The 2012 ACL Festival is almost here, and the general atmosphere among the OVRLD staff appears to be apathy. We are certainly blessed to live in a town where ACL is only the second-biggest festival of the year, but this year it looks a lot more like the third-biggest festival. The Fun Fun Fun Fest lineup puts this one to shame. Frankly, the problem seems to be that ACL wants to be everything to everyone, and in doing so becomes only some of the things to everyone. There’s hip-hop (The Roots, Childish Gambino, Die Antwoord, Big K.R.I.T.), electronic (AVICII, A-Trak, Bassnectar), country (Randy Rogers, Steve Earle, Old 97s, Patterson Hood), folk (Avett Brothers, Trampled by Turtles, Punch Brothers, M. Ward), indie (M83, Crystal Castles, Metric, The Shins, Polica), and good old-fashioned rock and roll (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White, Neil Young, Weezer, Iggy Pop). In and amongst that is scattered funk, jazz, gospel and numerous other hard-to-categorize acts. The scope is really quite impressive. But it dramatically overreaches. There are so few difficult decisions to be made because there are so few artists for any one person to be interested in. It lacks both the combined star-power and overall coherence of Fun Fun Fun Fest, and if ACL is going to two weekends next year (as is apparently the case), they’ve got to step it up.
That said, if you find yourself burdened with a ticket to this year’s festival, you’ll somehow be able to squeeze some fun out of it. Here is the OVRLD staff’s recommendations about what to catch while you’re at the Festival:
I have to plug the local bands – this is a great opportunity to show your out-of-town friends the great talent we have here, and there won’t be anything competing with them since they all play at ungodly early hours. Saturday from 11:15-1:40 sees Quiet Company, Wild Child and the Wheeler Brothers in that order, while Sunday gives us the Eastern Sea at 11:20 and Gary Clark Jr at 2:15. It irks me that these bands don’t get better spots, or that there aren’t more of them. (I know, I know, Asleep at the Wheel. Whatever.)
But if I had to pick three bands that I am most excited to see, they would be Weezer (Fri at 6:15), M83 (Fri at 7:30) and The Weeknd (Sun at 5:15). Doesn’t it always go that there are long stretches of musicians I can care nothing about, only to have two of my festival favorites play on opposite ends of the grounds right next to each other? Or how I have to miss Die Antwoord and part of the Old 97’s in order to catch The Weeknd; whereas I could stand to lose anything after 7pm that same day. So it goes. If you want me, those are the stages you can find me.
Tegan and Sara put on extremely entertaining live shows. These two sisters
play catchy indie rock songs, while easily filling the space between with surprisingly
humorous and humble banter. There are no “must see” artists playing right before
or during this performance, making this an easy decision.
Friday, 4:30 – 5:30, Bud Light Stage
With Florence + the Machine as one of the headliners this year, a lot of people
probably already plan to see this band. However, if you’re on the fence, I can’t
recommend seeing this band more. Florence Welch is a true performer – her live
shows are consistently amazing and full of raw energy no matter what size the
Friday, 6:30 – 7:30, Bud Light Stage
Stars is a Canadian band that features a male and female vocal duo with hauntingly beautiful music at times and uniquely upbeat music at others. They are definitely worth checking out, especially because ACL will be one the band’s last shows in America before touring around the world for a while.
Sunday, 1:15-2:15, Barton Springs Stage
Bad Books is the pairing of Kevin Devine (along with his “Goddamn Band”) and
Andy Hull (with part of Manchester Orchestra). You can hear familiar remnants
of these groups in Bad Books’ music, but there are some clear “oldies” tones; this
venture obviously allowed them all to push their creative boundaries. It’s easy to get
into this band, so don’t miss their performance.
Sunday, 3:45 – 4:30, Austin Ventures Stage
ACL’s national act lineup this year is a smorgasbord of exemplary genre stars. You’ve got some rock legends, indie electro standouts, indie folk starlets and trending hip hop heroes. Overall, I think the schedule is passable and believe that most attendees will find much to like at the fest.
Notwithstanding my comments above about the national acts, I am very excited to see how the locals bring it to the big stage. Wild Child (Sat 12:00p,) The Eastern Sea (Sun 11:20a) and Gary Clark Jr. (Sun. 2:15p) are on my list of must-sees. And getting a chance to hear Gary Clark Jr. break out songs from his upcoming album and hearing songs off the latest The Eastern Sea album will be highlights for me. I’ve also been impressed with the sound at ACL for some of the folk acts I’ve seen at Zilker before; so I’m expecting ear candy from Wild Child during their set early Saturday.
For the national acts, I’m definitely carving out some time for indie electro stars M83 on Friday 7:00p and Crystal Castles on Sunday at 7:30p. I’ve missed their shows in Austin so catching these acts now will be prime. Andrew Bird at 4:00p on Saturday will be a pleasantly euphonious way to spend the afternoon. Bird’s skilled whistling and violin virtuosity is not to be missed. To finish up the fest, I’m closing with a block of rock: Iggy and The Stooges Sun 6:15p and Red Hot Chili Peppers Sun 8:15p.
If you’re wanting to gain street creed with your Brooklynite friends, don’t miss Caveman on Saturday. SXSW reports compared to them to the Strokes, but I’m thinking they have more in common with Midlake. Imagine beautiful, layered vocals over complex guitars — with a dark side. If you’re wishing Grizzly Bear was at ACL, this might be an acceptable substitute. “Great Life” offers a good introduction to the sound, but “Old Friend” is what’s on repeat for me.
Alt-J (or ∆, if you actually follow instructions) should be the first band on your Sunday line-up. “Fitzpleasure” is a crowdpleaser with somewhat obscured lyrics, a heavy baseline, and frankly, slightly odd production values. “Tessallate” combines soulful lyrics with a pulsating, yet minimal beat. Heck, the music video for that song references Raphael’s The School of Athens … and possibly Kanye West? I’m in. So’s Devendra Banhart who did a cover of “Tessallate.” See ∆ before they win the Mercury Prize — and are bumped to a much (much) later set time.
Sunday also showcases Poliça, another SXSW standout. I started listening to the groove-tastic neo-soul/psychadelic/goth r&b ensemble after being swept up in the buzz. Channy Leaneagh strikes a delicate balance between distorted and ethereal vocals. They’re back in Austin, and I’m planning on catching their set. Maybe dancing a bit, too, if the crowd allows for it.
Let’s get right down to brass tacks, this year’s ACL lineup can be described in one word: safe. This is a lineup for people who like to say they’re into music, but really only listen to what radio, television, and the internet tell them to. That being said, if you’re going to the Fest, do yourselves a favor and check out Quiet Company early Saturday morning, The Eastern Sea early Sunday, and Gary Clark Jr. Sunday afternoon. These are three of our bigger local acts that are making (or already have made) a name for themselves on the national stage. These bands are a pleasure to see live and with C3 having given them some of the worst time slots ever, they really need our support. Oh, and if you find yourself torn between Jack White and Neil Young on Saturday night, punch yourself in the junk. Neil Young is 10 times the musician Jack White will ever be.