It's over. The three-day Austin City Limits Music Festival ended with a two-hour set by the Red Hot Chili Peppers on Sunday night, and our man and UT Austin student Elijah Watson was there. Buoyed by a lot of youthful adrenaline, and Red Bull, he made the slog through the final day to file this review.
By Elijah Watson
AUSTIN — One word sums up the end of the 11th annual Austin City Limits Music Festival for me — ambivalence.
After three days of music, a little rain and not much sleep, I was sad to see it coming to its inevitable end, but glad that to begin recuperating.
Sunday's finale was one final day of mud and music in Austin's Zilker Park.
Having popped open a can of Red Bull, I ventured to the Zilker Stage to watch Thundercat. Stephen Bruner, commonly known as bass aficionado Thundercat, is very much like "Thundercat," the cartoon, protagonist Lion-O. Bruner wields his bass like the Sword of Omens, going to war with an assortment of intricate chord progressions and time signatures.
Onstage, Bruner's attire was a reflection of his music: cheetah-print sneakers, celestial leggings and a feathered headpiece, which foreshadowed the psychedelic sounds to come. I thought Bruner had the best performance of ACL.
Accompanied by Childish Gambino's band, Bruner led the crowd into a free-jazz abyss, challenging listeners with 10 minute-plus jam sessions. Some audience members nodded along, others stared intently at Bruner, their eyes barely keeping up with the bassist's fluid technique.
Like Les Claypool or Byron Miller, Bruner's approach to bass playing is unconventional. He treats it like a guitar, playing chords and noodling through notes with the utmost ease. Aside from the Roots, Bruner's set was the only one I watched from start to finish.
Once Bruner finished I headed to the Honda Stage to see South African hip-hop collective Die Antwoord. For being a hip-hop collective from a continent on the other side of the world, Die Antwoord has a large and dedicated fan base.
It was interesting to see how their eccentricity would translate in a live setting. Infamous for their provocative music videos and polarizing personas, the trio had only themselves to rely on during ACL. No creepy, horror movie props or black contact lenses. Just Die Antwoord.
The group's energy was low at first, but grew to climactic heights towards the end of their set. Frontman Ninja and frontwoman Yo-Landi Vi$$er managed to retain some of their provocative qualities in performance, throwing middle fingers and shaking their rear ends at the crowd. The dynamic duo made it very apparent that no matter what continent they're from, Die Antwoord is a force to be reckoned with.
A highlight of the group's show was club banger "I Fink U Freeky." Ear-shattering bass seeped through the monitors as Ninja provided rhyme after rhyme. "I think you're freaky and I like you a lot," sung Vi$$er. Judging by the crowd's applause and cheers, the latter was a mutual feeling.
Prior to seeing Iggy Pop and the Stooges performance, I had decided that Die Antwoord was Sunday's most polarizing act. But the protopunk legend topped them 10 minutes into his set. Shirtless with skin-clenching leather pants, the 65-year-old protopunk bombarded the crowd with f-bombs and indecipherable screams that sounded like a dying dog.
He then proceeded to bring several fans on stage, which was great. But overall Pop's set was lackluster; I found myself agitated by his dog-like yelps and the band's rough around the edges sound. Sure, punk is supposed to sound gritty and catastrophic. But Pop's set seemed unrehearsed and unintentional.
As the sky began to darken, I trekked to the farther parts of Zilker Park to watch Crystal Castles — briefly — before checking out Childish Gambino. Enshrined in darkness, Crystal Castles' lightless set emphasized what was most important about their show: the music.
Frontwoman Alice Glass made her way into the crowd, standing over a sea of exhausted and excited fans. Crimson red lights flashed on fellow Crystal Castles band mate Ethan Kath, who remained onstage behind a soundboard.
Alternative hip-hop group Childish Gambino always puts on a great show. Multi-talented frontman Donald Glover knows how to please a crowd. His animated antics and youthful vigor had the audience upbeat and active. "You all look so beautiful" Glover said, resulting in a few blushed faces in the front row, giddy from the frontman's compliment.
With Gambino's set coming to a close, there was only one band left to see, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Serving as this year's headlining and closing act, RHCP had been the topic of discussion throughout the entire festival. And now the moment many of us had been waiting for had finally arrived.
Kicking off their two-hour performance with "Dani California," the group could not be stopped. They still appear to have the energy of their '90s heyday. Throughout their set, they jumped, danced and ran across the stage like younger men.
The hits continued: "Otherside," "Suck My Kiss," "Tell Me Baby," "Under the Bridge," "By the Way" and "Give It Away." Although longtime RHCP guitarist John Frusciante is no longer with the band, new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer did a superb job in a formidable role.
Most of the time, Klinghoffer sat on a chair. But when the music began to hit him or animated bassist Flea started walking in his direction, the guitarist would immediately bounce right up and shred. Every time Klinghoffer stood up, the audience knew they were in for a treat.
Two hours later, the musical adventure had come to an end. As with any music festival, some acts are going to deliver, others are not. ACL proved once again why it is considered one of the nation's best music festivals.
"We hope you enjoyed your time at this year's ACL," a pre-programmed voice said as Sunday's crowd, part of an estimated three-day total of 225,000, left the festival grounds.
I sure did. I think most of them did, too.