Austin City Limits: Day One

Yesterday was a scorcher, but we managed to wipe the sweat from Amrit’s camera lens long enough to snap shots of our favorite bands rockin’ Austin. Stereogum’s done a bunch of these 3-day rock fests this year, and learned some lessons from Bonnaroopalooza, but we’ll try not to be jaded. At least not more than usual.

It’s frustrating to be in a sea of people under the sun and not be able to move but, human traffic issues aside, we’re impressed with the ACL operation. The heat meant for brisk sales of straw cowboy hats, but curiously we saw no topless girls. No drugged out hippies either. Maybe Austinites are more well-behaved? We had a bitch of a time getting a taxi last night (same two-hour nightmare as SXSW) so next year we’re bringing bikes.

But on with the show…

Highlights from Day One: Okkervil, Cat Power, Stars, Van Morrison and … John Mayer. Really. His licks blew us away, but more on that later.

We got a slow start Friday, waiting front row for Wolf Parade ten minutes before they were scheduled. Then they lowered a Gnarls Barkley banner. Huh? Turns out we were at the other AT&T stage. We wanted the AT&T Blue Room stage, which is not the one colored blue. We sprinted cross-park just in time for “You Are A Runner” > “Fancy Claps.” Spencer “Justamustache” Krug pics below ….


Torquil and Amy swapped smiles and harmonies throughout a Stars set heavy on Heart and Set Yourself On Fire favorites. Big shades and bigger “tough girl” posturing from Ms. Milan, but she softened during the sweet “Reunion,” with Torquil delivered each line with his typical theatrical flair.


Gnarls couldn’t make it yesterday. We took in cover band John Nash And The Beautiful Minds instead. Yes, that shtick is getting old. But it still makes our faces smiley, and the group’s entrance tune (“She Blinded Me With Science”) rocked. At Lolla we talked to back-up blonde Holly Palmer (she’s a solo artist too) about costume choices. Turns out they just cycle through the get-ups in the same order each leg. Her favorite? The tennis outfits (Fila’s best for dancing). As for the setlist? You should know by now.


After a shot of courvoisier Cee-Lo reminded us, “It’s fucking hot.”

Some of you may not be sad to see Nickel Creek say goodbye, but more than a handful of those at ACL seem to miss ‘em already. Playing clean up with their last round of shows, the Creek’s progressive bluegrass hit the right spot (as long as Thile wasn’t singing). There’s no doubt Chris is a star, but his vocals may still need some time to have the pitch and confidence he’ll need to be a breakthrough-bluegrass poster boy.


At least Torq from Stars told him about the dress code.


Hometown favorites Okkervil River took the tiny Austin Ventures stage, an absolute treat for those wise to their wares. Reminding us of the prowess of his prose, Will started the set with “The War Criminal Rises And Speaks Lyrics,” each line more satirical than the next. That Australian-tour only EP is tiding us over for now, but we’re anxiously awaiting Okkervil’s next record.


The Blue Room stage played host to Cat Power & The Memphis Rhythm Band, but the stage was just too high to get pictures of anyone but Chan (we’re sure you won’t complain). Ms. Marshall continued to display her new found ease on stage, working through each goofy move of “The Greatest”‘s choreography. The only thing hotter than the Austin air were her velvety vocals.


Opposite Chan, on the Heineken stage, growling Brit-pop bluesmen Gomez delivered a solid set of career-spanning cuts.”How We Operate” sounded as sweet as it did at the ‘Roo back in June.


We were dubious about making the effort to see Thievery Corporation’s abstract jazz, but DJs Rob Garza and Eric Hilton provided the eye candy with sexy vocalists and a sitar! Highlight was “The Heart’s A Lonely Hunter,” despite the absence of Cosmic Gamer David Byrne.


Mark Linkous gave us a mellow respite from the sun shortly before 8 PM. The melancholy singer/songwriter treated us to tunes from Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain, but sadly looked nothing like a horse.


Johnny Mayer, whose unfortunate makeout session with Jessica Simpson got him US Weekly coverage, was the consummate performer. Based on his facial expressions, we think the axeman’s showmanship brought him to orgasm. He was that good. In fact, we’re giving him his own post. Stay tuned…


Van Morrison! Finally, someone who didn’t play Coachella/SXSW/Bonnaroo/Lollapalooza! “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria” live on a Friday night? We can’t complain. But if you haven’t listened to the blue-eyed soulman’s last few albums, you’re missing out. He hasn’t lost a step.


Check out some shitty video of “Bright Side Of The Road”:

Phew! So much more to tell you — Ghostland Observatory, Shins, Aimee Mann, and why a bloody Ben Kweller ended up in the hospital. Stay cool.