Concert Review: Austin City Limits Festival in Austin, TX (Day 2)
The second day (10/13) of the 11th annual Austin City Limits Festival brought worthwhile performances from The Whigs, Rufus Wainwright, The Roots, Bassnectar, Jack White and Neil Young and Crazy Horse, as well as a mid-afternoon downpour that cooled the capacity crowd.
Athens-based garage rockers The Whigs pulled together a tight, electrifying set Saturday afternoon that drew thousands. The hard-rocking trio showcased work from all four studio sets, including their 2002 debut, "Give 'Em All a Big Fat Lip" and the most recent, last month's "Enjoy the Company." The fuzz-filled bass and driving drums of songs like "Hundred/Million," "Production City" and "Like A Vibration" turned the afternoon audience into a one pulsating mass.
On the other side of the grounds, Rufus Wainwright crooned to a full house from his Steinway in a bold-striped satin suit. The lush singer/songwriter performed a selection of tunes for a chill audience, including a Judy Garland cover, as well as one of his father's (Loudon Wainwright) songs. In the latter half of his set, Wainwright had a quick political dialog, saying he had boiled the impending presidential election down to one issue: women's rights. "So vote for Obama," the musician stated, after which the female-heavy throng went wild as the opening bars of "Going To A Town" rolled over the crowd. Wainwright introduced Austin to his April release, "Out of the Game," with tracks such as "Montauk," a willowy, deeply personal song he introduced as penned for his daughter, Viva.
Around 5 p.m., the threat of rain became real for the tens of thousands in attendance, as the skies opened up and unleashed a round of fat drops that caught many by surprise. Despite the hour-long soaking, the shows continued as scheduled, with most festivalgoers accepting the refreshing moisture, despite the newly-formed mud puddles.
Electronic superstar Bassnectar and Americana singer/songwriter Steve Earle went head to head in one of the worst cases of sound bleed at this year's festival. Though the vast majority of ACL attendees were packed like sardines before the Honda stage for Bassnectar's remix-filled set, a still-impressive crowd developed before the smaller Austin Ventures stage for the hour-long Earle performance. Unfortunately, Bassnectar's namesake bass added an unnecessary undercurrent to Earle's otherwise well-done set, which also featured husband-and-wife team The Mastersons on guitar and strings. As expected in a showdown of this size, the bold trumped the delicate.
The biggest opposition, however, came at night's end, when modern-day guitar hero Jack White faced Neil Young and Crazy Horse for a battle of the closing shows. The opposing crowds couldn't have been more different, with Young's classic approach separating the men from the boys. The under-30 set filled the field before the AMD stage, jumping through White's performance of well-known hits like "Steady As She Goes" and talking to neighbors during the slower numbers, of which there were many. Backed by an all-female band dubbed The Peacocks, White was for some reason just shy of commanding the stage. With a 90-minute set scheduled, White bowed out 75 minutes in, finishing the night with the sincere statement, "God bless Neil Young."
In the meantime, Young and his trio of established musicians were beyond comfortable on the massive Bud Light stage. Casually dressed in a T-shirt and jeans and donning a Willie Nelson ball cap, Young and crew put their heads together, bent over their instruments and began the mesmerizing show with an approximately 10-minute jam intro for "Love and Only Love." The iconic rock-and-rollers careened through a set of 12 songs, including "Powderfinger," "Cinnamon Girl" and an acoustic version of "The Needle And The Damage Done." "Down By The River" riled up the crowd, but not as much as the set's closing tune: "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)." Wannabe guitar virtuosos watched slack-jawed or smiling through the final notes of the night, singing along -- "Hey hey my my/Rock roll can never die." Perfect last words for a memorable ACL Festival performance.