Austin City Limits Festival – DAY ONE

I went to ACL yesterday and saw some great bands, including Sahara Smith, Asleep at the Wheel, Blues Traveler, Kings Go Forth, the Black Keys, Pat GreenSlightly Stoopid, Vampire Weekend, and Phish. Wimberly, Texas-based Sahara Smith opened on the Austin Ventures stage and I liked the song “Are You Lonely.” But, it was Asleep at the Wheel that set the mood for the rest of my ACL experience. Ray Benson and his friends rocked. With steel guitar, fiddles, piano, guitars, bass, and drums The Wheel blazed through a hot set of western swing and classic country. The band opened with “Miles and Miles of Texas” and “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.”

Bob Wills Is Still The King

Asleep at the Wheel has been an institution in Texas since the 1970s. The band paid tribute to their heroes Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys with a Waylon Jennings song “Bob Wills Is Still The King.” From there they played the Bob Wills super-hit  “New San Antonio Rose.” Often Asleep at the Wheel teams up with a famous artist. For example, Leon Rausch recorded a new album with the Wheel called It’s A Good Day. At ACL Asleep at the Wheel played the title track from the album. The swinging musicians also played tracks from the Willie And The Wheel album recorded with Texas icon Willie Nelson, including “Hesitation Blues,” “Sweet Jennie Lee,” “Oh! You Pretty Woman,” and “I’m Sittin’ on Top of the World.”

I'm Sittin' on Top of the World

The rollicking Asleep at the Wheel set got even better with the hilariously titled song “Big Balls in Cowtown.” Followed by one of my favorite tunes of all time: “Hot Rod Lincoln.” I am a big fan of the post-1960s western swing revivalists. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen are another fine band that fits into the mold–a band that also played a wild version of “Hot Rod Lincoln,” as well as a great version of “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette.” Commander Cody appealed to the west coast hippies paying homage to the Cowboy Code. Long haired Ray Benson fits in with these western swing revivialists, but Asleep at the Wheel is more than all that. They have become an institution in Texas keeping musical traditions alive. Plus Texas music history owes a debt of gratitude to the band. The excellent theatre production A Ride with Bob featured Asleep at the Wheel and the amazing Ruby Jane playing a young Bob Wills. From pure western swing to boogie woogie the Wheel wrapped up their set with “Boogie Back to Texas” and “Bump Bounce Boogie.”

Free

Donavon Frankenreiter followed the Wheel with a fun set including “Move By Yourself” and “Free.” Frankenreiter played a sweet song written for his son titled “Call Me Papa.” He then covered Tom Petty’sAmerican Girl,” putting a chill twist on the Classic Rock gem. The mustached singer played his hit single “Glow” and the catchy “It Don’t Matter.”

Blues Travelerkilled with their old school single “But Anyway” and a cover version of Radiohead‘sCreep.” The hit singles “Run-Around and “The Mountains Win Again” were followed by an amazing jam with the 15-year-old fiddle player Ruby Jane. Jon Popper and his tight jam band also covered the Sublime song “What I Got” ending with the mega-hit “Hook.”

The Outsiders Are Back

The Kings Go Forthwere the great surprise band for me on Friday. Their 1970s funky disco sounds were groovy. This 10-piece American soul band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin has an incredible stage presence to accompany jams like “One Day,” “I Don’t Love You No More,” and “Don’t Take My Shadow.”  We all know what made Milwaukee famous, but now we know why it is funky!

The Black Keys powered through a garage rock and blues set that included “Thickfreakness,” Strange Times,”Tighten Up,” “Your Touch,” and “Everlasting Light.” While Texas country artist Pat Green transitioned from the anthem  “Wave on Wave” into a nice cover of U2‘sAll I Want Is You.”

Chronchitis

I have seen Slightly Stoopid at ACL at least three times now. And I have liked every show. The dubby grooves are infectious. The reggae-punk rock formula originally perfected by Long Beach’s Sublime works well. Plus the lads from San Diego have mastered their vocals and guitar playing and their brand of stoner rock is always welcome in Austin. Among the songs played at the festival were “I Would Do For You” and “Till It Gets Wet” and the extremely danceable “Somebody.” Slightly Stoopid plays party songs interlaced by the occasional punk rock explosion like “Punk Rock Billy.” But don’t think there is not a message in the music. Just take a close listen to the politically charged “Runnin’ With A Gun.” 

Vampire Weekend provided a nice segue between the dub of Slightly Stoopid and the jam rock of Phish. The Columbia graduates sound like Paul Simon’s Graceland with strong hints of The Clash and various other world music sounds mashed together into a refreshing pop sound. The set list included: “Horchata,” “Cousins,” “Oxford Comma,” “White Sky,” “Holiday,” “California English,” “I Think Ur A Contra,” and “Walcott.”

Phish played a classic set opening with a rocking “Down With Disease.” They followed up that original song with a cover of the Talking Heads track “Cities.” Phish is Mike Gordon on bass, Trey Anastasio on guitar, Jon Fishman on drums, and Page McConnellon keys. But at times it seems like there might be twenty people on stage. The sound is full and lush and really meant to be listened to at a venue like Zilker Park. Following the Talking Heads cover, Phish geared up for a funky-driving “Possum.”

Wolfman’s Brother” brought people to their dancing feet while a jammed out version of “Chalk Dust Torture” awed the crowd. My favorite moment was an unexpected Velvet Underground cover. I dig Lou Reedand the Velvet Underground, so a bad ass version of “Rock And Roll” is alright with me. From this foray into the underground  Phish smoothly transitioned into an almost symphonic spaced out “2001.” I am also a big fan of the newest album Joy, from which Phish played the excellent track “Backwards Down The Number Line .”

Joy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version)

After a reggafied “Harry Hood” the boys played another one from Joy called “Light.” I am not as familiar with this song, but it provided a nice pallet cleanser for a rockin’ “Suzy Greenberg.” The set concluded with an extended “You Enjoy Myself.”  The encore rocked with a killer version of “Cavern” and a crowd-pleasing “First Tube.”

Quite frankly, Phish put on a hell of a show. It was nice to see Phish in Texas again. I hadn’t seen Phish in Austin since they played at South Park Meadows in the late 1990s. Hopefully, Phish will return to Texas in the near future. People forget Trey Anastasio was born in Fort Worth, Texas. So come on boys, bring it on back to Texas sometime. Why not? I guarantee a sold out crowd at the Bass Performance Hall in downtown Fort Worth. Come rip our faces off with a howling version of The Edgar Winter Group‘sFrankenstein.”

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Austin City Limits Festival – DAY ONE

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