Hot Fun in the Summertime

Austin City Limits Music Festival 2004 wrap-up

Hot Fun in the Summertime
Photo By Gary Miller

FRIDAY

Solomon Burke

Zilker Park, Sept. 17

The only thing hotter than the sun at Zilker Park Friday afternoon was the show put on by R&B legend Solomon Burke. In the style of most soul revues, his band, in full formal wear despite the near 100-degree temperature, opened with a blues vamp. Through the clamor of horns and guitars, Burke, who has difficulty walking due to his girth, was wheeled out and helped onto a huge green-and-gold throne sitting center stage. His disability didn't prevent him from delivering a walloping set however. "It's party time," he proclaimed and then delivered with as much soul as the roaring crowd could endure. In a couple of medleys, Burke paid tribute to "Soul Clan" members such as Otis Redding and Ben E. King, while remembering the late Ray Charles with honeyed renditions of "Georgia On My Mind" and "I Can't Stop Lovin' You." Burke also covered a good deal of his fabulous comeback disc, last year's Don't Give Up On Me, including a deliciously smooth take on Tom Waits' "Diamond in Your Mind." Near the set's conclusion, Burke made an unexpected political statement as he introduced the title track from Don't Give Up On Me. While speaking of the disease and hardship in the world, he advised the audience, "Come November second, you're the ones that will make the difference. Please make a change." A howl of agreement rose from the main stage audience, but that didn't stop the party. Burke ended his hourlong performance with at least three-dozen dancers onstage, and left us all hoping it won't be another 25 years before he returns to Texas. – Jim Caligiuri

Dale Watson & His Lone Stars

Zilker Park, Sept. 17

When there was nothing more important than a respite from the sun and a break from trite pop and overexposed bluegrass, Dale Watson came to the rescue. The clouds knew the hometown honky-tonker was taking the stage, and for at least half of his always-spontaneous set, they covered the burning masses. Opener "Honky Tonkers Don't Cry," the first track off new disc Dreamland, greeted out-of-towners with open arms. This is what you'd want to see if you were new to Texas. The perfect mix of Southern hospitality – Watson blessed the crowd at least a half-dozen times – and C&W rebelliousness, the tattooed outlaw had every rocker, Swede, and Pat Green fan tapping their toes to his guttural growl. In front of a good-sized crowd for the local stage, Watson poured out newbies such as "Way Down Texas Way" and "Fox on the Run" that fans of the raw-edged Bakersfield sound would love. A set full of requests ("This ain't no different than Ginny's," Watson explained in reference to one of his well-oiled local residencies) culminated in swinger "Exit 109." Herb Belofsky's beats blew the clouds right out of the sky, and the heat was reflected in Don Raby's stellar fiddle work. After crowd favorites "Lee's Liquor Lounge" and "Ain't a Cow in Texas," Beatle Bob officially deemed Watson the hardest-working honky-tonker in Texas. – Darcie Stevens

Hot Fun in the Summertime
Photo By Mary Sledd

Broken Social Scene

Zilker Park, Sept. 17

"Only you can save the world, America," Kevin Drew repeated. A tall order from a Canadian rock band. But that's only the half of it. Stepping knee deep into the swamp where hippies and rockers rarely meet, Broken Social Scene genre-hops, or rather leaps, over such boundaries. Throughout the You Forgot It in People-dominated set, Drew & Co. continued their staunch political pleading, citizenship notwithstanding. "Andrew's gonna play this solo for Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter," Drew joked. Sadly, Metric's Emily Haines wasn't around to perform her splendid "Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl," but the Stars' Amy Millan was more than adequate in her place. Throughout, the über-energetic eightpiece spewed dreamy waves and layered imagery over the crowd. With set highlights "Almost Crimes" and "Lover's Spit" justifying the use of four bands onstage as one (BSS, Stars, Dears, and Metric), ACL and SXSW 04 proved once and for all that this is the definitive festival band. Which makes sense: with four guitars, multiple vocalists, and any number of supporting musicians, there's really nothing this musical collective can't accomplish. "Look at it all happening," Drew gleamed. "It's all happening." We heard it in Almost Famous, but Drew was never more spot-on. – Darcie Stevens

