Attending a new festival is always tricky: where do I go, where are the stages, how bad are the lines and – most importantly – what time is the free booze for media members?
However, when the new festival is as well organized and functioning as Austin City Limits, it is nothing but a pleasure. Throwing a festival as large as Bonnaroo one mile from a large city is no mean feat, let alone doing it two weekends in a row. Yet the folks at ACL make it look easy from the plentiful, and clean, toilet facilities, to the polite security and well managed stages to the bountiful food and beer selections (albeit, at a little steeper price than normal). There are some issues with bleed with eight stages in such close proximity, but other than that slight detail, it is the most well oganized festival I have ever seen.
Here are some highlights from day one of weekend two.
The logistics of getting to and fro such a large festival in such a crowded city are formidable, so I got a bit of a later start than intended. I began the day with the pleasant jangle pop of Alvvays. As I took in the site, I noticed several things immediately. The sightlines were good and, as everywhere in the festival grounds, the video screens were large, bright and easily viewable. Mixing songs from their self-titled debut and 2016’s “Anti-Socialite,” their bright accessible sound was a perfect fit to start the sunny day.
Next, it was off to David Byrne (with a bit of Noname on the way). With a mix of songs from his newest solo album, “American Utopia,” Talking Heads songs, and unexpected covers (Brighton Port Authority and Janelle Monae), Byrne provided the show of the day and probably the festival. With a 12-piece band including six (!) percussionists and unique staging, it was visual and aural spectacle like nothing I have ever heard or seen.
From Byrne, it was off to see Jungle. Touring in support of their second (and vastly superior) record, the English seven-piece brought a blast of mid-70’s funk to the new Barton Springs stage that had the entire crowd dancing. Afterwards, it was off to see Lily Allen, whom seemed to be on a stage a bit too small for the massive crowd that congregated to hear her blistering, smart-a** pop.
After catching a bit of Khalil, we wandered over to see The National on the main stage. Opening with “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” the band was a roaring powerful machine from the outset. Lead singer Matt Berninger was talkative and chatty (possibly a consequence of the copious amounts of red wine sloshing out of his red solo cup) and soon found himself 300 feet into the middle of the crowd. This was my third time seeing The National and they have become better every show.
From the National, it was off to Father John Misty. Every man in the world has at one time asked himself, “Why is this girl dating such an obvious narcissist? Why do girls like guys who are bad for them?” Watching Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman), I understand. His charisma and charm are undeniable and his stage presence could be felt throughout the large crowd. Backed by a versatile 11-piece band (including three multi-instrumentalists trading off keyboards and guitars), the band allowed everything from a soft piano and string section mix to a roaring blast of classic rock and Tillman took full advantage as he gyrated, danced and delivered his hyper-literate, wordy tunes. No one else in the world is making music like this and no one else in the world is performing like this.
Finally, it was off to see Paul McCartney in front of the biggest crowd of the day and, as rumor would have it, the largest in the history of the festival. Macca played a bit of everything in his 31-song set. “Come on To Me,” and “Fuh You” from his newest record were particularly well-received, a remarkable feat for a 76-year old who still writes a song about teenage love as well as anyone ever has. Wing’s deep cut “Junior’s Farm” was a fun early surprise as was a pre-Beatles Quarrymen song, “In Spite of All the Danger.” Of course, all the Beatles highlights were present: “Hey, Jude,” “Let it Be,” “Blackbird,” “Something,” “Helter-Skelter,” and plenty more made the cut. But, the real highlight was seeing the eternally youthful Macca, who at 76 years old is no legacy act but still a potent performer at the height of his game.