One of the tricky things about doing your job full blast as another opportunity comes up is, well, concentrating. In the turn of events that have led to that new opportunity, I completely forgot to post the following review of the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival by our man in Austin, El Paso native and UT student Elijah Watson, who, by the way, is turning into a very good writer for one so young. File this under better late than never.
By Elijah Watson
Austin -- The Austin City Limits Music Festival, which expanded to two weekends this year, began its second weekend Oct. 11 with lines of people snaking to the festival's entrance, conversing about the heat, what bands they were excited to see and post-ACL plans.
What follows are recaps of the second weekend of shows at one of Texas' biggest music festivals.
Friday, Oct. 11
Best Overall Performance: Queens of the Stone Age
As the reunited California-based rock band went into a live rendition of "No One Knows," it began to rain. Had Queens of the Stone Age angered a dark Austin sky with their bluesy hard rock? It's unlikely. But the band continued on, their dissonant riffs and driving drums leading to flailing arms and banging heads within the crowd. Fifteen minutes later and the rain stopped: Queens of the Stone Age had "won." Their celebratory song? "A Song for the Dead." We celebrated with the group, pumping our fists in defiance at the sky. The rain did not return.
Best Main Headliner: Depeche Mode
Muse seems to headline ACL every other year so it only made sense to go see Depeche Mode. The plan was catch only part of the enduring English electronic band. It didn't work out that way. Their dark-tinged new wave classics served as the proper soundtrack for a breezy night. Of course, they did the hits: "Just Can't Get Enough" and "Personal Jesus," among others. But the entire set was enjoyable.
Best Performer Wearing Sandals: Kaskade
One of ACL's only EDM performers, Kaskade took the Honda stage looking like he had just left one of Austin's lakes. But his set was the opposite of laid-back: with luscious melodies and buildups centered around floor-shaking bass, Kaskade had fist-pumping enthusiasts punching a navy blue sky, jumping in unison to the DJ's music.
Best Band That Played Before 5: Jimmy Eat World
It was unspoken but assumed: we were all at the Samsung Galaxy stage to hear "The Middle." But Jimmy Eat World gave us much more than that, and we enjoyed every bit. From set opener "A Praise Chorus" to the powerful and charging "Pain," Jimmy Eat World proved that they were more than a song, and a band that still creates enjoyable music. And yes -- they ended with "The Middle."
Best Local Performance: Okkervil River
With their soulful, primitive-esque vocal harmonies and upbeat rhythms, Okkervil River's hour- long set was entertaining to both Austinites and non-Austinites alike. Having released seven albums, including this year's "The Silver Gymnasium," the folk rock group had a lot of material to choose from. Well, they must have chose right: the crowd seemed to enjoy every moment.
Best "Eh" Performance: Vampire Weekend
There was something off-putting about Vampire Weekend's set. Everything was there: the songs selected ranged from hits "A-Punk" and "Cousins" to deep cuts from the group's latest album, "Modern Vampires of the City." Maybe it was a lack of energy or the format of the setlist wasn't the best, but it became difficult to stay interested in the band's set. However, their stage was set up like a scene out of "Snow White," which was cool.
Best Band That Makes Music For The Apocalypse: Muse
Beginning their set with the Skrillex-inspired "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable," Muse was accompanied by several screens showing glitchy videos and "Matrix"-esque numerical patterns. The introduction was impressive and distressing: something one would expect to see in a Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich movie. Muse's music is practically theatrical. Frontman Matthew Bellamy's operatic-esque vocal delivery, along with the group's use of dynamics, contributes to this. If anything validates this belief remember that Muse's "Isolated System" and "Follow Me" were used in "World War Z," and "Take A Bow" in the "Watchmen" trailer.
Honorable Mention: Arctic Monkeys; Purity Ring; fun.
Due to flooding at Zilker Park, it was announced that the third and final day of ACL had been cancelled. But the second day ) was just as enjoyable as the first. Here's a recap.
Best Overall Performance: Haim
Made up of sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim, and drummer Dash Hutton, alternative rock band Haim had the most enjoyable set of the day. They're the girl power sister act we never knew we wanted: a group that blends the nostalgic, melodic-driven sound of Fleetwood Mac with the laid-back sensuality of '90s R&B. As the band went through songs "Don't Save Me," "The Wire" and "Let Me Go" at the Lady Bird stage, the crowd became more enthralled in Haim's set, jumping and dancing until the very end.
Best Main Headliner: The Cure
Sure, Robert Smith visually hasn't aged well. But fortunately the Cure's music has. Thanks in part to romantic comedies and covers of the Cure's music by popular bands (311 and "Lovesong" for example), young people and those that "grew up" with the English rock band, were both present at the band's headlining set. Although the entire performance was enjoyable, there was a standout moment when, underneath orange and purple lights, the band went into "Close to Me." Couples embraced one another and danced, while Smith couldn't help but smile as he sang the almost 30- year-old song.
Saddest Moment: Seeing A Child Play A Video Game During The Cure's Performance
What more needs to be said?
Best Band That Played Before 5: Valerie June
What's immediately noticeable about singer-songwriter Valerie June is her hair. It's Medusa-like, with tangles of long and vibrant dreadlocks hanging over her shoulders. But it's her music that is the seductive part. Experimenting in everything from doo-wop and blues to soul and gospel, June, accompanied by a group of female performers, had the crowd at the BMI stage entertained.
