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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Combichrist: Making Monsters

RIYH (Recommended If You Hate): Your history teacher, riding the bus to school, cleaning your room

Combichrist are angry! And mean! And scary! And other stuff that will hopefully scare parents and encourage misguided 14-year-olds who want to rebel by going to Hot Topic to buy their records.

The creation of Norwegian musician Andy LaPlegua, Combichrist has been around since 2003. Previous uplifting and inspirational efforts by LaPlegua and crew include The Joy of Gunz, Everybody Hates You and What The Fuck Is Wrong with You People?

Their sound could be be described as “Head Like a Hole” meets “Beautiful People” meets the entire hard house dance movement. Aggressive beats meets aggressive lyrics meets aggressive synths. It’s all just so…aggressive. So much so some call the genre of music aggrotech. But don’t do that – you don’t want to encourage that kind of rampant portmanteauing. If you’re over 20 and take this stuff seriously,then a) you’ll love this record, and b) there’s no helping you. If you find needlessly misanthropic song titles like “Throat Full of Glass” and “Through These Eyes of Pain” hysterical and want to know just how many times LaPlegua can call the object of his affection a slut on “Fuckmachine,” then you might find some humor in Making Monsters, and the music, while a little overbearing at times, is good in a “I need help to stay awake/hate humanity” kind of way.

Just give your mom a hug, or pet some kittens, after listening. (Metropolis Records 2010)

Combichrist MySpace Page


Serj Tankian: Imperfect Harmonies

RIYL: …give us a minute…

Serj Tankian’s first solo album, 2007’s Elect the Dead, was certainly less metal than anything he put out with System of a Down, but it still had an edge to it, a certain level of manic insanity that captured the craziness of SOAD’s best tracks, even if the heavy metal thunder was lacking. Plus, it had a song called “Beethoven’s C*nt,” and that shit’s just funny.

This shit, however, is just shit. While Elect the Dead barely had enough metal in it to quality as a metal album, Imperfect Harmonies barely has enough in it qualify as a rock album. If it wasn’t for Serj’s ever-crazy vocal delivery, tracks like “Beatus” and “Borders Are…” would be cleared to play on your local soft-rock radio station, sandwiched in between Phil Collins and Peter Cetera rockers. Even with all the surreal lyrics and occasional stellar vocal performance by Serj, nothing can change the fact that the music behind his madness, on every single track, is an unwavering blah of mid-tempo, violin-driven sludge (not sludge-metal, just sludge) devoid of any memorable melody or hook. The symphonic sound on Imperfect Harmonies sucks the rock right out if it, and in fact, it just kind of sucks all together. (Reprise/Serjical Strike 2010)

Serj Tankian MySpace Page


The Sword: Warp Riders

RIYL: Priestess, Black Sabbath, Wolfmother, vans with airbrushed graphics

The Sword’s first two albums were steeped in J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired mythology, with songs about goddesses, demons, frost giants and, of course, swords. In other words, they were totally fucking METAL.

Now the Sword leap out of the land of wizards and warriors and into outer space with Warp Riders, a full-on concept album about space travel, intergalactic demons and beings that live out of time. According to the band’s official website, the album tells the story of Ereth, a tribal archer from the planet Acheron. The planet is in a tidal lock, leaving half the planet in perpetual darkness and the other scorched by three oppressive suns. He’s on a mission to, like, save stuff.

Like all concept albums, the narrative kind of gets lost in the music, especially since large portions of Warp Riders are instrumental passages, with great emphasis given to non-stop pounding riffage by dual guitarists Kyle Shutt and J.D. Cronise (who also contributes his trademark monotone vocals). This may be a concept album about space, but it sure as hell isn’t a prog record. There are no keyboards to be found here, and the seven-minute epic “The Chronomancer I: Hubris” has more in common with Metallica’s “One” than anything Hawkwind ever put out.

Of course, the Sword’s biggest influence remains ’70s classic metal. Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and even a little bit of Nazareth can be found all over Warp Riders, whether it’s in the sludging riffs of the title track, or in the oddly radio-friendly sound of “Lawless Lands” and the excellent “Night City,” which, when taken out of context, could totally be the soundtrack to any metalhead’s night out on the town.

Warp Riders might just be the Sword’s heaviest and best album yet, and proof that there’s more heavy metal in meteors than there is in an orc’s axe. (Kemando 2010)

The Sword MySpace Page


Disturbed: Asylum

RIYL: Godsmack, Staind, Nonpoint

Of all the nu-metallers of a decade ago, Disturbed would have been towards the bottom of most lists of those who would survive the short era. 2000’s The Sickness was perfect for that time: heavy and loaded down with chugging guitars and vocalist David Draiman’s choppy, pseudo-rap styling. Over the years the band has become a rock behemoth, consistently delivering the kind of radio-friendly heaviness that doesn’t send mom to the guidance counselor looking for answers. While hardly the musical takeoff that 2008’s Indestructible was, Asylum delivers some of the band’s best songs yet and confirms that these guys are still angry and motivated.


Asylum shows the band settling into the groove established by Indestructible. Disturbed took its biggest leap forward from a technical and production standpoint with that record, and Asylum proves to be a compulsively listenable experience. Guitarist Dan Donegan has transformed before our eyes from a down-tuned shredder to the driving force of the band. He’s simply a one-man wrecking crew. The title track is Donegan Exhibit A, offering a haunting, wah-driven lead with a fist-pumping chorus. He, along with bassist John Moyer and drummer Mike Wengren, may be one of the tightest rhythm sections in the genre today. Lyrically, it’s nothing groundbreaking. Draiman continues his ongoing assault on backstabbing politicians, bad relationships, ecological destruction (“Another Way to Die”) and Holocaust deniers (“Never Again”).

Metal fans are always looking for a band’s progression. While Disturbed have progressed plenty over the past decade, Asylum is not much more than a companion piece to Indestructible – and that’s not a bad thing. Like its predecessor, it’s a solid record, top to bottom. If you liked Disturbed before, you’re not about to stop with this release. The Limited Edition release features live versions of “Down With the Sickness” and “Stricken,” “Decade of Disturbed” documentary, and nine instructional videos for learning Disturbed songs. (Reprise 2010)

Disturbed MySpace page


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