For the first time in its five-year history, I did not attend all of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. There are a variety of reasons why, and one of them is the fact that I had plenty to do already this weekend. And in the end, I made it to the festival for a brief stint. Since I’ve used this blog to cover the ACL Fest before, here it is again, in three parts with five people:
1. Sufjan Stevens
Friday at ACL, the only act I was curious about was Gnarls Barkley, but I saw them earlier in the week playing an AT&T private concert. So, mission accomplished. This gave me full reign, and plenty of desire, to check out Sufjan Stevens. The boy-wonder singer-songwriter, who released one of 2005’s best albums in Illinois, came to Austin for a two-night stand at the beautiful Paramount Theater. No ACL Fest for him, though he and his band did tape an episode of the Austin City Limits TV show, on Sunday night. No festival? No problem. Stevens’ 20-person band was a splendid sight on the Paramount stage. Complete with a horn and string section to accompany the guitar-bass-drums-grand piano, it was orchestral prog rock for a coffee shop setting. Imagine ELO fronted by James Taylor. It was that kinda vibe. But it worked nicely, as Stevens uprooted some terrific songs with intricate arrangements. The songs had never sounded so fresh, or powerful, or chilling. Even better: you could witness it all from a comfortable seat, and with plenty of air conditioning.
2. Quentin Tarantino & Fiona Apple
On Saturday, I decided to skip ACL once again. The only two acts of the day I was dying to catch were The Raconteurs and Massive Attack. Though, the latter isn’t even a full band anymore. And, when the group had one member sidelined back home, reports came that Saturday’s show only featured one actual member. Still, they reportedly drew in some talented guest artists, namely angelic singer Elisabeth Fraser. That, I actually would have liked to see. I spent the early part of my Saturday evening attending a party co-hosted by the Sundance Channel and Conde Nast for the Quentin Tarantino/Fiona Apple episode of the TV series Iconoclasts. Held in Austin because that’s where Tarantino lives these days while shooting Grindhouse, it was a nice affair with plenty of Grey Goose and the best damn crab cakes I’ve had in some time. Held in a downtown gallery space, the party was brisk but nice. Tarantino arrived at the midway point, with Fiona Apple popping in near the end.
Also in attendance (because they were here for ACL Fest) were G. Love and Special Sauce, as well as members of TV on the Radio. Hanging out at the soiree, and by all reports digging her new habitat in the ATX, was actress Connie Britton, one of the stars of NBC’s new drama Friday Night Lights. One can only hope that Britton, who was just in Toronto with Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter, will be able to stick around town once NBC unveils the anticipated high school football adaptation.
3. Blane Thurier
On Sunday, before it began to rain, I finally ventured off to the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park. There weren’t a ton I wanted to see (as opposed to the Sunday of last year’s festival), but there was one act I needed to see: the New Pornographers. Not only is this Canadian indie-pop band a force to reckon with, I’ve gotten to know the keyboardist, Blaine Thurier. In Blaine’s other life, he’s an award-winning filmmaker with two acclaimed features, Low Self-Esteem Girl (2001) and Male Fantasy (2003), under his belt. Both of these features played SXSW (and Toronto), and I’m a big fan of Blaine’s filmmaking. Coincidentally, I’m also a big fan of his band. So, with Amstel Light in my hand, I watched the New Pornographers tear it up Sunday afternoon. Effortlessly bouncing between all three of their albums, the set was electric and thrilling. An added bonus: sometimes-vocalist (and acclaimed solo artist) Neko Case, made it to town for the show. Beforehand, Blaine told me this was rare. In fact, the last American show she attended was in Austin… at SXSW 2006.
As for Blaine’s film career, it’s currently on hold as the band has started to develop quite the international following, thanks in part to their mesmerizing 2003 release, Twin Cinema. Plus, Blaine and his wife recently became parents of a baby boy. He’s still exploring some film offers, while prepping for the fourth New Pornographers record. After their performance, I caught the end of the Flaming Lips and then the end of Ben Harper, who had just called up onstage Damien and Julian Marley to join him in a cover of their dad’s song, “Get Up Stand Up.” Thankfully, I spent three days doing just that.
4. Jarren Wenderlein
She spent (almost) all of this with me. And, that made it all the more worthwhile.