Austin City Limits Music Festival – October 8-10, 2010, Austin, TX

The 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival continued to make the three-day event’s case as one of the best festivals on the planet. It went off with nary a hitch, and in fact, this year’s edition may have had the festival’s best weather yet. There was no dust, no rain to turn Zilker Park into a giant mud pit (like last year) and the high temperature never reached 90. The sunny afternoons were still plenty hot, but the evenings were downright balmy. Some local fans bitched about the overall lineup when it was first announced, but there truly was something for everyone in the festival’s ever-eclectic lineup. The festival once again sold out well in advance, and again proved to be one of the best weekends of the year for any serious music fan.

The tasty local cuisine available at ACL is topped only by New Orleans’ Jazzfest (although unfortunately neither fest seems willing to bring in local beer), and the football tent returned to enable sports fans to get a fix in between music sets. There were only a handful of occasions where the crowd scene proved overly massive and hard to navigate. Overall, it was three days of near-utopian rock ‘n’ roll bliss. If the word “groovy” is overused in this review, it’s only because there were indeed so many such moments. The biggest problem was choosing between competing bands in a series of mind-bending conflicts: Silversun Pickups vs Broken Bells, Monsters of Folk vs LCD Soundsystem, Phish vs The Strokes, The Flaming Lips vs Band of Horses, and the terrible three-way Friday night dilemma of Sonic Youth vs Robert Randolph & the Family Band vs Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses. Cloning technology can’t arrive soon enough.

Friday, October 8

Those Darlins, Austin Ventures Stage
This upbeat Tennessee quartet featured a relatively unique mix of country punk and garage rock to create a fun vibe. Singer/guitarist Jessi Darlin’s gritty voice recalled Courtney Love at times in its ragged splendor, but with more of a country flavor. “Red Light Love” saw the band at its best on a fuzzy, melodic rocker about the combination of good love and good music.

Blues Traveler, AMD Stage
It seemed like a flashback to the mid-’90s when Blues Traveler drew a huge crowd to the festival’s second largest stage to really get ACL going. It’s been great to see the band able to persevere through the tragic death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan and the health problems of singer/harmonica ace John Popper, who is now fit and sounding great as ever. Underrated guitarist Chan Kinchla always keeps things groovy on his PRS guitar and his brother Tad fits right in on bass. A cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was a surprise crowd pleaser, followed shortly thereafter with the band’s 1994 hit “Run-Around.” But the clear peak of the set – and one of the top highlights of the entire weekend – occurred when the band welcomed 15-year-old violinist Ruby Jane to sit in on “Mulling It Over.” Jane, who would play her own set on Sunday morning, proved to be a dynamic prodigy. She immediately accented the hard rocking tune in tasteful fashion, before teaming with Popper for a superb violin-harmonica duel that won the weekend’s first huge cheer.

The Black Keys, AMD Stage
The Akron, Ohio-based blues rock duo hit the stage at 4 pm in front of a massive crowd that made it tough for anyone arriving late to get close enough to enjoy. There were so many people camped out in their lawn chairs that the entire area became quite difficult to navigate. The Black Keys are clearly surging in popularity – they played to about 10,000 fans at the 2008 Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, but this crowd was at least three times as large. I finally gave up and decided I’d rather check out the next band on the intimate BMI stage.

ACL Black Keys


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Sonic Youth on “Gossip Girl,” Grizzly Bear on “The Tonight Show,” Tom Waits

Sonic Youth made their surreal appearance on last night’s episode of “Gossip Girl.” Unfortunately, their acoustic rendition of “Starpower” is hampered by the actors’ dialogue. At least Kim Gordon makes a surprising cameo as a minister.

Also, Grizzly Bear performed their song “Two Weeks” on “The Tonight Show.” I hope Conan continues to showcase talented bands.

In other news, Tom Waits is releasing a new live album full of cuts from his recent Glitter and Doom tour. Check out his new website to download some free tracks off the album.