Best Performer Accompanied By A Sign Language Interpreter: Kendrick Lamar
As ACL's only rap performer (and a commercially successful one at that) it was inevitable that California's Kendrick Lamar would have a large crowd. Accompanied by a live band the rapper went through extended versions of songs from his debut album, "Good Kid, M.A.A.D City," and had fans jumping and screaming all in the name of turning up. But it would be Amber Galloway Gallego, a sign language instructor and interpreter, that nearly stole Lamar's own show. Enthusiastic and an absolute pleasure to watch, it was incredible seeing Gallego interpret lines such as, "So I can f**k the world for 72 hours" and "B**ch don't kill my vibe" to those deaf in the crowd.
Best Performance That Doubled As A Lenghty Music Video: Kings Of Leon
Every main headliner at both the Samsung Galaxy and Lady Bird stages were subjected to their sets being morphed into lengthy music videos via two large screens (one one the left and one on the right) connected to stages. In a world where EDM festivals have pre-programmed light shows and synchronized videos and images, it makes sense that ACL has adopted something similar: it's cool and it's entertaining for those who are nowhere near the stage. Along with having a good set full of their hits and lesser known songs, Kings Of Leon's performance would often blend with varying effects and visuals, distorting some of the member's faces and giving them a monochrome appearance.
Honorable Mention: Passion Pit and Wilco.
With the third and final day of ACL cancelled, it seemed as if music fans wouldn't be able to get the fix they desired before returning to normal life. But due to the quick response of music venues and event coordinators, shows began to pop up throughout Sunday, turning the day into something of a diet version of South By Southwest. From Franz Ferdinand and Divine Fits to Noah and the Whale and Atoms For Peace, multiple free or cheaply priced shows sprang up in downtown Austin.
I only managed to catch two shows, which were polar opposites of each other: Steve Aoki at the Austin Music Hall and Atoms For Peace at the Moody Theatre.
The former, which also included performances by fellow DJs Borgore and Deorro, and rapper Waka Flocka Flame, was the epitome of excess. It was Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers" packed into one event: a combination of dubstep's robotic screeches, trap's gunshots and air horns, and teenagers wearing their Halloween costumes several weeks in advance.
By the time I arrived at the venue, a shirtless Waka Flocka Flame was halfway through his set. The Atlanta-based rapper, known for hits "Hard in da Paint" and "No Hands," was in the crowd, simultaneously taking pictures with fans while performing his song "Rooster In My Rari."
A Waka performance is both exciting and unpredictable, characteristics that allow the rapper to get away with saying he created "punk rap." And it's hard to argue such a notion, especially when he's in your face and yelling his lyrics, his shoulder-length dreadlocks whipping you into submission.
As the rapper returned to the stage, he was handed a bottle of liquor, which he immediately opened and passed into the crowd. Something must have occurred with one of the security guards because the music stopped soon after, with Waka asking the guard why he took the bottle away.
Then, in absolute Waka fashion, the rapper requested the guard to take a shot. "If you want this security guard to take a shot, yell 'shot,'" Waka requested. I'm not sure if the security guard actually took the shot, but this just goes to show that there is nothing quite like a Waka Flocka Flame show.
Ending his set with "Hard in da Paint," Waka requested that everyone take off their shirt and most of us obliged. The crowd yelled and recited the song's chorus, head-banging along with Waka, his DJ and drummer. (Yes, Waka has a drummer.)
Next was Borgore, an Israeli death metal drummer turned DJ and producer who also performed at this year's Sun City Music Festival. Considering that Borgore is popularly known for his song "Nympho," it makes sense that the performer was accompanied by two dancers dancing on stripper poles.
Although the two kept their twerking talents to a minimum they did do a lot of climbing and hanging on the poles, testing their upper body strength in a way that was nothing short of impressive. They honestly made Borgore's show, their sensual, non-body flailing dance moves (which is common in contemporary EDM shows) a juxtaposition to the DJ's crass and abrasive music.
An Aoki performance is everything you never knew you wanted in a live performance. Cake is thrown into the crowd as well rafters, which fans are encouraged to jump onto. But there was an addition to Aoki's set that left most of the crowd stunned and impressed: two sets of four vertical cubes that sprang to life and took the form of giant robots. There was a brief moment where part of the crowd didn't even move, their eyes glued to the "Transformers"-esque machines onstage.
If Aoki didn't have our attention then, he surely had it shortly after as the letters of his last name (connected to the stage's ceiling) lit up, shining across the entire crowd. It was sensory overload, the setup simultaneously intricate and overwhelming.
Having seen into the future of live performances I made my way to the Moody Theatre to catch the rest of Atoms For Peace's performance. Considering that the band features Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, I was surprised and relieved to learn that the show hadn't sold out.
For $10 Atoms For Peace seemed like a steal, and after seeing them perform it truly was. I made it in just time to see the group finish two songs from their regular set, and two encores. The chemistry between the members was an enjoyable sight. There were moments where Flea would walk over to guitarist Nigel Godrich, Radiohead's longtime producer, for a guitar duel. At other times, Yorke and Flea got into synchronized dance moves.
They treated the remaining moments of their set like a dance party, their experimental sound in the vein of Radiohead, but with a present and driving groove. "Thank you for turning up with us," Yorke said before the band finished their second and final encore. Underneath crimson lights, we danced until the final notes were struck, the house lights revealing a crowd of happy and exhausted faces.
Something beautiful came through ACL's misfortune. Seeing shows turn from a Twitter idea to a reality was incredible, and seeing fans respond in such an enthusiastic manner only made it better. It just goes to show that, to quote a Waka Flocka Flame song, "it's a party" whenever you're in Austin, regardless of the weather.