Article written by Zoe Moon

Austin City Limits Festival

3 Days, 8 Stages, 130 Fantastic Bands in the Music Capital, Austin, Texas. The festival is held at Austin's Zilker Park.

On the Friday, I was off to a good start with The Steps, winners of the Sound & The Jury competition. Showing captivating potential to be great, the Austinite band blew me away. Next, I caught another of Austin's own, What Made Milwaukee Famous. Highlights of this gig were hearing their oft played song ‘Sultan’ and a great cover of ‘Trashcan’, a lesser known great of Delta Spirit, an up and coming band.

Then, on to Vampire Weekend. In no time, they had the crowd jumping. It turned into, more or less, a sing-a-long, and a great one at that. Next I saw Delta Spirit, a California band. They definitely have spirit. Their addictive music was a mix of broken vocals and driven sound. Even in the afternoon it was easy to see that they would have some of the best energy of the day. Speaking of energy, Hot Chip's, almost instantly struck up a mini impromptu outside rave. Even in the relentless heat, ACLers gave it what they had. All that was missing was darkness and glowsticks.

N.E.R.D. was next, absolutely a bore. Like many, I came to this show because I had heard their hits. Fast and fun - it's all mindless. It's dancing to N.E.R.D. that we really like. That being said, some songs have more dance to them than others. It wasn't so bad when sped up, but slowed down it was a repetitive mess of nonsensical lyrics and sounds that gave you two feelings: that you should either fall asleep, or regurgitate (if only getting bad "music" out of your system were that easy). On to perfect pallet-cleansing band, The Swell Season, a surprisingly exciting gig. The usually soft sounds (note I said “sounds", not lyrics) of The Swell Season were ramped up by instrumental malfunctions, piano keys that kept getting stuck and a guitar continuously coming un-tuned. Lead guitarist / vocalist Glen Hansard ripped into Van Morrison's ‘Astral Weeks’. Hansard dug in with impressive fury as pieces of his guitar flew off.

I started off Saturday with The Black and White Years. Getting radio play for their song ‘Power to Change’, with an almost reggae vibe to it, you wouldn’t expect the energy and bouncy audience of a pop band. But, that's exactly what you get. On to The Fratellis, who kept their audience energetic and pleased in spite of the merciless sun. At least five people passed out before the band hit the stage. On a side note, most of said people regained consciousness
and stayed for the gig, not quite sure what happened to others. Then CSS played a fantastically fun gig. After the band's first few songs, lead singer LOVEFOXXX, while pouring water over her hair and slinging it onto a few grateful audience members, shouted that this was the hottest gig in the universe. That summed up the gig and the whole of the afternoon quite nicely.

My next gig was Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. It channeled the exhilarating nervous energy innate to Conor Oberst's music. With a great cover of Paul Simons’ ‘Kodachrome’ and ending with a sincere heart-felt ‘Milk Thistle’, it was a gig that really delivered to it's audience. On to a favourite of mine. Beck opened with classic ‘Loser’. While mod stage lights and digital imagery of Beck lit up the stage, he went through a selection from his repertoire: ‘Girl’, ‘Que Onda Guero’, ‘Mixed Bizness’, ‘Modern Guilt’, ‘Think I'm in Love’, ‘Lost Cause’, ‘Chemtrails’ and ‘Where It's At’. At one point Beck and his four piece stood on the edge of the stage with hand-held synthesizer implements for ‘Hell Yes’ and ‘Black Tambourine’, house party style. The gig also included an excellent cover of Bob Dylan's ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’. The only downside was no encore.

I started with Sybris and it was a great way to start the last day. Their song ‘Oh Man’ is sure to be a hit. I'm truly shocked it's not played on the radio every five minutes. Next I saw Austin locals Octopus Project. On their MySpace page they are described as Experimental / Pop. In the official ACL program, it describes their sound as ". . . one dexterous octopus . . . locked in a room full of musical instruments." These fantastic, talented musicians make sounds very close to of that said octopus. Then Against Me!, a good band with some good (and some pretty damn good) songs, were not bad, just not exciting. They had an interesting sound, but the live show wasn't thrilling.

On to Silversun Pickups whose distortion, mixed with clean pretty notes and vocals, seemed to have a contagious vibe. People who didn't think they'd care for them couldn't leave. The crowd stood suddenly enveloped in a blend of shoegaze / rock. Next was Gnarls Barkley. When Cee-Lo screamed at the crowd, "Run for your fucking lives!" (an opener for their hit ‘Run’, the haggard crowd came to life. The band's cover of Radiohead's ‘Reckoner’ positively fired up the audience.

Last and far from least were Foo Fighters, the perfect headliner. Upon addressing the crowd, Dave Grohl stated that they'd play, "Till they call the cops on us!". Highlights were a ‘Learn to Fly’ sing-a-long, and a cover of The Who's ‘Young Man Blues’. I can't imagine it could have been any better, without, of course, actual members of The Who. The second the band put down their instruments, the hoarse crowd started screaming for an encore. Finally, an encore at ACL! It was the first I'd seen during the festival's three days. The three part encore included ‘Big Me’, ‘Aurora’ and ‘Best of You’. It was a gig that gave ACLers everything they came to experience.

It was a brilliant three days, so much ground to cover, so little time. With eight stages set up in Zilker Park, I had to make some tough choices. Many great gigs played simultaneously. I was forced to choose between seeing Robert Plant & Alison Krauss or Beck. Poor me. Among the many sets I was not able to attend were The Raconteurs, Jakob Dylan and the Gold Mountain Rebels, The Kills, and MGMT. I can't wait for next year's ACL Music Festival. Mark your calendars for October 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of 2009, a year should give me and everyone else enough time to recover!

If you're thinking of attending ACL, plan to dress in light clothing (hint: get in touch with your inner hippy). Also, drink lots of water (all the time, or quite possibly you'll expire),and count on both walking and rocking your ass off!