19 September 2007

Complete ACL '07 Wrap-Up

This year's festival was even better than last year, probably due to the fact that my dad and I were better prepared. But as always, there was plenty of great music to be found. Here's a day-by-day recap. (If I only saw one or two songs, a general recommendation is given. If I saw at least half of a group's set, they are given a letter grade):

Amy Lavere | BMI
Funky country-pop with some sweet bass action. Recommended

Pete Yorn | AT&T
Unfortunately, the fire at the Budweiser tent caused many delays during check-in, so I missed the first half. But overall, he's one of the better singer-songwriters around. His covers of Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" and Peter Bjorn & John's "Young Folks" were stellar. B+

Peter Bjorn & John | Dell
To me, these guys had the most to prove. Like last year's Gnarls Barkley, they had to get beyond their ubiquitous single. And much like Gnarls Barkley, they passed with flying colors. B+

Joss Stone | AT&T
This was the one I was dragged to. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised. She had a band nearly as tight as Bob Dylan's, and boasted some of the best back-up singers of all-time. And, frankly, she looked amazing. And for once, her performance was as excellent as her voice. A-

M.I.A. | Dell
Yup, she's still overrated. Great beats, but that shrill voice is beyond annoying. Not Recommended

JJ Grey & Mofro | Austin Ventures
Bluesy-rock with and edge. Their entire set probably boasted an incredible energy. Recommended

LCD Soundsystem | AT&T Blue Room
Another band that tends to have amazing beats but no voice to carry it anywhere. Luckily, the songwriting has stepped up quite a bit with the release of Sound of Silver. Now they truly have created the thinking person's dance music. Recommended

Queens of the Stone Age | AMD
No banter with the audience. Just an hour of pure rockin'. And that was just fine with me. B+

Kaiser Chiefs | AT&T Blue Room
Na-na-na-na-na! What a rollickin' good time. Honing their best stuff, I wouldn't be surprise if they were better than Arctic Monkeys. B+

The Killers | AMD
I can't believe it's taken me this long to see them. Boy, do Brandon Flowers and co. know how to put on a show. Their stage presence is unrivaled by American bands. From opening withSam's Town's first three songs ("Sam's Town," "Enterlude," and "When You Were Young") to closing with "All These Things That I've Done," there was never a dull moment. Coming from Vegas, it's not surprising these guys are supreme entertainers. A

Paolo Nutini | AMD
Scottish songwriter Paolo Nutini violated a cardinal rule of performance: Never let a cover outshine your original tunes. And Mr. Nutini did it not once, but twice with his reggae-infused version of Moby's "Natural Blues" and freewheeling, party-like take on "I Wanna be Like You" from Disney's The Jungle Book. His originals, however, fell flat and tended to sound repetitive. B-

Cold War Kids | AT&T Blue Room
Adam was right, these guys ain't so good live. Not Recommended

Farmer Jason | Austin Kiddie Limits
If it's good enough for the kiddos, it's good enough for me. Recommended

St. Vincent | Austin Ventures
Never underestimate the power of a woman and her guitar. And looping effects. Though sparse with members, Annie Clark's lo-fi set was beyond impressive. And you have to dig anyone who rips off their guitar strings in frustration. A

Butch Walker & The Lets-Go-Out-Tonites | Austin Ventures
Talk about your good vibes. In a festival-stealing show (they pretty much blew everyone out of the water), the former Marvelous 3 frontman taught a masterclass in keeping the energy up and getting the crowd involved. His ridiculously catchy and clever power-pop was just the right fit for the onstage antics (including a hot pants-clad guy running out wearing a shirt stating he'd "Go Gay for Butch"). Mr. Walker even, shockingly, came out INTO the audience and posed for pictures with many a clamoring female. No one had more fun all weekend then those in that circle. A

Andrew Bird | AT&T Blue Room
Just when you think there are too many male singer-songwriters, Andrew Bird comes along to prove there's room for one more. Recommended

Zap Mama | Dell
Imagine the offspring of Lenny Kravitz and Sister Sledge. One head-banging, hip-swaying time. Recommended

Damien Rice | AT&T
Though he didn't have quite the energy on "Rootless Tree" that I hoped for, he certainly wasn't what I was afraid of: boring. The best of the singer-songwriters at the fest. B+

The Arcade Fire | AMD
There comes a moment in every music fan's life when a show comes along and changes your life. It's only happened once before when I saw the Flaming Lips in '03. Sometimes, though, it can happen again, and it certainly happened Saturday night. With actual neon bibles across the stage, it became evident this Montreal band had a gospel to preach, and it was one not everyone was used to hearing. But from the multi-instrumentalists and stage diving, and the neon lights and odd choices (hurdy-gurdy), it was also clear that this is a band that is staking its claim as the Best in the World, if it's not there already. A+

Ben Kweller | AT&T
Certainly more fun than other singer-songwriters, but also suffered from redundancy. But most acts would kill to close with the one-two punch of "Sundress" and "Penny on the Train Track." Plus, no bloody noses keeping him from performing!B+

Common | Dell
Easily one of the best rappers around, Common again proved he can upstage those who outsell him on a regular basis. His hip-hop medley (including "Paul Revere" and "Straight Outta Compton") was a show-stopper. B+

Midlake | Austin Ventures
I knew Denton was Dullsville, but I didn't know the music from there followed those same rules. Not Recommended

Bloc Party | AT&T
Other than the allergy attack that prevented me from enjoying the set fully, the British lads rocked it out. Few bands have such amazing riffs. A-

Rose Hill Drive | Austin Ventures
Proved that a modern band can still be classic rockers. Recommended

Regina Spektor | AT&T Blue Room
Not as utterly wonderful as when she opened for Keane, but still knows how to draw the audience with her simple ditties. She'll break your hea-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-art. Recommended

Amos Lee | Dell
The black Ray Lamontagne, but with stage presence. Recommended

My Morning Jacket | AT&T
I now HAVE to buy Okonokos after seeing this incredible set. I even dug the Hawaiian luau theme. So many great songs in an hour. Wow. A

The Decemberists | Dell
Colin Meloy and co. were occasionally boring but for the most part enjoyable. Gotta love the whole "Crane Wife" cycle. B+

Bob Dylan and His Band | AT&T
His band was tight and rivaled even Van Morrison's last year. Unfortunately, at 71 years old, his voice is complete gone, like he's been gargling gravel. This set was the musical equivalent of a wormy apple: the band was the rich outside, but Dylan's voice was rotten center. At least now I can say that I've seen a legend. But really, he needs to hang it up now. C

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