Hot Fun in the Summertime
Photo By Mary Sledd

Franz Ferdinand

Zilker Park, Sept. 17

Scottish buzz band Franz Ferdinand's Friday night ACL set climbed past the official time limit, while a Los Lonely Boys blowout prepared to commence only dozens of feet away. No one told the band, though, and they were in the middle of demolishing an innocent bystander of a song called "Darts of Pleasure." Just as the song hit its crescendo, every member of Franz Ferdinand stood atop the drum riser, with the song about to peak. At this moment, the MC introducing Los Lonely Boys hit the mic with "Are you ready to rock?!" It was the precise moment Franz Ferdinand's axemen gave their best Pete Townshend impression and leapt into the air for a splendid set conclusion. It was a fitting climax to a powerful rock show. Equal parts Joy Division and Kiss, Franz Ferdinand bounced through an intoxicating collection of songs from their self-titled major-label debut. With help from a kaleidoscopic light show, the band devoured its album with stunning versions of "Michael" and "40 Ft." Singer Alex Kapranos was all smiles, especially when the audience dutifully roared back the refrain "Take me out!" from the single of the same name. In such a jovial mood, the band returned to perform an encore despite the LLB show well under way next door. As far as the Franz Ferdinand crowd was concerned, theirs was the only performance in the air. – Matt Dentler

The Killers

Zilker Park, Sept. 17

The Killers are accustomed to sweltering performances. They did just that inside at Stubb's in July. On Friday afternoon, however, it was out of the frying club and into the fire. The real Hot Fuss may have been the scorching sun, but the Killers brought their debut and Vegas-based dry heat to invigorate the 1,000 or so ACLers who didn't hit "snooze" on their alarm clocks for the 1pm set time. "Thank you for coming so early to watch us," beamed singer Brandon Flowers as the band launched into the New Wave jam "Mr. Brightside." All that was missing were the skinny ties, since the Killers were decked out in longsleeves, pants, and jackets. Given the climate, it was tough to determine if the heat was the reason Flowers gave a somewhat balking performance. Mic problems during "Smile Like You Mean It" didn't make matters better, though the band managed an impressive Cure aura on "Andy, You're a Star." Plus, it's hard not to deliver the goods on a debut single as catchy and upbeat as "Somebody Told Me." With much of the crowd scratching their heads at the keyboard-friendly band, the Killers defied expectations with closer "All These Things That I've Done." "I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier," cried Flowers in the song, and everyone chanted it back, sounding like a gospel choir. For a moment, the Killers weren't your typical New Wave band and the audience wasn't your typical festival crowd. – Matt Dentler

Hot Fun in the Summertime
Photo By Mary Sledd

SATURDAY

Cat Power

Zilker Park, Sept. 18

You are free ... to suck on occasion. Naturally, fans of Chan Marshall already knew that, but this wasn't one of the indie pop diva's trainwreck sets. Not by a long shot. The setting, however, on the hottest, brightest day of ACL, certainly wreaked havoc on the audience's energy level, resulting in narcoleptic puffballs of applause and attention. It mellowed Marshall as well, perhaps favorably so, for a meaty, hourlong performance grounded in back catalog non- and semi-gems. Cat Power gigs are generally seen as hit-or-miss affairs despite Marshall's perfect, breathy, lodged-in-your-soul voice, and though the majority of this set was hit, the harsh daylight of ACL, which saw no less than three female fans sink to the ground from heat prostration within the first 15 minutes of the set, generated an audience torpor that couldn't help but miss. The biggest round of repetitive head lolling, passing for excitement amongst the sunstruck audience, came from Marshall's take on the Stones' "Satisfaction," off 2000's The Covers Record. Even that sank groggily to the dust, waiting, you would think, for a more restive night to arrive and banish the damned sun. – Marc Savlov

