ACL Fest Hots Up – Day One

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One of the unwanted highlights of the first day of ACL Fest was the fire that started backstage at one side of the park when an SUV and some trucks caught alight. A huge column of black smoke snaked into the air. You could hear a loud whoosh of some sort, almost like a rocket being fired, but I found out later that this is the noise the propane cylinders make when they release their gas.  Better than exploding and raining shrapnel on everyone.

This was just as I was mid-interview with Marie Daulne from Zap Mama. So much for that chat. For a while officials stopped people entering the park but things were back to normal fairly soon.

I am parking the car at a friend’s place about a 15 minute walk from Zilker Park. Walking down the steep hill going there is fine, walking back at night after a hard day is a challenge. However, this is way better than waiting in the endless bus queues or trying to get a taxi.

The weather this year is cooler. At 93F it is practically a cold snap! There were a few clouds around and this certainly makes a difference. I seemed to cope alright with the first day and drank litres of water, most of which seemed to have been sweated out by the end of the day.

I started the Fest with Asleep At The Wheel after buying a chair, which I should have done at a camping store or Walgreens. Anyway, it makes things a little easier. They have a line now beyond which chairs cannot go. Suits me.

Ray Benson and crew always put on a terrific show and seeing him it seems the perfect way to start a  festival in Texas. I also heard a little of Jesse Malin, who seemed quite good and hung around the media area for ages afterwards. He at least has the muso look!

I really enjoyed the set by Joseph Arthur & The Lonely Astronauts and got to interview them later. Bass player Sybil Buck is rather stunning – about 190 cm tall, wearing black tights, short hot pants and large, red-high heeled glam boots. On the other hand, guitarist Jennifer Turner wears jeans and a ripped white t-shirt.

Arthur’s music might best be described as intelligent pop – but that doesn’t really do it justice.  Kind of David Bowie meets Crowded House? He was the first pop signing by Peter Gabriel for Real World but is independent now. Why isn’t he better known? Sybil says it is because he has two first names. He is a mate of Ben Harper so I told him to give Ben a call to get hom to Australia. He was impressed that the epic song ‘Lonely Astronaut’ reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey because that is what inspired it. ‘I am glad that is the key to the song because I thought I might have just taken too many drugs when I was young,’ I said. At the end of the interview Joseph read me  a new poem. Wow! I look forward to playing it on Off The Record when I get back.

I completely missed Crowded House because of the interview with Joseph and band but I did get to see JJ Grey& Mofro, who were very impressive on the Austin Ventures stage.  I thought James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem sounded sensational over at the AT&T Blue Room stage. A certainty for next year’s Big Day Out, you’d think.

At one point I thought I could hear Aretha Franklin but it was Joss Stone, who from a distance sounded great and her band sounded even better. They certainly have the whole soul thing down pat. Speaking of which James Hunter does a great Sam Cooke and his set was superb. He’s an old Essendon lad, gone back to Blighty after a few years in Oz with his parents in the 70s. He is a lovely chap to interview, very funny. James freely admits to his influences and says that sometimes he is in danger of being labelled a copyist. (Maybe I have been too harsh on Joss Stone in the past). But the fact that he writes songs synthesizing his influences makes a differences. He worked with Van Morrison. I said he must be one of the few people Van has talked to which he replied, ‘Van talks to lots of people but sometimes he only says two words to them!’ (I can imagine what those two words) are. A great guy.

I heard a little of Spoon (good) and Queens of The Stone Age (incredibly noisy and discordant). Tried to do a phone report to Off The Record but the phone died on the first attempt and on the second attempt (having run up to the AT&T tent to use one of their mobiles on display) I couldn’t hear Jeff or Billy very well at all. Listeners would have heard the Gotan Project, doing their beautiful Argentinian thing, in the background at first and then The Killers, who sounded awesome on the big AMD stage,  at the second report.

I finished the evening with Bjork, who I did not think I would like but who was stunning.  Of course, there is the unusual voice, then there is the lush instrumentation and quirky songs (I think they coined the word ‘quirky’ just for her). It was so different that I thought it really stood out. Great also that it was at night because it really suited the music.

By the time I got back to the hotel – about an hour and a half after I left the festival – I was exhausted, hit the sack by midnight and enjoyed a great sleep until I woke up to try and get the footy scores (see yesterday’s entry).

Day Two tomorrow.

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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