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Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

Festival Review

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    It’s easy to criticize Austin City Limits for losing its identity. At face value, the festival isn’t nearly what it used to be, and this year appeared to be the death knell for greying veterans hoping the name might revisit its rustic Texas roots. However, that dream disintegrated into a pile of neon ash on Saturday night the minute The Avett Brothers set down their instruments at 7:30 p.m., leaving the night solely to headliners Eminem and Skrillex.

    Walking out during Slim Shady’s phoned-in set was actually a little haunting: the BMI stage hid from the moonlight in the shadows of its accompanying trees, the Miller Lite stage loomed in the distance as a hollow vacuum, and the Austin Ventures stage appeared to be turning its shoulder to everyone else. Few had the courage to walk near the Sculptures tent. Too many just wanted to leave; others simply wanted to escape.

    atmosphere randy cremean 00 Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

    Photo by Randy Cremean

    That C3 Presents… opted for more EDM isn’t a surprise. Skrillex, Calvin Harris, Major Lazer, and The Glitch Mob are all guarantees in drawing crowds, a not-so-secret method the company’s learned over the years with Chicago’s music festival metropolis, Lollapalooza. The problem is that EDM doesn’t factor into the vision of the Austin festival at all. For instance, which season of Austin City Limits do you think Calvin Harris will perform on?

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    Of course, the PBS program itself has certainly outgrown its own restrictions over the years. What used to celebrate solely the music of Texas has since expanded into the likes of alternative, jazz, and hard rock. However, the likes of electronic and even hip-hop have yet to truly cross over in that medium. That’s not to say the festival needs to follow its counterpart, but a little time would suffice. After all, it’s still part of the same brand.

    kaplan cos acl friday1 misc 4 Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Outside of those grievances, the 2014 installment of Austin City Limits turned out swell. The Southern weather held up its end of the bargain, even if it did get a little toasty, and the drama was kept to a minimum. A few acts canceled last minute, and the run-off between the Honda and Miller Lite stages proved rather grating, but everyone was mostly smiling and enjoying themselves. As Eddie Vedder said of the positive feels: “Really, when everyone walked in, security could have gone home.”

    Naturally, a number of the festival’s blue-chip names offered up shiny memories for festivalgoers. Sam Smith unlocked In the Lonely Hour again, OutKast brought the hits again, Jenny Lewis became The Voyager again, and St. Vincent did her whole excellent stage show again. That’s not what we were interested in over the weekend. Instead, we sought out the uniques and many differences that gave this year’s festival its true identity.

    kaplan cos acl friday1 misc 13 Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

    Photo by Heather Kaplan

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    What we learned was simple: Austin City Limits might have changed face, but its soul still remains. Whereas Lollapalooza has lost its edge to Pitchfork Music Festival over the years, ACL still reigns supreme in the hopeful eyes of any rootsy singer-songwriter. That idea is crucial and something, I hope, this festival never suffocates. Yee-haw.

    –Michael Roffman
    Editor-in-Chief

    Essential ACL Act

    Benjamin Booker

    kaplan cos acl saturday1 benjamin booker 6 Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Benjamin Booker was born to be a mainstay of Austin City Limits. While Americana garage punk works just fine in describing his sound, Wikipedia labels this New Orleans export as the following: “rock, blues, boogie, and soul.” He’s certainly all four, but that would dismiss how loud and reckless he can be on stage and why he might cite The Gun Club as an influence and why he was able to wake everyone up within a thousand feet of the Austin Ventures stage. Early Saturday morning, his banshee screams, echoing Dylan Baldi at times, tussled through his recent self-titled debut, while his fingers wrangled his six-string guitar. Punchy rock ‘n’ roll runners like “Wicked Waters” and “Violent Shiver” were major highlights for a day filled with ill-placed headliners and excessive EDM. “This is our last song,” Booker said in his startling baby voice, eliciting a wave of boos. “We’ll do other songs another time?” Not a question, a statement, and a true one at that. –Michael Roffman

    Most Effortless Swagger

    Temples

    dh aclfestival temples 7879 Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    These British psych-rock breakouts weren’t always so brazenly badass. During their last visit to the Live Music Capital of the World, back in May at Austin Psych Fest, the quartet sounded spellbindingly intense; I’d intended to catch a snippet and see another band, but I couldn’t walk away from the flawlessly executed compositions. So I was dead set on settling in for the entirety of Temples’ return on Friday at ACL, which delivered a similar sort of sonic splendor borne of wonderfully serene vocal harmonies, soaring psychedelic keyboards, groovy beats, and crushing riffs that evoked a sort of tripped-out mind-march through a heavily distorted Magical Mystery Tour.

