Monday, September 17th, 2007
Austin City Limits 2007 I
Texas in September is hot. And it’s even hotter when you’re running around a big open park with little shade all day, but that’s Austin City Limits for you. Situated in Zilker Park, just
southeast southwest of downtown Austin, the festival ran for three sweltering days this past weekend with a slew of musical acts from around the world divvied up amongst six stages (seven, if you count the kids’ stage which I don’t).
Transportation to the festival was, thankfully, fast and easy as it seems the organizers had commandeered every charter bus in central Texas to shuttle people to and from the fest. Using Lollapalooza as a comparison point, the ACL grounds are considerably more compact – whereas it would take upwards of fifteen minutes of brisk walking to get from one end of Grant Park to the other, Zilker can be traversed in just five or so if you’re able to navigate the sea of lawn chairs set up in front of each stage. Trees and cover in general are also scarce on the festival grounds, leaving people to basically broil to a crispy brown under the sun. This is, after all, Texas. BBQ is king.
The first act I caught a piece of was Joseph Arthur, who was just wrapping up his set on the Dell stage right next to the media entrance. I stuck around long enough to note that his lead guitarist was Jennifer Turner, who did terrific work way back when with Natalie Merchant. I felt like doing some exploring so I headed over towards the AT&T main stage where Pete Yorn was setting up shop but shortly after he began, I noted a huge plume of black smoke rising from the north side of the park. At first I thought it was the mother of all barbeque pits but after seeing flames licking the tops of the trees, i decided that was unlikely – even in Texas. Not many others seemed to be taking notice, obviously hypnotized by Yorn’s rather nondescript rock, so I moseyed over for a closer look.
The on-site security had already set up a perimeter around the fire, which from my vantage point was consuming several outhouses, and were shooing festvial-goers away. I found it interesting how nonplussed people were about a rather large fire taking place just yards away – the general lack of survival instinct was good for not causing panic, but maybe not so good for the long-term future of our species. But I digress. It turned out the fire was caused by some propane in an RV behind the food concessions and had spread to the outhouses before being contained and extinguished. Four festival workers were hurt in the conflagration and sent to hospital – best wishes to them.
After that little bit of drama it was back to the music. I don’t know if there’s any sort of etiquette or code for artists playing festivals, but Pete Yorn’s decision to cover “Young Folks” while Peter Bjorn & John’s roadies were setting up their stage in a direct line of Yorn’s sight must break some kind of rule. When Yorn finished his set, PB&J started theirs and didn’t enthrall sufficiently to keep me around for more than a few songs. No idea if they countered with a Pete Yorn cover though I probably wouldn’t be able to recognize a Yorn song to save my life.
Across the park, Blonde Redhead were playing to a crowd considerably larger than the one that they dazzled at V Fest last week. They also took advantage of the longer set time to spread out a bit, offering up a show that was noisier and more sprawling than the last one I saw. Toward the end of their set I’d headed over the the main stage beside theirs and noticed that some of the festival patrons, particularly one in a James Taylor tour t-shirt, was staring at Blonde Redhead’s stage with undisguised disgust. This pleased me. People in James Taylor t-shirts deserve to suffer.
The – and I – were patiently waiting for the resurrected Crowded House to take the stage which they did once the last note of Blonde Redhead feedback faded out and though I never really noticed they’d gone – I’ve got the best-of and that’s it – it actually felt good to have them back. Neil Finn was in fine voice and his finely-crafted pop songs sounded wonderful, having endured quite well over the past couple decades and proving they’re songs for the ages.
I don’t know what they were thinking scheduling LCD Soundsystem and M.I.A. at the same time at opposite ends of the park. Who would be best suited to teach the indie kids how to dance? James Murphy’s New York electro-punk collective, with their impossibly tight and deep live rhythm section and his gravelly shouter vocals or Maya Arulpragasam’s unstoppably live-wire, globetrotting hip hop? I did my best to sample both, taking in about half of LCD’s set and the tail end of M.I.A.’s and while it was close to a draw, I’d give the edge to M.I.A. and her set-closing stage invasion. Yeah, she did the same thing last week in Toronto but that doesn’t make it any less awesome to watch.
And then it was back to the other end of the park, again, to hit up Queens Of The Stone Age. I’d never listened to the Queens before and I’m sure that any of the thousands of sweaty fans in attendance, three-finger devil salutes at the ready, would tell me that I’ve been missing out. Their unrelenting rock’n’roll was suitably loud and muscle-y but not nearly as heavy as I’d expected. As someone with a general heavy rock deficiency in their musical diet, I rather enjoyed the change of pace. Not calling myself a covert or anything, but sometimes you do need the rock.
At this point I opted to call it a day, at least as far as the festival was concerned. Yeah I’d be missing Bjork but I had just seen her the week before and I knew that I’d spend most of her set looking at my watch trying to figure out when I’d have to leave to catch the shuttle back to town. After all, I needed a shower and still had an after party to attend to.
Only a handful of photo sets from the first day – very tough to get anything especially interesting from the audience but I’ve also included various shots from around the festival on my Austin City Limits 2007 page, just to flesh things out.