Josh Rouse

Zilker Park, Sept. 18

It's hard not to love Josh Rouse, even when you're gobbling pounds of shaved ice in an attempt to stave off heatstroke. Actually, the sugar high from said snow cone might actually enhance one's enjoyment of this Nashville-based singer-songwriter, seeing as how there's a rather dark tone underneath all that retro AM-radio swank. Rouse kicked off his set just as on his new, live DVD, The Smooth Sounds of Josh Rouse, with "Comeback (Light Therapy)," a fun, funky opener showcasing Rouse's adorable falsetto. "1972," an auspicious year as well as the title of Rouse's most recent LP, tells the story of a "Spanish girl with a tattoo working nights at the drive-through," and it proved Rouse can mine somewhat clichéd material with sincerity and heart, which is no mean feat. Next, he debuted "It's the Nighttime," the first song on his just-completed new album, due for release next year. Despite the angry heat, Rouse got the girls bouncing merrily and the crowd singing along and grooving to instrumental jams that perfectly captured the silky drama of Seventies soul. Alongside sweetly hopeful tunes like "Sunshine (Come on Lady)," Rouse threw in "James," offered as an homage to the brothers Gibb, but sounding eerily reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield's "Freddie's Dead." Only a handful of performers can make spectators feel good during love songs and cautionary tales about substance abuse, and Rouse is one of them. But that might just be the shaved ice talking. – Melanie Haupt

Hot Fun in the Summertime
Photo By Gary Miller

Ray LaMontagne

Zilker Park, Sept. 18

For an up-and-coming singer-songwriter like Ray LaMontagne, an appearance at a big outdoor festival can be a major career springboard. While LaMontagne's 2pm Saturday set would've been compelling in a small, air-conditioned venue, it withered on the vine at ACL's scorched setting. Unless you were standing within 20 feet of the stage, the din of conversations, cell phones, and other stages turned LaMontagne and his acoustic guitar into an afterthought. Having heard the tactful arrangements underlying LaMontagne's soulfully emotive, Van Morrison-style vocals on his just-released debut Trouble, you could only wonder how many more ears might've pricked up if he'd brought a band along. Surely the additional expense would've been offset by the resulting CD sales. While Trouble isn't perfect, songs like the title track and "Hold You in My Arms" are instantly familiar exercises capable of eliciting deep emotional response. The singer's rousing ad lib at the end of "Trouble" brought the stageside faithful to life. His between-song asides exuded the rumpled charm of someone playing for tips on a coffeehouse patio, which would've been fine if not for the fact that LaMontagne has much more performance potential. LaMontagne might not have disappointed those who were already familiar with him, but it's hard to imagine a miscalculated set like this bringing many passersby into the fold. – Greg Beets

Los Amigos Invisibles

Zilker Park, Sept. 18

With an enormous Venezuelan flag sailing front and center among a cluster of jubilant dancers, Los Amigos Invisibles pieced together a seamless mix of sensual grooves. Built on the foundation of four-to-the-floor house drums, Los Amigos' pulmonary basslines pumped frantic congas, chicken scratch guitar, and erotic keys into extreme lounge mode. With singer Julio Briceno striking the pose of a cosmopolitan playboy, the sexual overtones of the band's energetic romp were blatant ("Superfucker"), if not enticing (a cover of Touchdown's 1982 club classic "Ease Your Mind"). Having mixed it up with the Masters of Work production crew on their latest album The Venezuelan Zinga Son Vol. 1, the Caracan sextet embraced a style reminiscent of the Stone Roses endlessly riffing on the grand innuendo of "Fools Gold." Inspired by the warmth of labels such as Fantasy, Groove Merchant, and Om, Los Amigos bridged the gap between subtle American funk and the orgasmic cadence of Latin rhythms. Pulling out all the stops, the band even strutted to the mischievous tune of Harold Faltermeyer's "Axel F" as an interlude between songs. Spanish raps, dub echoes, and a traditional salsa number rounded out a menagerie of unbridled virility as an eager throng of listeners fell into a momentary lapse of reason where even Dirty Dancing's "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" makes for ample party fodder. Willing to take you there and then some, Los Amigos put the swerve to ACL's curve. – Robert Gabriel

