The rain fell as the music filled the park. Mud seethed underfoot and gushed between toes. Among the strong aromas and beautiful sounds, the 2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival came alive and offered another memorable year of music. Although environmental factors change from year to year, from stifling heat and dust to drenching rain and mud, the show never stopped. The music continued. And Austin proved itself again as the live music capitol of the world.
I caught Dr. Dog at the Dell Stage for my first show. I found these boys from Philadelphia to be quite harmonic, reminiscent of the psychadelia rock of the Beatles and The Byrds. Songs like “The Breeze” and “The Old Days” displayed that smooth 1960s sound. But my favorite song on the set list was “The Rabbit, The Bat & The Reindeer.”
I had heard of Phoenix, but I had never listened to their music. A friend convinced me to see this alternative rock band from Versaille, France. The comparisons to their French peers Daft Punk and Air interested me. Ultimately I understood the comparisons, finding the sound close to a New Order-like electronica pop. Phoenix pleasantly surprised me with tunes like “Lisztomania,” “Lasso,” “If I Ever Feel Better,” “Fences,” “Girlfriend,” “Run Run Run,” “Too Young,” “Rome,” and “1901.” Many of the songs appear on the new album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
The best show of the day came from the Somalian born/Canadian based rapper k’naan. Under the Wildflower Tent the slender Somalian rocked the crowd with political prose, heart-felt lyrics, and blistering beats. Appropriate adjectives include humble, inspirational, and talented. k’naan had a broad appeal, drawing young children and old people, and all those between the young and old. An intimate performance captivated the crowd.
The track “T.I.A. [Explicit]” thundered bass as K’naan introduced the crowd to his unique brand of hip-hop. “T.I.A.” samples Bob Marley’s classic ska tune “Simmer Down,” layers it over heavy beats, and atop raps the brilliant young wordsmith. In Africa, Bob Marley, Lucky Dube, 2pac, and The Notorious B.I.G. reign supreme. k’naan studied these great performers and his sound reflects those influences. Yet the sound is original. The music is gangsta but peaceful, hard but soft, and always chalk full of the contradictions and realities of life.
From Africa the Somalian took us on a trip to “America.” On the album, Mos Def and Chali 2Na join the track with their rhymes on the studio version of “America,” but solo and live K’naan brought this song to its full potential without the help of these great lyricists. The song “Take A Minute” brought emotion to the tent. The following love ballad “Fatima” lightened the mood. And then the hardcore rap song “ABC’s” (with a Chubb Rock sample) rocked the and rolled with pure energy.
K’naan then sang a song about “Somalia,” which brought tears to the crowd’s eyes. The lyricist played two different versions beginning with an acapella and moving into a full band version. As K’naan says “his real will makes your real look like a rental.” This track talks about the perils of childhood in Somalia and the suffering of the people. K’naan harnesses the pain and realities of the world and turns them into amazing poetry. The rapper followed the tear jerker with “Bang Bang,” a nice jamming pop tune. And he ended his set with the a sing-a-long to “Wavin’ Flag.”
K’naan was the highlight of the evening. But the jams continued with Thievery Corporation. The dub electronica duo and band played on the main stage this year kicking out funky electronica with “.” The crew from Washington, D.C. also played the sitar heavy “Mandala,” displaying their unique acumen at world music.
In a testimony to the diversity of the music at ACL I caught parts of sets from the Texas country group Reckless Kelly and the hard-rocking new super trio Them Crooked Vultures. Them Crooked Vultures features bassist John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, drummer David Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters, and Josh Homme the guitarist and lead singer from Queens Of The Stone Age. Kings Of Leon headlined Friday night playing their hits “Sex On Fire,” ”On Call,” and ”Use Somebody.”
The music continued after the festival at the ACL after shows. I went to a Township Records showcase at the Ghost Room downtown on 4th Street in the Warehouse District. I caught the end of Danny Malone‘s set. This kid has a beautifully haunting voice. My wife described him as a creepy James Taylor. His new album Cuddlebug features the eerie track “Basement.” Graham Wilkinson & the Underground Township played some of my favorite tracks from the new album Yearbook, including “Ragamuffin” and “Let It Go.”