Saturday September 27
The undoubted highlight of Saturday was the appearance of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss but that was at the end of the day and there was plenty to see beforehand.
I was keen to see Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed and he and his band did not disappoint in the WaMu tent. I recently said that he is this year’s Sharon Jones and, ironically, Jones’ set on the AMD stage was underway when Reed came on.
Reed’s band The Trueloves, however, are not The Dap Kings – they are rougher, readier and not quite as tight. Still, they are very good indeed.
It is difficult at first to come to grips with the voice emanating from this young white guy who looks like he stepped out of a hot rod convention with his slicked back hair and polyester shirt. A couple of the songs on his debut album, Roll With You, are great and I am sure he will be a sensation when he hits Australia later this year. Everyone seemed to love him; he has some dramatic flourishes and relates really well to the audience.
But a few minutes after seeing Reed I saw the ‘real thing,’ some might say, in Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears whose soul blues struck a nerve with me. Here is an entirely different, more basic and, to me, more authentic music and I really liked Lewis’ cool attitude.
We managed to catch some of Robert Earl Keen, Conor Oberst (impressive), The Black Keys (ditto) and The Nachito Herrera All-Stars from Cuba (who really go the WaMu tent hopping). It was a little like sampling from a smorgasbord prior to getting to the AMD area for a spot to see Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.
All the stage hopping meant that I missed John Fogerty and Roky Erickson but the chance to see Plant and Krauss in a better spot than I got to see them in New Orleans earlier this year was enticing. Not only that, a half hour into their set – when Beck had started on the AT&T stage – there was a mass exodus and we ended up just near the mixing desk with a terrific view.
The sound was brilliant too, interrupted only occasionally by Beck’s band. After an acoustic number, Plant said, “That was hard to do, especially with The Village People in the background.” I don’t think he was impressed.
With T Bone Burnett leading the band and Buddy Miller on guitar, it is certainly a formidable outfit. The songs came from the acclaimed Raising Sand, the Led Zeppelin back catalogue and even O Brother Where Are Thou? The set list included ‘She’s Got the Money,’ ‘Leave My Woman Alone,’ ‘Black Dog,’ ‘Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us,’ ‘Fortune Teller,’ The Battle Of Evermore,’ ‘Down To The River To Pray’ and Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Nothing.’ Burnett got to lead on his own song ‘The Rat Age’ (‘You never thought you’d hear that.’) and Krauss performed ‘Wildwood Rose.’ The show concluded with a stunning version of ‘Gone Gone Gone.’
While there are still rumours of a Led Zeppelin reunion sometime next year, I have no doubt that Plant is finding this tour very satisfying. No one can accuse him of lack of generosity as he often defers to Krauss. (Also, he doesn’t have to live up to ridiculous expectations). Perhaps the most important aspect is that he is singing better than ever – not over-singing as he sometimes did (and was sometimes demanded by the Zeppelin songs).
Let’s hope that the duo make it down to Australia because this is a very special show.
It would be hard to top the Plant/Krauss show but after nearly ten hours of music at ACL Fest more was on the way!
On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at Threadgill’s to see Bob Schneider and his Bluegrass Massacre for what was an amusing, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable two hour set! (The double CD live recording was available about 15 minutes after the show ended). Why Schneider is not a star is a mystery. Perhaps he cannot quite decide what he wants to be: country, rock, punk or bluegrass star? I think he is exceptional.
Then it was off to The Continental Club for Alejandro Escovedo’s midnight show. I had contemplated not going but it has become something of a tradition for me. I arrived soon after the start and while you could not pre-buy tickets I only had to wait maybe 15 minutes before getting in. The place was packed but at this club even the sold out shows are never too uncomfortable. I like the fact also that the door staff resist all sorts of bribes and enticements from people trying to jump the queue.
Talk about talented artists not getting enough recognition. This was another extraordinary show. Different in mood to the ACL Fest set and even more powerful. Escovedo was brilliant – and he closed with Neil Young’s ‘Powderfinger’ and Mott The Hoople’s ‘All Young Dudes.’
I spoke to Alejandro the next day – we had been trying to hook up a face-to-face interview – and he expressed a real desire to come to Australia. He also demonstrated a huge knowledge of Aussie music – from The Scientists to AC/DC.
Sunday September 28
Sometime about 4.00pm I lost my mojo. This is the second time it has happened this year, the other time at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Some might call it hitting the wall but I think it was sunstroke!
Somehow, while standing watching a superb set from Gillian Welch and David Rawlings I managed to get my forehead sunburnt. Just how this happened is a mystery because I was wearing a cap and was facing north. I am fairly certain the sun still sets in the west, even in the USA.
I started to notice the symptoms soon after seeing Xavier Rudd at the WaMu tent – double vision and a splitting headache. I’m not blaming Xavier for this, although his drummer’s bass drum was incredibly loud. I met Xavier (or The Sav, as I call him) after his set and we had a nice chat, once he recognised me and realised I wasn’t some crazy old dude stalking him.
My partner unkindly suggested that my headache was due to the six beers, two Jack Daniels and coke and two vodkas with Red Bull (free sample) that I had the day before. I don’t agree with this, especially now that I can see the red stripe (not the beer) across my forehead.
So much for my theory that you cannot get sunburnt in the USA!
I am please to report that later in the day, while seeing The Gourds at Threadgill’s, my mojo miraculously returned, coinciding with several 16oz cans of Lone Star. Amazing.
Gillian and David Rawlings were superb. They started with ‘Orphan Girl’ before Gillian picked up the banjo for ‘My First Lover.’ ‘Everybody loves a chick with a banjo,’ she joked. Then there was ‘Lonesome Blues,’ a song they recorded with Willie Nelson, which was unfortunately interrupted by sound bleed from the other main stage. “How do we sound with the rhythm section?” asked Welch.
They were joined for a guest spot by none other than Alison Krauss who sang a selection from O Brother (‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’). There was also superb renditions of ‘Look At Miss Ohio’ and ‘I Wanna Play that
By my count there were at least three new songs: ‘Sweet Tooth’ on which Rawlings took lead vocal, ‘Knuckleball Catcher’ (about a baseball layer) and ‘The Way We Will Be’(?). All of which makes one wonder why, with such great new songs, there is not a brand new album out now!
Xavier Rudd drew an impressively large and enthusiastic audience to the WaMu tent and out in a powerful show that elicited huge cheers. Joe Bonamassa on the Austin Ventures stage was a guitarist I had not seen before but his set certainly prompted me to buy his latest CD.
We enjoyed the down home set from South Austin Jug Band at the small BMI stage, then some funky Galactic before enjoying a little of Band Of Horses.
Avoiding The Raconteurs and closing act The Foo Fighters we actually made it back to the hotel for a shower and a change of clothes prior to enjoying a meal and The Gourds in the outside beer garden at Threadgill’s.
It was a fitting way to close the festival weekend. No midnight gigs tonight. By the time the band finished at some time after eleven we were both pretty much exhausted from what is an amazing weekend of music.
Next year the Austin City Limits Festival is being held on the first weekend of October.