Neville Brothers

Zilker Park, Sept. 18

A dusky Magritte crescent moon lofted in the sky as the Neville Brothers opened their stage-closing set with the title track from 1981's Fiyo on the Bayou. The audience's average age climbed two decades from the prior My Morning Jacket melody-drenched rock fest, but by the Neville's syrupy funk interlude age was as relevant as the price of tea in China. The New Orleans funk train, stoked by Brother Art's Hammond B3 organ, hit high gear during "Can't Stop the Funk," from the fine new platter Walkin' in the Shadow of Life (Back Porch). Driven by deep space Bootsy-like bass licks, the tune featured Cyril Neville and Aaron's son Ivan tag-teaming and soul-rapping, while Brother Charles referenced what sounded like Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" in his tenor sax arabesques. Aaron's angelic voice then changed tempo by emoting Sam Cooke's 1963 political poetry "A Change Is Gonna Come." Such elegant sounds belied Aaron's tree trunk frame, the microphone looking like a pencil in the former dockhand's massive hands. Melodious groove came next, from the new family-sized, deep-dish funk platter "Carry the Torch" to a stellar update of the Temptations' classic sign of the times "Ball of Confusion." The band was off the hook pretty much all set, even without plumbing their catalog. In fact, the Neville Brothers playing such a truncated set is like driving a hot rod around a parking lot. Next year ACL, give some respect and let the Brothers play. – David Lynch

My Morning Jacket’s Jim James
My Morning Jacket’s Jim James (Photo By Gary Miller)

My Morning Jacket

Zilker Park, Sept. 18

Playing to large crowds is nothing new for My Morning Jacket. Nevertheless, some "technical difficulties" prevented Jim James and company from delivering the knockout punch the huge crowd had gathered to experience. New band members, guitarist Carl Broemel and Bo Koster on keyboards, fit in seamlessly, with the former's turn on the lap steel being especially noteworthy. Vocalist James seemed to be having trouble getting his guitars to do the things he wanted, which only distracted further. The set even started minus the heavy reverb on his voice that's become the signature sound of the band, an oversight quickly corrected. Opening with slowly building "One Big Holiday," the Louisville based bashers showed off their hair-flailing intensity. Yet, it was squandered in trying to adjust to the equipment problems and by relying too much on the band's dusky acoustic side. When they got to the soaring "The Way That He Sings," MMJ's fuzzy roots-rock side shined, the crowd pleasing "Mahgeetah" from their latest album It Stills Moves bringing about a roar from the throng. When the set ended after 45 minutes rather than the hour they'd been allotted, James had clearly had it with whatever sound issues he was experiencing. Urged back for an encore, he and the band toughed out on an It Still Moves wailer that satiated some, but in the end, the bear of a band many came to see only raised its head too infrequently to the disappointment of most. – Jim Caligiuri

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Zilker Park, Sept. 18

You might think that the first to cry uncle in the blaze of an unforgiving Texas sun would be those from the northernmost latitudes. Sweden's the Soundtrack of Our Lives laid ruin to that theory with an energetic afternoon set that could've taken place at a rock festival 30 years ago. Not only did they advance their encyclopedic love of Sixties and Seventies rock in a most animated way, everyone but the rhythm section wore long sleeves. Vocalist Ebbot Lundberg was clad in a knee-length tunic that made him look like a Franciscan monk crossed with Brian Wilson circa 1977. Opening with the eerie invocation "Broken Imaginary Time," TSOOL paid homage to the psychedelic bombast of early Pink Floyd before picking up the tempo with "Infra Riot." The group played two songs from Origin (Phase 1), the forthcoming follow-up to 2001's slow-growing triumph, Behind the Music. While "Big Time" was slightly undercooked, "Headed for a Breakdown" effectively melded a Stooges bassline to arena rock theatrics. As the band kicked into "21st Century Rip-Off," Lundberg wandered down the pathway between the stage and the sound booth, snapping the microphone cord in the process. The resulting mad scramble was tensely comedic, which made it that much more stirring when power was restored. The sea of hands greeting the set-closing "Sister Surround" offered solid testament that a potential minus had become a resounding plus. – Greg Beets

