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Festival Review: CoS at Austin City Limits 2011

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acl 260x260 Festival Review: CoS at Austin City Limits 2011And cue the collective sigh of relief (or remorse, depending): festival season is over. Basically. With the triumphant conclusion of Arcade Fire on Sunday night, the 2011 installments of the “Big Four” are officially kaput. There are a few minor festivals here and there left for fall and winter to tide us over until next April in Indio, but by and large we’ve seen what 2011 had to offer. We don’t want to get too sentimental or take the spotlight away from Austin City Limits, but it was a hell of a year, folks. From Dave Grohl and Yeezy domination, to a resurgence of our friends from ‘cross the pond, Coldplay, we’ve had some pretty good times.

And what better way than to conclude than in the music mecca that is Austin, Texas.

As any Austinite will attest, keeping Austin “weird” is very important to the city. And that sort of goes for multiple definitions of the word. Austin stays “weird” as in estranged from the average and the everyday (not gonna find a Wal-Mart too easily in downtown Austin). They like to keep big business out; keep it local. But it’s also weird as in just plain odd. At any given time, you might be run over by one of the hundreds of bicycle rickshaws zooming around town. Or you might find yourself talking to the owner of a street-vending head shop about how great that crazy dude busking in a Peter Pan costume is.

Regardless of which interpretation you lean toward, one can’t help but look at Austin City Limits as an exception to the rule. Radio darlings Coldplay and Kanye West are anything but estranged concepts. They’re comparable to the “Wal-Marts” of the music world. But put those names directly next to Alison Krauss, or The Antlers, and then I guess the combination of all those acts in the same place equals “weird”. Who knows? And who cares, really? ACL is the final of the “Big Four”, and this year marking its 10th anniversary, was a sight to behold.

-Winston Robbins
Senior Staff Writer

Friday, September 16th

Theophilus London – Bud Light Stage – 12:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

I had high hopes for Kid Cudi when the Cleveland MC debuted a few years back. He was meant to be a breath of fresh air in the rap game, someone with globs of swagger AND heaps of substance. As that’s all but gone a bust thanks to diluted dreams of rock and roll fame, Brooklyn’s Theophilus London has stepped in to reinvigorate the genre. He can sing, he can rap, he can move a crowd, and, though he’s still in the early phases of his career, he’s proven to be anything but hype. Don’t believe me? Whilst some artists might fear a little festival rain, London embraced it to create a truly organic and fun way to kick off a giant event. -Chris Coplan

Wild Beasts – Honda Stage – 1:10 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

After coming off one of 2011’s better releases, and being one of the first performers at ACL’s 10th anniversary, I was expecting Wild Beasts to go huge. Alas, they did not. That’s not to say they didn’t play an enjoyable set, they did, including tracks “Albatross”, “All The King’s Men”, and the obvious crowd favorite, “Hooting and Howling”. But in the end, it was status quo for Wild Beasts – some great musicianship mixed with some great energy. -Winston Robbins

Reptar – Austin Ventures Stage – 1:20 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

Somehow, mud isn’t an enticing organic dance-floor. But that’s why complex, prog-like acts and jam bands alike are a true staple of most outdoor festivals. Six-minute musical explorations done by dudes with bushy beards who may also be barefoot just beg for some mud-mashing. Atlanta, GA’s Reptar is every bit the typical rock act you’d expect from ACL, and so much more. Their sound is grand and complicated, yet wholly approachable, thanks to a decidedly punk aesthetic. They’re weird, odd, and disarmingly strange with the noises and screams they employ, but their music, especially in a live setting, has a great pop sensibility. The point being, if you’re going to spend your days in the pit listening to rock, it doesn’t always have to be the Phish or Widespread Panics of the world that get transcendental. -Chris Coplan

Fool’s Gold – Austin Ventures Stage – 2:30 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

This sextet from Los Angeles always knows how to get the room, or in this case, giant grass field, jumping. Introducing themselves as Coldplay, Fool’s Gold kicked off their 45 minute set like an IV of coffee straight to the audiences’ veins. The crowd was enthusiastic and dancing along to favorites such as the effervescent “Surprise Hotel”, off of their freshman album Fool’s Gold, and the animated “Wild Window”, from their latest release Leave No Trace. With bongos, tenor saxophone, and rhythm guitar driving this fun band, it’s hard not to think of the African-beat inspired days of Talking Heads. The band’s energy was infectious and a great way to kick off ACL. -Lauren Modery

Delta Spirit – Bud Light Stage – 2:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

In the middle of his band’s set, Delta Spirit frontman Matthew Vasquez made an interesting observation. Dripping with sweat, the rocker informed the rather packed crowd that his band was the only rock act set to grace the Bud Light stage that day. After confirming this with a check of the schedule, one more observation formed: There may have been no better rock act to be given this privilege. With a stage that would later feature everyone from Kanye West to Big Boi, Delta Spirit, though a seemingly odd choice, demonstrated a powerful and stirring performance that could take a solid, if un-praised rock band, and make them into something that might actually be a no-brainer for a show on a huge festival stage. They may not be the Kings of Leon, or even some other buzz-worthy rock act, but Delta Spirit have the mesmerizing skill set to cement themselves as a giant rock act. This, this was simply step one. -Chris Coplan

James Blake – Honda Stage – 3:10 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

