Monday, September 17, 2007

Austin City Limits 2007

After last year's Lollapalooza '06, I attempted to coin the phrase Mega-Festival to describe the attempt to shove massive amounts of people into a single space over the course of a weekend. Well, Austin City Limits blew that festival away by the sheer size of it. The day-after guesses bring the number at sixty-five thousand, which might be lowballing a little, in my opinion. That number seems sort of abstract and hard to pin down, until you're on a field with sixty thousand other people trying to flee a festival you tried so hard to get to in the first place.

But I'm skipping ahead.

First off, we had some trouble starting off. Actually, before we even left our home state, we were terribly delayed by stupid airline nonsense. I won't bore you with the details (which I'm sure you can guess it), suffice it to say, our plans for the day were thoroughly shot down before they barely began. And we missed one of the bands we really wanted to see mid-day Friday, Peter Bjorn and John. Word around the campfire wasn't we didn't miss much, but still. Sucks. Big time.

We did manage (desperately) to catch Spoon's 6:30 pm set. We were a little too exhausted that day to remember we had a camera so no pictures from that first night, but Spoon put on a damn good show for a few thousand of their loyal Austin fans. I had heard in years past that Spoon's live show leaved something to be desired, and it's true, the pitch-perfect perfection in Spoon's brilliant albums were missing in the one-or-two-note performance, but my hips certainly didn't mind. I shaked my white ass to such classics as "I Turn My Camera On" and "Someone Something" as well as almost every song from the new album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. I had been waiting to see this band for a long time and was so glad we got there in time.

We caught a little Gotan Project on the way to buy beer or iced tea. I knew them from my trip-hop days. A very engaging performance from a band I knew very little about. Made mental notes to check them out some more.

Headlining that evening was the irreplaceable Bjork. Her liveset was, as you can imagine, crazy. Lasers, costumes, a jangling and dancing Icelandian sounding beautiful amidst super-loud beats. Unfortanetly, the day caught up with usand we didn't stick around for the whole set. It was hard to leave, but very nessecary.

Saturday, we woke refreshed and ready to take in the day and some of Austin. We grabbed some kick-ass barbecure downtown and went to the festival in time to rock out to Cold War Kids. I never heard of this band before so I didn't really know what to expect. I was impressed. They have a sprawling rock sound that references a lot of post-rock, but with lyrics. It's indie rock for adventurers.

We then headed to see one of my favorite new artists, the amazing Andrew Bird. Those who knew his stuff cheered at every opening chord. Those who didn't stood perplexed but amazing by this extremely talented violinist/whistler/singer/songwriter. He blazed through the opening tracks to Armchair Aprochrya and The Mysterious Production of Eggs to ferocious applause. His vocals, his dynamic violining, the authenticity of his words poured through those speakers and I was transfixed. His performance was everything I hoped it would. The first highlight.

And then, particularly no time later, the big highlight of the weekend: Arcade Fire. Shawn and I moved in real close to get the best of this wonderful band. It wasn't easy. It was hot. And sweaty. And sort of gross. (And eventually dangerous). But so freaking worth it!

Everyone - I think - has heard of Arcade Fire's legendery live performances. Allow me to elobrate: Every word you've ever read is true. Watching them blast through fiery song after fiery song, my mind kept saying.. As if there was any doubt, this is the best band in the world right now. It felt like there was hundreds of thousands of us in the audience shouting every word, singing our hearts out to such made-for-concert choruses to songs like "Leave the Car Running" and "No Cars Go." (I don't know why they're obsessed with cars, but I digress.)

The Arcade Fire have somehow tapped into a sense of need in today's young people. We need this band. We need its anthems of rebellion and justice and glory. And we need it delivered with every ounce of being in their collective bodies. Three or four songs in and the band's sweat matched the audience. The way they shouted every lyric (even if they didn't have a microphone anywhere near them) was spellbinding. The washes of horns and guitar and violin and whatever the hell Regine was playing was caked with emotion. An amazing experience, from beginning to end.

The only downside was that some kids just got into the spirit too much and decided to crowd surf, almost coming down hard on Shawn. Stupid kids.

Sunday, weary but determined, we woke early to grab some waffles and eggs and oh-so-delicious bacon for fuel and headed to the festival in time to watch The National, one of the most promising young bands in the indie rock scene today. I've been fan for years, but have never been lucky enough to watch a performance. I was mightly impressed, as was the few friends we had around who weren't familiar with them. They played mostly stuff from their new album, of course, and they played with such fire, I loved every moment of it.