Hot Fun in the Summertime
Photo By Gary Miller

Pixies

Zilker Park, Sept. 18

Hot tip for any band with two really good albums and a couple more fair to average discs to its credit: break up. Break up now before you mar what you've already accomplished, and break up by fax or the current technological equivalent thereof (IM, Blackberry, whatever). Spend a decade in some side projects, and a decade or so down the road you'll be golden. Worked for the Pixies. As for their performance here, in front of a massive audience – eh, pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. After opening with "Bone Machine," save for drummer Dave Lovering, who brought it all night long, the Pixies were clearly a little listless through the first handful of songs ("Caribou," "Subbacultcha," etc). When they backed up "Umass" with "Wave of Mutilation," however, things started to build, and kept inching up steadily throughout the rest of the Doolittle-heavy set ("Monkey Gone to Heaven," "Debaser," "Crackity Jones," "Dead"). At that point, there was still a sizable gap between what was coming out of the speakers and what was happening on the stage. Close your eyes, and the brief but busy songs sounded like the handiwork of maniacs. Open them back up, though, and three-quarters of the band looked middle-aged bored with the reunion. If the Pixies had matched the intensity of the audience for the full 60 minutes like they did for Surfer Rosa staples "Giantic" and "Where Is My Mind," it would've been worth the wait. That might have been too tall an order in any instance, as a fair percentage of the crowd looked like they had literally waited half their lives for this. As it was, the idea of the Pixies reunion was better than the reunion itself, but still, eh, it was pretty good. – Michael Bertin

SUNDAY

The American Analog Set

Zilker Park, Sept. 19

A perfect Sunday morning (ignoring the part about it being 150 degrees): Austin's the American Analog Set takes the stage as the sundial loses its shadow. Andrew Kenny's vox works better than a swimming pool in this heat. The alluring "Come Home Baby Julie, Come Home" off Promise of Love and "Weather Report" from The Golden Band spread Craig McCaffery's electric Rhodes and Lee Gillespie's vibes from the SBC stage to the Cingular stage, making the sun seem like just another star in the sky. Not without a splash of humor, either. "Is there a Jumbotron here?" Kenny asks. Everyone in the modest and growing crowd points up and to the right. "I was told there would be a Jumbotron," he deadpans. Just because the homegrown ambient masters play slow doesn't mean they're not quick-witted. After a couple of new tracks and 30 minutes in the direct blaze, the crowd became anxious – as did the band. The vibes quieted and Mark Smith stepped down from the drum riser, as Kenny stood alone onstage with guitar in hand. PoL's "Continuous Hit Music" drifted over the crowd like an open refrigerator door, cooling and relaxing and preparing everyone for the long, hot day to come. AmAnSet, the only way to ease into day three of ACL. – Darcie Stevens

Rachael Yamagata

Zilker Park, Sept. 19

Sheryl Crow may have sang "Are you strong enough to be my man" on Friday night of the ACL Festival, but Rachael Yamagata offered a proper reprise Sunday afternoon. During her early day set, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter dedicated her hour to bad men and worse choices. With nearly every song, and every break in-between, she was once bitten and twice shy. During the unbeatable "Worn Me Down," Yamagata asked the audience to sing along, insisting they add the word "asshole" to label the tune's villainous man. If there was any doubt before, Yamagata proved that her debut LP, Happenstance, is full of men to inspire such wrath. "This is a song about one of those asshole boyfriends and all the 15 year-olds he dated after me," was an obvious digression. Overwhelmed by grief, some of the songs drown in the wake. Yamagata probably needs a new schtick, or at least something different for a festival environment. Regardless, her sixpiece band, which included cello and violin, cooked up a few great arrangements for otherwise timid songs like "Paper Doll." Yamagata's band, anchored by its namesake on keyboards, actually saved the sun-drenched day more than once. Without them, her take on "Be Be Your Love" would've evaporated. Instead, the band impressed more often than not, even if Yamagata couldn't quit offering her sentiments on short-lived love. "Do you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend?" she asked the days-old festival crowd with a cynical snicker. "It's just for the weekend. It's only temporary." – Matt Dentler

