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It’s Thursday and I’m just getting around to wrapping up my ACL experience (the NY Times only put theirs out yesterday so I’m thinking I’m not the only one that needed some time to recover). “Wrap up” means “highlights” which means whipping out the trusty old “category sections” (it’s all particularly effective for a writer whose brain is still functioning at half-mast). Here we go:

Highlight Live Performances:
The Black Keys
—I overheard an audience member say, “They are incredibly talented but aren’t performers—they don’t engage their crowd.” This is arguably true but doesn’t make for any less of an amazing live show. The reason? For me, it is a thrill to watch their musical relationship and admire their sheer power on stage. The opposite can be said of Beck, who was particularly on this night the consummate performer and this show didn’t disappoint. The Raconteurs rocked it on Sunday afternoon (as surprising a slot as it was at Jazz Fest but works so well).

Cheesy or Fucking Cool?
I was headed backstage when I heard Lacey Mosley of Flyleaf finishing up a haunting ballad about suicide. The pint-sized powerhouse is undeniably moving, dynamic with a voice that conveys it all. Something that called to mind nostalgia for the days we would drive around the suburbs on a beautiful fall day getting high or weekend make out sessions in older boys’ basements. Punk. Rock. Cool. Then there were the guitarist’s high kicks and dismount off of a speaker. Still Cool? Jury is still out on that one…

Fun Fun Fun Fest Graduates

Okkervil River: it seemed everybody wanted a piece of this Austin based band only a year ago when I caught them for the first time at Fun Fun Fun Fest. They seemed as humble and grateful as ever for the attention. The sound was against them as was the hot sun (Fun Fun Fun was more conducive to experiencing their sound) I was happy to see them “arriving” so to speak. Against Me! is another Fun Fun Fun alum and those boys know how to rock. They put on a non stop adrenaline set that had the crowd pounding their fists in the air and banging their heads up and down for an hour straight. Impressive, would be an understatement.

And Briefly…

Mike Farris most resembled how I like to spend my Sundays at Jazz Fest. He commanded the tent singing the gospel with a voice that sent chills down my spine and brought the crowd to their feet.

Octopus Project would be the band I’ve heard a lot about but had never seen. I’m glad I finally did. They are truly talented musicians that have struck a perfect balance between of skill and experimentation.

Band of Heathens is an Austin band I will definitely be going to check out at Saxon Pub.

Man Man got a lot of buzz this year and unfortunately I missed them. Coming in second place or perhaps it was a tie for most “buzzed about” was Jamie Lidell. Checked them out on myspace and can see why.

On a final note, and will probably fall on deaf ears, I’d like to mention the sound.

Since its inception, ACL has been known for its sound problems. In years past, it has been largely that it just isn’t good. There are one or two stages in particular that are notorious for poor sound and it is generally recommended you skip those stages—particularly if its an artist’s voice you are interested in hearing. This year, the sound issues seemed to be at an all time high and the complaints were rampant. Backstage musicians complained of headaches and shit performances, while frustrated fans grumbled at getting only muffled bits of headliners (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss were voted “least able to be heard” in an informal survey). The screeching feedback was the most prominent feature at the WaMu stage, forcing Nakia, in the middle of his song, to declare that it was “really getting annoying.” M. Ward’s otherwise beautiful set was often accompanied by a high pitched wail that was definitely not intended. The “band bleed” was also noticeably bad this year, at one point Priscilla Ahn was completely drowned out by the bands she was sandwiched between on nearby stages. This is not to say that the festival was unsuccessful, or that I am ungrateful for all that the crew and staff do to make it happen. I only wish, and I speak for many, that someone would look into it before next year.

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  1. Concerned...

    What ACL were you at anyway??

    I heard Plant/Krauss just fine, Nakia didn’t complain about the sound – in fact the only complaining I heard was from the Kills, and just an FYI – Adele didn’t even play the festival. She canceled the week before.

    So not sure what was going on where you were, but sure – sometimes there’s a bit of feedback – it’s tough running that much sound with that many different bands though – and I personally think that they got it a lot closer to amazing than it’s been in the past for sure!

    Just my two cents…

  2. Bree

    thanks for the correction on Adele–meant Priscilla Ahn. As for the rest, I stand by the feedback from musicians. production staff and festival goers as well as my own personal experience.