Sunday at Austin City Limits Music Festival 2009 ended up being the best day of music that I have ever seen at the event. Pearl Jam and Michael Franti and Spearhead ripped my face off. Clear skies prevailed overhead, but underfoot the trodden earth remained in a state of mud. Indicative of the diversity of the Austin music scene, the day progressed from dance pop to Texas rock to country to hip-hop-jam-band fusion to pure grunge rock.
The day began with the light-hearted dance pop of the Atlanta-based group the The B-52’s. From past punk pop classics like ”Private Idaho” to the new electronic dance hits like ”Funplex” the The B-52’s covered tunes from all eras of their musical catalog. The pop ballad “Roam” electrified the crowd, while fun songs like ”Strobe Light,” ”Hot Corner,” and ”Love in the Year 3000″ kept the crowd dancing. The The B-52’s pleased the audience capping the set with their mega-pop-hits ”Love Shack” and ”Rock Lobster.”
From the pop of the 1980s and 199s I transitioned to the alternative and grunge rock sounds of the North Texas-based rock band The Toadies. The sounds of the rock music of the 1990s and 2000s elicits memories about my teenage years. The new album No Deliverance has some chops like the tune “No Deliverance,” but I really like the tunes from the early album Rubberneck, such as “Backslider,” “I Come From The Water,” and ”Tyler.” And of course the song that took the cake at ACL was “Possum Kingdom.” The north Texas rockers played a very nice version of this hit song about murder behind a boathouse.
The Miami-based Raul Malo brought American roots music and the wonderful power of multiculturalism to ACL. Western Swing, Jazz, Country, and Latin rhythms collide in Raul Malo‘s music. If Frank Sinatra, Bob Wills, and Freddie Fender had a baby, then it might look and sound a lot like Raul Malo. The former Mavericks front man opened with ”Every Little Thing About You” and played the beautiful track “Lucky One.” The song ”Dance The Night Away” had people of all ages dancing in the mud. And finally ”It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” displayed the crooning ability of Raul Malo’s marvelous voice.
Michael Franti & Spearhead brought the house down. The set list included several songs from the new album All Rebel Rockers, which in my opinion is one of the best albums of 2009. New songs like “Say Hey (I Love You)” and ”A Little Bit Of Riddim” have been reggaefied and funkdafied and make for amazing live music. Franti pulled songs from earlier albums too like the fun song ”Hello Bonjour,” but the new tracks like the “Rude Boys Back In Town” rocked the house.
The bass got louder with “Everybody Ona Move” and then Franti rocked us from the ”East to the West” before having us ”Yell Fire!.” Michael Franti showed his sensitive side with two different heart-felt version of “Hey World (Don’t Give Up Version).” Then Spearhead set the stage on fire with the powerful message tune “Everyone Deserves Music” and the soul power ballad ”I Got Love For You.” The band concluded with their popular new dancehall track ”Say Hey (I Love You),” which little kids and old people alike sang together at the top of their lungs. People danced, sang, and cried. It was kind of like a spiritual revival. Michael Franti and Spearhead are a must see live music act. Their musical power cannot be understated.
After being awed by Spearhead I turned around to see Pearl Jam open their set with the 1990s power ballad “Why Go” from the legendary album Ten. We raced to the front of the main stage as the spectacular day of live music continued. The Pearl Jam set list included many well-known songs like “Corduroy” and my favorite tune “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter in a Small Town.” From newer tracks like “World Wide Suicide” to old-school favorites like ”Even Flow,” Pearl Jam wailed and rocked and kicked out the jams. I had heard a lot of hype about Pearl Jam and it seems to all be true. These guys a true blood rock and rollers.
The set continued with sing-a-longs to “Daughter” and rip-roaring guitars over the ”State Of Love And Trust.” The new single “The Fixer” from the album Backspacer sounded as fresh as the older tunes, driving hard guitars over quality vocals and lyrics. Pearl Jam’s music making and song writing have stayed crisp and hard hitting. ”Go” and then ”Red Mosquito” featuring special guest Ben Harper on pedal steel kept the crowd in a constant state of awe. The hard rockin’ continued with “Do The Evolution” and The Who cover with ”The Real Me.”
Pearl Jam‘s grand finale killed. “Alive” brought the crowd to a fevered pitch when Eddie Vedder invited a very special guest to the stage. Perry Farrell came to the stage in front of an astounded crowd for a rip-roaring cover of Jane’s Addiction “Mountain Song.” The kings of alternative rock aligned for an energetic cover a classic grunge-era tune. The boys from Seattle capped the night with an amazing version of Neil Young‘s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”