Hot Fun in the Summertime
Photo By Gary Miller

Elvis Costello & the Imposters

Zilker Park, Sept. 19

If you could hear the din through the tin, you were luckier than most of the horde gathered at the Cingular stage late Sunday afternoon. Stymieing even the most seasoned ACL strategists, the powers that be conspired to keep enjoyment of the original Napoleon Dynamite at a minimum by jacking with the sound so violently as to inspire debate that the speakers might be oscillating, or perhaps being covered intermittently with a giant blanket. Launching the badly mixed, tinny set with no intro (or maybe there was, but we certainly didn't hear one), Costello & his Imposters kicked off their set with a wheeze rather than a bang. They finally kicked into high (but muffled) gear, the set list crowded with songs from Costello's latest album, The Delivery Man, including "Monkey to Man," "Country Darkness," and "Needle Time," which the gathered crowd of Declan devotees seemed to enjoy, despite the problems. Costello, clearly a madman, as evidenced by his tie and dark suit in the scorching September afternoon, delivered what seemed to be a serviceable set, but this assertion is based almost entirely upon visual evidence. None of the advantageous listening spots for this stage (top of the hill, right of the stage, behind the sound board) proved to be any more prime than the others. It's a shame that one of rock's elder statesmen ended up leaving the sweating crowd cold through no fault of his own. Perhaps we, like The Delivery Man, should blame it on Cain. – Melanie Haupt

Hot Fun in the Summertime
Photo By Mary Sledd

The Roots

Zilker Park, Sept. 19

Utilizing hip-hop reference points as the means to reconcile their newly adopted guitar-oriented sound, the Roots put on a historical clinic for those uninitiated in the ways of musical reconstruction. Jumping right out the box with "Boom!" and Black Thought masterfully invoking the flows of Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap, the band followed suit by cloaking themselves in the well-tested comfort of Jimmy Castor's "It's Just Begun," the Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache," and the majestic intro from Santana's "Black Magic Woman." With guitarist Captain Kirk's jangling loop standing in for Scott Storch's electro appropriation of the "Knight Rider" beat, "Don't Say Nuthin'" fit nicely within the Roots' instrumental format. Beyond Black Thought dropping lines from Mountain's "Long Red," James Brown's "Give It Up or Turn It Loose," and the Wattstax soundtrack, Kamaal elicited an Iron Butterfly-esque organ swirl that rubbed shoulders with a guitar solo built off of a riff from Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4." After ?uestlove had his Buddy Miles impersonation matched by the Escovedo flair of Fisticuff's percussion explosion, Leonard Hubbard took his turn at the helm with a bass medley of his own. Drawing allusions to Cymande's "Bra," Melle Mel's "White Lines," and the dissonant explorations of Jaco Pastorius, the trainspotter's wet dream of a set concluded with a blend of Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" and Chic's "Good Times." More so than mere fun under a blazing Sunday afternoon sun, KRS One said it best: "So grab the sphere of life and aim it; and you'll be guided by edutainment." – Robert Gabriel

Hot Fun in the Summertime
Photo By Mary Sledd

Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra

Zilker Park, Sept. 19

Fifteen minutes before Brooklyn-based Antibalas began, the first half dozen rows were standing room only. Those not familiar with the funk symphony's viscous wall of harmonic sound may have thought people packed the tented venue as a sun salve. That notion evaporated faster than spit off an August tin roof as the band's jazz-infused, groove-based epics pushed the mercury higher. Eleven members filled the stage: a tenor/baritone sax tandem, trumpet, trombone, guitars, keys, bass, drums, and percussion. Building on the work of Nigerian political multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti – who, like Bill Monroe, created his own type of music – AAO tighten traditionally lengthy afrobeat jams. Like Fela's dauphin Femi, but not as sharp. Still, by opening with the title track from their new Who Is This America (Ropeadope), the groove collective kept afrobeat's political heart beating. After those opening 10 minutes, AAO launched another long salvo, this one driven by a muscular tenor solo embodying the phrase "move your ass and your mind will follow." AAO sampled from their three albums, but missed an opportunity to wow the crowd with their new "Big Man." ACL may have been their virgin Texas sojourn, but given the volume of the band-guided audience screamfest during the closing number, look for Antibalas to fill a bigger stage next year. – David Lynch

