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Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

on October 06, 2014, 3:50pm
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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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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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

Set You Shouldn’t Have Missed, But Probably Did

The Districts

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Photo by Randy Cremean

Soon enough, Pennsylvania rockers The Districts won’t be playing early morning sets at festivals. Around this time next year, they’ll hopefully be complaining about the dying sun blinding their vision, maybe an hour or two before The Black Keys. In the meantime, however, the kids are making the most of it. Early Sunday morning — atop the mammoth Samsung Galaxy stage, no less — the young folks attracted an agreeable crowd of fans both old and new, winning them over with escalating tension (“Funeral Beds”), floaty rock (“Long Distance”), and a raucous wall of sound (“Young Blood”). Altogether, this tight 45-minute set was everything Austin City Limits wants to champion: spirited rock ‘n’ roll with clear eyes, full hearts, and you know the rest. We knew there was a reason why we CoSign’d em. –Michael Roffman

The Strongest 40 Minutes

Vic Mensa

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

If an act comes on stage late at a festival, it’s usually one of two reasons: They’re just getting to the venue, or they just don’t have enough material to fill their entire set. In the case of Chicago’s Vic Mensa, it’s definitely the latter, as even between a couple EPs and mixtapes, the 21-year-old doesn’t have enough solid, non B-side material to comprise a full hour. Of course, he took what was a clear deficit and made it a strength: By having his DJ, the boisterous Oreo, play an energetic 20-minute set of Jay Z, Kanye West, and Chief Keef, it subconsciously elevated Mensa’s own status. Then, with a more comfortable block of 40 minutes, the young MC was able to hit the stage and rattle off a few of his more shimmery numbers.

Really, it’s his catalog, as limited as it is at this point in his still burgeoning career, that makes Mensa unique, as he can hop around from the emotional (“Holy Holy”) to the overtly sexual (“Major Payne”) to the club worthy (a new, Kanye-esque track tentatively titled “I Ain’t Trippin”), not to mention his ramshackle take on “Seven Nation Army”, to keep the audience on their feet. Add in his unique stage show, a bit of rock ‘n’ roll mixed with the engaging intensity of your standard rapper, and Mensa is more dynamic than most of his peers. Here’s hoping he eventually has enough material to make it a full 60-plus minutes. –Chris Coplan

The Big Game

Dallas Cowboys vs. Houston Texans

dallas texans Austin City Limits 2014: Top 25 Moments + Photos

Photo by Michael’s Shitty iPhone

No act was going to stop Texas from watching Sunday’s big game between the Cowboys and the Texans. That’s why around two o’clock, the only place that made sense to be at was the Barton Springs Beer Hall, where hundreds of fans cooled off with craft beers and got heated over a ridiculously close game. When Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey missed the field goal at the end of the fourth quarter, the ground shook with applause. When Tony Romo threw a miraculous pass to Dez Bryant in OT, the ground shook with applause. And when Bailey redeemed himself with a 49-yard field goal, the air filled with terror and excitement. “Dallas! Dallas! Dallas!” could be heard by everyone across Zilker. Make no mistake, this state isn’t just obsessed with football, they’re obsessed with winning, too. And they use way too much adrenaline in the process. #TexasForever –Michael Roffman

Best Simultaneous Sunday Comedown/Come-up

Cults

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

By the third day of any multi-day music festival – whether it’s from drinking excessively, dancing the days and nights away, hitting up too many after-shows, or editing/writing straight through the previous two nights until 7 a.m. (*cough*) – everyone is feeling the onset of exhaustion. So it’s always a blessing to have a midday band whose music creates a mode of calm while still ultimately lifting spirits. Enter Cults, whose 3 p.m. performance on the Austin Ventures stage was suitable for lazy lounging and serene swaying, or a peppy dance party, depending on the listener’s mood.

