for some rain & soul. Dan Mangan kicked the day off for me, notably bringing up a very happy fan during the song “Robots” who had adorably donned a “robot head” (cardboard box with drawn-on eyeballs). The fan danced around and ended up leaving his box-head behind for Mangan, who set the soaking-wet object on top of a speaker during the rest of his set. Aloe Blacc was up next, and he was a surprise favorite for the weekend. Blacc conducts himself with the swagger and soul of classic Motown- and funk-era frontmen. Despite the hot and wet downpour surrounding him, Blacc, didn’t break a sweat in his blazer and silk shirt, dancing up and down the stage while he crooned love tunes and songs about our failing economy. “I Need a Dollar” was a huge sing-along, and Blacc led more clap-alongs than any other artist of the weekend. He was engaging and fun, even for a new fun, which is what every festival artist should aim for.

Photo by official Osheaga photographer Patrick Beaudry

I was worried about Passion Pit. I wasn’t sure that they’d perform at all in their late-night time slot, but I was hopeful to catch them if they did. So as I was headed back to take a load off during Tame Impala’s set Sunday, I was suddenly shocked to hear the opening synthesized strains of “Take a Walk” pumping through speakers on the main stage. What? Why was Passion Pit performing now? Did I read the schedule wrong? Nope. For reasons still unexplained, Passion Pit and Tame Impala swapped set times at the last second, so I raced to the stage and danced in the crowd to a totally solid set from Passion Pit. Michael Angelakos seemed pulled together and happy, even if his backing band seemed a bit grim-faced.

Common was up next, but I sat back for this one, relaxing on a picnic table bench to avoid wet trousers. My favorite parts were the familiar — he had a mash-up of classic Motown and rap songs, including a hat-tip to Michael Jackson, and he also performed his Kid Cudi collaboration, “Make Her Say.” Santigold was even better, with a colorful presentation, talented backup dancers, and a call out to audience members to join her onstage — but only if they put their phones away and enjoyed themselves. The crowd members obliged and looked ecstatic crowded around Santigold. “L.E.S. Artistes” was the most wildly anticipated song, and was received with rampant applause. “Disparate Youth” was my jam, though,  and got me to shake my still-dry booty in the afternoon drizzle.

Photo by official Ohseaga photographer Patrick Beaudry

The universe decided to pay tribute to Garden State during the Shins’ performance, as festival-goers donned trash sacks and generic blue ponchos and got drenched just the same. The strongest rains poured out of the sky during this set, blowing in our faces and soaking us to the bone. It stopped being refreshing and exciting and started to feel unpleasant, since the sun had gone down and it was getting chilly and sticky. But I was refreshed when the opening tambourine and “oohs” of “New Slang” floated across the muddy open field, and wandered over to set up for M83 with warm fuzzies in my heart and Zach Braff in my brain.

Bloc Party was on before M83, and though I’ve never been a fan of them, they played a couple tunes that were punky enough to be enjoyable even to my critical ears. Still, Kele Okereke is one of the more overrated vocalists in my mind, and I could only take so much of his nasally, whiny delivery before I zoned out just waiting for it to be over and my beloved M83 to take the stage.

Photo by official Osheaga photographer Tim Snow

I expected a lot from M83 to close out my night and my festival. I had seen their transcendent show at Stubb’s in Austin, and was so blown away that I listened to them almost exclusively leading up to Osheaga. I wondered aloud if they brought their strange, demon-like costumed ghoul to open up their set, or if they would jump straight in. I thought it was a given that Zola Jesus would reprise her role in the song “Intro,” given that she was scheduled to perform that day at the festival. I was wrong on both counts. As the opening child whispers in “Intro” came through the speakers, the band immediately entered the stage with no Zola Jesus to be found. Still, I didn’t care. I was centered perfectly about 6 rows back from the front of the stage, and ready to dance.

Little did I know, Osheaga punks had been building energy all weekend, and it suddenly exploded at this last crowded set. As I stood there, listening to this big, beautiful near-ambient music, crowd surfers began pouring down on us. It wasn’t just a constant stream, either:  at one point, I counted three all traffic-jammed in my area, with my boyfriend holding a leg of 2 in each hand as I got kicked in the head, hard, twice. I tried to help hold up the bodies, but my upper-body strength is laughable and it was a struggle to not have the entire weight of these people fall down hard on top of me. I wasn’t even watching the performance or enjoying the music anymore — I was locked in behind me, watching as more and more people were lifted above the crowd and tossed in my direction. Finally, it became too much, and I grabbed my boyfriend and shoved my way through the crowd, to the side of the stage. I didn’t want to leave, so I just kept going until I found a small space and stopped, exhausted and devastated. A short girl looked at me with mean eyes and said, “How rude!” to a friend, I guess thinking I’d just cut in front of her on purpose. I tried to apologize to another couple behind me, and they said, “It’s OK, it’s totally fine,” seemingly disturbed as I started to break down crying. I stood there sobbing, absolutely humiliated and frustrated that this spot I’d waited a full 2 hours to procure had been taken from me because I couldn’t handle the crowd surfers. I tried to refocus on the band, but it was tough, especially as one drunken dude stumbled around us, leaning his weight on us frequently and talking loudly with some girls he was trying to hit on. This was an issue the rest of the night — the new group we’d landed among were talkers, and not at all interested in the show. I tried to ignore it as much as possible, enjoying “Steve McQueen,” my favorite M83 anthem, and I screamed at the top of my lungs along with the lyrics, “Nothing can hurt me today!” It was forced, though. Even though the band sounded great and played with the same energy they had in Austin, it just wasn’t the same because the crowd was so, so terrible. We’d been so lucky with Sigur Ros and Yeasayer:  the crowds were perfectly appropriate for those sets. But for M83, all the stragglers who still had energy to kill were letting it out at the expense of everyone else, and it really ruined the set.