One of the most hyped artists at the festival this year, James Blake drew one of the largest crowds the festival saw at the Honda Stage. The London post-dub prince had no problem living up to said hype as he ran through a breezy, brilliant  setlist that included early deep cuts (“CMYK”), self-titled debut big hits (“Limit To Your Love”, and a very moving, intricate version of “I Never Learned To Share”), and the title track from his forthcoming EP (“Enough Thunder”). Perhaps the most notable aspect of this show was just how organic every sound was. It’s not a YouTube/word of mouth success story. Blake can truly play these songs in a live setting, and can do so with unerring precision. Multiply the fine musicianship by a lovely sounding voice and some hype, and I think we have ourselves a legitimate indie tour-de-force. -Winston Robbins

Smith Westerns – Google+ Stage – 3:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

Chicago’s own Smith Westerns are an interesting little nut. They took the lo-fi rock of their self-titled debut and made it into a ’60s pop-infused masterpiece with Dye It Blonde. But, all the makeovers in the world couldn’t hide one simple truth: Smith Westerns may not be the best band for an outdoor festival. Sure, the kids love them, and they have a great sound, and maybe this was just a bad show amongst a whole slew of great ones, but the simple truth is that the band has neither the power, nor the enthusiasm to adequately fill the space given to them in Zilker Park. That lackluster performance really highlights some previously ignored or unseen truths about the band. For instance: Are they as great as once thought, despite the lack of passion? Are they geniuses, or just a bunch of burn-outs? It also suggests that, even though bands are popular enough, certain sounds are better left for the dark dives of after-show parties. -Chris Coplan

Ray LaMontagne – AMD Stage – 4:10 p.m.

Not only is the nostalgic sound of Ray LaMontagne easy to listen to, he’s not too rough on the eyes either. With his mountain man beard, battered top hat, eggplant suit, harmonica, and raspy voice, this Americana relic definitely knows how to ooze the charm. LaMontagne isn’t a very animated or chatty performer, but luckily his music and strong backup band, The Pariah Dogs, do all the convincing. Highlights of his performance include a collaboration with country duo The Secret Sisters (who played ACL earlier that day) on a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”. LaMontagne’s laidback set had to combat with the hot afternoon sun, but his dedicated fans hung in there as he plowed through hits “You Are the Best Thing”, “Trouble”, and “Beg, Steal or Borrow”. -Lauren Modery

Big Boi – Budweiser Stage – 4:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

“Throw yo’ deuces in the sky for the shutterbug”, Big Boi commanded on the hook of his album mega-hit “Shutterbug”, to which everyone obeyed, creating a massive portrait of peace signs floating just above the crowd. Antwan Andre Patton thoroughly surprised many with his set. Several fans (myself included) were fully expecting it to be a push for his superb solo venture, Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Legend of Chico Dusty, but it was more an Outkast sing-along with Luscious snippets every now and again. Boi got the party started with old time favorite “ATLiens”, followed promptly by another classic, “Rosa Parks”. Who cares that it was probably a hundred degrees outside with the sun beating directly down on us? Big Boi was throwing the best dance party of the day thus far! It all peaked when the bassline for the immensely popular “The Way You Move” dropped, and Big Boi began to spit the radio hit with 12,000 fans rapping along word for word. -Winston Robbins

Cold War Kids – Honda Stage – 5:10 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

There was something missing at the Cold War Kids’ set on Friday evening. The band even sensed it too. As people began leaving in droves after the fourth song, front man Nathan Willett asked the crowd if they were still alive. Based off of their performance, one would assume Cold War Kids is a better studio act than live band. Willett’s aggressive singing and movements do little to warm the crowd. Even their hit “Hang Me out to Dry” just didn’t sound right. The singer’s voice was strained and the music rushed. Willett couldn’t hit the notes we were used to hearing. All in all the band’s performance lacked character. The audience never really became engaged, and the boys tried to convince them that they were watching the best band in that time slot. Guess they felt a little threatened by the large crowd over at Foster the People. -Lauren Modery

Charles Bradley – Vista Equity Stage – 6:00 p.m.

I love this man’s life story almost as I love his music. So, with all that under his belt, Charles Bradley took the stage in Austin and played to a noticeably older crowd (graying heads galore). One couldn’t help but think of Otis Redding and James Brown as Bradley belted every high note with precision and incomprehensible amounts of emotion. Sporting a flamboyant purple blazer and a sleek glittering vest, Bradley ran through most of his debut album, stopping off at high points “No Time For Dreamin’”, “Lovin’ You Baby“, and “The World (Is Going Up In Flames)”, which got uproarious praise. Through his emphatic, emotional performance, Bradley truly reminded everyone in attendance just why they call it “Soul”. -Winston Robbins

North Mississippi Allstars – Austin Ventures Stage – 6:15 p.m.

One of the lesser known acts of the festival (at least compared to the other big-name acts), the North Mississippi Allstars aren’t, at their very core, anything special. There is no flash, no pop, no shiny colors, no blended genres, no meat suits, and no iconic stage show. Heck, the trio doesn’t even have a Twitter! But what they do have is a sound that is raw and pure, the very dark, painful core of jazz and blues presented in its most damaging and simplified form. Amidst a slew of other bands, set in a weekend where everyone would be focused on sounds of a more alluring (albeit it superficially) quality, North Mississippi Allstars show that skill and dedication make for a great show, even if  not everyone’s paying attention. -Chris Coplan

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Photo by Nate Slevin

Nas & Damian Marley – Budweiser Stage – 6:30 p.m.

