ACL Fest 2008 - Day Three: Band of Horses, Neko Case, Tegan and Sara, The Kills, Stars, Silversun Pickups
1:30 @ AT&T Blue Room Stage
Review by Callie Enlow & Photo by Victor Yiu
Whereas The Fratellis complained about the heat playing the same 1:30 p.m. time slot the day before, The Kills were plain insulted by it.
And unlike their predecessors, the unfriendly sun did little to squelch The Kills' sexual rock assault.
The duo, whose pale skin and long sleeves didn’t help their mood, pounced into “U.R.A. Fever”, the lead track off this year’s critically acclaimed Midnight Boom. It’s a typical track for the Kills. Singer Alison Mosshart spits out saucy lyrics backed by nothing but a drum machine and Jamie Hince’s equally aggressive guitar licks.
Barely managing to keep their cool, The Kills shimmied through “Sour Cherry” and “Tape Song” before Hince calmly urged the audience to call the band’s agent “between the hours of 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. and tell him about the heat and the lights.”
Mosshart spent much of the rest of the set with a fedora in front of her eyes or standing in the shadows. Still, the band played a full set, managing all the energy left after their gig the night before opening for the Butthole Surfers.
Mosshart paced and smoked as Hince danced herky-jerky across the stage and both managed sincere smiles as they ripped out more Midnight Boom songs before ending on crowd pleaser “Fried My Little Brains”, off their debut album.
Waving goodbye after sticking it out through thirteen songs, Hince hollered, “come and see us when it’s dark. This is fucking bullshit.”
3:30 @ AT&T Blue Room Stage
Review by Elliot Cole & Photo by Victor Yiu
Stars has a bit of reputation for hamming it up. With a drama-laden sound that sits on the cusp of the dreaded “emo” tag, Stars is both sensitive and a little bit corny. Now, this has its definite place on any festival lineup (their sweeping, emotion-soaked albums are, at the very least, endearing), but that place is not in 90+ degree heat on the sun-stained last afternoon of ACL.
“This is our music. We hope you enjoy it,” announced frontman Torquil Campbell, who excessively thanked the crowd throughout the performance. With lighting fixtures alternating behind them, the band played a set that featured in their midtempo pop music with horns, keys, a wicked guitar solo (!), and, uh, tangents about the sodium level of the water at the festival (a political tirade that didn’t exactly resonate with fans).
The heart of Stars is in the polarities between Campbell and frontwoman Amy Millan, and their chemistry was evident during their set. Campbell crooned with a confident, baby-Morrissey demeanor, while Milan’s voice was equally gentile and soft. A soccer chant fed into the speakers before the band went into “Take Me to the Riot”, and “Going Going Gone” was dedicated to G.W., earning applause.
Stars was engaging, performative, and varied, but, at times, hard to take seriously. While baking in the sun, it was hard to latch onto the thickly-laid poignancy of the band, despite the group’s energy and charming nature. Even as they closed the set with the stellar “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”, it was difficult for the band to keep the crowd’s attention. Most fans, it seems, liked their lives to be drama-free at ACL.
4:30 @ AMD Stage
Review by Callie Enlow & Photo by Victor Yiu
Even though she played almost the entirety of her latest album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, even though she debuted new songs off a forthcoming album, even though she covered Harry Nilsson, one song will always determine a Neko Case performance for me: “I Wish I Was The Moon,” off her career-defining album Blacklisted.
And she played it! The song is a Case essential: slow country swing backs Case’s plaintive voice, simultaneously haunting and intense with lyrics that strongly hint at some greater sorrow, rather than spell it out. This time, Case performed the intro a cappella. Can you say ‘girl crush’?
Case’s favoritism toward Fox Confessor tunes probably stemmed from the fact that her performance here was also her last in support of the album. She took the time to delight the audience with songs from her new, as-yet-untitled album, set to be released in 2009.
The new songs have the same noir western cinematic quality displayed on Case’s other albums. And Case’s choice of “Don’t Forget Me” by Nilsson proved that if she didn’t have so damn much to say, Case could be one hell of a chanteuse.
For all her sad bastard-ette musical stylings, Case is naturally funny, so her spontaneous stage banter about killer whales eating babies after 40 minutes of lyrical suicide notes is a bit disarming during her Sunday afternoon performance.
Perhaps that wasn’t so surprising for this crowd. Case last appeared at ACL jumping around with a tambourine in 2006 with The New Pornographers, the Vancouver collective to which she lends her distinctive voice.
4:30 @ AT&T Stage
Review by Elliot Cole
With raspy, glass-throated vocals, distortion-heavy guitars, and a few technical glitches, Silversun Pickups – perhaps the one band at the festival that could actually open for Foo Fighters on tour - brought a generally sloppy set to the main stage. The video feed for the jumbo screens (or, possibly, the sound reaching the far speakers) seemed to have an irritating delay, making frontman Brian Aubert’s mouth out of synch with his vocals, like watching a classic Godzilla movie overdubbed for an English-speaking audience. On top of that, Aubert’s guitar became disconnected, causing for a quiet, minute-long delay that felt more like an hour.
