Well, I've been looking for an excuse to get back into some periodic blogging here on The Adventures (although I've been enjoying the hiatus as well), and this year's ACL Fest seems like as good a reason as any to add something new.
Speaking of newness, this is Amy! We've been seeing each other for a little while now, and she joined me this year for her first ever ACL Fest! We had a really good time together, and she seemed to take to the whole music festival thing like a duck to water, so that was really cool! I had a great time spending the weekend with her.
And the festival was a really good one this year! We had some of the best weather that I ever remember enjoying at an ACL Fest (which can be a really huge part of how easy it is to enjoy one of these festivals).
In terms of the music, we started out on Friday with Blues Traveller. They were good. Still doing the ol' Blues Traveller thing, but doing it well. Young violin prodigy Ruby Jane joined them on stage for a song or two, and had some dueling violin v. harmonica action with John Popper. John Popper got excited about Ruby Jane's performance and celebrated with a string of gleeful expletives, which is a little odd when you're celebrating the performance of a 15 year old, although his enthusiasm was great (and Ruby Jane didn't seem to mind). We hung out and listened to a bit of Miike Snow over on the Honda Stage. He was okay, although I didn't get into him that much (except Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend joined him onstage for a song or two, which was pretty cool). Saw The Black Keys after that. Also pretty cool, I thought. They definitely have a bit of that Hendrix style rock/blues thing going on.
After the Black Keys we saw Beach House, who Amy had told me about, and they were really good. Beach House will chill you out, and their name definitely fits the sort of overall feel of the band (sort of relaxed and mellow, but not depressing). I really liked Beach House. They were a standout new act for me.
After that we saw Spoon. Spoon were pretty good, too. I've seen Spoon several times before, and I think their live shows have been sort of a mixed bag, but they sounded pretty good on Friday. Still a little bit better as a studio band than as a live band, but I just like their music, and they were pretty much on their game this time around. Good live show for Spoon this time, so good for them!
After Spoon we saw part of Vampire Weekend. They were fun and sounded good. I'd seen them once before at ACL Fest, but this time I thought they sounded better, and they seemed a lot more comfortable on stage and seemed to be having a lot more fun than the last time I saw them.
We tried to split Vampire Weekend with Ryan Bingham, but Bingham was over on the Austin Ventures Stage, and we ended up being kind of stuck toward the back. There was a terrible bleed over with the sound from Robert Randolph, who was playing at the stage next door (very loudly). So I guess that Ryan Bingham was okay, but given the sound quality, from where we were stuck, it wasn't the greatest show ever. I'd like to see him again at a different venue sometime.
And then I finally saw Phish! A bit of a surreal experience for me after hearing about their live shows for so long from friends (Jeff was a huge Phish fan, Sigmund, Reed, Mandy, and others still are). Anyway, it was really cool to finally see them! It was kind of strange because even though I had never seen them live before, I've listened to so many of their live recordings and seen so many videos of their live performances that it didn't really feel like this was my first live Phish show (plus, I've seen frontman Trey Anastasio play live several times now- including a 2004 ACL Fest appearance, Jazzfest, and a 2005 show at the State Palace in New Orleans).
Phish were really great, though. As expected, they lived up to the hype. They're just incredible musicians, standing head and shoulders above many of the others at the festival, and, of course, the Phish fans (the Phans) are just a fun group. The happiness that they feel during a Phish show is pretty contagious. Anyway, it was really cool to finally get a chance to see Phish do their thing. Really, really cool. Definitely made me think of Jeff. I can't imagine the excitement that he would have felt about seeing Phish play live in Zilker Park on a beautiful October night in Austin.
Saturday we started out the day going to see The Very Best. They're a cool mix of African electronic, hip hop, worldbeat music that's sung in a combination of African languages and English. They were just really upbeat and very, very fun. Really good way to kick off the day on Saturday. The crowd really loved them, and they seemed to really love the crowd. Good show.
After The Very Best we saw Bear in Heaven. They were good, too. Like Beach House, they sort of move you into a certain sort of atmospheric zone, but Bear in Heaven does it with a combination of electronic music combined with a traditional drum and bass rhythm section (I was really struck at this year's festival by all of the various, different, interesting ways that bands are fusing together electronic music components with traditional live sounds. You see it again and again, and it's interesting to see the choices that bands are making in terms of the mixes and instrumentation). Anyway, Bear in Heaven was good. I thought the lead singer looked a little bit like Ben Stiller.
After Bear in Heaven we saw Gaslight Anthem. They were good, too. More traditional rock and roll. I had heard comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, and at first I didn't get it because their music, in general, is pretty fast in comparison to Springsteen's, but the longer I listened to them, the more I could hear it in the lyrics and in the vocal style of Brian Fallon, the lead singer. They were cool. I'm not sure they would ever be one of my favorite bands, but I could see them filling a very cool niche.
