2:30 @ AMD Stage
Review by Elliot Cole & Photo by Randy Cremean
While most bands suffer under the intolerable heat of an Austin City Limits afternoon performance, Vampire Weekend somehow relishes in it. After all, few bands seemed more comfortable in the festival setting. The band’s playful Afro-pop style is perfectly suited for a warm, sunny day; a sound that is playful and inescapably enjoyable. Really, it only makes sense: the hottest band of the year played at the hottest part of the day, and somehow managed to make it a positive.
As the dragonflies introduced themselves to the crowd, the group bounced around in their familiar preppie attire. Ezra Koenig proved to be a charming frontman, his charisma and interpersonal tone making for a total lack of pomposity. “I’m obligated to ask you to dance at least once,” Koenig wryly said before introducing crowd favorite “A-Punk” (the request didn’t fall on deaf ears). A call-and-response of “One (Blake’s Got A New Face)” got the audience even more involved, while Austin’s Tosca String Quartet joined the band onstage for a stellar rendition of “M79”. Vampire Weekend also introduced a new song, another Afro-pop-leaning song that featured bouncing vocal lines and energetic “Heys!” in the backing vocals.
With 100 or so flags scattered through the crowd – looking more like a United Nations meeting than a concert – Vampire Weekend’s affable persona belied the criticism critics have leveled at them. Over-hyped? Not a chance: the band’s sound was both precise and compelling. Arrogant? Anything but. Boring? Not even close. Instead, the band was engaging, sharp, and lively.
The most memorable aspect of Vampire Weekend’s set was the band’s loose-but-professional demeanor. The set was the last day of the group’s tour, and the quartet came off as both relaxed and experienced. (It may be well past time to shed the up-and-comer label for the band.) If there is still a prevailing Vampire Weekend backlash still remaining, it was nowhere to be found at Zilker Park, which bodes well for a group that should be playing this festival for years to come.
4:30 @ AT&T Stage
Review by Elliot Cole & Photo by Randy CremeanThe formula is tried and true and we’ve seen it a million times. Take…uh….a white-bearded violinist with some type of beret who looks like a former KGB spy, an upturned-mustachioed frontman with a penchant for eccentricity, and...umm…a dude with a mop on his head…wait, where were we? Oh, that’s right: the weird, eclectic-but-idiosyncratic hodge-podge that is Gogol Bordello, one of the more fascinating and fun bands to grace the main stage of ACL 2008.
The most energy-filled performance of the festival kicked off with the stirring opener “Ultimate”, before blaring into “Sally”. A fist-pumping crowd dodged airborne beach balls as frontman Eugene Hütz paraded his way across the stage in a vigorous fervor. The gypsy-punk group was an uncontrollable-but-organized clusterfuck of enthusiasm, climaxing choruses, and diverse instrumentation. Hütz twirled his microphone stand in the air and generally wreaked havoc on stage, enlivening a densely packed crowd.
An accordion solo later, the band brought out backing vocalists/dancers in flashy green outfits. The sweat-soaked Hütz lost his shirt before rolling through an array of high-adrenaline tracks, from “Supertheory of Super Everything” to the closer, “Think Locally, Fuck Globally”.
So, no, there is no formula for creating a band like Gogol Bordello, but that’s what makes them so unique, and, ultimately, pleasurable. The band’s weirdness and unusual genre (which is completely authentic; just ask the Ukranian-born Hütz) snared a lot more fans than raised eyebrows, proving that, at the end of the day, it's substance over style. But, for Gogol Bordello, style doesn’t hurt, either.
6:30 @ AT&T Stage
Review by Callie Enlow & Photo by Randy CremeanAbout halfway through David Byrne’s wildly eclectic set, a young man passed out with his eyes wide open and a gaggle of margarita-wielding women of a certain age fought over who got to take care of him.
Forgive the stretch, but the scene embodied the transition of Byrne’s career from weird-for-weird’s sake founding member of Talking Heads and his later musical incarnation as a thinking man’s Jimmy Buffet.