I can envision exactly how the concept for Nas & Damian Marley’s album Distant Relatives came about. Longtime friends and frequent collaborators Nas and Damian Marley were sitting in some VIP room of some afterparty years ago, smoking a little herb. And one said to the other in that contemplative stoned tone, “Man, if you really think about it, we’re still brothers, even though you’re from Jamaica and I’m from New York (or vice versa). We come from the same roots, man!” To which the other replied, “Man, that’s some heavy shit.” And a year or two later, we have their exhilarating project to showcase that simple, yet profound aesthetic. Opening with the rap-laden “As We Enter”, their ten man band danced and played their way through a superb set that finished up with a three punch K.O. – “Road To Zion” their collaboration on Marley’s solo album, “Welcome to Jam Rock”, Marley’s massive radio hit, and “Could You Be Loved”, a dedication to Marley’s father, who I’m sure you’re familiar with. -Winston Robbins

Santigold – Honda Stage – 7:10 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

Here’s a question for the entire known world: Why the H-E Double Hockey Sticks isn’t Santigold more famous?! She’s smart, charming, and attractive, but, more than that, she’s like a decidedly less crazy and annoying version of her mentor, M.I.A. She blurs the lines between pop, rap, dance, and electronica better than so many other female singers and foreign bands that do the same. Plus, her stage show is an actual show, complete with back-up dancers, costume changes, and a backing band dressed similar to Devo. So, the question begs: Why does she not have a huge following? Her set was just as packed as any actual headliner, and men, women, old folks, and young kids alike were grooving something fierce. But why has she not exploded in popularity like her idol and her contemporaries? By all accounts of her smash set, she should be the biggest thing in the world. Alas, she’s not, largely thanks to album delays and other non-important factors. But, after a spell-binding set of favorites and a slew of new cuts, here’s hoping the fantasy someday informs reality. -Chris Coplan

Coldplay – AMD Stage – 8:10 p.m.

Thanks to big brothers everywhere, and not to mention The 40 Year Old Virgin, it’s a crime to love Coldplay. And, in all fairness, there is something about the band that merits such intense apathy and/or hatred. Chris Martin and company are a little soft, prone to grandiose displays of overwrought emotional sentiments, and they’re also responsible for a track like “Yellow”, which may the be the most weepy, unintelligible pop song ever created. All that, coupled with their holier-than-thou-but-still-pious rock god routine and political leanings, and you’ve got the very definition of wuss rock.

And then you see them live, and the whole world changes.

Finally, in the middle of a field surrounded by all those strangers, the group exceeds the critiques and comments of the world, and displays themselves as being a massively important rock band. All the flash and neon lights make you feel dizzy, swept up in something bigger than anyone in that venue. What was over-the-top, overly emotional parent rock is something akin to a religious experience as shared by several thousand other people. Every cut sounds immense and booming, and it’s a reminder of why people love music and go to such sweaty lengths to see and hear it. But, when it’s all over, it’s hard to recall that feeling, like a faint memory from a lifetime ago, or something that happened while drunk. But, for a few moments, Coldplay is the best band in the world. -Chris Coplan

Kanye West – Budweiser Stage – 8:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

Kanye West was worth every dime they paid (probably a lot of dimes) to have him perform at this year’s installment of ACL. One might contest that it wasn’t that great because it was sort of just what he did at Coachella. But that argument would be moot, because what he did at Coachella was a sight to behold, and tremendously worthy of a second look. Furthermore, these shows may have had the same overall structure, but everyone should know by now, Kanye’s a loose canon, and you have to learn to expect the unexpected when dealing with the Chi-town hero. This time, he took the grandiose route. And while he may have fallen short at times in achieving the exact perfection he was going for (a mic-cutting plague, a few twinges of prima donna, and a healthy dose of awkward stage banter were largely to blame), one can’t help but admire the sheer balls it took to try and convert this colossal vision and make it a tangible reality.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

Separated into three acts, Kanye’s headlining set played a bit like a greatest hits record, and it wasn’t without help from the fans. Ye had the masses chanting along with him like one big sing-along chorus for the entirety of his all-too-short hour and a half. To decide which song was the most powerful is almost unfair, since they all packed such a different punch, but his nearly 13-minute long rendition of “Runaway” was awe-inspiring. The tens of thousands of people spitting line for line along to “Jesus Walks” was utterly chilling. And to see him raised high above the crowd on a boom lift during the set opener “Dark Fantasy” to rap to the masses? Nothing short of entrancing.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

Truly, you would be hard-pressed to find a dull moment in this show (except for his extended “thank you’s” that lasted for what seemed an eternity). He officially hung up the hat of this version of his live show, declaring that this would be the last time this extravagant, ballet-dancing, pyrotechnic show would be performed, effectively making the already stunning show that much more meaningful. But he’s on to bigger (and debatably better) things. If this show is anything like what he’s got scheduled next, you may want to start selling your belongings to get into the mostly sold out Watch The Throne tour. -Winston Robbins

Saturday, September 17th

The Antlers  - AMD Stage – 12:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

I can’t decide which is more tragic: the fact that The Antlers were scheduled to play this early in the day, or that nobody really showed up to watch them. The second fact is probably the direct result of the first fact, but it’s a shame nonetheless. They stuck to mostly songs from their fantastic latest LP Burst Apart; in fact, every song but one was from the new album. And even that earlier track (“Kettering”), sounded very much like their new era sound, which is in no way a complaint. They’ve really honed in on a sound that is very fitting and very palatable. Before they closed with “Putting The Dog To Sleep”, lead singer Peter Silberman said ineloquently, yet somehow still quite effectively, “We love Austin…. Fuck.” Well, despite the fact that you got shafted on a set time and not a whole lot of ears were there to hear, I’m pretty sure Austin loves you, too. -Winston Robbins