But, wait, isn’t this rock ‘n’ roll? Aren’t things supposed to be a little rough around the edges? Silversun’s raucous energy was welcome on a day of mostly chill performances, and the thick guitars did the band’s alt-rock style justice, making it feel like 1996 all over again. The microphone squeals and broken cords were just part of the performance, not necessarily a detriment, but a reminder that Silversun isn’t as polished as you may believe (which, in this case, may be a good thing).
Aubert interacted with fans in the front row when not screeching songs off of the band’s breakout album, Carnavas. Unfortunately, Aubert’s voice came off as monotone after awhile. All the high notes were replaced with shouts and screams, which often seemed to dominate the actual musicianship of the songs. Nonetheless, tracks like “Lazy Eye”, “Little Lover’s So Polite”, and “Well Thought Out Twinkles” found an audience.
Having gone to The Kills aftershow the previous night, Aubert fondly explained that the band “pretty much got obliterated”. Good for your vocals? Not exactly. Good for rock ‘n’ roll? Always, even if bogged down by technicalities.
Band of Horses
7:30 @ Dell Stage
Review by Elliot Cole & Photo by Randy Cremean
“I think Band of Horses is one of the best artists of our time,” said a bearded, wine-swigging pseudo-hippie in the front row. While this hyperbole is probably a little excessive, the zeal for the Seattle rootsy indie rockers was not misguided. Simply put, Band of Horses was one of the best sets at ACL, an engaging, warm, and sharp performance that was draped by an orange sunset.
As the sun slid away, Ben Bidwell and company took the stage wearing ear-to-ear smiles. Backdropped by soft, blue lighting, Band of Horses opened, appropriately, with “The First Song”, featuring a sunglass-clad Bidwell sitting on the slide guitar. Waving and pointing to fans mid-song, the group transformed the festival stage into a small venue. With Bidwell’s interspersed “wooh!”s throughout the set, the performance felt more like a Southern-tinged hoedown than a mere rock show, bringing as surprising vigor to even the most gorgeous downtempo tracks of the group’s back catalogue.
“Is There A Ghost” gave Bidwell the opportunity to show off his amazingly affective and accurate vocal ability (which induced more than its fair share of goosebumps amongst the crowd). “Great Salt Lake” – coming off much more aggressive than on record - revealed a stomping Bidwell and a large-scale crescendo that got the audience’s blood pumping.
“Marry Song”, which Bidwell sang facing (presumably) his offstage loved one, had fans and lighters swaying. While smiling for the camera, it was unavoidable to see how much fun the band was having. Everything seemed genuine, every word resonated with sincerity, and every guitar chord seemed somehow moving. “The Funeral”, which may have been a borderline radio single for awhile, caused chills, proving it still has some life left in it beyond car commercials.
Band of Horses introduced a few surprises as well: a jazzy new song (sung by keyboardist Ryan Monroe) and a stunningly powerful cover to end the set that featured Bidwell diving into the crowd (the blues-heavy “Am I A Good Man” by Them Two). As the positive vibes swept through the crowd, Band of Horses had put together a set that seemed to be as important to them as it was the fans--both whimsically fun and densely chilling.
Tegan and Sara
7:45 @ AT&T Blue Room Stage
Review by Callie Enlow & Photo by Victor Yiu
Why do I want to attach the phrase “the mulletted moppets” before writing about Tegan and Sara? Probably because they’re genuinely adorable. And they have semi-genuine mullets.
Going up against terminally popular Band of Horses, Tegan and Sara attracted a devout crowd for their heartfelt pop songs and seemed truly pleased by the turnout.
The Canadian twins--known for their witty banter--proclaimed themselves “not to have a sucking reflex” when they were born. They proceeded, well, not to suck.
The singers wore cowboy shirts and their now-trademarked mullets as they happily displayed songs from their latest album, The Con, as well as cheekily covering Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, and joking about covering a Kelly Clarkson song. The thing is, Tegan and Sara actually share a lot in common with Clarkson’s angsty pop. For such cheerful stage presences, their songs deliver straight-up doses of relationship anxiety and existential worry.
While the lyrics stuck to similar themes, both Tegan and Sara flitted all over the place instrumentally, playing acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and synthesizers, sometimes only one accompanied by the backing band, sometimes both.
Both stopped and started a few times, but Tegan and Sara’s live performances offered a refreshingly human touch to the several slick rock productions preceding their timeslot. The pair, who commanded the stage with a single-guitar backing band, held their own admirably against temptations of other bands and tired feet. Between their dual-harmony, single-melody vocals, the pair teased each other and themselves, thoroughly endearing themselves to the crowd.
Seeming to choose their set list off the top of their heads, the sisters reminded the audience just how many hits they’ve already had by sprinkling them throughout the evening. “Walking With a Ghost,” “Where Does the Good Go,” and even old-school “Superstar” showed up amidst Tegan and Sara’s stage patter and dueling guitars.
Edging away from the festival during Tegan and Sara’s 80’s homage “Back in Your Head,” I was happy to end on Tegan and Sara’s note. An often named-ropped but less radio-friendly band putting on a great show for an appreciative audience: isn’t that what this festival is about?