No rain, more football jerseys than “Keep Austin Weird” bumper stickers and barbecue for breakfast. It must be Saturday in the capitol of Texas. Somehow, I managed to see M.I.A.'s “Paper Planes” performed three different times, saw Danger Mouse play every instrument on stage and realized that Matt and Kim love gangster rap. A lot. Here's my day two recap:
The Very Best Budweiser Stage
Some bands are just happy to be around. The Very Best is one of them. Especially Malawian frontman Esau Mwamwaya, a walking, talking charismatic smile. He was without the many special guests featured on the group's 2009 album, Warm Light Of Africa
, but made up for it with a pair of zestful dancers and loads of samples. Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig was nowhere to be found but Mwamwaya performed the title track anyway, sampling Koenig's school of Paul Simon vocals and singing on top.
DJ Etienne Tron kept the set lively with constant pop culture insertions. He sampled MIchael Jackson's “Will You Be There” and M.I.A.'s powerhouse anthem “Paper Planes” for Mwamwaya to rap and chant over. The Westernized afro-beat model is an attractively obscure one and the addition of lyrics sung in other, more musical languages—like Swahili and Chichewa—gives it unmatched fluidity and undeniable danceability.
Bear In Heaven
Zync Card Stage
Fighting for the rights to Yeasayer's throne, Brooklyn electro-fuzz trio Bear In Heaven is on a gallop. Taking the stage, it's easy to mistake frontman Jon Philpot for a youthful Freddy Mercury. He mans the electric station, pounding on a series of spacey synthesizers while a drummer and bassist hammer out a floor layer of garage rock. The band pick and choose from Beast Rest Forth Mouth
, the band's 2009 launch pad release, and plays “Lovesick Teenagers,” “Ultimate Satisfaction” and “You Do You,” a triple dose of trance-infected numbers that feel more like the single pulse to the Bear In Heaven machine than individual tracks. The record has so much cohesion that it's odd to see the group stop in between songs during a live show. Most of the crowd showed up knowing nothing about the band and left with a new artist to watch (and a sore neck to match).
Two Door Cinema Club Austin Ventures Stage
Comparing band to band is lame but not always without merit. I do it all the time and I'll do it again. These particular Irish lads have learned a thing or two from the likes of Bloc Party and Keane. Be it explicit and catchy, Two Door Cinema Club's set would have been better savored in the tight quarters of a house party (forthcoming). The Austin Ventures stage has almost always focused more on twang and local talent, hosting the likes of Daniel Johnston and Midlake in years past and Mosters of Folk this year. Cinema Club's get-up-and-dance agenda was adored by the youngsters and ignored by the baby boomers. I was somewhere in between.
Zync Card Stage
Having heard about Black Lips' tendency to get banned from Atlanta clubs, I could not wait to see them. It took only a couple of songs for the concerned venue owner inside of me to realize these guys are red flag material. Leader of the pack Cole Alexander raised his guitar, took a swill of beer and spat it at his instrument like a whale coming up for air. Rumor has it he played an English club years back and stretched out beneath a beer tap like Barney from The Simpsons
, guzzling some cask beer before spitting it all over the crowd.
Antics aside, Black Lips are in their 1oth year of existence and it shows. The band commands the stage, turning it into its favorite garage get-together jam. Black Lips played like an intoxicated version of the Beatles, with intricate song structures, pleasant '60s guitar riffs that give way to destructive, punk-based vocal yelling matches and harmonies. You'd never place in them in a contemporary genre, were it not for occasional musical traits shared by friends and fellow ATL-ians Deerhunter.
Danger Mouse tends to improve everything he touches. But could he improve the poster boy for American sweethearts the Shins? In a word, yes.
Sure, Broken Bells played radio sensations “The Ghost Inside” and “The High Road.” Yet, they also stretched out versions of lesser known tracks like “Vaporize,” incorporating all members of the sprawling band, or, in many cases, the countless personas of Danger Mouse. Over the course of an hour, I saw the producer turned multi-instrumentalist try on the bass guitar, electric guitar, wurlitzer and drums. A horn section backed the two throughout, giving certain songs an evocative, victorious feel. Finally, Mercer asked, “Did you guys see the Black Keys?” After a loud roar he continued, “Well, they're one of our favorites and this is a cover.” Broken Bells jumped into a soulful take of “Everlasting Light,” candy for Mercer's high register and stretched-out notes. Given all the prior shenanigans with the Shins, Broken Bells was the band I wanted to like least but simply couldn't. Danger Mouse makes everything better.
