WORDS: Q Manning
Day One of ACL was about as picturesque as you could imagine. The sun was out, the grass was lush and the party had started, because, when you get down to it, that’s all any music festival really is. Great food, music, a sea of cowboy hats and and scantily clad genders of your choice.
We arrived at the festival a little later than we’d planned, not accounting for the massive amounts of traffic in downtown Austin. We hopped on the shuttles and arrived at Zilker Park just in time to head over to the Austin Ventures stage to see The Parlor Mob tear up the stage. I’m a fan of 70’s style rock and these guys brought it. From the wailing vocals to the pounding, tribal drumming, these guys at times invoked the very essence of Led Zeppelin but infused with a modern rock sensibility. I walked away from the set a fan.
Next up we headed over to The Walkmen at the XBOX360 stage. Braving the Austin sun with collared shirts and slacks, the band opened up with a greeting of “Hello music lovers!” and proceeded to infuse the festival with some much needed folk-inspired indie rock. Frontman Paul Maroon may look like Captain America but his voice is a little bit Bob Dylan meets Black Francis with the phrasings of Jeff Tweedy. Their music was infectious, rousing the crowd, and all that was compounded when the guys brought a great horn section to come out and accompany them. Like with The Parlor Mob, the sound wasn’t anything new, but it was definitely something I enjoyed.
Phoenix was one of the bands everyone in the festival had been buzzing about and the crowd at the large AMD stage was massive, forcing me to hang back on the periphery and enjoy sitting on the soft grass. The French band brought their particular brand synth infused rock to the crowd and the attendees loved it. My exposure to the band had been limited to only their most from their last album, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” and I’ll admit to being a tad disappointed by the set. Much of the energy and style I’d heard in their studio recordings was missing, though I could see I was in the minority.
After Phoenix, we hung out waiting for John Legend to perform and the sounds of Raphael Saadiq came wafting in from the XBOX360 stage across the park. Saadiq’s music was wonderful, classic R&B with a heavy bass line and amazing horn section, he moved the crowd gathered around his stage and most of the people waiting for Legend alongside me.
Legend started his set by moving along the walkway that bisects the crowds at the larger ACL Fest stages, telling the crowd to “Emancipate yourself!” and went into his set. Never having been a huge John Legend fan, this was my first real exposure to much of his catalog and I found the experience to be similar to what Legend wore on stage that day – safe and toothless. Even his cover of Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” was lacking in soul and emotion. When he started I wasn’t a fan and when it was all said and done, my opinion hadn’t been changed.
But then came one of the biggest surprises of the entire ACL Fest and a band that was much anticipated: supergroup Them Crooked Vultures. I knew Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters & Nirvana fame was in the group, but I wasn’t sure to what capacity. Was he singing? Playing guitar? He was playing drums and the power everyone first heard when Nirvana hit the scene was here in spades.
Even more interesting were the other members of this supergroup: Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass & keyboard with Queen of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. Helping out was QOTSA guitarist Alain Johannes on guitar.
If I had to compare the band to another band, I’d have to say Queens of the Stone Age, but more for their pure rocking rather than the vocals of Homme, who didn’t quite sound the way I expected, with his voice often taking on a David Byrne/Talking Heads quality. Most songs play with time signature and cadence, making most songs unpredictable. Everything seems to be driven by Grohl’s power drumming which had the crowd moving and gyrating. Coupled with Jones’ bass lines, the best description for this collection of musicians has to be “churning rock and roll.”
Them Crooked Vultures are relentless and tight. Unfortunately, they don’t have an album available, meaning the great songs I heard will have to stay part of my memory rather than in my iTunes. Hopefully the guys will either get into the studio and record or release whatever they’ve done. Right now, the world needs some solid, true rock & roll.
Alas, moving over to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs after Them Crooked Vultures was a let-down. Like many people, the songs “Maps” resonated with me as just a well-crafted song. But I’d never been able to connect with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a live performance didn’t change that. The vocals for lead singer Karen O needed to be cranked. This is odd considering the subdued music coming from the band. Each song I kept wanting the band to bring it, but it never happened. Karen O puts on a great stage show, however, with some truly fantastic stage presence. If you went in a fan, it was probably great to hear your favorite songs live, but for someone who was wanting to be impressed, the end result was lackluster.
And such ended the first day of ACL Fest. The sun was hot, but the situation was tolerable. Day Two, however, would be a much different story.