After 10 years of Austin City Limits, you should know this by now: Get your tickets early. At press time, there are still a few individual tickets for Sunday, and if you look at the lineup (see ticket info box), you’ll realize the $90 tag is actually a bargain. Too late? Too bad.
With more than 130 performers on 46 acres on Zilker Park, seven stages, more than 30 food stands, a section for the kids (“Austin Kiddie Limits”), and one art market, ACL’s 10th anniversary edition is bigger and greener than ever: There will be two bike parking lots at the Barton Springs and Lady Bird Lake entrances, and if you visit one of the Rock & Recycle centers with a bag full of recyclable cans and water bottles, you get a limited-edition ACL 10 T-shirt. One more thing: No smoking this year. If you smoke, you’re out.
Some local veterans — and not-so-veteran — from the first edition in 2002 will be back this year: Asleep at the Wheel, Patrice Pike, Gary Clark Jr. (featured), and Jack Ingram. But the complete list of recommended acts wouldn’t fit on a couple of pages, so here’s what the Current’s staff and contributors chose for you. If you already have your three-day pass, go to aclfestival.com and plan your own schedule. If you’re still hunting, hurry after that Sunday ticket. You can always troll Craigslist hoping for a lucky break. Most of you, however, will have to read along with us and wonder what might have been. We’ll be live-blogging the event, so watch sacurrent.com and our Facebook page for regular weekend updates.
Death From Above 1979
Let’s be honest: dickheads often churn out great music. In the early aughts, soon after Death From Above 1979 (back then, sans numbers) first began barking out their gritty, angry noise-rock with Heads Up, a legal spat with Death From Above Records forced the Canadian duo to alter their name. And they did so, naturally, in true dickhead fashion, by adding on the legal minimum of numbers and calling the head of DFA Records, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, a “selfish piece of fuck,” adding: “If I had the resources I would fly a plane into his skull.”
It’s an attitude befitting the bands tempestuous, impulsive, and screeching sound. While remarkably dancey, DFA’s tracks are an assault — loud and nasty. Both Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler have done well in the band’s five-year hiatus — Grainger with a (little too) poppy solo bit and Keeler with his electro-pop project MSTRKRFT. While each hold hints of what made DFA great, both are still puzzles with missing pieces. After reuniting earlier this year, we’ve been given a chance to see the duo back in action. 5:30 pm Sunday, Sept 18, Honda stage. — MB
If you’re like me, you were probably wondering why Arcade Fire — whose third LP The Suburbs was the 2010 Album of the Year according to something called “the Grammys” — didn’t play Austin City Limits the same year their album dropped. According to rumors out of last year’s ACL photo pits, the bombastic Canadian band was all set to totally crush Zilker Park, but were thwarted by none other than adult-contemporary curmudgeons, the Eagles. Apparently, the Eagles have a clause in their contract that no other act can perform while they’re gently rocking out on stage. While I’m pretty sure Arcade Fire could handily beat the Eagles in a Scott Pilgrim-style battle of the bands, a contract is a contract, and AF promised to come back next year.
Whether or not that story is factual (but it probably is), it’s true that Arcade Fire returns to ACL this year for the third time, whether Don Henley likes it or not. Unlike some indie bands that seem to get smaller as the venue gets bigger, Arcade Fire feed on crowd energy like some kind of multi-headed, musical beast, unleashing anthem after anthem until your fist just can’t pump anymore. While The Suburbs lets the band show off a more subdued side, classic songs like “Rebellion (Lies),” “Neighborhood #2 (Laïka),” and “No Cars Go” still pack the same punch as when the group still felt like a well-kept secret. Arcade Fire may be as big as the Eagles these days, but Win Butler and Co. deserve their new-found mainstream success. And even the most jaded hipster will get swept up by a crowd of 70,000 festival-goers shouting the chorus to “Wake Up.” 8:30pm Sun, Sept 18, Bud Light stage. — CK
Through his ’80s band Mano Negra, Manu Chao changed the course for two generations of Latin rock bands. But it was his solo debut, the superb Clandestino (1998), that turned him into the ultimate symbol of the independent Latin alternative spirit.
Manu calls the shots. He records and tours when he feels like it, and when the spirit moves him he produces others (get SMOD and Amadou & Mariam’s Dimanche à Bamako now). A Latin Grammy, two more solo albums, and three live albums later, the French-born mixmaster (who sings in Spanish, French, Catalan, and Portuguese) continues drawing legions of Manu-heads wherever he throws down his legendary, furious, fast-driving ska/reggae/rumba flamenca/punk parties.
