Day two of our Austin City Limits excursion got started much later than we had originally anticipated, so we missed out on Sound Team's final performance. Fortunately, our own Kyle Rother was able to get down there in time, so you'll be able to check out the details on that one when we post his recap of ACL.
Once we resolved my car issues, we loaded up, parked in our same spot well over one mile from Zilker Park and got there just in time to see Cold War Kids on the AT&T Blue Room Stage. It had been quite some time since I've seen those guys live, way back when they played the Levi's/FADER party back in 2006. While they were good back then, these fellas have really grown as a live band. Their sound has gotten much bigger, helping them keep quite a large crowd entertained throughout the duration of their set. Fans freaked out to the swaggering bass of "Hang Me Up To Dry," sending the crowd into a gyrating mess of sunburned festivalgoers.
The odd thing to watch was as Cold War Kids were wrapping up their final song, a good portion of the crowd began to wander over to the adjacent AMD Stage to get their places for Blue October. I don't really see those two particular bands sharing much of a fan base, but apparently they do. For shits and giggles, our crew watched about thirty seconds of Blue October's first song, which was more than enough. At that point we wanted to make a quick stop over to catch a bit of Damien Rice, then it was over to the media area to grab a few bottles of water.
After bumping into a few friends in the media area, such as XM Satellite Radio's Tobi (XMU), we lost track of time and totally missed Andrew Bird. I was quite bummed about that, only catching the final seconds of his last song right before Arctic Monkeys. Ah yes, Arctic Monkeys at ACL. I had not been able to make any of their previous shows while supporting their latest album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, so this was going to be good.
Now, the last time I saw the Arctics, it was at NYC's Bowery Ballroom, with a crowd that had to be at least 50% British. That night ranks as one of my most enjoyable concerts, with fans from their homeland singing along to every word while dancing their asses off. At ACL, Alex Turner showed that the band's live show is tighter than ever. They sounded great, zipping through all their finest jams including "Brianstorm," "Fake Tales Of San Francisco" and "Fluorescent Adolescent." One thing they were missing was any form of banter between songs. Turner and his mates remained quite silent, quickly zipping from song to song, but in the heat of the day it was appreciated that they kept their momentum moving.
Another water break was needed, so we rolled over to the media area for a hot second, where we also tried one of the oddest tasting martinis ever made. Tito's Vodka was being served in a martini, garnished with a jalapeÃ±o and two spicy olives. Dehydration plus spicy drink equals unhappy Tripwire. Now that our crew was finally hydrated, we zipped over to the Blue Room Stage to catch some of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. The band was sounding better than I've ever seen them before, cruising through "Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away" and "The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth." One thing that I did notice was the impressive number of hippy-types that were watching the band. I had no idea that hippies were fans of CYHSY, but in Austin, they outnumbered the hipsters two to one during this set.
As the sun began to finally set behind the beautiful trees surrounding Zilker Park, it was time to make the toughest decision of this year's ACL. The two headliners of the night were Arcade Fire and Muse, both of which I really, really, really wanted to see. In attempt to see a little of both, we edged to the side of the stage for Arcade Fire, who performed on the stage next to CYHSY. This brings me to one of my only complaints about ACL. Those two stages consistently had artists with substantial crowds, which would bleed over. Fighting through lawn chairs, blankets, plus thousands of people, it was impossible to get remotely close to a spot where you could actually see the stage. Our spot of Arcade Fire was pretty miserable, but I could see just enough of their setup.
The stage included several circular monitors, with a backdrop that included the faÃ§ade of a pipe organ. It looked pretty amazing, and I wish I could have snapped a picture, but that just wasn't in the cards. The Canadians took the stage and launched into "Black Mirror," sounding just a huge as I would expect it to in a live setting. The backdrop was illuminated with the image of the neon bible from their album cover of the same name, as Win Butler easily controlled the stage. The crowd was eating this up, as was I. When they launched into "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," it was fucking amazing. Now, I guess at this point I must confess that this is my first time to see Arcade Fire live (yeah, I know), so please forgive me for my ridiculous enthusiasm about their set.
Up next was "No Cars Go," a song that sent chills as the fans chanted "hey!" along with the band. I found it pretty fascinating that they sounded this strong live, as bands with this much instrumentation are typically plagued with sound issues. Combine this with the fact that it was an outdoor festival, and I must say that I was thoroughly impressed. I tip my cap to you, Arcade Fire. Although I sort of regret it just a tiny bit, we decided to head over for the last half of Muse, leaving behind a fantastic set.
Time for my next confession: I haven't seen Muse live since they performed at CMJ back in '99. They were just starting to support their debut album, Showbiz. Holy shit have they changed as a live band. The trio, led by the insanely talented Matthew Bellamy, had no problem taking over the true headlining spot that was left by the cancellation of White Stripes. With one of the most over the top lighting displays I've ever seen, you could tell that these lads were definitely comfortable with rocking the pants off a festival.
Their stage had a gigantic video display behind the band, flashing images from cameras placed throughout the stage, as well as other random images that were synched to their songs. I'd love to know how much of their live set is truly live as opposed to programmed or pre-recorded, as they cranked out an impressive amount of sound for a trio. Regardless, Bellamy's guitar playing was unbelievable, screaming through the complex passages that would make any musician cream their pants.
Not only was his work on the guitar capable of giving you a mind explosion, he is a sick piano virtuoso as well. The waves of arpeggios throughout "Space Dementia," "Sunburn" and the full-on piano break on "Butterflies & Hurricanes" were stunning. Picking favorite from their set was pretty impossible, from the maddening rock anthems of "Time Is Running Out" to the glam-jam "Supermassive Black Hole," I am definitely glad I got the opportunity to see Muse during ACL. These guys were one of the only bands truly capable of blowing the socks off a festival crowd, which they did with ease.
Alright, two days down, one to go!