Next big band came at the Big Big set for Britian's Bloc Party. They didn't play any b-sides, much to my disappointment, and for some reason, I felt like the massive set and huge huge audience were a little too much for the kids from England, but they still played a fun and upbeat set. I'd seen them before and wasn't too impressed, but the new album tracks worked out really well live.

Next up was Amos Lee, a soulful guy from Philadelphia who poured his heart out for an hour to much ado. There wasn't much God talk this weekend, and this guy wasn't evangelical or anything but his soul grooves and pure heart leaked out and was infectious.

Then, another highlight, the wonderful My Morning Jacket. These guys know how to have fun. They dressed up the set and themselves for this headlining spot. It was a Hawaiian motif with lead singer Jim James in a blond wig and tight-pants, complete with Hawaiian girls holding pineapples and some dudes metal-detecting on the "beach." As for the performance, incredible. So much power in that voice! So much emotion in those guitar licks. People around me didn't seem as into it as I was, but that didn't faze me from rocking out until my flip-flops were so sweaty, I almost tripped.

Finally, after three very long days, the last shows of the fest went on. There were quite a few performances before the headlining Bob Dylan, but I, of course, chose to see The Decemberists. It was my third time seeing them and, though they didn't seem to have the same intensity like when I saw them last in San Francisco, it's hard not to be transfixed to such a wonderful band, even half-exhausted as I was immediately following the My Morning Jacket set. These guys have such wonderful material and they played some of their best songs in an all-too brief set, closing with the powerful "I Was Meant for the Stage."

The final act of the festival was Bob Dylan. At this point, the sixty-five thousand people converged on a single section of Zilker Park and though we had intended to stay for a few songs, we got the hell out of there as soon as we could. I don't "get" Dylan, so I didn't mind leaving. I was curious, for sure, but I was more convinced I didn't want to spend a few hours in line waiting for a bus back downtown after a looooong day out in the sun.

To sum up, Austin City Limits was a remarkable experience. There is no way one person could see so many different bands in such a short time for so many different parts of the country and the world than in one of these mega-festivals. Sure, it's a lot to take. But it's also wonderful. And extremely memorable.

(Stay tuned for a couple more Austin posts, including "Fun Diversions" and - assuming I can figure out this new Blogger feature- video!)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tell Me You Love HBO

Last night, Tell Me You Love Me, HBO's newest one-hour-long drama premiered with much ado and almost as many commercials as that Justin Timberlake thing. I don't usually like to form an opinion on shows based on pilot episodes, but the internet is abuzz today with talk about the show so I thought I'd throw my two cents in.

From the outset, I knew a point of comparison for this show would be the brilliant Six Feet Under. Although centered around death, Six Feet Under was really about relationships, familial and sexual and marital. From the first episode of Six Feet Under on, we were thrown headfirst into a troubled family and all the crazy characters of that family, the Fishers, and all those around them.

After one episode of Tell Me You Love Me, I can't say I know much about any of these characters except that one couple is not having sex, one couple is trying to have a baby, and another couple is young and likes to have sex.

Okay, so I guess I'll talk about the sex now. Everyone else is. There's a word for the kind of sex we saw on display last night. It's called pornography. The producer and headwriter Cynthia Mort joked that she didn't think people would pay much attention to the sex (at least I hope she was joking). HBO has been showing nudity and sex scenes for years on their dramas, but this was long, drawn-out, choreographed sexual escapades.

In other words, gratuitous.

From the outside, one could say the enormous amount sex and the extreme display of flesh was a simple ratings ploy. If this was any other network, I would say they're right. But this is HBO and HBO, to me, has more credibility than... well, anybody and anything.

So the question remains, was all the sex trying to prove something? I kept watching the episode wondering if there was hidden meanings in all the bare asses and naked breasts.

Early in the episode, therapist Mary Coster looks at two pictures of naked bodies for an photo for a book she's writing about sex. A scene or two later, the young couple gets down and dirty and certain flashes evoke those same images. Okay, that's interesting. But by the fourth sex scene in single hour, I started to wonder if this wasn't just a way of shocking people.

Well, I'm not shocked. And frankly, I was kind of bored. Six Feet Under had a lot of sex, some of it graphic, but all of it served some purpose. Some overlaying story arc that needed to be shown during that sex scene, not just two straight people getting it on for fun.

Furthermore, trying to go beyond the obvious, the show seriously lacked a sense of humor. The premise of the show, couples dealing with relationship issues through therapy, is serious stuff. You must buoy that seriousness with some kind of comedy. A joke here or there or - shit, have someone fall on a rake, if that's all you can come up with.

All that being said, I will watch another episode, just because it's HBO and because I'm damn loyal. But there better be some serious improvement or I'm out.