Imaginary road trip: Austin City Limits journal, part III

Show Date: October 4, 2009

{Make sure to check out part I and part II of our imaginary look back at Austin City Limits!}

By the end of a multi-day music event, things are always kind of ‘old hat’ for me. There’s been countless laps around the area to find good parking spots, extensive navigation of the stages and amenities, and a kind of flow that comes from getting the lay of the proverbial land. Sunday was that day at Zilker Park, as we made our way through the mud-soaked fields in the blazing sunshine, ready for the last round of mindbending performances.

Day 3: Are we there yet? Hang on, I just lost my shoes again.

The plan: Massive amounts of coffee. Some kind of concert paraphernelia to take home. Vince Mira, David Garza, Rodriguez, the B-52s, Heartless Bastards, Arctic Monkeys, Dirty Projectors, The Dead Weather, Girl Talk, and Pearl Jam.

The reality: Massive amounts of coffee. Slim pickings on the t-shirts. Mud, mud, and more mud; coupled with skyrocketing temperatures and the smell of manure-laced sod. Waking up with Vince Mira, realizing the B-52s still have it, hearting Heartless Bastards, and more Girl Talk insanity than one could possibly begin to explain. And Eddie Vedder, rolling around in the mud.

Day three at ACL held just the same amount of promise and packed-scheduling as the others, but wound up holding the least amount of actual stage time on the punchcard. While we had a much easier time getting around the park than on days previous, and could now navigate how early you had to get to a particular performance to be close to the front, and where the good bathrooms were, and so forth — the ability to put all of this festival expertise to use was stunted by the sprawling, endless mud. Moreso than even the day before. It was completely unavoidable, to the point of people just setting up their chairs and picnics right in the middle of it. So we fared forth, filthy from the start, resigned to bare feet and an eventual acceptance of the physical and olfactory fertilizer element we had come to terms with the day prior.

Starting of the day with a twang was one of our own local all-stars, Vince Mira. Even though he was toting a different backing band than he’s usually seen with around town, he still delivered the one-two punch of country Cash-y goodness that drew the crowds over in drothes. The set, as per usual, was flawless and well-executed with a sound system to match — we eased into the heat with his strums and train-track elements ringing fresh in our ears, and left full-hearted to seek out David Garza’s set immediately following.

Now, I’m a big believer in the whole “if you don’t have something nice to day, don’t say anything at all” angle when it comes to writing publicly about shows. To that end — and unfortunate as it is — there really isn’t much I can bring up about David Garza’s set. The second half of his performance was getting into gear a few stages across the way from Vince Mira’s, and as we walked up, I almost thought we were coming up on the wrong stage, or that there had been some kind of unannounced subsitution. It was not the David Garza I had remembered from prior performances and endless repeat spins of This Euphoria, practically until the cd started to skip. It was kind of strange, and perhaps not best suited for an outdoor festival crowd, even though technically speaking the performance sounded fine. Watching the last portion of his set, there was almost this major overcompensation element, with a too-zealous keyboard / multi-instrumentalist coupled with David seeming like someone had stepped in to serve as an exaggerated, blown-out speaker version of himself. It was definitely one of my anticipated highlights coming into the weekend, so needless to say I was a little bummed out — but rather than disturb those finely-ingrained memories of the David Garza I know and love, I decided to shelf the performance and go try my luck at one of the larger stages. Namely, to go see the B-52s.

I know, I know — the B-52s are so last decade — but I’ve got to emphatically state for all the people as skeptical as I was: without a doubt, this band still has it. In a huge way. So much so that if you squinted at the projection screens, rendering yourself unable to see how time had (very graciously) affected their physical faces — you’d swear we were in the peak of the “Love Shack” / “Roam” phase. Both hits killed the crowd, as did a ton of other classic tracks like “Sex in the Strobelight,” although a few of the latest songs (penned presumably for a recent release) left a bit to be desired. And the vocals — seriously. The vocals still took the prize, with that after-punk girl-band harmonic signature sound that pulled the crowd into a sing-a-long, bop-a-long, “tiiiiiiiiiiin roof!”-a-long vibe that took over the early afternoon.

Full of mod hair-dos and skewed checkery tripped-out visuals, the forge back across the mudfield put within a decent view from stage left for Heartless Bastards. As previously stated, many times over now: there’s much to heart about Heartless Bastards. The well-translated, earnest, we’re-really-behind-everything-we-do-up-here kind of performance that they belted out at the Paramount didn’t lose a single ounce of steam as it was re-rendered for this swell of outdoor crowd, who were now at the point of muddy, sunshine-induced bliss. Gorgeous, semi-throaty, all-spellbinding lead female vocals fused seamlessly with the rock-roll of the rest of the band, taking us through their allotted forty-five minutes in a haze of their brand of amazingness. A little slice of Dirty Projectors drive-by and some crowd-pleasing (albeit a bit overhyped) The Dead Weather later, it was finally time for Girl Talk.

Holy shit. I almost don’t have the proper adjectives for it, nor did I have pen handy to transcribe the total, unadulterated awesome that was the Girl Talk set. After walking out and around the venue to come in a side entrance of the park, we found ourselves smack in the middle of a full-throttle dance party in an expansive mud pit. There was dancing, and cheering, and a stage full of people, and crazy messages on the projector screen like “TAKE OFF YOUR BRA” and “GIVE UP A DOLLAR IF YOU LOVE GIRL TALK” and so on. This mix-up mash-up not-a-DJ experience was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and definitely has lodged permanently on my list of not-to-miss-next-time performances when they come through town. I mean, really — who has the balls to slice Nirvana up against M.I.A. and then push it into some straight-up Biggie layered with The Cranberries? On top of having the balls to do it, to even have the foresight to conceive of the concept of such pairings and segues — it’s just pure genius. I threw my clothes in the mud and freaked out in a bikini, not caring what I looked like, or how I smelled, or what the fallout would be trying to get dressed (and ride home in a clean car) an hour or so later. The performance was tantric, and explosive, and ended like someone had pulled the plug on the greatest party that ever was — I’m not quite sure if I could ever get enough of what they dish out.

Thoroughly geeked on Girl Talk, dirtier than I ever knew I’d be for an extended period of time with thousands of people, and with miles of travel on my now-caked flip-flops, the scene shifted 180 back on the other side of the park for Pearl Jam’s close-out set. As a Seattleite, I couldn’t have asked for a better wrap-up than to get a long, gorgeous set from one of my favorite hometown bands — song after song, old and new, poured out over the massive throngs of spectators as we took it all in over the course of the performance. It was one of those moments, under the stars, cooled off from a hot day, strains of guitar floating off into the stratosphere — we all just realized how lucky we were to be continually exposed to such amazing music, both at the festival and with our friends both back home and in places like Austin and Chicago and New York when we fared out for trips like this. Blissfully nightcapped by Eddie Vedder, we took the last trip out of the park (until next year, of course) and bid adieu for the last time to ACL.

Huge thanks to everyone who made this trip possible — and we’ll see you out in Zilker Park next year!