Austin City Limits Festival 16th to 18th September 2011 : My Top 10 shows

A dream come true for your host. Austin City Limits is a festival that had been created ten years go in 2001 and whose line-up has been one of the best for a few years. It takes place every year at the end of the summer (well, winter lasts for one month in South Texas…) in Zilker Park very near downtown and has many qualities on top of its line-up : cooler audience in the world, between 30 and 35 degrees C° every day, the pleasure in attending shows bare-feet in the grass, a Waterloo Records temporary store, ecology-friendly (I did not see one soda bottle or a beer glass on the ground for three days…) and even ladies speaking the language of signs in front of the stage during a few shows for those who needed it. I saw 24 shows during this three-day marathon and you will find below my subjective Top 10. But here are first a few pictures of the festival to get in the mood, including all shows I saw but not in my Top 10 (although a few of them were great such as The Antlers, Charles Bradley, Gomez or Phosphorescent for instance). Oh, and Christian Bale was there too…

ACL 2011 - Entrance Day

#10 – Joseph Arthur : a long time since I did not see Joseph Arthur live. He had been “discovered” by Peter Gabriel at the end of the 90’s but always managed his career the way he wanted, making it a bit difficult to follow among his many projects. He played ACL on the way he does it best, i.e. alone with his acoustic guitar and a foot-sampler to get rhythm and loops and allowing the audience to hear his beautiful texts and melodies. And as he is a very talented painter too, he did a few of them while singing. Classy guy…

#9 – The Walkmen : Americana meeting Joy Division is the way I described this band to my mate before the show and I must say this is a quite good shortcut. The guys woke up at 4 a.m. as they were coming directly from another long distance US State whose name I forgot but still succeeded in opening greatly the Saturday session on the AMD stage. Excellent noirish but also entertaining band ; I was particularly impressed by the way their singer Hamilton Leithauser kept his suit during the show when temperature was around 40°C…

#8 – Twin Shadow : this band is the project of  George Lewis, Jr. (American guy born in Dominican Republic) and his music is a bit difficult to describe. Let’s just say he is friends with the band Grizzly Bear and that his music is a mix of 80’s British synth-influenced pop with a sonic and groovy edge. Anyway, the concert was really excellent and I strongly recommend his debut LP “Forget”to anyone. Please click on this link to see a nice HD movie of Twin Shadow playing in the studio.

#7 – Wild Beasts : coming from the U.K. and in continuous improvement since their first LP, Wild Beasts can be considered as sorts of cousins of the legendary band The Smiths such delicate and intelligent their music is. Add to this a groovy rhythmic section and two fantastic singers for the price of one with by Hayden Thorpe and Ben Little and you have one of the great bands of our times. That was our first opening show on Friday 1 p.m. and what a great band to start with!

#6 – TV On The Radio: ok, another TV On The Radio show for me and I could have chosen another band for this Top 10…but no. As great as always and even more than last time for me probably due to more weeks to get familiar with their last LP. A great audience atmosphere as well and realizing in the middle of the show the pleasure in seeing them in Austin…I had to leave before the end to get a decent view for Stevie’s show but no hard feelings guys…

#5 – Kurt Vile And The Violators : Kurt Vile is the new guy on whom we should bet in the years to come. 2011 has been a very prolific year with his new LP “Smoke Ring For My Halo” and him being more than a guest on albums from Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.). To describe his music in short, I would say this is not dissimilar from the style heard on acoustic songs from Nirvana’s Unplugged. Great melodies and crafted work but with a tension that can explode at every second. One of the best shows of the festival on the very nice Austin Ventures stage. And fine Orangina tee-shirt, Kurt!

#4 – Stevie Wonder : What a pride and joy to see Stevie Wonder perform with such a punch. You could feel in the audience that everyone was overwhelmed to see in form the great soul artist. He had lost weight vs. last time I saw him in Paris and as schedule was quite tight he did not do his usual 10-minute speech about love and all (only 5-minute ones…). Anyway, great covers from Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson (“The way you make me feel“) plus a huge part of his classics and in particular songs from his two master LP’s “Innervisions” and “Songs In The Key of Life” that everyone should own by law. Keep playing in such a way please great man…

#3 – Kanye West : Our 2010 record of the year artist was playing his last show in this formula. And what an ambitious show that was : arrival in a platform in the middle of the crowd (and very close to where we were standing!), around thirty classic dancers, a glorious stage wallpaper, lights everywhere and so on. But of course that would be nothing if the songs were crap which as you know is completely the opposite. Kanye is such a media personality today that this is difficult to judge and even so what would be the consequences for a multi-millionaire businessman? Well, I personally found a guy in love with music, with an amazing voice (something I had not realized before) and so happy to be on stage that everyone could feel as if they were very close to the stage. And always a nice feeling to see one of the greats on the peak of their forms. “Can we get much higher“? This will be tough after such a performance…

#2 – Arcade Fire : 8.30 pm. All stages are now over with bands and artists and last show of this 3-day festival starts on the Bud Light stage. What better and enthusiastic band to close a festival with than Arcade Fire? None today I guess… One of the most joyful shows I have ever attended and I am not sure I can find the words to describe the state of the crowd as well! Have a look at the set list and at the latest Zenith show as well but please go to see Arcade Fire next time you are in a position to do so and you will be rewarded.

#1 – Iron & Wine : Best show of the festival as far as I am concerned although that was the only one entirely under the rain (rain in Texan summer being something that wets and refreshes a bit your body and that is welcomed by local people!). As a reminder, Iron & Wine is the project name for Sam Beam and can be simply described as the most beautiful and subtile music that you will ever hear (no, really…). Sam being from Austin and proud father of five girls, seeing two of them dancing and applauding Dad backstage was a pleasure. For more on Iron & Wine, please have a look at his recent 4AD sessions and his interview/studio live songs on Sound Opinions (show #302).

So here you are, amazing festival full of authentic emotions and friendship ; basically what one is looking for in this 21st century life… ACL, see you probably in 2013!

12 thoughts on “Austin City Limits Festival 16th to 18th September 2011 : My Top 10 shows

  1. Definitely agree with your top 2, buddy!
    Stevie as # 3 maybe (1rst time I saw him, a bit symbolic), and “Cool” Kurt Vile as # 4. Phosphorescent would have made my top 10, I keep listening to their LP since we got back from ACL.
    Great festival, great atmosphere, huge brunches: definitely in for a come back with you Steph’. But, hey, let’s get different bikes next time: my knees still remember this last one!

    Cheers,

    JAV

  2. […] Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions is my favourite album ever so it might sound weird to find its creator “only” at rank number 4… I guess I wrote everything I wanted to share regarding the early 70′s for Stevie and his tremendous range of five fantastic albums in a row (please click on link above). The sounds, the melodies, the creativity, the voice, the themes,….everything good in life can be found in these albums. The man is still on top on stage as was for instance his amazing performance at Austin City Limits Festival in 2011. […]

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