Aloe Blacc & the Grand Scheme – Bud Light Stage – 12:30 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

Say what you will about a corporate festival like ACL, but it truly has soul. Though he’s a lesser name, Los Angeles’ Aloe Blacc proved to be anything but an underdog with his Saturday kick-off set. There was a moment in his show where he referenced a lot of soul greats that came before him, like Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and James Brown. Blacc truly is a synthesis of all these acts: He’s got a heapin’ help of sex appeal and strutting dance moves like Gaye, there’s a sort of classy, intangible showmanship that would definitely make Green proud, and when it comes right down to it, he can whip the crowd up like the Godfather. All that, and he still managed to start an almost unheard of bit of audience participation: a Soul Train line. Hallelujah! -Chris Coplan

Cowboy and Indian – Austin Ventures Stage – 1:00 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

Unfortunately this Austin-based folk rock group featuring actor Jesse Plemons from Friday Night Lights and Jazz Mills of T Bird and the Breaks suffered from wrong stage at the wrong time. It was impossible for this mellow flower child band to audibly compete with the other stages. What the crowd could hear and see was a sweet one- violins, beautiful harmony, a beaming pregnant woman in a 60’s Day-Glo dress. Cowboy and Indian is still relatively new and have yet to release an album. Let’s hope they find venue more fitting for their sound. -Lauren Modery

Twin Shadow – Google+ Stage – 1:15 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

As sweet and sunny as Zilker Park is, the weekend was plagued by intermittent bits of rain and cloud cover. It was especially fitting, though, when most of the clouds seemed to amass over Twin Shadow’s set. It was probably because the dark and stormy setting found the perfect soundtrack in the group’s moody, ’80s inspired synth-rock. The set was also a clear reminder that, unlike Smith Westerns, you can have a killer show even if you’re an emotionally sensitive buzz-band. All it takes is making the most of what you have, creating an intimate setting, and honing in on a certain vibe while still blasting it out of the park. Twin Shadow know how to change it up and shift their sound to accommodate any setting, like they’re masters of the universe. How else would one explain the clouds leaving as the band finished their set? -Chris Coplan

Phosphorescent – Austin Ventures Stage – 2:00 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

A six-man band took the stage, only to get rained out before they could start on time. Two-thirds of the band left to waterproof their equipment, but frontman Matthew Houck and his drummer remained behind, and he nimbly played with his looping pedals to entertain the audience as the band prepared for a rainy show. Once they finally started (about 10 minutes after scheduled), it was a good blend of a harder folk-rock, and a very vocal driven soft folk. The juxtaposition of a very hard version of “A Death, A Proclamation” and the softer “Heaven Sittin’ Down” was an obvious crowd pleaser. -Winston Robbins

Young The Giant – AMD Stage – 2:00 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

How many times has a band come to a festival on the verge of something big, delivered a stellar performance that gets the whole world talking, and then gone on to true rock and roll stardom? No one has enough fingers or toes to properly count that high. And, for all intents and purposes, Young The Giant will be another pinky or big toe on that list, with a showing that wowed a packed crowd (one of the bigger for an early show). But do they actually deserve such acclaim and adulation? Are they worthy of being the next act to strike it big? They may have entertained a crowd (which is all that matters in the end), but they did nothing to genuinely show they were fighting to get their time in the spotlight. With a forced, paint-by-numbers set, YTG were neither phenomenal nor ground-breaking, settling instead for mediocrity. Enjoy the success, boys. Somehow, you’ve earned it. -Chris Coplan

Alexander – Google + Stage – 3:00 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

Alex Ebert from Edward Sharpe is running solo this time, promoting his new album, Alexander, but he still brought an element of the Magnetic Zeros to his Saturday performance. Ebert likes to interact with the crowd, dress like a dirty hippie, and talk about love. He wore a rainbow guitar strap and welcomed his fans to sing into his mic. His show was like a giant camp fire and the crowd ate it up. Though there is a certain amount of cheesiness to his shtick, his passion for music is nonetheless endearing. -Lauren Modery

Alison Krauss & Union Station – Budweiser Stage – 4:00 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

While others were across the park getting a whole different folk experience at Iron & Wine, the more (to put it politely) “mature” crowd was listening to the beautiful sounds of Bluegrass queen Alison Krauss. She herself has the voice of an angel, there’s no doubting that, and her music fit right in with the Texas crowd. Despite the rain picking up during her set, her fans were many in number, and very loud. She and her band ran through a solid setlist that varied from smooth and harmonious (“Every Time You Say Goodbye”), to straight toe-tapping, hooting and hollering barn dance music. The show peaked when they closed with “Man of Constant Sorrow” with the original vocalist from the O, Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack, Dan Tyminski (sorry to be the bubble burster, but no, that wasn’t really George Clooney singing.). -Winston Robbins

The Moondoggies – Austin Ventures Stage – 4:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

Yet another seemingly unknown rock and roll band inspired by the blues, jammin’, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Seattle’s Moondoggies are in a whole different frame of mind from their fellow young, up and coming rockers. They’re fairly standard musically, with most of the group’s sonic creations being fairly straight-forward. However, there’s something uniquely organic in their throwback routine. With a whole generation of bands trying to make Neil Young proud, the Moondoggies do a great job of praying at his altar without being total fanboys, freeing up time and space for them to explore tight, yet impactful musical explosions. Maybe Mr. Young really would be proud after all? -Chris Coplan

Skrillex – Google+ Stage – 5:00 p.m.