Monsters Of Folk Austin Ventures Stage
Best. Dressed. Band. Period. M. Ward is wearing a perfectly tailored black suit with matching skinny tie and Ray Bans. He's toting the sexiest guitar I've ever seen in my life. Conor Oberst is clad in vest and pocket watch and Jim James is wearing what appears to be a plum colored velour smoking jacket and sporting hair not unlike Doc's from Back To The Future. I still can't believe these guys are in a single band. Why isn't everyone in Austin here right now?
The first hour of their lengthy set is devoted to Monsters tracks, woven out of wispy M. Ward vocals and frequent bluesy guitar solos. The folkster who calls Portland home is leading the group and James and Oberst constantly yield to his tireless guitar. James is more passive, chiming in for tracks like “Dear God” and “His Master's Voice.” Oberst sang in his typical endearing manner, sounding more urgent with every line of the very literary, very powerful track “Map Of The World.” He paused to take note of the rivaling noise: “This is like that one Flaming Lips album with the four records you have to play at once [Zaireeka],” he said. It just so happened that three of the loudest performers, LCD Soundsystem, Ozomatli and Gogol Bordello, were playing simultaneously on nearby stages.
The second hour belonged to the individual, with the three playing some of their own personal works. Of course, it was all the richer given the strong stage company. Supergroups so often fail, but the musical personalities of these guys really do coexist and benefit from each other's presence. And let us not forget the many contributions of engineer and super collaborator Mike Mogis, who served as the glue between the three superpowers.
M.I.A. AMD Stage
She took the stage ten minutes late and ended fifteen minutes early, leaving me with an empty feeling that lingered for a while. I have seen M.I.A. numerous times, but was excited to see her on a new tour, with a new record to boast. Yet, it was more of the same from the scandal-loving, militant rapper. Lots of incoherent screaming, artillery sound effects and enough neon to make the 1980s jealous.
As strong as her beats and presence are, there was nothing tangible to take away from her ACL performance. She sleep-walked through a half-dozen numbers, escaped briefly, then reappeared with a brawny bouncer near the sound tent before being carried back to the stage amongst her fans. Sure, “Paper Planes” brought the crowd to their knees, but it wasn't enough. I've always admired her interactivity and kinetic energy, but the only thing about her live show that's really changed in the last three years in the background media. Perhaps Muse would have been the better choice.
Music Lounge After-Party American Legion Building
Had it not been for the after-party, I almost surely would have seen Local Natives and Matt and Kim play ACL. However, the two were scheduled to play at the American Legion building that night (plus a special guest), a superb, brick and pillar structure fit with an enormous backyard and creaky old floor boards. The Music Lounge party was sponsored by Rock The Vote Nights, and I assumed it would be a complete zoo.
Fortunately, the attendance was that of a large house party and as people trickled in, it began to gain the feel of a secret gathering at your rich friend's house while his parents are on vacation. I ate as many free pop chips (another sponsor) as I could and tried mightily to look like everyone else. That is, like a guy who attends these things all the time and casually brushes off offers for free t-shirts, trucker hats and Japanese beer. Ultimately, I caved, but kept it together enough to stay the course and get a good position on the second floor for Matt and Kim's DJ set.
I quickly learned that Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino are obsessed with old-school, '90s hip-hop. Matt browsed through his iPod, selecting track after bumping track from heavy hitters like 2Pac, Biggie and Jay-Z. He stood atop the table, arms outstretched, screaming every word to every song. Somehow, he was outdoing the rappers themselves. Meanwhile, Kim danced up a sweat and spent the greater part of the evening laughing about her peculiar scenario. But they came across as naturals, elevating the communal mood—which was already high to begin with—and putting on a show as far from what they typically do as humanly possible. Matt and Kim are welcome at my karaoke booth anytime.
Up next, the special guest, which turned out to be Two Door Cinema Club. What a wonderful second chance for the Irish band that seemed out of place earlier at Zilker Park. And as projected, the band was right at home in this living room setting. Rambunctious and persuasive, TDCB grabbed the baton passed along by DJs Matt and Kim and ran with it hard. Glass beer bottles—perhaps not the best choice for a crowded dance party—began to break a little more often and the windows were cracked for ventilation.
Los Angeles indie forerunners Local Natives capped the night, appeasing the destructive person in all of us by beating the shit out of some drums. To their credit, almost every track they have is led by the tribal rhythms. It's like a drum circle without the rhythmless hippies, plus some clever guitar overlays and boisterous vocal harmonies. They played the best of standout record Gorilla Manor, including a bouncy, howilng version of “Wide Eyes” and a version of “Sun Hands” that had the rendered the jumpy crowd of 50 or so parched and breathless. In between songs, the band huddled together like athletes, deciding each time on the timeless and effective strategy (especially in tight quarters) of all-out musical assault.
Thank you, dearest Day Two, I am in your debt.
Stay tuned for Day 3 and photos!