Preview by Mark Wheeler
The older one gets, the more shows one attends in proper venues, it gets easy to snob on festivals – no disrespect to the kiddies in their neon war paint and NBA jerseys. Festivals seem to recycle the same reshuffled lineup (yes, The Black Keys will be at ACL) with regional gimmicks and superstar headliners as differentiators; Coachella has the beautiful ‘scenery,’ Bonnaroo and Wakarusa are good-vibe open-air drug markets, Hangout Fest is on a beach. The Zilker Park-hosted Austin City Limits, geared more towards cool dads than its kewl-kid counterpart Fun Fun Fun Fest, is no different.
But with maturity it also becomes painfully obvious that life is what you make of it. Cynicism in the name of realism is not only a drag, but it can be a major hindrance to reaching anything worthwhile. And in a half-empty/half-full world, Austin, Texas is abjectly a Cup-Runneth-Over kind of town.
So if you are making your way to ATX this weekend to catch f***ing Neil Young & Crazy Horse, The Stooges, Jack White, the cot-dang Black Lips, RHCP or anything else—good on you. Here are a handful of acts that you may want to check out while you are there.
While Natural Child, JEFF The Brotherhood, PUJOL and a slew of other young bucks have morphed Nashville into an international destination for garage rock, The Features have quietly been the city’s best non-country act since the Silver Jews hung it up. They play smart, slick rock ‘n’ roll that ranges in content from humanity’s shifting ideals to the career struggles of today’s youth. Due to the anthematic nature of songs like “Temporary Blues,” I often lazily call the Sparta, TN transplants the Arcade Fire of the South. But The Features own their space far too much for forced comparison. Catch them early Sunday and definitely cop their 2008 release Some Kind of Salvation and 2011’s Wilderness if you enjoy it.
Alabama Shakes were unquestionably 2012’s early heroes (based off of the deep-fried feelings evoked from Boys & Girls) – the blogosphere simply would not shut up about The Shakes this spring. The fury in Brittany Howard’s voice will often hit you in the gut like the first drop on a roller coaster— or the first departure of true love. She’ll be spitting that raw, over-stripped down, bloozy, Southern rock for the entirety of the North Alabamians’ set. The Shakes are on Friday night. No bulls*** will be permitted: just unadulterated, wound-opening truths about life and love.
Live rap is a gamble. The tickets are expensive and 90% of rappers’ (including legends of the game) reliance on backing tracks borders on lip-syncing. Having seen K.R.I.T. a few times, he does not fit that category. His beats are laden with blues, soul and country samples, and the Meridian, MS native actually has a story to tell. His live show provides ample energy; the hunger created by years of negligence in the face of pore-popping sweat will be felt.
After being a mixtape WORKHORSE since 2005 (The Last King, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, Return of 4Eva and more are readily available for free download), K.R.I.T.’s first studio release dropped this summer, Live From the Underground. From Playa Fly to David Banner, the ‘Sipp has long struggled for it’s own run and K.R.I.T’s current one a time machine to a better era of rap. Fans of genuine hip-hop, Southern struggle or the long-earned payoff of a diligent grind are welcome Saturday afternoon.
The Civil Wars
It will be interesting to see how The Civil Wars sound in a festival setting. The Nashville-based (via Alabama and Cali) GRAMMY winners have a presence that is bigger than any stage. Yet they describe their music as “an intimate conversation” with “no third wheels or dinner-party chatter to interrupt that gorgeous, haunting hush.” Fight to get up close and hear the duo that is making waves in folk/country/Americana circles: Sunday afternoon.
Austin City Limits needs a little Austin in it — queue Gary Clark Jr. Propelled straight out of Austin’s oldest venue, Antone’s, Clark offers revival rock that channels a world with more feeling. Silky vocals on top of blues-ridden fuzzy guitar licks have led to a number of accolades for Clark. Check him out Sunday afternoon and believe the hype.
Playing early Saturday is another Austin band of note in Quiet Company. Following front man Taylor Muse’s lead, QC plays energetic, piano-based indie rock. The band’s demeanor matches their cheery sound and keeps the crowd involved. Stay posted for the guitarist to bust out a melodica at some point.