BDA: Austin City Limits, for the Musically Challenged (10/8-10/10)

by

People infinitely cooler than I are right now packing their bags (or bindles, I don’t know what’s in right now) for Indio, CA and Coachella: a weekend of KILLER sets from an impossibly great lineup of musicians. But you know what else is cool?

If you’ve been reading Lifting Fog with any regularity over the past few years (which means you’re a relative, or you hate-check us), you know a few things:

1) Music trends are not something I can even pretend to know anything about. One time I tried to like Black Kids (the band! The band!); ten years after “What’s My Age Again?” I still sometimes listen to Blink-182. Meanwhile DJ Steve is named “DJ Steve” and GOD. DAMMIT.
2) Crowds I find generally unsettling, especially when there are unisex jeans involved.
3) “Oh, that? It’s from a Wes Anderson movie.”

The words I would use to describe my musical acumen, “not hip,” are already themselves the product of another time. Want to hear about “not hip”? Last fall I emailed a friend about this cool new mash-up artist, Girl Talk, who she should “really check out.” Girl Talk has of course been around for going on seven years now, and that I only found out a few weeks ago. So I’m very much NOT YOUR GUY on issues of contemporary coolness.

But in spite of that, or possibly because of that, I’m pretty sure I had a better time at Austin City Limits than any of the 100,000 other music-lovers in attendance. What was likely for all the cool kids just another cool weekend in cool city was, for me, an incredibly unique new cultural experience. Something totally off the beaten path. …And guess who just beat the hipsters at their own game!

Also known as “ACL,” Austin City Limits is a music festival held deep in the heart of Texas every fall that attracts indie rockers, hip-hop groups, country boys and also M.I.A. to its Zilker Park stages. It is, from my vantage point, coolness incarnate…and somehow, without planning it, I had found a way to make my way in. Immediately it felt like good fortune; luck. But six months later, trying to underscore my reflected-on road trip with as many dramatic contrivances as possible, I can see that it was DIVINE PROVIDENCE. I was meant to find my way to ACL. Why?

TO REPENT.
Professional ridiculous rationalizer that I am, I’d sort of never seen the point of music festivals. You’re there and they’re there and there’s sweat and pot and a better chance of getting laid than you’d find pressing the Shuffle button on your iPod but…I’ve heard this stuff before. I know the lyrics. All of this I can get for cheaper at home, and without having to wear a wristband. But all those things you (read: I) tell yourself (myself) are immediately dispelled by the first act you hear, just so much better and more interesting in person than they could ever be through a pair of headphones. Bands you might even ACTIVELY DISLIKE are somehow brought into the light of tolerability when they perform live. In unrelated news, I thought Phish was really great!

TO GORGE.
At Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, there is a cheesesteak kiosk next to a BBQ pit next to a fried chicken stand next to this one place that makes a sandwich called “The Schmitter,” and not a single (stupid) healthy option to break the chain. Until ACL I would have defended, to the death, this otherworldly spread as the best array of food in one contained private space. But now… For those who don’t know, Austin has an incredible number of incredible dining stops. Amy’s Ice Cream. Gourdough’s Donuts. Mighty Cone. The Salt Lick. Ruby’s BBQ. And we haven’t even gotten to actual adult restaurants. All of the above — and so much more — is set up tent-style in the middle of the park, a perfect stopover between Band of Horses and Flaming Lips and the only thing keeping you alive that isn’t spiked Gatorade or your own sense of euphoria. It’s manna from Heaven.

TO LEARN.
Hipsters and hippies are, for the most part, two distinct groups with their own uniforming and facial hair requirements. Assemble 5-6 of them in a police line-up (for whatever crime) and the differences — plaid and tie-dye; skinny jeans and no pants — are more than easy to spot. But throw tens of thousands of them together in one hot, jumbled mess? At a festival where their musical tastes overlap? Relative nudity like you see below might be a dead giveaway (hipsters abhor hints of sexuality, because that would mean they’ve failed in their mission to look like 12-year-olds girls), but everything else…you just can’t know. The trick, then, is waiting for the second day of the festival. While by this point any normal person, including the hipster, has showered…the hippie hasn’t. He or she stinks, and can be more easily picked out of a crowd.

TO ROCK.
Oh right, the music! Some high- and low-lights:

LCD Soundsystem. Before the weekend I had not once heard anything by this group (and now they’re retired, go figure), but I can say without doing so for the sake of this post hesitation that I spent the better part of the following week listening to nothing but. AWESOME show, driven by amazing stage command. Best of the festival.
The National. Most of their songs sound like something you’d listen to at a particularly depressing funeral, maybe one in an abandoned warehouse, but somehow these guys rocked HARD. On the subject of product vs. performance raised in “To Repent”: point taken.
Portugal. The Man. (spelled like that because-) is some sort of avant-garde post-rock outfit from Alaska, but it was difficult to understand them from under the hoodie their lead singer was wearing in 90 degree heat. I GUESS HE WAS COLD AND NOT BEING DELIBERATELY CONTRARIAN.
Vampire Weekend. They’re fun. Do you not like Vampire Weekend? Ezra probably doesn’t even care, he’s just happy to sing.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros…are The Fray of the folk indie “family band” game. Which is not to say not enjoyable to listen to, but…
The Gaslight Anthem. Proud sons of New Jersey, and barring a mis-chosen hat — no one ever needs to wear a hat, as a general rule — one of my favorite acts of the weekend. They’re straining to be Bruce, but there are worse things you could strain to be.
The Flaming Lips..have a lead singer that looks remarkably similar to a man I used to work for.
Band of Horses. They are just good.

TO HOLD IT IN.
I realized around 5pm Friday afternoon that I had not gone to the bathroom the entire day. For someone usually just very conscious of whatever his plumbing is trying to say, this became something of a weird concern. Hadn’t I been drinking inappropriately going on 6 hours? Was this a terrible and deeply disturbing practical joke? Even camels can’t hold that much beer! Then it hits you: even an alcoholic’s amount of drinks deep, whatever you would have leaked out that day is instead just sweated out from walking. And dancing. Screaming. Taking pictures of that leaf over there because wow, it’s so beautiful. Your regular urination schedule is simply no match for the corporeal domination of Austin City Limits. It takes hold, and literally doesn’t let you go.

I am not a cool person. Being two or three steps behind is hard-wired into my DNA, something inescapable no matter how many pots I smoke or Animal Collective albums (leaked singles? TELL ME WHAT TO DO, GOD) I listen to, the latter of which remains at “none.” But I have something else, dammit, that runs circles around cool: the ability and willingness to endlessly editorialize about cool in a semi-anonymous public forum.

That might be the coolest thing of all.

Next up: Something with fewer pee stories.

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    […] Bird (for whom the nearby lake is named). Across the pond, Zilker Park plays host every fall to the Austin City Limits music festival. Rappers perform alongside aging rockers! Then there’s the just-finished SXSW, which manages […]

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