  

Online battle of the bands to determine spot at ACL festival

Sound and the Jury (S&J), a virtual battle of the bands, is returning for a third year, offering one lucky band the opportunity to perform on the Dell Stage at this year’s Austin City Limits Festival (ACL) in early October. Bands of all genres will have a chance to upload their music, have their fans vote and try and earn a spot on the stage alongside the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Sonic Youth, Phoenix, Mos Def and Passion Pit. Last year’s winner, The Steps, released and album this year and went on tour in support of it. ACL takes place October 2-4 in Austin, Texas.

Think your band has what it takes? Here are the official rules, and good luck!

How It Works
Round One is live now and bands can upload their music at The Dell Lounge to enter the competition. To stay in the game, bands must generate as many votes as possible to land them in the Top 100 by August 28 and then move on to the next round. From there, a combination of industry judges and fan-voting will narrow down the competition to just five finalists who will perform for a live audience in Austin at Antone’s on September 30. At the end of the multi-round, two-month campaign, one lucky and worthy band will earn a prize spot on the Dell Stage at the ACL Festival.

What’s at Stake
Each of the five finalists will receive $1,500 and a trip to Austin. The winning band will be listed as part of the official lineup and receive an opening slot on the Dell Stage at the ACL Festival. As an official ACL artist, the winner will get artist passes for the entire weekend with access to catering, the artist lounge, and everywhere else bands get to go! The winning band will also receive promotion on delllounge.com, a 15″ Dell Studio laptop, weekend hotel accommodations in Austin, and tickets for some friends the day of show.

  

What? Sonic Youth to perform on “Gossip Girl”

Sonic Youth, pioneers of the no-wave sound and arguably the most influential underground band of the 90s, clearly are doing whatever they feel like as they get older. The group has agreed to appear on CW’s hit show “Gossip Girl” to perform an acoustic version of their single “Starpower” from their 1986 album EVOL.

Sonic Youth is one of my favorite bands,” says GG showrunner Stephanie Savage, “and last year when I was doing my regular Gossip Girl google search, it came up in some blog about a Sonic Youth show that Thurston [Moore] was playing ‘Psychic Hearts’ and Gossip Girl was playing on a screen in the background. And I was like, ‘Whaaaat? Oh my God. I hope they’re not making fun of us! I hope it was a cool, edgy homage!’ And it turned out that it was — tongue in cheek for sure, but definitely with love, and that they were fans of the show.” (Perhaps worth mentioning: Moore and his bandmate and wife, Kim Gordon, have a 15-year-old daughter.)

Last year, Moore and Be Your Own Pet’s Jemina Pearl cut a cover of the Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” for use during Jenny Humphrey’s guerrilla fashion show, and Savage says the conversation continued from there. “We have a very special event coming in Episode 5 that we’re filming right now,” she says, “and they seemed the ideal musical guest for it.” But in fine GG fashion, Savage is mum about the exact circumstances of the festivities involved. “It’s a big event that involves [engaged adults] Rufus and Lily. Just draw your own conclusions,” she laughs.

Is it just me, or does the expression “they sold out” not even matter anymore? When I heard this news, I cared very little about the sanctity of the band being at stake. Media has become so intertwined over the last few years it’s difficult to tell what defines a true “underground artist.” Growing up a fan of punk music, I remember when the Vans Warped Tour — a tour traditionally featuring only punk bands — started including major label acts as well as rappers. People were fussy at first, but now you wouldn’t think twice about seeing Katy Perry share the same stage as Bad Religion. Punk darlings the Dropkick Murphys appeared on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” only to later perform countless times at Fenway Park before Red Sox games. Nobody complained.

It’s definitely a step in the right direction. The whole idea of “selling out” actually gives little credit to both the fans and the artists. We have the power to decide whether or not something has quality. Sonic Youth is a revolutionary band who has been around for three decades. It’s not hard to imagine that they’ve accrued fans in various professions. If the creator of “Gossip Girl” is a die-hard fan and wants to have them on her show, then so be it. Bands always use the excuse that these venues provide an outlet to a larger fanbase. In the case of Sonic Youth, I think they could give a damn.

Last year at the Grammys, the team of legendary rocker Robert Plant and country artist Alison Krauss won Album of the Year. In his acceptance speech, Plant said, “In the old days we would have called this selling out. But it’s a nice way to spend a Sunday.”

  

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