Friday, October 2, 2009

Austin City Limits - Day One

The Low Anthem - the instrumental versatility of the Rhode Island trio kept the energy high, even as their sometimes quiet tunes threatened to be drowned out by surrounding stages. Lead singer and nominal guitarist Ben Knox Miller started the day behind the drum kit and grabbed an alto horn, harmonicas, and even two cell phones to make ethereal distortions at the end of the mournful "This Goddamn House." Jocie Adams provided harmony vocals and played as much clarinet as bass or guitar, while Jeff Prystowsky wore a huge smile the whole time as he switched between drums and upright bass. The music stayed mostly acoustic, but ranged from the very quiet to barnburner standard "Cigareets and Whuskey," which the trio closed with.

Blitzen Trapper - the Portland, Oregon group plays a loose rootsy rock, and was at its best when tightening up a little - they held the crowd in thrall in the gentle, beautiful "Furr," and in the anthemic harmonies of the chorus to "Big Black Bird." They went the other direction in "Love U," letting the sloppiness all hang out in a fun, passionate raunchy romp. A solid set, but not transcendent.

The Avett Brothers - I just caught the end of this set, but was impressed by the harmonies, alternating between sweet rootsy singing and primal yelling. The music largely veered toward the "rock" side of "roots rock," but they hit some gentler notes, as on "January wedding." I'm intrigued enough to check out a more extended performance later.

The Walkmen - I just heard part of their set before heading off to grab food. It seemed pretty generic New York-style indie rock, though the brass section on some songs was a nice touch.

Phoenix - one of the highlights of Friday. They kicked off their set with "Lisztomania," off latest album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and kept the crowd bouncing along with their dancy pop. "This is the biggest crowd we've ever played for," lead singer Thomas Mars announced before just taking a few moments to scan the audience. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, merci beaucoup," he exulted later, as the audience, equally grateful, showered the French band with applause.

K'Naan - the Somalian hip-hop star was really intent on communicating his message from the smaller Wildflower Center Stage - he performed an a cappella version of "Somalia" "so [you] can hear the words." After his quieter numbers, he thanked the audience for listening. It wasn't all low-key material; his boisterous "T.IA." had the audience pumping their fists. His first song, a reggae-tinged number, he wrote less than an hour before going on stage. K'Naan said he felt he had to do it to communicate how far he had come. The audience definitely picked up on his vibe, and I was sorry to have to leave before the end of his set.

Them Crooked Vultures - the much-awaited power trio of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) was just as rocking as you might imagine. Homme's casual vocal delivery served as strong counterpoint to his harsh guitar lines, Jones' snaky bass, and Grohl's fierce drumming. "Muscular" is the word that springs to mind; there wasn't a sissy note in the set. After a while it was difficult to tell the difference between the songs, but no doubt that was partially unfamiliarity with the material - this was only the group's second U.S. performance.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - for all the theatrics - lead singer Karen O came out for the encore covered in a full body suit and the group played with a giant eye behind them - the set was a flat. They rescued things a little towards the end, when Karen O jumped into the stands during "Cheated Hearts" and then followed it with a passionate rendition of "Maps" over Nick Zinner's quiet acoustic guitar, but a bit of a letdown from a band with a strong live reputation.

Low Anthem Site
Blitzen Trapper Site
The Avett Brothers Site
The Walkmen Site
Phoenix Site
K'Naan Site
Them Crooked Vultures Site
Yeah Yeah Yeahs Site

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