All things told and with a few weeks between the festival and me, I enjoyed myself. The amenities the festival provides, like free water and refreshing water guns, places to sit and relax, and lots of shade, are incredible and unmatched in many cases. The lineup was still brilliant, even if the layout of the festival makes it semi-impossible to see everyone you want unless you’re willing to miss parts of certain sets. Even though the crowd wasn’t all I’d hoped for, I caught unforgettable sets by Sigur Ros, Yeasayer and Aloe Blacc, and I only got a little banged up when Canada sent me back down to Texas.

Canada ho! – Osheaga 2012 Preview

I know. I know. I’m the luckiest sunnufagun there is. Why, you ask? Because I am heading up to Montreal this weekend to enjoy a 3 day music festival whose lineup was derived directly from my iPod. That’s right — I’m headed to Osheaga 2012. Perhaps you’re as lucky as I am, and you’ll be trekking north, too. Perhaps you aren’t, but you’re wanting some new musical discoveries. Either way, read on, my friends. Ahead you’ll find my favorite acts of Osheaga 2012:  old favorites, new favorites, and favorite favorites. Here we go.


M83 are magical at Stubb’s, 5/18/2012

Do you believe in magic? No, not the rabbit-out-of-a-hat, “Is that your card?” Barney Stinson-esque magic. And no, not the Mindfreak! magic, or the kind where you freeze yourself for 63 hours. I’m talking about the kind of magic that is childlike — the kind where you imagine yourself into your dreams and, for a while, they are real. The kind where time stops and your skin tingles and your heart is freed and you know you will not forget this perfect moment. On Friday, at Stubb’s BBQ, M83 made us all believers.


AWM’s Favorite Albums of 2011

I think a part of the reason I like to make lists of my favorite albums of the year is selfishness. It helps me take stock of the art that was put out over the course of the year. It helps me remember shows I’ve seen, or moments I shared with new music. It helps me feel fonder about the year that has passed, and more hopeful for the year that is coming. It forces me to examine what this music meant to me, and why it meant that. I tend to favor albums whose tracks I loved, start to finish, that had meaningful lyrics or were soundtracks for important moments. Plus, I always favor risks. If I feel like a band played it safe and made a solid record, I’ll dig it, but for those who try to tackle huge topics through their art, I always admire it and end up loving it more.

For these reasons, I really could just jot down a list to myself, smile smugly, and move on. That said, I do think there is value in sharing lists, because it sparks conversations (or arguments, if you’re into that) and can potentially (and hopefully) help people discover new albums they may not have heard of before. This year, I found myself leaving off albums that contained a handful of unforgettable songs because the rest of the album was weak. I also found myself extending my list to a top-15 instead of top-10, including in my final 5 growers that I still need to spend more time with, but that were so striking in their own way that I had to include them. Without further ado:  my 2011 best-of list! Enjoy, be angered, argue and discuss. All is welcomed.


Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011 – Day 2

Saturday, November 5


The Joy Formidable

We took it easier Saturday, in part because I woke up feeling as crusty as an old, burnt piece of toast, and in part because nothing in the early morning really called to us. But we were determined to get to the fest in time for the Joy Formidable, and we made it in plenty of time. The Welsh trio was a ray of sunlight, and immediately blew anything and everything we’d seen the day before (except for Spoon) out of the water. First of all, the band is fronted by a guitar-wielding woman with an adorable blonde shag of hair. Their drummer grins widely at the audience during most songs, egging us on to clap and sing, and the bassist is energetic and equally joyous. Live, they really did remind me of the Silversun Pickups, but dancier. The crowd adored them, and when they went in for the kill, finishing their set with their breakout hit “Whirring,” two fearsome-but-cute inflatable cat heads blew up on either side of the stage, with their mouths opening and closing like some creepy carnival game, and lead woman Ritzy Bryan went to town on a gong that had heretofore sat unplayed at the back of the stage. I was sold — my blood was pumping, I’d forgotten I was sick and 4 other lady friends and I decided we were starting a band called Pizza Party (you may not steal this idea from us we will find and injure you. Injure you bad. Real bad.)


Fun Fun Fun 2011

Fun Fun Fun Fest crept up on me so quickly this year that I haven’t had time to scour the lineup the way I normally do. Thus, I have decided to highlight my favorites below that I already know and love – and apparently, they’re all mostly playing the Orange Stage. But my absolute favorite aspect of Fun Fun Fun Fest is the fact that I discover so much new music to love. It’s like being a college DJ all over again. I intend to hit up my top picks, but I also plan on wandering wherever my ears take me. So ultimately, that is my suggestion. Be brave, go to a stage you didn’t think you’d visit, keep an open mind, get dirty and have a blast.

For another excellent preview, check out Zack’s at Festival Crashers.

© Copyright Austin Writes Music - Designed by Pexeto