But this ACL performance is only a warm-up for the big one. On September 21, in collaboration with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, he’ll offer a free outdoor concert in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona, in protest of SB 1070. “For the past year, we’ve carried the people of Arizona in our hearts as we witnessed them suffer under such ignorant laws,” Chao said in a statement. “We’ll be proud to perform with the community to show that love can conquer hate.”
If you can’t make it to Arizona, get an ACL Sunday ticket and see for yourself what the Manu fever is all about. 6:30pm Sun, Sept 18, AMD stage. — EL
J. Roddy Walston & the Business
Unlike so many ’70s throwback bands before him, the frontman and first half of Baltimore’s J. Roddy Walston and the Business has no intention of letting you in on the joke — for them there is no joke. The lack of irony is especially surprising coming from a band that sounds like the fruit of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Queen’s unholy union. Take into account that this bastard child grew up feeding on nothing but Elton John and Led Zeppelin tracks and their sincerity seems almost absurd. As soon as he hits the stage, though, Walston is a blues-belting, boogie-stomping, piano-thrashing minister of rock who’s been steadily building his mass of faithful converts since the band formed in 2002. Finally starting to get the recognition they deserve, the group has been going strong since last year’s release of their eponymous LP, which produced the gospel-rock single “Full Growing Man” that Walston describes as Weezer doing old soul. While the record’s good, the live show is a veritable exorcism of high-energy rock ’n’ roll excess and an earnest religious experience done right. Leave all sarcasm and knowing winks at the gate. 2pm Sat, Sept 17, Bud Light stage, and 3:30pm at the Waterloo Autograph Tent. — AF
Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Clark Jr. is what happens to a bluesman who loves rock, hip-hop, and soul as much as he digs the blues. With a sound neither traditional nor fusion, his Texas blues moves from distorted psychedelia and grunge to fast boogies and intimate acoustic R & B. For the last few years he’s been honing his chops at Antone’s in Austin, and now he’s ready for the big time — his debut four-song EP, Bright Lights, is one of the year’s best releases. Couldn’t find a ticket to ACL? No problem. Clark is so nice, he’ll stop in San Antonio first, bringing local blues heroine Catherine Denise along for the ride. If you can only see one blues show this year, this is it. But forget about genres: this will be one of the year’s best shows, period. $8, 9pm, Wed., Sept 14, Sam’s Burger Joint, 330 E Grayson, samsburgerjoint.com. At ACL: 6:30pm Fri, Sept 16, BMI stage. — EL
Like Ely Guerra and Julieta Venegas before her, Chilean-American Francisca Valenzuela is the newest — and hottest — Latin alternative singer-songwriter being launched internationally. Actually, she’s pretty much launching herself, remaining, for now, fiercely independent. So far, her writing and music career haven’t suffered from lack of multinational help. Her book of English-language poems, Defenseless Waters (2000) has an intro by Chilean author Isabel Allende, and Bono invited her to sing with U2 at a show in Santiago.
Valenzuela’s alternative pop is radio-friendly, but her infusion of ska, folk, and jazzy touches has matured with the help of producers Vicente Sanfuentes (Sr. Coconut) and Mocky (Feist), who co-produced Buen Soldado, her second album of all originals. “The most important thing is to have songs,” she said. “You can mix anything you want, but if you don’t have songs you don’t have anything. My songs are super pop, but not generic pop. My stuff is more poetic and introspective.”
As one of only three Latin alternative acts at ACL (the others being the internationalist Manu Chao and Colombia’s Bomba Estéreo), Valenzuela left a good impression at this year’s South by Southwest and is now ready for the next step. “It’s a very important invitation,” she said. “I don’t think there are too many Spanish-language acts who will be playing hour-long sets, so I’m very excited about this. I’ll do my best not to disappoint.” 3pm Fri, Sept 16, Vista Equity stage. — EL
Others you might’ve heard of
8:10pm Fri, Sept 16,
8:30pm Fri, Sept 16,
Bud Light stage
6pm Sat, Sept 17,
Bud Light stage
8pm Sat, Sept 17,
Bud Light stage
ALL ABOUT YOUR TICKETS
Three-day passes are sold out, and at press time the only one-day pass available is the one for Sunday, which you can get for $90 (no extra fees) at aclfestival.com/tickets. Make sure you choose the PrintPass option, so you have a print out your ticket. Hey, auto-updater! We’ll need Adobe Reader for this. Be ready.
Sunday performers include Arcade Fire, Manu Chao, Fleet Foxes, Social Distortion, Randy Newman, Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses, The Walkmen, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mariachi El Bronx, Bomba Estéreo, The Greencards, and 25 other bands.