I personally view Skrillex as that friend everyone has who you genuinely care for, but is just so easy to make fun of. He’s obviously not as legitimate a dubstep artist as Rusko, Caspa, or any of his other contemporaries, and sure, he’s fine with the fact that his fans are the “peole who still use myspace” constituency, but the man can throw a party. He’s also responsible for some of the best dubstep released this year, and he’s gaining popularity (and also knowhow) like crazy. His live mixing onstage has evolved so much just in the last six months. His set at ACL had some mixing issues, and some minor sound errors, but nobody complained when they were bouncing up and down to his gnarly dubstep remix of Damian Marley’s “Welcome To Jamrock”. His own songs were quite well received, also. “I Want To Kill Everybody In The World” and “My Name Is Skrillex” got the packed Google+ stage rocking. So, he blew it by being the frontman for From First To Last, but everyone deserves a second chance, right? -Winston Robbins

Fitz and The Tantrums – Honda Stage – 5:00 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

Once again, the power of soul-funk reared its head, this time in the form of the decidedly alternative Fitz and The Tantrums. Even though they’re a great band on record, other soul acts during the festival definitely outshone this group. Even still, Fitz and The Tantrums are a great live act for a number of reasons. Their stage show is sleek and minimalist, like the whole audience was transported to some dirty club in the ’60s. As well, the dynamic between Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs is even better in-person, filled with a lot of sexual tension that isn’t overpowering, some truly wonderful boy-girl harmonies, and call backs one would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. They may not have been the best, but in the dusk of the coming musical onslaught, their quirky light still shone bright. -Chris Coplan

Gillian Welch – Vista Equity Stage – 5:30 p.m.

Gillian Welch’s set was plagued with problems – a 30 minute pushback and overpowering dub beats from Skrillex at the Google+ stage – but that didn’t stop the petite singer songwriter from knocking it out of the park. If you were directly in front of the stage you got a good taste of what the buzz is all about. Welch suggests a time and place long ago. On stage was just her, her guitar, banjo, harmonica, and musical partner Dave Rawlings. They were in perfect sync and perfect harmony. Devoted fans ate up Welch’s songs like candy, but some tweeters commented later that they were unhappy with her quips about technical issues they were experiencing. -Lauren Modery

Cee-Lo Green – Bud Light Stage – 6:00 p.m.

In a super gigantic humongous festival with so many huge and important names, none looked more undeniably appealing on paper than the Lady Killer himself. But, like a lot of things in life, the actual event or occurrence was way less impressive than all the hype and dreams. In the last year or so, on the back of a his massive hit “Fuck You”, Green has shown himself to be a truly skilled showman. What the crowd got in Austin, TX, though, was rather lackluster. From the lack of costumes and extravagant stage show to Green insisting the audience knew how horny he was (we can only care so much, yo), the performance sounded flat, and felt unbecoming of a guy who has a plethora of skills and talents available in his toolkit. Even “Fuck You”, which actually got the crowd moving and singing, felt passion-less, with the enthusiasm of a recently dead body. “Fuck him and fuck her too,” Cee-Lo? Fuck anyone for watching you and not Cut Copy. -Chris Coplan

Cut Copy – AMD Stage – 6:00 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

If I were to slap a headline on the entire Saturday installment, it would read: “Cut Copy Saves the Day”. What was a pretty sleepy afternoon immediately transformed into a sprawling music extravaganza, and Cut Copy was the catalyst. Emerging onto a stage fraught with jungle scenery and plant life, the four (sometimes five) piece outfit synth-popped the hell everyone in attendance (a huge amount of people considering how early in the day it was and that Cee-Lo was playing at the same time across the field). The Aussies played hits that spanned the entirety of their career. In Ghost Colours tunes “Hearts on Fire” and “Lights & Music” were received with particular adoration (and by adoration I mean all-out frenzy), as were many of their newer songs, such as “Blink And You’ll Miss A Revolution” and “Need You Now”. Perhaps the most notable thing about this show, however, is just what a stunning frontman Dan Whitford is. When that man was behind the mic, it was all eyes on him, no holds barred. Some people were born to front a band, and Whitford is quite obviously one of those people. -Winston Robbins

TV on the Radio – Google+ Stage – 7:00 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

What could have (and should have) been one of the outright highlights of the festival, ended up being nowhere close to expected. It had nothing to do with the Brooklyn indie gods themselves, they played an incredible set that spanned their voluptuous back catalogue. But the festival’s arrangement for the band was horrendous. The Google + stage was mainly for mid-size acts (e.g. Foster The People, Skrillex, Empire of the Sun, for example), so to put such a popular band on such a small stage is just bad planning. The crowd for TV on the Radio was, of course, massive, and it the Google+ stage simply could not accommodate. It didn’t help that the crowd was so large that it was pushed back into port-a-john territory, literally creating small crowds in between the lines of people in queue to do their business. It was a cluster cuss if I’ve ever seen one. The band, however, was at its finest. The setlist was largely a combination of Dear Science tracks with Nine Types of Light folded in here and there. “Will Do”, “Red Dress”, and “Wolf Like Me” were absolute fire-starters, and the band played a great set on the whole. They were just the unfortunate victims of circumstance. -Winston Robbins

Chromeo – Honda Stage – 7:00 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

