Friday, September 21st, 2007
Austin City Limits 2007 III (The Search For Austin City Limits 2007 II)
Anyone get the reference in the title? Anyone?
And here, after drawing last weekend out over all of this week, we have the final installment. I may have missed day two of Austin City Limits in its entirety, but more than made up for that on the Sunday. For my money, the three-day sched was heavily backloaded on the final day and there were loads I wanted to see, meaning I was at Zilker Park before the performances even began, despite having barely gotten to bed by 4AM the night before.
The AM draw was Nicole Atkins & The Sea, who despite playing to a tiny crowd of early birds, was dazzling and set the bar for the day super-high. Adjusting their repertoire to the scale of the stage, they opened up with their more rocking material serving up terrific performances of “Carousel” and “Brooklyn’s On Fire”. And once they had the audience’s undivided attention, Atkins’ formidable pipes finished the job with the gut-wrenching “War Torn”. A starmaking performance, even if no one was there to see it. After Neptune City comes out on October 30, Atkins won’t be stuck playing the morning slots at festivals much longer. She’s in town at Lee’s Palace on October 14. Don’t miss it.
Photos: Nicole Atkins & The Sea @ AT&T Blue Room Stage – September 16, 2007
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Bleeding Diamonds”
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Carouselle”
Video: Nicole Atkins & The Sea – “The Way It Is” (MySpace)
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Neptune City” (YouTube)
MySpace: Nicole Atkins
Her set tag-teamed with some fellow New Jersey-ites in Yo La Tengo. I’ve no idea why the indie institutions got stuck with the noontime slot but they didn’t seem to be complaining about it – maybe they had BBQ reservations later in the afternoon. But they still drew a pretty sizable crowd for that time of day and showcased their versitility and eclecticism, veering from power pop to faux soul to fuzzed freakouts. The highlight, however, was watching/hearing Georgia Hubley turn blazing Summer sun into Autumnal dusk simply by singing “Tears Are In Your Eyes” and then having Ira bring things right back to sunshine with a rollicking “Little Honda”.
Photos: Yo La Tengo @ AMD Stage – September 16, 2007
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “The Summer” (live at KEXP)
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “I Feel Like Going Home” (live at KCMP)
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Beanbag Chair”
MySpace: Yo La Tengo
Seeing The National in the bright afternoon sunshine was going to be interesting, considering how intrinsic the dark – be it from nightfall or just the dirt in the corners of bars – is to their music. But rather than shrink in the light, The National’s romantic noir anthems gleamed. I know they’ve played other festivals this Summer but watching them enthrall an audience as huge as the one that’d gathered to see them, it felt like the band was no longer on the cusp of the big time but had properly and deservedly arrived. Their October 8 show at the Phoenix is almost sold out – if you’re on the fence, get off and get to a ticket outlet. And check out this interview at PopMatters.
Photos: The National @ AT&T Blue Room Stage – September 16, 2007
MP3: The National – “Fake Empire”
Video: The National – “Mistaken For Strangers” (YouTube)
Video: The National – “Apartment Story” (YouTube)
MySpace: The National
DeVotchKa, on the other hand, didn’t thrive as well in the festival setting as I’d hoped. They drew a modest (by ACL standards) but enthusiastic crowd and sounded fine, showcasing a goodly amount of new material alongside gems from How It Ends but their smoky charm, so evident and enthralling in a club setting, seemed to dissipate in the open air. It was still good to see them and it did stoke my anticipation for the new record, but I’d much rather see them on a club tour.
As large as some of the crowds at the secondary stages were, they couldn’t compare to the throngs gathered around the AT&T main stage. Many were staking out spots for Bob Dylan’s closing set but others – like me – were there to see Bloc Party. I think it’s fair to say that any bands that cross over from the UK festival circuit to the North American one know how to work a huge crowd, because Bloc Party certainly do. In between fierce readings of material from both A Weekend In The City and Silent Alarm, Kele Okereke bantered with the hordes so charmingly that it was easy to overlook how cliched the material was (“how’s everyone in the back? And the middle? And the front?”). Musically, they were typically superb and I think I love this band a little more every time I hear them. Looking forward to seeing them at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto next Friday night.
Photos: Bloc Party @ AT&T Stage – September 16, 2007
MP3: Bloc Party – “I Still Remember” (acoustic)
MP3: Bloc Party – “Sunday” (acoustic)
Video: Bloc Party – “Hunting For Witches” (YouTube)
Video: Bloc Party – “The Prayer” (YouTube)
Video: Bloc Party – “I Still Remember” (YouTube)
MySpace: Bloc Party
After a spot of dinner, there had to be a decision between Wilco and My Morning Jacket. I’d originally planned on the latter since i’d seen the former at the ACL taping the day before, but the notion of fighting my way back through the main stage crowd, already swelled to ridiculous numbers, wasn’t appealing so I went for my second Wilco show in 27 hours. And even though there was no way this performance was going to compare to the taping, seeing Wilco in any context is never disappointing. No complaints.
Having VIP access to the Dell stage meant that I was able to watch shows from the side of the stage, which is where I took in The Decemberists’ almost-festival closing set. There’s no denying that Colin Meloy is a ham of the highest order but the audience ate it up. While he still looks like the unlikeliest rock star and the band’s drama club soundtracks are the sort of thing you’d think to be more suited to their usual theatre-type venues, Meloy speaks truth when he sings “I was meant for the stage” – any stage. For many, their rowdy and rousing set was the climax of the festival, but for everyone else, they were just the warm-up (or the unwelcome delay) for the main attraction – Bob Dylan.
No one, and but no one, can deny Bob Dylan’s status as a living legend and someone who’s earned the right to do and play whatever he wants. This is a latitude he takes advantage of when playing live, favouring new material over old, twisting arrangements and melodies of the classics he does deign to play and, as he’s done in recent years, eschewing guitar duties in favour of the piano. Even into his senior years, he remains ornery and contrary, refusing to become a nostalgia act (casino gigs notwithstanding) and while that can be frustrating for the concert-goer, I can’t help but respect him even more for it. That said, I was happy to see that for this show, he was upright and slinging a Stratocaster in fronting his crack band. Vocally, he took a little while to warm up and even then, calling his voice somewhere between a rasp and a croak is being generous. I wasn’t willing to try and get more than a few hundred yards away from the stage so I settled for watching him on the jumbotrons on either side of the screen or just sitting on the grass and listening, I never actually laid eyes on the man but can now say I’ve seen Bob Dylan live.
Video: Bob Dylan – “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (YouTube)
MySpace: Bob Dylan
And that’s how you close out a festival. Even if I’d only attended on Sunday, it would have been a terrifically rich and music-packed day. Add in Friday, the Wilco ACL taping and of course both nights of Hot Freaks! after parties and you’ve got one incredibly fun and nearly-heat stroked weekend that completely kicked my ass in the very best way. That said, I’m not sure if I’m ready to make spending mid-September deep in the heart of Texas a regular affair. My delicate Canadian constitution just isn’t made to take that kind of heat – I’ve a lovely strip of sunburn across the back of my neck where my camera strap wiped off the sunscreen (though I think I got some pretty good photos from the audience and it was worth it). Of course, that may just be the exhaustion and relief of Summer festival season being over talking – I’ve spent more than my fair share of days out standing in a field the past few months. Talk to me again come April, betcha I’ll be raring to go.