It also demonstrated just how damned likable the odd fellow is. During Byrne’s showcase, drawn heavily from his latest album with Brian Eno, young hipsters twirled into packs of old hippies and vice versa.
Byrne, who in the ‘80s collaborated with modern dancer Twyla Tharp, encouraged the frivolity with serious choreography from a trio of young dancers, his backing band, and even himself.
Clad all in white, Byrne’s stage band, including Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco and bodacious singer Jenni Muldaur (daughter of Geoff and Maria), gallavanted through new songs “Strange Overtones,” “One Fine Day,” and “I Feel My Stuff.” Byrne and company stopped off at ACL during the middle of their tour to support the latest (and 30 years late!) Byrne/Eno collaboration, Everything That Happen Will Happen Today.
Many of the songs, most notably “One Fine Day,” stuck to the world beat influence Byrne has reveled in for the past two decades. Refosco happily sat on a cajon, a west Indian drum box; strapped on a zabumba, Brazillian drum; and shook cricket shakers.
Byrne, meanwhile, strapped on his guitar for most songs, looking like his mod old self in slim white trousers, yet acting refreshingly goofy during dance numbers. Not bad for a 56-year-old.
During “Once In A Lifetime” (you know, the “This is not my beautiful wife, this is not my beautiful house” song), Byrne even let dancer Steven Reker leap-frog above his head.
On “I Feel My Stuff,” blue stage lights cast an eerie glow as Byrne and his ten accompanists zombie-danced to the syncopated rhythms and Byrne’s unsettling lyrics. The song, and the cast bow that followed, ended the theatrical set perfectly, and hippies, moms and stoners gave the ever-relevant Byrne a standing ovation.
The Mars Volta
8:15 @ AMD Stage
Review by Callie Enlow & Photo by Randy CremeanLegendary Robert Plant may have played Saturday night, but his younger self made a home in Cedric Bixler-Zavala on Friday.
The singer, whose howls propelled him past El Paso’s At The Drive In and into prog-rockers the Mars Volta with ATDI guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, WAS Plant. He had big Plant hair, skinny Plant jeans, undeniable Plant sex appeal and massive Plant stage presence.
The Mars Volta burst onto the stage, taking no more than five seconds to completely rock out. No warm-up, no build-up, just straight into a continuous torrent of their sonic oddities. There were no breaks between songs. None.
The flow, the background tapestry of a sultry naked lady, and the sheer drama of the Mars Volta’s free jazz-meets-hardcore aural assault played out more like an opera than a set at an outdoor festival.
Although Bixler-Zavala was the only singer, Rodriguez-Lopez’s shattering guitar solos shared equal billing. Acting as Page to Bixler-Zavala’s Plant, the pair frequently split the stage down the center, facing each other from their own half. As Bixler-Zavala exploded and contorted in his best wretched soprano imitation, Rodriguez-Lopez was there to pick up the pieces through sheer technique. The kinetic, sweat-drenched duo could have played alone and still riveted the audience.
Instead, they had the support of an equally bombastic band. Drummer Thomas Pridgen, formerly a gospel musician, smiled the entire way through his splattering riffs. Keyboardist Ikey Owen matched Pridgen’s demented enthusiasm as he played two keyboards, one with each hand, at once. Juan Alderte, an accomplished bass player with both metal and jazz under his belt, saxophonist Adrian Terrazas Gonzalez and Paul Hinojos, “sound manipulator” and former bassist from ATDI, rounded out the group.
Part of the show’s intensity was due to the Mars Volta’s latest non-stop rock EP, Bedlam in Goliath, a concept album about the power of the occult. Again, there’s no, um, similarities between that interest and say…Led Zeppelin’s.
Whether the group’s magnetism came from channeling rock gods or just turning into them in their own right, the Mars Volta put on one of the most hypnotic sets of the festival.