A festival, to some extent, is a chance for a band to hit the stage, wow the crowd, and really define who they are. Some acts might even do something new or different, change up the script on their career. For its sub-headlining gig, Chromeo weren’t doing any innovating, but they still put on an amazing show. The thing about Chromeo is that, unless they deliver the curveball of all curveballs with any future releases, they’re always going to be the electro-funk duo obsessed with girls and sex. No one is more dedicated to that obsession than Dave 1 and P-Thugg. With the audience comprised primarily of girls looking to drink off their eight dollar beer buzz, Chromeo knew all the right moves to get them swaying and grinding like nobody’s business. And since every man wants to be at that kind of show, the audience filled out nicely, building to an epic dance party that the pair orchestrated with brilliance and ease. They may not be reinventing the wheel, but who says ya gotta? -Chris Coplan

My Morning Jacket – AMD Stage – 8:00 p.m.

day 02 selects 175 my morning jacket Festival Review: CoS at Austin City Limits 2011

Photo by Nate Slevin

My only complaint for this particular set, and for My Morning Jacket shows in general, is the lack of deviation from the norm. Even with a new album under their belt to bolster their show, they still play a very similar live show to what they did four years ago. It’s a little brighter now, and on a bigger stage, but the antics remain a little too similar. Don’t read too much into that cynicism, it was a fantastic show musically. My Morning Jacket has a catalogue so strong that there typically isn’t a dull moment in their live sets. But it would be nice to see them delve a little deeper into that catalogue for some variation in setlists.

day 02 selects 163 my morning jacket Festival Review: CoS at Austin City Limits 2011

Photo by Nate Slevin

And even despite the Stevie Wonder playing at the same time across the park, MMJ managed to garner a massive audience. Jim James was his tight-lipped self, only speaking to the audience two or three times, each time to outline how the crowds at Austin City Limits made him feel like he was “flying”. But other than those quick little rants, it was straight to business, and they packed as many jams as they could into their hour-and-a-half set. From the simplicity of “Victory Dance” to the grandeur of “I’m Amazed” and “Wordless Chorus”, he, his cronies, and their knack for beautiful eclecticism kept the audience completely enthused for the entirety of the show. To conclude, they brought on the entirety of New Orleans outfit Preservation Jazz Band and played “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” and “One Big Holiday”. -Winston Robbins

Stevie Wonder – Bud Light Stage – 8:00 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

There are certain acts in pop music that everyone knows. Not just people who like music or pay attention to music, but literally everyone in the whole world that has ever existed from the moment said artist hit the stage for the first time. Stevie Wonder is one of those acts. He’s spent the last 40-odd years making some of the most influential and powerful soul music the planet has ever heard. Tons of bands and singers, a lot of which were scheduled to play ACL, owe their very existence to Wonder. So, suffice to say, even with My Morning Jacket drawing a chunk of the crowd on the other end of the park, the crowd for Wonder was still a sea of eager, expectant fans hoping for just a few moments of pop magic in its purest form.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

For the most part, Wonder delivered. However, it was not the pristine lightning storm of love and joy some had probably dreamed of since Wonder’s appearance was announced. First, volume issues led some of the crowd in the back to chants of “Turn it up,” which, after going unaddressed, turned into disinterest. But, even without that, Wonder still enthralled the majority of the people. He delivered a slew of classics, and even a couple of covers, like the opener “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” and a Bob Marley homage. But, with the elation of hearing Wonder live and in person also came his absurd, bizarre rants on the state of the world and U.S. politics. Opinions are fine and all, but probably not the best choice in entertaining an exhausted crowd looking to escape the world. Though seeing Wonder wasn’t the total fantasy many had hoped, no one left the venue without feeling a little grateful. -Chris Coplan

Sunday, September 18th

The Head and the Heart – Google+ Stage – 1:30 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

The sun was at its absolute hottest during The Head and the Heart’s set, but it didn’t seem to deter many. Drawing a huge crowd for such an early slot, they played their lovely melodies to a vast number of Austin faces, and their music was right at home in the folk-heavy city. From the quiet vocals of “Lost In My Mind” to the huge crescendo of “Rivers And Roads”, this set was a triumph on all fronts. -Winston Robbins

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Honda Stage – 1:30 p.m.

day 03 selects 23 dale earnhardt jr jr Festival Review: CoS at Austin City Limits 2011

Photo by Nate Slevin

As a young band steadily rising to the top of a lot of people’s arbitrary personal charts and playlists, it’s important to keep track of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. from time to time. While the last big show for the duo was at SXSW earlier this year, the last six months had made all the difference. Fresh off the release of their debut album, the band have lost the costumes and some of the gimmicks, finding in their place more great pop appeal. They were tighter and more focused than ever before, whipping through their standard setlist with a newfound sense of purpose and dedication. The audience responded accordingly, dancing and swaying with loads of appreciation (the free popsicles also probably helped). In Texas, DEJJ made their stance and established themselves as not a fad, but a genuine pop-rock band to be reckoned with. -Chris Coplan

The Airborne Toxic Event – Budweiser Stage – 2:30 p.m.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the band, but I was a bit stunned initially by the whopping-ly low 1.6/10 rating given by Pitchfork to The Airborne Toxic Event’s debut album. But now I totally get it. The best song of the tired set was a song they didn’t write (a highly mediocre cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”), and their big hit “Sometime Around Midnight” was more lackluster live than it is on the studio album, which is already pretty meh already. A decent portion of the crowd population was into it, but let’s be perfectly honest with each other: in general, a decent portion of the overall human population are idiots. Airborne played themselves off with a cover of “I Fought The Law” (just blew your mind with originality, right?). Overall, so not rock and roll. Or maybe too rock and roll. I can’t decide. -Winston Robbins

The Walkmen – AMD Stage – 2:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

Once more, praise be to the gods of the live show. When The Walkmen released Lisbon last year, the five-piece unfurled one of their most impactful and minimalist efforts to date. Even as sonically pleasing as it was, the last bits of connection with that album can’t be cemented until the material is delivered live (and preferably on a beautiful, sunny day). The tracks echoed and cut through the huge, open air, with all of the LP’s tiny nuances out there to be heard in a truly expansive fashion. Not only did that album get a chance to shine, but the band doled out “The Rat”, and a ton of new material from its upcoming seventh release. Altogether, this material made for a headline-worthy show at a time when a lot of people were still arriving. -Chris Coplan

Suzanna Choffel – Austin Ventures Stage – 2:30 p.m.

