Saturday in Texas stands for college football, long lines at the liquor store, and, on this particular Saturday, live music.
What I like most about this dreamy, melancholic Brooklyn band is that its live sets are of a different species than its recorded material. This amounted to a stellar, somewhat improvisational ACL set. Recent release Burst Apart leaves just as much vastness for live experimentation as Hospice, minus the paralyzing chill.
Peter Silberman’s persistent pipes towered over every instrument on stage. An elongated version of “No Windows” was evidence enough of the group's talent; a rendition that placed his choir-boy falsetto not just on a pedestal, but on a throne. He and the echoing synth exchanged blows, dueling it out for stage dominance. And, as always is the case with the Antlers, Silberman won.
For a band that tours as thoroughly it does, I wonder how the Antlers find time to throw so many change-ups into the mix. I’ve seen them three times in the last 18 months and while the set lists were alike, the delivery was certainly not. It feels like they’re trying to win people over every time they take the floor. I pray this quality never wears off, for it truly places the Antlers in its own league.
The ACL day two slideshow:
The Belle Brigade
Of the 75,000 fans that wander through the ACL gates on this day, at least five are wearing vintage Blazer-era Clyde the Glide jerseys. Yes, this is a fragment of a fragment of a percentage, but it’s worth noting. Sure, Drexler retired in Houston. But for the record, I’ve seen one Kobe jersey and not a single Mavericks uniform. This is what happens when you don’t invite Portlanders to your festival, ACL. We invite ourselves.
One Rip City enthusiast is standing next to me at the Belle Brigade. The band is somewhat frumpy today, likely tired from the late set they played the night before. Frontwoman Barbara Gruska looks very much like Bob Dylan circa Freewheelin‘ (no disrespect, Dylan did possessed especially feminine facial features, especially early on). There’s no doubting her voice, and it rouses the band like an alarm clock into a stirring performance.
Barbara and her brother, Ethan, not only look alike, but they sound alike. When singing, tenor sees eye-to-eye, separated only by a register or two. Having grown up together, they possess the unique ability to read each others' next moves. Musically, this means clean jumps, tit-for-tat expressionism and an uncanny synergy that spreads all across the stage. By the end, we realized that the Belle Brigade was the Bloody Mary of ACL Day Two—Red-cheeked, deceptively potent and classically driven (by folk-rock forefathers, in this case).
J. Roddy Walston
This Baltimore band won my Pleasant Surprise award for the weekend. Led by J. Roddy himself—a grungy white suburban adaptation of Little Richie—the southern rock meets acid rockabilly act turned the park into the back room of a truck-stop dive bar. How perfect it was that Walston covered his unlikely precursor with a raucous, bluesy version of “Lucille.”
Walston's look is decidedly Seattle circa 1994, but he evokes the soul and Bayou-bred blues-rock of bands like Creedence or the Allman Brothers. When I plug my ears and watch Walston head-bang, the sound I imagine is at the opposite end of the spectrum. But in music, deception is always looming and Walston—along with backing band the Business—is a shining example of this. Bands like this impress me because they never lose sight of the reason they’re playing in the first place: The icons, genres and breakthroughs that prefaced them.
A master of entrances, Stevie Wonder strutted on stage with a keytar slung over his shoulders. His hands were racing, playing the sped-up groove line to Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” He went on to solo for close to five minutes, thrashing about on his back like Jimi Hendrix at Monterrey. If Wonder had lit his trusty keytar on fire, no one would have been shocked. In fact, we were a little upset that he didn’t.
With 25 Grammy Awards to his name, Wonder had every right to slow down and bask in personal success (much like Kanye did the night prior). But he powered through over twenty songs, all backed by his smooth-as-top-shelf-bourbon voice that hasn’t aged a bit. He covered Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” and Nat King Cole’s “When I Fall In Love” to the crowd’s delight, injecting each with gassy funk riffs and a who’s who of stage solos.
And while his brief political rants built around giving Obama a chance got mixed reviews from a sharply divided Red and Blue crowd, Wonder jumped into hits before too many complaints were voiced. “Overjoyed,” “Ribbon In The Sky” and “My Cherie Amour” all made the list. Every track was richly textured courtesy of a mammoth-sized band. Folks toward the back complained of rival sound coming from My Morning Jacket emanating from the opposite end of Zilker Park, and a few of the speakers in the rear did short out a few times.
I have little sympathy for these people because they’re generally the lawn chair crowd, a group that arrives early only to set up shop equidistant from every stage in a desperate and lazy attempt to digest every single sound from the festival. To you, dear Poker-playing half-listeners, I say watch from home. ACL streamed all of its big sets this year, just for you.