The Austin Chronicle

Off the Record

Music News

By Austin Powell, October 3, 2008, Music

Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace

Both the 2008 Austin City Limits Music Festival and the triumphant homecoming of the Butthole Surfers at Stubb's on Saturday opened with the theme from Chariots of Fire. Thankfully, that's where the similarities ended.

The Surfers' sold-out reunion felt like electroshock therapy, a 90-minute curative calamity of glorious noise and plangent psychedelia, triggered by opener "22 Going on 23" and set against a backdrop of strobe lights and depraved film projections. Performing together locally in this incarnation for the first time since 1989, the band appeared in fine form, particularly guitarist Paul Leary and frontman Gibby Haynes, who contorted his vocal lacerations and stripped out of customized T-shirts bearing slogans such as "Hockey Cunt." Vintage cuts "Creep in the Cellar" and "Moving to Florida" burned like acid flashbacks, powered by the plunging rhythms of drummers Teresa Nervosa (standing) and King Coffey (sitting) and bassist Jeff Pinkus.

As The New York Times noted on Tuesday, the seventh annual ACL Music Festival "deserves recognition as a first-tier rock fest, with a regional twist." Weather throughout the weekend was the finest to date, and while some were treated on site for what OTR calls "Zilker Lung," the grounds held up surprisingly well, thanks in part to increased recycling. Hand sanitizers and upgrades to the media area didn't go without notice (though quicker access to the latter is necessary), and the general hospitality in the VIP Grove and throughout the entire park was impressive to say the least.

Personal highlights included the echoes of Pink Floyd rippling through Spiritualized's transcendence, the Drive-By Truckers' epic "18 Wheels of Love," and, in what promised to be their final show for some time, headliner Foo Fighters' gargantuan Austin City Limits taping on Monday night. Following a remarkably poignant set on Sunday afternoon, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings sat in with M. Ward, Jenny Lewis, and Conor Oberst later that evening at La Zona Rosa. Speaking of collaborations, Austin's Tosca String Quartet assisted the Ivy League pop of Vampire Weekend but not collaborator David Byrne, who exorcized a few ghosts from the bushes at his festival set, including the Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" and "Houses in Motion," with help from interpretive dancers. "I think there should be more of them," quipped VW's Rostam Batmanglij between numbers.

On the local front, White Denim's compact funk solidified the figurative meeting point between Gnarls Barkley and the Raconteurs. Local soul shouter Nakia held his own onstage with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, while Bavu Blakes, donning a Barack Obama mask, waxed political following an introduction from Mayor Will Wynn. The Strange Boys and Sound and Jury Competition winners the Steps both covered classics twice their ages, blues staple "Baby Please Don't Go" and the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers," respectively, and the Octopus Project's electronic symphony swelled with the addition of a 20-piece horn section borrowed from the Austin High School Band. "I thought I was going to cry," Octo's Yvonne Lambert remarked later.

Considering the precedent set by artists such as Mavis Staples, Charlie Musselwhite, and the late Andy Palacio, the only sticking point this year was the lack of resounding world and soul music in the WaMu tent (soon to be J.P. Morgan tent?), with the noted exception of the Nachito Herrera All Stars, Antibalas' Afrobeat explosion, and the Senegalese chill of Les Frères Guissé. Our suggestions include rounding up the likes of Youssou N'Dour, Salif Keita, Vieux Farka Touré, Os Mutantes, Tinariwen, the reunited Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Martha Reeves, some of which are obviously too big to play the tent, but then consider that no one reigned more supreme or played a bigger stage last week than the King of Bongo, Manu Chao.

"To come here and spend four days, [Austin's] one of those cities you say, 'What a shame I can't stay longer,'" enthused the original gypsy punk in Spanish to the Chronicle on Saturday, lounging poolside at the Radisson before departing for Mexico City. "We will return."

Songs in A&E

This Tuesday is the third annual Health Alliance for Austin Musicians Benefit Day, wherein nearly 200 businesses, ranging from presenting sponsor Whole Foods Market to ThunderCloud Subs, Half Price Books, Flamingo Cantina, and, of course, Waterloo Records, donate 5% of their Oct. 7 sales and/or make a cash donation to the local nonprofit. The biggest difference this year is the placement of a HAAMbassador at each of the 100-plus performances taking place throughout the city, collecting donations that will be matched (up to $10,000) by the Cain Foundation. Here's OTR's abridged itinerary, but for the complete list of participating businesses and the music schedule, visit

HAAM Schedule Highlights

9am: What Made Milwaukee Famous @ Whole Foods (9607 Research Blvd.)

11am: Chris Gates @ Potbelly Sandwich Works (5300 S. MoPac)

11:55am: Suzanna Choffel @ City Hall

12:30pm: Brownout @ Whole Foods Cafe (525 N. Lamar)

3:30pm: Abi Tapia @ Earl Campbell's Sports Bar at ABIA

5pm: The Derailers @ Waterloo Records

7pm: LZ Love & Lightning Red @ Wyndham Garden Hotel (3401 S. I-35)

8:30pm: Graham Weber @ Waterloo Ice House (600 N. Lamar)

11pm: Dixie Witch @ Room 710

11:30pm: The Monstas @ Continental Club

12:30am: Dustin Welch @ Momo's

Field Holler

Daniel Johnston was the biggest autograph draw all weekend at ACL's Waterloo Records tent. When OTR finally reached the front of the line, brother Dick Johnston revealed that a movie deal based on the artist's life and music had been finalized with a tentative 2011 release, along with a signature series for Converse. Johnston joined the Swell Season on Sunday for its Austin City Limits taping, performing "Love in Vain" with assistance from the Conspirare Children's Choir and closing a cappella "Devil Town."

• The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-López is on speaking terms with former bandmate Jim Ward and hinted at an At the Drive-In reunion.

DJ Shadow is among the crate diggers headed to the annual Austin Record Convention this Saturday and Sunday, 10am-6pm, at the Crockett Events Center (10601 N. Lamar), which will feature an exhibit from Globe Poster of Baltimore and author Joe Nick Patoski signing copies of his Willie Nelson tome. Early-bird shopping ($30) begins Friday, 10am.

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