This Austin-based singer and songwriter is quickly making a name for herself with her sultry vocals and soulful tunes. Regardless of the size of the stage, Choffel’s presence carried all the way through Zilker Park and across Austin. Her voice is precise and heartbreaking; one can hear every bit of emotion squeezed out of her vocal chords. She has the rare gift of instantly drawing the audience in and holding them there until the very end. Her songs are playful and funky – a xylophone here, a moog there – a mix of indie, jazz, funk, and blues. The crowd was a small but dedicated one. With her talents it seems unlikely you won’t be hearing her name in the big lights soon. -Lauren Modery

general festival selects 10 Festival Review: CoS at Austin City Limits 2011

Photo by Nate Slevin

Chiddy Bang – Google+ Stage – 3:30 p.m.

Like Chromeo before them, Chiddy Bang didn’t do much in the way of something mind-blowingly complicated or unique. Yes, their blend of mainstream-friendly, commercially-viable rap is sweet and catchy, but they’re not musical masterminds or supreme geniuses by any stretch of the imagination. But, when the crowd is tanked and looking for a good time, Chiddy Bang excel at delivering a buttload of bass and super duper hooks made to scream to your neighbor. And there’s nothing wrong with understanding your crowd, and giving them just what they want, exactly when they want it. In fact, there may not be enough of that simple formula achieved at festivals the world over. With lots of bands teasing their big hits or straying away from material they’re known for, Chiddy Bang deliver all the sonic sugar the crowd can handle and more. -Chris Coplan

Broken Social Scene – Budweiser Stage – 4:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

Here’s my favorite thing about Broken Social Scene: they will never put on a boring show. Even the best performers (My Morning Jacket, Fleet Foxes) tend to do the same show over and over again with very little room for variation, whereas BSS sort of flies by the seats of their pants. Whether its unannounced personnel changes, deciding to play songs out of the blue, or simply just having enormously good rapport with the audience, Broken Social Scene puts on one of the best live shows in music. This set was a little unusual, on the whole, however. They ran through the obligatory songs like “7/4 Shoreline” and “Meet Me In the Basement”, and they even did that Modest Mouse cover they’ve been so fond of lately (“The World At Large”). But they threw in some lesser heard songs like “Major Label Debut” and “It’s All Gonna Break”. Near the end of the performance, Kevin Drew said that Broken Social Scene had been “friends hanging out for the past ten years”, and there was no doubt that what he was saying was the truth. They looked like they were as genuinely delighted to be playing music to ACL as ACL was to hearing said music. -Winston Robbins

Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses – AMD Stage – 4:30 p.m.

day 03 remaining 10 ryan bingham and the dead horses Festival Review: CoS at Austin City Limits 2011

Photo by Nate Slevin

Much like Cowboy and Indian and Gillian Welch, Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses suffered from what a lot of singer songwriters did this year: bad timing and bad placement. The AMD stage was way too big for the laidback country tones of Bingham and his band. In fact, one may argue that Bingham would best be seen in an intimate setting, not wafting through the Zilker Park aifr. Nonetheless, Bingham put on a solid show, knocking crowd favorite “Hallelujah” out of the ball park. Word on the street is that Terrance Malick and Christian Bale were also at Bingham’s show. -Lauren Modery

Joseph Arthur – Austin Ventures Stage – 5:00 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

Joseph Arthur is one man, a guitar, and a lot of looping and reverb. At first what seemed like an ill fit for an outdoor festival line-up turned into a mesmerizing performance by a talent like no other. As Arthur took the stage and began playing guitar, he also painted a number of large abstract paintings, art that he would come back to later in the set and add to, all the while still singing and playing guitar. No wonder that Peter Gabriel signed him to his label in the mid 1990’s. Arthur definitely takes the cake for most interesting artist at ACL this year. -Lauren Modery

DFA 1979 – Honda Stage – 5:30 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

In a word: fitting. What started as a riotous (literally) return to music in the city of Austin last March at SXSW, ended as a raucous show at Austin City Limits. Well, for America, that is. This was the last scheduled date on the duo’s reunion tour. While no fire marshals were summoned or people booted from the premises this time around, DFA 1979 did their best to cause chaos in Austin. Sporting a much more lax and cohesive set than they did a few months ago, they ran through favorites like “Romantic Rights”, “Dead Womb”, and “Go Home, Get Down”, and did so quite fluidly. Drummer/singer Sebastien Grainger even took time to joke with the crowd, inquiring about the difference between masochism and sadism. He decided that everybody in the crowd was a masochist for braving the sweltering Austin heat for three consecutive days and deciding to spend this portion of the afternoon with them. Masochists or not, the moderately sized crowd was hanging on their every riff and backbeat. (Writer’s note: Jesse Keeler might be the coolest dude alive.) -Winston Robbins

