The three-day music bonanza in the heart of the Lone Star State has come to an end. For my first time to ever attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival, I was ready for a mean sunburn and some great music. For day one, we arrived early afternoon to pick up our media passes, scope out the different areas within Zilker Park and get our music overload started.
Being a bit cheap and quite broke, we opted to park at a friend's house rather than pay to get a bit closer. The walk ended up being thirty minutes from car to Zilker Park, but hey, you get what you pay for. Our plan was to arrive a bit earlier, but after hearing reports that the gates had been temporarily closed due to the infamous propane explosion within the festival, we opted to hang back for a bit.
Our delay got us inside the park just in time to catch some of M.I.A.'s set, for which we heard some of "Boyz," but once we heard LCD Soundsystem in the distance, we headed directly to their stage. The crowd was massive, so we had to stay towards the back to watch their performance. The giant screen to the right of the AT&T Blue Room Stage definitely helped make our spot which felt miles away much more tolerable. Once we got situated, they launched into "North American Scum," sending the crowd into a mass of dancing hysteria.
As the sun continued to kick our asses, James Murphy kept the beats rocking as LCD tossed in an amazing live version of "All My Friends," sounding much more powerful than the album version. "Get Innocuous" was almost maddening, with the steady pulse of the keys turning ACL into one huge dance party. The mood was now finally set for the day... it just took Murphy and his crew to get ready to devour all the music this festival could dish out.
Choosing between Spoon and Queens Of The Stone Age was no easy task. I'd have to say that they're fairly equal in my book, so Queens won simply out of location, as they were playing on the AMD Stage, which was right next to LCD Soundsystem. Josh Homme took the stage right at 6:30pm, launching directly into "You Think I Ain't Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire." Even though the sound was actually quite mediocre for their set, and the sun was just starting to set behind the stage causing a painful glare, Homme rocked our pants off.
QOTSA blazed through many favorites, such as "Go With The Flow" as well as the brilliant "Turning On The Screw." Homme did appear to be a little fucked up, but hey, isn't that how you're supposed to rock a festival? He did offer a bit of wisdom to the crowd, informing us that "it is okay to clap, but it is not okay to get the clap." Thanks for the tip! By the time they ended with the metal-tastic rock brilliance that is "Song For The Dead," the sun had finally lowered enough so we could see the gothic chandeliers that they had hanging above the stage. Interesting look, but it definitely worked.
After getting our asses rocked by Homme, it was time to run over to the media area to slam some water. Apparently we missed some free booze that was going on back there, but hey, water was exactly what we all needed. From here we had to make a tough decision; do we camp out early for Bjork or just continue to hop around to catch the Reverend Horton Heat and Kaiser Chiefs. After a bit of debating, along with another bottle of water, it was decided that Bjork would be worth the wait. We got to the main AT&T Stage about an hour before she was scheduled to go on, and even with that amount of time remaining, it was still difficult to get remotely close. We wiggled and squeezed our way up to the front-right of the sound tent, giving us a fairly good view of the stage.
She had a backdrop of flags hanging behind the stage, plus three monitors on the left side which displayed images from video cameras around her electronic "sound manipulator." More on that later. Personally, I was beyond excited for this, as I had never seen Bjork live before. After following her from the Sugarcubes up through her latest solo album, I've been a fan for a long, long time.
The lights dimmed, the crowd went bananas and it was show time. Her band included an all-girl choir/brass ensemble, a keyboard player, the aforementioned sound manipulator, a drummer and Mark Bell on various keys/beats. Her set was the perfect blend of the entire range of her solo career, such as "Hunter," with Bjork prowling around the stage like a bear, ending with streamers flying out of her hands.
Bjork did rock a pretty sweet lazer light setup, adding just enough visual oomph to "Human Behavior" and "Alarm Call." This brings me back to the "sound manipulator" dude. He had an array of touch-screen audio systems that tweaked and distorted Mark Bell's beats, adding a really sick effect to many of the songs. The most intriguing system was a large green illuminated circular table, which had pulses that radiated from them middle, looking a bit like a sonar. He would then place what sort of looked like air hockey paddles in various spots, which could be dragged around to add in effects and alter the tones of the song. Whatever that toy was called, it was fucking cool.
Fire number two broke out towards the end of her set, I believe it was at the conclusion of an intensely dance rendition of "I Miss You." On the right side of the stage, up high on the ACL banner that covered up the speakers, a small ring of fire started to burn. Needless to say, we were getting a bit freaked out. 25,000 people trying to escape a fire could be a disaster. Fortunately it was quickly extinguished, allowing Bjork to return for another song.
For me, a personal highlight was "The Anchor Song," which is from Debut. The French horns in her brass section were pitch perfect and absolutely beautiful. They were also a treat to watch throughout the evening, with each woman armed with a flag attached to a pole on their backs. It made for an odd visual, but hey, this is Bjork. Hell, she even looked like a metallic mushroom on stage, but that is exactly why we love her. She was the perfect ending for Friday at ACL.
Oh yeah, and there was a dude dressed up like a panda.