Fans seemed to fall into a trance as frontwoman Madeline Follin led with soaring vocals and charming, girlish dance grooves during set opener “High Road” and again later on the steady, soft shake of “Keep Your Head Up”. Clap-alongs over rockin’ keys and riffs courtesy of co-songwriter Brian Oblivion on key cuts like “Abducted” and “You Know What I Mean” likewise fulfilled the dancers’ demands. The experience proved that if last year’s Static has done anything for Cults, it has improved the versatility of their live capabilities tenfold – fine for an afternoon chillaxer, or perfect for a medium-energy, pre-game dance party. –David Brendan Hall

Most Carnivorous Fanbase

Childish Gambino

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

On Thursday evening, Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, followed up last year’s disappointing, Because the Internet, with his latest mixtape: STN MTN / KAUAI. Glover didn’t let that piece of news get lost on his fans, announcing from the get-go: “This is the first show I’ve played since my mixtape dropped, so I’m down to get down with you.” No kidding. Behind a pair of crazy eyes, the 31-year-old rapper ricocheted across the stage, stripped off his shirt, becoming one feisty son of a bitch. He had everything at his disposal, too: tufts of pyro, Michael Bay-esque sparks that rained down, and even a cozy leather couch for two or three of his fans to chill on throughout the set.

The remaining sea of thousands, however, flooded the Honda stage, jumping, screaming, and squirming to catch even a glimpse of Glover, who leaned heavily on Because the Internet. “How about he plays something I fucking know,” an adrenalized fan screamed to himself. The dickhead got his wish 20 minutes later when Glover’s underrated jam “Got This Money” segued straight into his strongest, “Heartbeat”. Altogether, the set was high energy and the fans were miserably rabid. To paraphrase those shingles ads: “I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.” –Michael Roffman

Strongest New Material

Belle and Sebastian

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Stuart Murdoch is a hypnotic spirit. When he’s not singing about Mike Piazza, funny little frogs, or stars of track and field — all subjects he revisited on Friday evening — there’s just a charm to his aura that’s set to stun. He’s a better looking Simon Pegg with as quirky a sense of humor and a penchant for insightful dalliances. “So I ironed my shirt especially for tonight,” he told the mature audience surrounding the RetailMeNot stage. “I don’t think I’ve ironed my shirt since the ’80s.” He digressed some more before concluding: “Domestication is nothing to be afraid of.”

Belle and Sebastian were in high spirits for their Austin City Limits appearance. Sharp, witty, and inviting, the caravan of talent brushed off several classics, naturally inviting a select handful of fans to dance on stage for “The Boy with the Arab Strap” and “Legal Man”. Prior to this, however, they tested out some new material off their highly anticipated ninth studio album,Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, which doesn’t drop until January 20th. “The Tricks in Your Head Are Alive” works off ’60s vibes and Bay Area solos, while the lengthy “Perfect Couples” feels like a cross between Talking Heads and, yes, Pet Shop Boys.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

It’s too early to tell how the rest of the album will fare, but both selections were welcomed with open arms, the latter appreciated by swiveling hips and awkward handclaps. It should be noted that Murdoch manages to pull off the fedora even better than Timberlake by prioritizing class for sexy. Don’t get any ideas, neckbeards. –Michael Roffman

Most Rousing Sunset Shabang

The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Yes, North Carolina’s Avett Brothers heavily feature fiddle, cello, banjo, double bass, and acoustic guitars loaded with Southern twang, but it isn’t fair to lump them in with traditional country acts. That was especially apparent during the band’s Saturday evening main stage set, which kicked off just as the Texas sun began to cast long shadows across Zilker Park’s expansive grounds. It was balmy, relaxing, and brilliantly beautiful, but the wildly energetic sextet was on a mission to prevent anyone from snoozing in the grass.

Instead, right out of the gates, they led a ground-shaking stomp on “Satan Pulls the Strings”, then brothers Seth (on guitar, with the Willie Nelson-style pigtails) and Scott (on banjo) took turns leaping about and shredding at the front of the stage, letting the audience know that any energy exerted would be rewarded with the most spirited showmanship possible. Touring on the heels of 2013’s Magpie and the Dandelion, they’ve been consistent in this highly animated act at festivals across the country.