Hot Fun in the Summertime
Photo By Mary Sledd

Calexico

Zilker Park, Sept. 19

For once, the summer dog-end's heat served a purpose, glazing the audience in an Arizonan sweat augmented by a sporadic, weak breeze that, if nothing else, called to mind the scorching Tucson desert Calexico, or those members of the far-flung band who actually reside there, call home. The temperature, in fact, was a good seven degrees south of Saturday's fire-free conflagration. Nevertheless, Joey Burns and John Convertino's El Mariachi-meets-Ennio Morricone mix banked the fires even more with a 45-minute set incorporating Paul Niehaus' pedal steel guitar and Jacob Valenzuela's furiously beautiful trumpet on crowd favorites "The Crystal Frontier" and Love cover "Alone Again Or" off their recent Convict Pool EP. The dust, the heat, the sweat of midday ACL merged with both the vibe and the vibes, and frontman Burns, clearly giddy behind black shades and plaid flannel, offered a brace of plaintive song-stories culled from albums Hot Rail and The Black Light. Calexico's been out on tour with Wilco of late, but Burns remains the happier, less introspective Tweedy, more likely to grin and jump up on the downstroke than his more famous heart-breaking compatriot. Heavy on the mariachi inflection, they even managed to insert a few bars of the Specials' "Ghost Town" into the gleeful finale. – Marc Savlov

Jeff Tweedy
Jeff Tweedy (Photo By Mary Sledd)

Wilco

Zilker Park, Sept. 19

The only flaw with Wilco's sunset Sunday set? It stopped after an hour. This is a band that a year ago looked worn and sounded tired as it finished its Yankee Hotel Foxtrot odyssey. At Zilker Park, Wilco came off as the best thing going in American rock & roll. The difference? Besides a new LP and time off, it has to be the addition of guitarist Nels Cline. Every Jagger needs a Richards, and the former Geraldine Fibber is the perfect counterpart to frontman Jeff Tweedy's quiet charisma. Cline punctuated every song with economical leads and noisy fills, raising the crisp racket to a full blown roar. The duo worked together perfectly closing out a trio of openers from A Ghost Is Born with "At Least That's What You Said," skronking leads intertwining deliriously. Even as they leaned heavily on material from Ghost and Yankee, onstage Wilco never really asked the audience to pretend to like ethereal soundscapes. Tweedy's penchant for noise and aesthetics has certainly increased, but he hasn't gone over the edge only using it to adorn melodies rather than supplant them ("I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" toward the front end of the set, and "Poor Places" toward the back). Under the textures, Wilco is still four-chord Americana. They did dip back to Being There for "Kingpin," a "stupid song" they play because it tends to "rock out." Better was the marriage of the two in closer "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" where the trickle built into a full-on cacophony, before the big guitar riff at the bridge. Sixty minutes. Damn. Not enough time for a band at its peak. – Michael Bertin

BEST ACL MUSIC FEST SET

Greg Beets: Solomon Burke

Michael Bertin: Wilco

Jim Caligiuri: Solomon Burke

Matt Dentler: Wilco

Robert Gabriel: Rebirth Brass Band

CHRISTOPHER GRAY: Wilco

Melanie Haupt: Franz Ferdinand

Raoul Hernandez: Cat Power

Andy Langer: Ray LaMontagne

David Lynch: Neville Brothers

Marc Savlov: Pixies

Darcie Stevens: The Roots

Jay Trachtenberg: Solomon Burke

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