    Yet this time, there was extra oomph in the performance itself. Their postures were notably bolder, an aspect bolstered by brave forays into non-album songs (not on February’s full-length debut Sun Structures) like the Middle Eastern-esque “Prisms” and the more whimsical “Ankh” (I swear the key line is lifted from The Goonies). The confidence boost was most noticeable in the attitude of bushy-haired frontman James Edward Bagshaw, who whipped his mane as he launched each hearty riff with the haughty abandon of a musician destined for greatness. –David Brendan Hall

    Greatest Walk-on Music

    Rey Pila

    rey pila randy cremean 00 Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

    Photo by Randy Cremean

    All of a sudden, at exactly half past two, Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” coated Zilker Park in its glorious ’80s decadence, a siren to everyone who wasn’t at the cozy BMI stage. Truth be told, it worked. Dozens of curious passersby stalked the area, and many remained when Mexico City’s Rey Pila shuffled on out to dig even deeper into the ’80s. Currently signed to Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records, the band fits right in with their scrappy look of old-school tees, leather jackets, floral button ups, and trucker hats. In fact, they might be the label’s true secret weapon, a goldmine of hits waiting to be obsessed upon, thanks to some creative guitar work and a vocalist who sounds like XTC’s Andy Partridge. For an hour, the boys made excellent use of the small stage, especially frontman Diego Solórzano, who couldn’t stop visiting his handful of adoring fans below. It’s just a shame they couldn’t bookend the set with their cover of “Lady in Red”, but “Alexander” and “No Longer Fun” more than sufficed. To their credit, the festival booked them again the following day to fill in for Bernhoft, and they drew in another sizable crowd. How about them apples? –Michael Roffman

    Most Likely To Make A Kings of Leon-esque Run

    Zoe

    Austin City Limits Music Festival 2014

    Photo by Chris Coplan

    Over the last 15 years, Zoé has carved out a sizable niche for themselves. With a blend of electronically tinged, vaguely psychedelic rock, they’ve won Grammys and nabbed a status similar to that of a U2 or Oasis of Latin America. If you ask me, though, they’re more like that region’s Kings of Leon. Whether you take that as an insult or a celebration, there are a few undeniable comparisons between either act. Both brandish a style of indie rock that’s rousing enough to get the bros dancing and just mellow and deep enough to entertain the stoners. They’re technically proficient, with a really great mix of folk elements and electronic undertones, and they’re attractive and cool enough to be idolized to a healthy degree. They haven’t broken into the Stateside yet, but they should, as they offer an interesting and playful take on American rock. Plus, I totally waited behind the singer in a drink line, and the man has some sweet moves with the ladies. –Chris Coplan

    Best Generational Unifier

    Jimmy Cliff

    Jimmy Cliff

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Plenty of people are familiar with classic tunes like “Rivers of Babylon” and “You Can Get It If You Really Want”, but certain younger generations (who may lack the motivation to simply Google a song’s true origin) probably think that Sublime wrote the former and likely have little idea about the latter given how many times it’s been covered. That said, even if fans didn’t realize before Jimmy Cliff’s Friday afternoon set that these songs were most famously recorded by the Jamaican native and his peers, it mattered very little in this moment. Old hippies, young stoners, and families with small children stood side by side and sang wholeheartedly when he opened with a medley of “Bongo Man” and “Rivers of Babylon”, chants were heard from all corners of the crowd for “Rebel, Rebel”, and the set-closing “You Can Get it If You Really Want” culminated into one of those all-in dance parties that defied the burden of the relentlessly beating sun. –David Brendan Hall

    Most Epic Opening Number

    My Brightest Diamond

    kaplan cos acl saturday1 my brightest diamond 5 Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Here’s one way to get everyone to recognize your new single: To kick off her Saturday afternoon set, singer-songwriter Shara Worden invited a full marching band to perform “Pressure” amongst the crowd at the Sculpture tent, eventually coming to an epic finish on stage alongside the bandleader and mastermind behind My Brightest Diamond. It was powerful, loud, and very different. Shortly after, they left Worden to her two bandmates and her own vices of which there are many. Similar to her Sufjan Stevens’ bandmate St. Vincent, who performed the prior evening, Worden knows her way around a multitude of instruments. Her true talent, though, remains her ethereal vocals, which turned new tracks “I Am Not the Bad Guy” and “Before the Words” into vivid counterparts of their studio originals and added a level of intimacy that couldn’t be broken. “This song’s called ‘I Have Never Loved Someone’,” she explained, “which is crazy to play in this loud place, but… yeaaah, punk rock.” Also just excellent range. –Michael Roffman

    Sweet Jacket, Dude

    Jamestown Revival

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    Photo by Michael’s Shitty iPhone