They proved this go-round that they’re also masters of timing: Just as the sun began to dip below the horizon, painting everything in sight a brilliant gold, they took it down a notch for “Down with the Shine” – a wonderful waltz before launching one of the weekend’s most euphoric dance-offs with “Kick Drum Heart”. –David Brendan Hall

Most Life-Altering Experience feat. Canned Water and 50-year-old Men

The Replacements

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Photo by Randy Cremean

If you’ve followed our coverage on The Replacements reunion over the last year, you probably know our own Editor-in-Chief is a little obsessed. Rightfully so, as he was raised on their brand of ballsy, emotionally unflinching rock ‘n’ roll; the band is a crucial component of his emotional makeup. Unlike him, though, I only came into their mythology recently, so they’re not as crucial to my own constitution. Instead, I viewed The Replacements as another nostalgic act of the past, resurrected by the sort of inherent nostalgia that accompanies any reunion. Then I saw them on Sunday.

“It’s so hot my shoes are out of tune,” bassist Tommy Stinson remarked. The last grasps of sunlight were slowly melting the frosty Minneapolis outfit minute by minute, but they prevailed, knocking out a setlist that was vacant of any surprises but absolutely booked with energy. Everything was in order: Paul Westerberg stumbled over iconic verses (“We haven’t played for a week”), their most celebrated hits turned into rallying anthems (“Can’t Hardly Wait”, “Bastards of Young”), and they even squeezed in an encore at the tail end of their power-hour set (“Left of the Dial”, “Alex Chilton”). It was more or less a basic tutorial on the band.

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Photo by Randy Cremean

Now I see The Replacements in a whole new way. They’re not just a hipper-than-thou band with infectious songs and a cultish fan base; they’re a power that abounds. One that can remind you of the real truth about life and love and the endless pursuit of happiness. The kind that makes you want to take those nagging feelings and anxiety, ball them all up, and use that volatile mound as fuel to rock and roll and shimmy and shake, if only for an hour or so. Amen. –Chris Coplan

Coolest Veteran

Beck

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

“I think we got the night on our side,” Beck announced Friday night. “I’m not responsible for what happens.” For the past two decades, we’ve seen funky Beck, poppy Beck, and sad Beck. This year, sad Beck released an agreeable album full of bummer jams — Morning Phase, if you’re lost — with the promise of a radically different album to follow. Call it premature, but I can’t wait for that one, if only because I hope it’s from funky Beck. Now, before you grab the pitchfork and rope, know that Sea Change is one of my favorite albums of the last 15 years and probably my go-to Beck album most, if not all, of the time. Having said that, I don’t want another Sea Change, which is why I’ve listened to Morning Phase maybe five times at most since its release.

So, I felt pretty vindicated during Beck’s headlining performance. I discovered that this is a guy who doesn’t need to be moping behind the guitar anymore — even if the night’s dour material via “Blue Moon”, “Lost Cause”, “Wave”, and “Waking Light” was quite superb. Instead, as he proved with tinkered renditions of “Devil’s Haircut”, “Hell Yes”, “Girl”, “Sexx Laws”, and especially “Debra”, there’s never been a better time for the funk: He may be a little weathered, but his shoes remain shiny. In other words, let this man shake, rattle, and dance like he was born to do. “Austin City Limits … Austin City Limits … What’s the limit?” he asked. “Something tells me we’ll find it.” No shit.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

After closing down the stage with caution tape, Beck and his comrades returned for what might have been the strangest encore in recent memory at a festival. Blame it on the two aforementioned cuts off Midnite Vultures — he freestyled off “Debra”, turning it into a lover’s ode to Austin — but his drawn-out rendition of closer “Where It’s At” was pretty goddamn insane, too. Going way past his 9:30 p.m. end time, Beck strode around the stage, slowing down the hit to introduce each bandmate, who segued into various iconic singles of yesteryear, from The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You”, Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil”, and many others. This lasted about 20 minutes.

