Reviews: ACL Fest 2011 Sunday - Arcade Fire, Empire of the Sun, Fleet Foxes, Death From Above 1979, Broken Social Scene, Chiddy Bang, The Head and the HeartWords by Andy Pareti
Photos by Randy Cremean and Gary Miller
The Head and the Heart:
The Head and the Heart are the latest band to ride the rustic-folk-with-harmonies wave that has grown in size over the past year or so, and Sunday’s performance proved that they are not necessarily ahead of the pack. Despite playing to one of the largest early-day crowds of the weekend, the Seattle-based indie-folkies failed to differentiate themselves from some of their better contemporaries, particularly Fleet Foxes, whose shadow was symbolically cast over them in the form of the Bud Light stage – where the Foxes would play later in the day – nearly within throwing distance. Fans sang along to “Lost in My Mind”, but there just wasn’t enough to grasp onto in the long run, resulting in a less than memorable set.
You might say the deck was stacked against Chiddy Bang on ACL weekend. With a lineup extremely lacking in hip-hop acts, these Philly up-and-comers weren’t exactly what the paying crowd came to see (I overheard one passerby ask, “Who is that? Titty Bang?”). There may be precious few who came out of ACL remembering their name, let alone their set, but the rapping duo actually held their own with an entertaining, occasionally hilarious set for those who stayed and watched. Their beats were catchy and upbeat, and the rhymes were colorful, but the real steal of the show was Chidera “Chiddy” Anamege’s freestyle session, which incorporated random subjects chosen by the crowd. This resulted in a streak of delirious rhymes about anything from smoking weed, Texas and Saved by the Bell to Four Loko, hamsters, and security guards.
Broken Social Scene:
Indie veterans Broken Social Scene had a set short on songs but long on exploratory stretches of rich musical vistas that drifted along at a gradually unfolding pace. With a lack of any bands in this year’s lineup with words like Dave, Widespread or Incident in their names, it was as if bandleaders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning took it upon themselves to provide the jammy set of the festival. If that sounds awful, you missed a great show. With a cover of Modest Mouse’s “The World At Large” and an epic, drifting version of “It’s All Gonna Break”, BSS and their beautiful horn section provided the perfect dog day afternoon set to lay in the grass and close your eyes to.
Death From Above 1979:
If BSS let you recharge your batteries, Death From Above 1979 immediately put them into overdrive. With their unique drum-and-bass metal style and breakneck beats, DFA 1979 was electroshock therapy for a sun-stroked crowd. The duo may have been lacking in numbers, but they thrashed the crowd with their buzz saw musical muscle, playing mostly cuts off their 2004 debut, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. “Little Girl” was a standout track, with its infections Queens of the Stone Age hook and relentless attack.
It was about this time that I began noticing that Austin had fully adopted the largely European fad of bringing tall flags to a festival. As Fleet Foxes’ set begun, the festival turned into a surreal image. The dark clouds really began to roll in, the rain started to fall, and hundreds of flags jutted out of the sea of heads, bending in the wind. The Foxes broke into “Battery Kinzie”, the band’s uncanny vocal harmonies reverberating through the park. Sitting on the grass, with only the rippling flags visible over the thousands of heads, it almost felt like being on a ship of fools approaching dark waters, the band’s freewheeling melodies steering us along (“Do not wander”, they sang). It looked like a storm was impending, but somehow “White Winter Hymnal”, “Helplessness Blues” and countless other songs reassured us to stay there, that we were safe. Fleet Foxes may never have the raw energy to charge a festival-sized crowd, but they sure can flip the atmosphere upside down. The sky was growing darker, and we were nearing the end of our journey. But the storm never came.
Empire of the Sun:
With the night’s main event approaching, I slipped out of the crowd and swam against the tide, over to Empire of the Sun to catch some songs. The Australian electronic duo is a spectacle in every sense of the word. Combining the visual element of a Daft Punk show with a musical fusion of George Clinton funk and the slinky sexuality of Prince, Empire were an assault on the senses (well, sight and sound, at least). Backup dancers with LED guitars, Day-Glo peacock headpieces and acid trip projection screens all dripped from the stage like a giant, pulsing lava lamp. The music was dance-pop oriented, for sure, but the duo demonstrated impressive range, with searing guitar solos sprinkled in and a voice courtesy of Luke Steele that is an unmistakable mix of Bowie and Andrew VanWyngarden.
It wasn’t a question of whether Arcade Fire would put on a great show. That question has been answered many times. But for me, it was a question of their interest in a festival atmosphere compared to when they played the Backyard several months back. Apparently, being one of the most highly-sought after festival bands of the year hasn’t softened the Montreal-based band in the slightest, as they were every bit as enthusiastic, precise and breathtaking as they were when it was all about them. With a curiously front-loaded setlist that saw them burn through “Ready to Start”, “No Cars Go” and “Wake Up” before the first hour was up, Win Butler and his band were absolutely relentless. One difference with the Arcade Fire this time around was a newfound snarl; one highlight, “Month of May”, was nearly unrecognizable at first due to the raging typhoon of guitars that crashed down on the crowd, and “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” was as heavy as it’s ever sounded. Fittingly, Arcade Fire saw out the 10th annual Austin City Limits with a loud, confident, lingering explosion. The bar has officially been raised.