The second installment of the fabulous Jelisa Castrodale's coverage of The Austin City Limits Festival...
“Central Texas is in the middle of a drought,” the local weatherman said with a shrug during Friday night’s final newscast.
Of course that remark was enough to trigger torrential rain showers on Saturday, the local radar coated with more dark green splotches than the showers at the gym. The all-day downpour didn’t keep an estimated 65,000 music fans from returning to Zilker Park for the second day of the Austin City Limits festival. I made it too, after spending five bucks for a leaky poncho, wrapping myself in plastic like leftover cold cuts.
I’d hoped to catch an early afternoon set from droning Danish garagemasters The Raveonettes, but an unspecified immigration issue kept them out of the country and away from the festival. Instead, my first concert of the day was from Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear.
The indie faves opened their set by apologizing for standing so far back on the stage. “I swear we love you guys,” singer Edward Droste said “It’s just because of the rain.” After that, it was one big underage singalong in the audience, starting with the first verses of “Cheerleader” and “Southern Point”.
Everything Droste said was followed by a squealed “That’s so awesome!!” from the American Apparel-wrapped girls beside me, making me feel like I was standing in the middle of several thousand smiley emoticons.
“That’s so awesome!”
“OMG! So awesome!"
Colon. Parenthesis. Stab myself.
Grizzly Bear’s harmonies were as gorgeous as anticipated, although sometimes an over-amped bass overpowered their delicate vocals. A shimmering version of “Two Weeks” followed, with Daniel Rossen on keyboards and bassist Chris Taylor cooing into the microphone like Gizmo the Mogwai. “THAT’S SO AWESOME,” American Apparel said, her head on the verge of exploding as she made a note to update her Facebook status when she got home.
Next, I stomped through the standing water to see seven-piece Celtic punks Flogging Molly. Dublin-born Dave King led the seven piece band through an insanely high-energy set that led to endless amateur Riverdances in the port-a-john line. I watched them for close to thirty minutes, partially because it was easy to get into the music and partially because I was hoping to see someone slip and fall.
After King gave lengthy introduction that name dropped people who died--ironically, without a reference to recently-deceased Jim Carroll who actually wrote “People Who Died”--including Joe Strummer, Johnny Cash, and Bob Marley, they tore into “The Lightning Storm” from last year’s Float, an album that sounds surprisingly like the three that preceded it.
Because I’m apparently in my late fifties, I’d really been looking forward to the performance by The Levon Helm Band, featuring the drummer and vocalist for twang-tinged rock legends The Band, the least Google-able musical act of all time.
The 69 year-old singer is a throat cancer survivor and, despite some recent vocal troubles, he’d hoped to perform at ACL. After he’d remained silent for five songs, band leader (this band, not The Band) Larry Campbell informed us that Helm was on medically-ordered vocal rest but “he’d be singing his ass off again real soon.”
Judging by Helm’s frail-looking appearance, there’s not a lot of ass left to lose. Helm’s daughter Amy took the lead vocals for “Long Black Veil” and Campbell filled in for “Tennessee Jed”--a Grateful Dead cover--but despite Helm’s presence on the drums, it was like watching my parents’ friends do karaoke for an hour.
The crowd was wedged shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the LiveStrong stage, but--because I’m like Carmen Effing SanDiego when it comes to solving mysteries--I quickly figured out that they weren’t there for Helm and his band.
“Which one’s Levon?” a kid with a Dave Matthews Band shirt asked, pulling a crumpled baggie of weed out from his front pocket.
“I think he’s the one with the tuba,” his girlfriend said, as she crouched beneath an umbrella, trying to light her pipe. Maybe if I’d dropped five bucks on one of those--the ubiquitous glass pipes being sold on the way into the park--I wouldn’t care about the water collecting in my Wonderbra.
They weren’t the only couple who’d decided to camp out in front of the stage early, trying to snag a prime spot for the Dave Matthews Band’s headlining set an hour later. In fact, I’d say better than half the crowd was waiting for Dave. I left them with their seeds and stems and walked over to catch The Decemberists one stage over.
The Decemberists, all custom suits and carefully carved sideburns, chose to perform their recent Hazards of Love album in its entirety.
From the luminescent backgrounds to singer Colin Meloy’s careful enunciation to the soaring vocals--and flowing gowns--of Shara Worden and Becky Stark, it’s hard to even classify this as a concert. A performance, yes. But from the narrative of the album to their lush interpretations of “A Bower Scene” or “Isn’t It A Lovely Night?”, this wasn’t just concert. It ain’t no disco, if you know what I’m saying.
Also, I’m nominating Colin Meloy for a Tony Award.
Despite being a jam band fan--even naming my dog for a member of the Grateful Dead--I’ve never understood the appeal of the Dave Matthews Band. Maybe it’s the fact that his first two albums blared from endless Thinkpad speakers during my freshman year of college or that I’m frequently cut off in traffic by RAV-4’s with DMB stickers, but I just can’t do it.
That’s not to say that he’s not an excellent musician and, perhaps more than any artist I’ve seen this weekend, his songs resonate with the crowd like no other. Dave is their guy, it’s their band, their show.
I was wedged in a massive crowd from the opening stomp of “Don’t Drink the Water” through a series of tracks from this summer’s Big Whiskey & The GrooGrux King, but it somehow felt incredibly intimate, like I was overhearing a conversation not meant for me.
I caught myself bobbing my head--not in rhythm, of course--during his cover of the Talking Heads “Burning Down The House” and decided to slog through the rain, mud, and puddles to grab a bottle of water and head home. You’ve got to stay hydrated...we’re in a drought, you know.