    Sunday was hot. Sweltering even. And somehow Jamestown Revival’s keyboardist and vocalist Zach Chance kept on his super sweet jacket. “I’m havin’ a sweat bath over here,” he admitted, looking out at the Sculpture stage crowd, “but fashion prevails.” He had every reason to keep it on; not even Jenny Lewis’ rainbow-smeared suit could rival Chance’s threads. Crazy, multi-colored designs made his demeanor inordinately festive, and he was easily the stage’s area of emphasis. As for the show itself, the Austin locals tickled the folksy bones of every ACL veteran by being humble and precise and vivid. During their performance of this year’s track, “Headhunters”, Chance and his partner-in-crime Jonathan Clay flaunted their vocal harmonies, blowing the pants off too many ladies and gentlemen. Clay confessed: “We’ve watched several shows here at this festival and to play is an honor and a privilege.” And likely one they’ll experience again in years to come — talent prevails. –Michael Roffman

    Most Sincere Facsimile of a Real Pop Diva

    Lana Del Rey

    kaplan cos acl saturday1 lana del rey 6 Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Here’s something I wasn’t sure of until this weekend: Lana Del Rey is an actual person. Like, she lives and breathes and walks and isn’t Simone from that mostly forgotten Al Pacino film. You’ll have to excuse my ignorance, though: Every other time I’ve seen her in the last three years or so, she’s been so cold and frigid I just assumed she was a hologram of a pop star invented by IBM. But here, in the sunset of the Samsung Galaxy stage, I finally saw her as a human being — one of warmth and grace and a particular sense of emotionality.

    On Saturday evening, she swayed and danced and crooned like a real girl, adding that much needed sense of context and nuance to make lines like “My pussy tastes like Pepsi cola” more playful pop surrealism and not hot garbage meant to provoke. If she had performed tracks like “Video Games” and “National Anthem” with this much je ne sais quoi, her appearance on SNL wouldn’t have been a mitigated disaster.

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Of course, that’s not to say she’s transcended into pop diva fully. There were plenty of awkward silences and weird, momentum-smashing smoke breaks to prove she still has some mastering to do. But she’s come so far in such a short time that I’m ready to say she’s on her way to becoming a pop starlet in her own right. I wonder if this is how Gepetto felt? –Chris Coplan

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    Best Local Tribute

    Trombone Shorty

    Trombone Shorty

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Given that Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World and also known for wide-ranging leisure and food options, it was a surefire deal that New Orleans’ Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews would win over a good handful of ACL’s festivalgoers looking to satiate their thirst for some Big Easy flavors on a Saturday afternoon. Still, few probably guessed just how craftily the 28-year-old brass singer would lasso his local listeners. After a firecracker of an instrumental intro, Andrews invited the University of Texas mascot, Bevo, and several members of the marching band to assist him in playing the school’s rousing fight song. He went on to draw in plenty more passersby with cookin’, soul-filled cuts (the man’s a champ at singing, too) like “Slippery Lips”, “Shortyville”, and “Fire and Brimstone”, but it was the perfect timing of that initial tribute – just before kickoff against the Baylor Bears a few miles away at Memorial Stadium – that sealed the deal for this to become one of the most galvanizing among the early afternoon fare. Pure genius, fantastically fun. –David Brendan Hall

    Bargain Festival Openers

    The Preatures

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Technically, there were about 10 other acts that played before The Preatures ever even hit the stage, including legends Asleep at the Wheel and a Stuart Murdoch-led Barton Hills Choir, but for me, the festival began with this Australian outfit. Their debut album, Blue Planet Eyes, was produced by Spoon’s Jim Eno, who spent enough time with them in Austin that they now consider it a hometown. “Yeah, he’s a bit of a dude,” frontwoman Isabella Manfredi admitted to the evolving crowd. Amidst could-be hits like “Somebody’s Talking”, “Whatever You Want”, “Cruel”, and “Is This How You Feel?”, Manfredi dazzled with cartwheels and dance moves straight out of Footloose or Flashdance. The music wouldn’t be out of place, either. It’s similar to CHVRCHES’ brand of new wave, only with a slight ’90s squeeze a la Sophie B. Hawkins or a country pop vibe via Shania Twain. While the songs aren’t as epic as Lauren Mayberry’s outfit, at least not yet, The Preatures are certainly more fun to watch. “Are you ready to dance badly,” Manfredi asked by set’s end, adding: “The worst dancer gets a lil snog, a kiss.” Needless to say, both genders were willing to oblige. –Michael Roffman

    Best Band To Keep It Cool Under Oppressive Weather

    Interpol

    interpol bells randy cremean 02 Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

    Photo by Randy Cremean

    Here’s a little known fact to those visiting Austin, or really anywhere in the Southwest: In October, it’s often incredibly hot and humid and effectively the worst weather to rock three-piece suits of the all black variety. That didn’t deter Interpol, who strode onto the Honda stage rocking their finest funeral ware. Not even the heat and throngs of nostalgic fans could get them sweating beyond a mild perspiration. Which is especially surprising given their performance, an enthusiastic and passionate blend of carefully curated hits — with an emphasis on Antics — and excellent post-punk rock from their latest, El Pintor.