After that we saw The Broken Bells. They sounded really, really good. I had heard some people tell me that they had seen them play live before and that they weren't all that impressive, but the show that we saw Saturday was really good stuff (they had a fairly large band with horns and whatnot, and I would imagine that the band, on the whole, has probably tightened up quite a bit in terms terms of their live performance since some of their early, initial shows as a live band at SXSW). Anyhoo, I really liked Broken Bells. Cool music that was performed well (it's also interesting to note that they changed up a few of their songs when playing them live as compared to the album versions- playing them faster and a little differently than the studio versions- probably another indicator that they've been working to find ways to improve their live performances).
We finished out our Saturday with LCD Soundsystem. Their show was really great. One of the highlights of this year's festival, in my opinion. I've had sort of a weird relationship with LCD Soundsystem. I like them, but I've primarily listened to them when hanging out with brother, who is, admittedly, a much more longtime dedicated fan of the band than myself. I'd seen them at ACL Fest once before, and I thought that show was really good, and, as I told Amy, I have these sort of surreal memories of driving around the Costa Rican cloud forests with my brother while listening to LCD Soundsystem in our SUV.
Anyway, they put on a great show on Saturday, and I think it finally turned me into a real, true fan of the band. James Murphy has great voice, the lyrics are cool, and they just do a great job of recreating their music in a live setting, most of it through traditional instruments as opposed to always relying on electronic loops. They have really cool music, and for a band that I tend to think of as electronic, they do a great job of performing live. (and I apologize if there's some sort of implicit dig at electronic music here, but I'm still one of those old timers who still has a bit of a preference for watching musicians with instruments performing live onstage).
So LCD was a really good show.
Sunday we got there a little later, but in time to see Trombone Shorty, who put on a really fun, great show of horn-based, funky, coolness over at the Clear 4G stage. The band was super tight, extremely talented, and really upbeat, and the crowd really, really loved them. Not knowing a heck of a lot about Trombone Shorty going in, I was super impressed, and I would definitely, definitely go check out that band again. Just one of those shows that had everyone dancing and put a big smile on everyone's face (plus, the band was just phenomenal- great musicians in that group).
We listened to a little bit of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros after that, whom I knew nothing about, but they were pretty good. Not exactly mind blowing, but I liked the music. They definitely had a serious hippie vibe going on, but their music had some rhythm to it, and I ended up enjoying it.
After that we saw Band of Horses. For the second time I really thought of Jeff (who was a big fan). Band of Horses put on a really good show, too. Ben Bridwell has a really cool voice, and, of course, I just like the music. They have a weird way of being fairly rockin', while still managing to sometimes create these sort of haunting melodies and moody atmospheres. They wrapped up their set with a cover of a Cee-Lo's Georgia, with Trombone Shorty and his horn section sitting in, and it was a really cool moment (and also, in the closing moments of their set, demonstrated some interesting musical diversity, I thought). Anyway, this was the second time I had seen Band of Horses before, and once again, it was a good show.
After Band of Horses we listened to a bit of Norah Jones, but we were pretty far back, and the sound wasn't very good. I liked some of what I heard, but, like I said, we were a ways away (basically camped out for The Eagles).
And, of course, the weekend finished out with The Eagles. What can you really say about The Eagles (that hasn't already been said)? The Eagles were very good. They still have really great harmonies and vocals, and the music is tight and pretty much flawlessly performed. The thing about The Eagles is that they're just buried deeply in my mind. I only own their greatest hits album, and I'm not sure I've ever even loaded it onto my iPod (not having listened to The Eagles a whole lot in recent years), but The Eagles are just part of my subconscious brain. I've heard them on countless jukeboxes in bars and diners, they've gotten untold hours of play on rock, country, and classic rock stations, and they're just sort of part of the musical landscape for a lot of Americans who lived through the 70's and 80's. The crowd knew the words to almost every song.
Also, Glen Fry was talking about writing one of their songs (I can't remember which one), and he was talking about how the song was written quickly, and it only took 2 full days to get the parts worked out. It occurred to me as he was telling the story the the kind of songwriting that The Eagles used to engage in just isn't all that common anymore. It's not that The Eagles don't have good instrumentalists (they do- Joe Walsh was and still is a good guitar player, for example), but it's more about the subtly greater complexity that rock and roll songwriters engaged in back in the sixties and seventies. Songs nowadays might have a brief intro, but then lots of them just quickly cycle through a couple of verses and choruses and then end. The Eagles, by comparison, were more willing to take time with longer intros, bridges and breaks between choruses and verses, extended, melodic instrumental solos, etc.
Anyway, the Eagles show was good. I really enjoyed it. Sitting through a show where the audience all clearly knew so much of the material (and sang along with much of it) was a nice way to wrap up the ACL Fest weekend.
Well, I guess that's it for now. I plan to start putting some posts up here again (although perhaps not on a daily basis), so check in from time to time if you have the inclination! Hope everyone is doing well!!