Review by Mark Wheeler || Photos by Michael Wren
Like any of the behemoth American festivals dotting the calendar from April to October, the annual Austin City Limits Festival is a bear to take in, requiring a number of tough decisions to take in as much of the magic as possible. Continue below as the intrepid Michael Wren of the LMB NOLA team captured a ton of photos and new contributor Mark Wheeler recaps the weekend that was ACL 2012. Also, be sure to check out Michael’s recaps over on LMB NOLA.
Austin City Limits 2012 hit one of its peaks the night before throngs of camelpak-donning, coozie clasping festival-goers began to rip the grass at Zilker Park straight to hell. Atlanta’s own The Black Lips — one of the biggest acts occupying the Southern-garage-blooze space—took the stage downtown for the first ACL aftershow with some of Austin’s best young talent, A Giant Dog. Turning the floors of Austin’s oldest venue, Antone’s, into a veritable Petri dish of bodily fluids and swill, the Lips were up to all of their old antics short of indecent exposure.
The Lips have a well-established catalog to pick from for shows and the old standbys rang out on Thursday. “Bad Kids,” “Dirty Hands,” “Katrina,” and newer singles like “Modern Art” and “Family Tree” had a cornucopia of fans—bros, frat stars, potentially MDMA-influenced shirtless boys, punks, gunks and more — whipped into a raucous fever. The level of aggressiveness in the pit stayed healthily friendly for the most part; not even the usual kuet-girl-that-gets-on-stage-to-make-the-show-all-about-her dampened the mood. The ATLiens raced through their set list, only pausing to spill beer on themselves or provide commentary on the Atlanta Braves. The show was one of the brighter moments at ACL as bands like the Black Lips simply belong in crowded venue, not a festival stage. If you aren’t up on openers A Giant Dog — who were playing Antone’s for the first time in my 456 shows (the kids like to play the hometown)—they are towards the zenith of the fantastic punk scene being cultivated in Austin right now. Check out their latest, Fight, online or at your neighborhood record store.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12TH, 2012
Friday provided festival-goers with traditional Austin in October weather (flawless in the 80s) to take in the likes of the Afghan Whigs, Alabama Shakes, Weezer and more. To end the night, The Black Keys played their tenth ACL in eight years to roughly five million people – firing through hits from Brother and Rubber Factory.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 13TH
Saturday at ACL is what smart money came to see. All the Tostitos were on the line as legend of rock Neil Young was set to play with his old cohorts Crazy Horse. Avoiding letting the pitfalls of festivals —too many people, s***ty sound balance far back or on the side — affect the Crazy Horse set became the lynchpin of the entire weekend. The need to be up close and dead center for Neil Young determined the day, which meant staying put through Andrew Bird and the legendary Roots Crew.
Bird showed his prowess as an established whistler with an ear for whistling talent to back him up, undoubtedly. Seriously, that guy is great and all but he is such a formidable whistler. But after a brief cloudburst of rain it was the Legendary Roots Crew, no Malik B, putting on one of the day’s best sets. I had not seen Philly’s finest in a few years but they were tight as ever. Coming out hard with a riveting rendition of the Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” in tribute to the late MCA, Black Thought rapped the parts of all Beasties — foreshadowing the way he would rap Malik B’s lines later on. With ?uestlove keeping time they went through older cuts from Things Fall Apart and Do You Want More? such as “Mellow My Man,” “You Got Me,” and “The Next Movement.” Closing it out with another class rap cover, Kool G Rap’s “Men at Work,” cemented the set with bookends of real hip hop — something The Roots know plenty about.
At that point the old heads who paid full price just to see Ontario’s finest raised out of their Crazy Creeks, ensconced in ponchos, to displace the clueless youngsters at the front with the ease of a late night spin of On The Beach. Seeing a living legend at the end of their run is always risky; you don’t want their pedestal position in your mind to be at risk in any way. This was not an issue on Saturday. Neil Young & Crazy Horse put on a blistering two hour set with five tracks from their new LP and seven classics that couldn’t go on long enough for the dedicated crowd.
Stepping on stage in a Willie Nelson cap that would only last through the first song, Neil Young & his old backing band Crazy Horse made Romney Jeans cool for the first time. From the beginning note of “Love and Only Love” to the closing “Hey Hey, My My (into the black),” Young’s distinct voice, remarkably, has not faltered at all over the years. Between spot-on cuts of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” “Cinnamon Girl,” and the legendary Crazy Horse tracks “Fuckin’ Up” and “Powderfinger,” the old heads were thrilled. When the encore’s first half was revealed to be a 20 minute “Down By The River” gourdblow, those up front and dead center couldn’t hold out much longer. It may be better to burn out than to fade away, but I’m glad Young has taken the latter route to expand on an unquestionable top five catalog.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14TH
The rain from Saturday had Zilker muddy and smelling of straight doo-dooism on Sunday. The Stooges played an awkward set of legendary punk rock on a festival stage (letting 18 year old girls in Indian feathers on stage to grind each other was not my ideal Stooge experience. But hey — Iggy Pop) and the Red Hot Chili Peppers wound the clock back to the 90s for a massive crowd of fans.
But ACL 2012 began and ended with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Larger than the 100 ft banner of the great Lakota warrior they played in front of, the old-cats provided a sonic performance that matched their legacy. That Saturday, in the field, the home crowd scattered for the turnstiles with a smug sense of undeserved accomplishment that only comes form seeing a rock icon live up to his legend.