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

Read the rest after the jump...

Monsters of Folk: Monsters of Folk

RIYL: Hem, The Weepies, Bittersweets

The term “super group” is bandied about all too frequently, often arousing great expectations that are rarely fulfilled. The door to disappointment is left wide open; participants hedge when it comes to contributing their best songs or find their creativity stifled when compromising to serve to other egos. Yet while it’s rare to witness the second coming of an all-star outfit like Blind Faith or Crosby Stills and Nash, a blending of big names inevitably cranks up the curiosity factor regardless.

On the other hand, a summit session involving lo-fi provocateurs M Ward, Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Jim James (AKA Yim Yames) might be greeted with some hint of suspicion, given the fact none of them is known for emphatic exposition. Surprisingly then, this, their first recorded collaboration, comes across as significantly more inviting and accessible than just about anything these individuals have managed on their own. While the name of the conglomerate indicates a tongue planted firmly in cheek, the songs themselves are straightforward and sincere. What’s more, given the fact that the songwriting is shared collectively and that all the instrumentation is doled out between them, the set is surprisingly consistent, showing equal input from all four contributors. And though most of the music is on the mellow side, the melodies make an emphatic impression – from the folkie sing-along of “Man Named Truth” and the gentle caress of “Magic Marker” and “His Master’s Voice,” to the breezy country sway of “The Right Place” and the steady ascent of “Whole Lotta Losin’” and “Ahead of the Curve.” They’ve done their ongoing outfits proud, while making what may well be the best album of their collective careers. (Shangri-La 2009)

Monsters of Folk MySpace page