But that’s why funky Beck is so goddamn great. He’s unpredictable and he’s altogether hilarious. At one point, he introduced his little robotic vocalizer called Short Circuit, which he fiddled around with like a child for a good 10 seconds on stage in front of thousands upon thousands of fans. In that short glimpse, though, I saw a rare kind of veteran, someone akin to Bowie, who knows that a performance is more than any song or hit. That tough laughs and a sense of humor go a long way over any impassioned kind of performance. Towards the end, he teased his fans by adding: “We do play bar mitzvahs and weddings, too.” To be honest, I wouldn’t put it past him. –Michael Roffman

The Cherry on Top

Pearl Jam

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Too many writers have spent years praising Pearl Jam for playing each night like it’s their last. That wasn’t exactly the case Sunday night at Austin City Limits, but that didn’t stop Eddie Vedder and his Seattle brethren from delivering the weekend’s strongest headlining set. More than two decades later, the gang still knows how to close out a show in a way that leaves even the most die-hard fans picking up their jaws by night’s end.

“I know it’s Sunday, but I hope it feels like Saturday night out there,” Vedder remarked early on. Representing Chicago with a Walter Payton jersey, the 49-year-old rocker was quite affable all evening, no doubt stemming from some gifted wine, which he either chugged or spit all over the stage floor. He thanked the “irreplaceable Replacements”; dedicated “Sirens” to their No. 1 fan, Austin’s police chief; and urged every Austin resident to vote in November’s elections, concluding: “If you don’t believe and just become cynical, there’s no hope for any of us.” That last part segued straight into, you guessed it, “Faithfull”.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

And that’s where this writer couldn’t stop groaning. My buddy and colleague Dan Caffrey has this running gag in which he imitates Bono telling a story and linking it awkwardly to one of their infamous songs. It’s hilarious because, well, that’s exactly what Bono does. Same with Springsteen. And even the Foo Fighters, too. Despite having seen Pearl Jam over six times, I never noticed Vedder’s occasional segues, but tonight he was batting over .500. Some of them actually worked; for example, “Why Go”: “Is The Back Room still around in Austin? Yes, no, indefinite? The setlist is unavailable, but I’m betting this one’s on it.”

Where he shined, however, was in making funny observations. “Hey, that guy has a long pole … maybe he’s compensating for something. If it’s like Wrigley and there’s a lightning storm, you’re the first to go, man.” Or telling cheeky jokes. “We’ve got a keg and we just need some red cups,” he teased his sound man, Greg Nelson, about throwing a party at his nearby residence, telling everyone: “We’ll get you the address.” Or when he got real, dedicating their 2006 ballad “Come Back” to the late Joey Thomas, a 13-year-old who died unexpectedly this past June in Simi Valley, CA. “I’d like to think his river was deeper than wide.”

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

But it’s not just Vedder’s show. Guitarist Mike McCready was a firecracker all night, even running out in the crowd mid-solo during “Alive”. Bassist Jeff Ament performed a double bass at one point while Stone Gossard, drummer Matt Cameron, and keyboardist Boom Gaspar held down the fort by hammering into their respective instruments as if they were furious. What made them really come to life was the camerawork. A few black-and-white fish eyes were positioned at their feet, several handholds followed each member as they ran amok, and the more stylized shots felt like well-timed portraits.

As for their setlist, the night spanned Pearl Jam’s entire discography with five selections off Ten; four from Vs. and last year’s (admittedly disappointing) Lightning Bolt.; two off No Code, Yield, and Riot Act; and one selection each out of Vitalogy, Pearl Jam, and Backspacer. Yes, they once again closed with Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”, but Vedder also performed his recent cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, which turned into one giant sing-along. The night’s final eight-song encore was what everyone will remember, not to mention their blitzkrieg performance of “Porch”, but who’s complaining?

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Well, probably the hundreds that left after “Even Flow”. What fools. –Michael Roffman

Gallery

Photographers: Heather Kaplan, David Brendan Hall, and Randy Cremean

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