    Are Interpol robots? Are they lacking the genes necessary for sweat? No, they’re cool and grace personified. With a gaze fixed firmly on their own material, the New York rockers are too interested in their own music for any outside circumstances. It’s a little bewildering at first, but winds up consuming you, which is a welcome distraction from your own face melting in the sun. Bottom line: Interpol exist on their own plane, where the only weather are the storms of slick, dissonant guitars, and Paul Banks’ moody poetry. Next time, I’ll be sure to bring a hoodie. –Chris Coplan

    “Hey, Give It Up For These Guys!” Set

    Blank Range

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    Photo by Randy Cremean

    Looking for another scrappy band? Consider Blank Range. These days, this rock ‘n’ roll quintet rents out of Nashville, but their hometown DNA can be traced back to Northern Illinois and St. Louis. No idea how they captured the whole Mitch Ryder vibe, but their soulful Detroit scruff is uncanny, adding a little more fuzz to the base than, say, Merge darlings Reigning Sound. On Friday, few showed up to their set at the BMI Stage, but whatever: Songs like “Last Crash Landing” and “Roommate’s Girlfriend” won over the adventurous handful, who were clearly looking for some good vibes at a cheap price tag. (And not the bullshit shine ‘n’ grind of Capital Cities, who were up to their same ol’ tricks across the park.) I haven’t squeezed in a Big Star comparison yet, but the way Blank Range bounce off their scales is definitely akin to Alex Chilton’s best work. Band rules. –Michael Roffman

    Weekend’s Top Trip-Hop

    Poliça

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    By all accounts, Poliça shouldn’t have worked outside under the fresh Austin sun. The Minneapolis outfit produces a murky sound that recalls the gloomy atmospheres painted vividly by The Sneaker Pimps or more specifically, Portishead. But here’s the catch: Frontwoman Channy Leaneagh isn’t nearly as moody as Beth Gibbons and lately she’s blossomed into a charismatic leader who can sell an afternoon set. Years ago, while supporting their excellent 2012 debut, Give You the Ghost, she came off reserved, almost standstill, perhaps at the cost of experiencing fame too fast. Now that she’s had some time to gel, and gets to work off a catalogue two albums deep, there’s a spark of authority to her presence. The Shulamith material — specifically “Warrior Lord” and closer “Chain My Name” — brought out the best in everyone: Leaneagh, bassist Chris Bierden, and, naturally, drummers Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu. We don’t always need trip-hop, but when it’s this spicy and ready, we’re willing to bite, no matter the time of day. –Michael Roffman

    Pop Diva With The Most Abundant Swagger

    Jhene Aiko

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    On Saturday, I saw Iggy Azalea. She was awkward and clunky and moved like some kind of animatronic burlesque robot — a confused pop starlet, if you will. The exact opposite can be said of Jhene Aiko. Even as she straddles two dichotomous worlds, that of shimmery pop and more brooding hip-hop, Aiko knows exactly where she stands on the musical spectrum. With grace and a deftness that belies her experience, the Los Angeles singer can pour her heart out as either a broken-winged songbird or a menacing MC, as exemplified by her sultry cover of Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up”. There’s even an assured swagger to the way she floats about the stage, which is quite rare for an act that typically experiences growing pains early in their career. Admittedly, Aiko might not be as prominently displayed as, say, Azalea, but she’s absolute proof that she’s a far more viable commodity with regards to talent. –Chris Coplan

    Dreamiest Naptime Set

    Los Colognes

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    Photo by Randy Cremean

    Chicago-bred, Nashville-cultivated Los Colognes were about the best thing to happen on a Friday afternoon. As the sun dwindled above Zilker Park, the BMI Stage was the perfect resting place, what with its trees and ample breeze. Supporting this year’s Working Together, the organ-driven outfit delivered a happy hour of jams that recalled ’70s Foreigner, mid-career Eagles, and even a little Grateful Dead, which goes hand in hand with what Josh Terry said about ’em last week. Tracks like the dreamy “King Size Bed” or the rather spry “Working Together” did wonders for the brain, inviting a quick nap as the Lazy Americana soothed the soul. Lead singer Jay Rutherford is like a Midwestern islander, soaking up margaritas with shots of amber whiskey. The crowd slurped up every song, too, enough for Rutherford to notice. “I wish my girlfriend was that responsive,” he joked. Well, given those vocals and that sound, dude, you’re with the wrong girl. –Michael Roffman

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