Elbow – Google+ Stage – 5:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

Elbow didn’t bring a big crowd, but it definitely brought a feverish one. The audience reached their hands out toward singer Guy Garvey and gang the minute they took the stage. Garvey’s friendly nature and interaction with the audience made up for the fact that his vocals were often too low to hear. As it began raining, Garvey made the crowd promise they wouldn’t abandon the band and they didn’t. Hundreds stood in the rain during magic hour to listen to what was obviously their favorite British pop band. -Lauren Modery

Fleet Foxes – Budweiser Stage – 6:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

I have seen Fleet Foxes a total of seven times including this set, and this one was vastly different from the others – which is in no way a compliment. Fleet Foxes have risen to sub-headliner status, and they deserve every bit of it. Their tight harmonizing, their boyish demeanor, and their unreal musicianship warrant their place on the food chain. But this show lacked any semblance of energy. Singer Robin Pecknold is always so invested in his live shows, screaming his lungs out and always inserting humorous quips. But this show lacked anything of the sort. The music was great; spot on, note for note. But they were dragging in terms of stage presence. Not one of them made any real attempt to engage their massive audience. Musical highlights included “The Shrine/An Argument”, “Helplessness Blues”, and “White Winter Hymnal”, and the quality of the music didn’t droop for a single second. But the Seattle boys just seemed tired. -Winston Robbins

Randy Newman – Vista Equity Stage – 7:30 p.m.

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Photo by Nate Slevin

The beauty of the Vista Equity tent is that it has a roof, therefore the cheers and claps seem all the more meaningful since they don’t get lost in the air hanging over Zilker Park. With that being said, it appeared that the crowd waiting for Randy Newman had to be one of the most bloodthirsty bunch at ACL. Albeit a 55 and over bloodthirsty bunch. Newman’s show was plain and simple- Newman and a black Steinway piano. He wasted no time getting to the stage and jumping into the first song “It’s Money That I Love”. By “Short People” he had all the chair sitters up on their feet. The man is ageless. His look, voice, and key tinkling have not changed since 1975 and that’s what makes Randy Newman so gosh darn loveable. -Lauren Modery

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Photo by Nate Slevin

Empire of the Sun – Google+ Stage – 7:30 p.m.

Empire of the Sun did their regular dog and pony show, beginning with “Standing On A Shore”, choreographed dances and costume changes throughout, slowly building to “We Are The People”, only to slump down to the faux-encore that leads to their smash hit “Walking on A Dream”. For those in attendance who had not seen the show, I’m sure it was fantastic. And in all seriousness, it is an unbelievably good show the first time around. But it was literally the exact same show they’ve been putting on for over a year. If I had any say in how things are run in the Luke Steele and co. organization, I’d say this: North American has had ample time to see the live act you’ve created for Walking On A Dream, get back in the studio and give it another go. -Winston Robbins

Arcade Fire – Bud Light Stage – 8:30 p.m.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

It seems impossible for one not to have an epiphanic experience at an Arcade Fire show and this show was no exception. As the lights dimmed and a montage of Spike Jonze’ Scenes From the Suburbs and 1970’s coming attraction cards, a hush came over the gazillion person crowd. Everyone waited to be suspended in a dream-like state for the next two hours. The band kicked off the evening with “Ready to Start” from last year’s The Suburbs and then took everyone on an emotional roller coaster through their short, but meaningful body of work.

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Photo by Debi Del Grande

Highlights of the evening included The Suburbs extra “Speaking in Tongues”, a spastic “Month of May”, and the epic “We Used to Wait”. The band has continued to maintain the same energy level since the beginning – running around on stage, beating drums in the air, etc. – and the only time it faltered is when Win Butler’s voice became a little winded during “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”. That didn’t last for long, though. The band ended with a roundhouse performance of “Neighborhoods #3 (Power Out), “Rebellions (Lies)”, and “Sprawl” that left the crowd in a state of awe. Everyone shuffled out of the park satisfied that this was the ending to another wonderful ACL. -Lauren Modery

Yim Yames/Iron & Wine – Stubbs’ BBQ Aftershow – 8:00 p.m.

jimjames Festival Review: CoS at Austin City Limits 2011

Photo by Winston Robbins

My Morning Jacket has reached the stage in their career that seeing Jim James (or Yim Yames, if you prefer) in such an intimate setting is a rare occasion. That fact wasn’t lost on the audience when he came onstage to open the weekend-closing aftershow. Using only a bass guitar and an omnichord (not at the same time), he ran through some deeper MMJ cuts arranged in the strangest, most intriguing ways. Hearing “Smokin’ From Shootin’”, “It Beats 4 U”, and “What A Wonderful Man” altered to fit completely different moods was a treat that will probably not come around again anytime soon.

So, when Iron & Wine took the stage, the bar was set extremely high. But Sam Beam and his nine-piece ensemble (including Margaret Irglová of Once fame) were up to the challenge. With the amount of players in his band and the instruments they possessed, much of the setlist was devoted to material from The Shepherd’s Dog, but there were a few rarities that he threw in as well including “Jesus The Mexican Boy”, “The Sea And The Rhythm”, and a powerful rendition of Our Endless Numbered Days track “Fever Dream”. And as the absolute icing on the cake, Jim James joined Sam Beam and co. onstage during the encore to perform a medley cover of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” and Lionel Richie’s “Stuck On You”. -Winston Robbins

The Culture of Austin City Limits

Gallery by Debi Del Grande

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Gallery by Nate Slevin

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