Sunday, October 12, 2014

Austin City Limits: the crest of EDM or the death of rock?

The Triangle is and always will be my home - and thankfully it's a pretty good place for music.  We have Cats Cradle, Merge Records, and a festival called Hopscotch in early September.  It's a great scene to check out under the radar bands in a variety of theaters and tightly packed bars and clubs around downtown Raleigh.  But there is one thing that has always been lacking in our state - that is a large scale outdoor music festival.  We have no Bonnaroo, Coachella, or Lollapalooza.  So on my bucket list this year was going to one of the "big" ones.

Enter Austin City Limits - part of a promise Megan and I made back in April.  This was only my second time in Austin, but I look at it like a sister city to Raleigh-Durham in a sense - a large progressive college town in the middle of the reddest of red states.  Maybe it's a little more commercial and expensive than it used to be, but so is everywhere else worth being.  SXSW is never in the cards for me (maybe one day...) but ACL was one last encore for the summer.  We were lucky too - Weekend One of the festival featured "the best weather in 13 years" temps in the 80s with clear skies and dry for three sun-soaked days in Zilker Park.

Clear skies over the Congress Street Bridge

The high points:

Bleachers:  Jack Antonoff opened his energetic set while I was fishing for a lost bike lock key in the grass with Megan scowling at me sitting under a tree (no way to start a festival...).  Thankfully I made it in just in time to catch his last few songs.  "Strange Desire" has been on my iPod frequent rotation since I stumbled across this album about a month ago getting ready for this festival.  It is one of those all purpose pop-rock 80s throwback albums that can fit a variety of moods: you can run to it, drive to work to it in the drizzle, or kick off a sunny weekend listening to it on your ride home on a Friday.

Starting a run...

For an airplane ride home after a good weekend...

Bleachers kicking off my weekend in Austin

CHVRCHES:  Lauren Mayberry's voice

Outkast:  they've been around for TWENTY years?  Funny because when I think of 1994, I think of Weezer and Kurt Cobain versus the Atlanta hip-hop duo.  For me Outkast will always be two broad memories from the W Bush era: packed frat/apartment parties my sophomore year of college and the infectious pervasive chorus of Hey Ya the winter of my first year out in the working world.  They opened with B.O.B. and hit some of my favorites early on.  I wish I could have had more time to get over to Beck's set, but given it took me twenty years to see Andre 3000 and Big Boi live and I might not get the chance again, it was a no-brainer to me where to anchor myself on the first night.

Mac DeMarco:  Behind the guise of a goofy, gapped tooth, flannel shirt wearing dude who makes penis jokes on stage and bums cigarettes from the audience is an immensely talented musician.  Looking at the set list for ACL I found little overlap between the "critically acclaimed" by the music snobbery circles of Paste and Pitchfork - but he was one of the few to cross that bridge.  Some musicians take themselves too seriously, but here is a guy I can tell loves what he does and does it well.

Mac DeMarco: one of my must-see live acts

Trombone Shorty:  for a jazz band to get main stage billing at a 75,000 person music festival, you know they have to be pretty damn good.

Amy's Ice Cream:  my four month pregnant wife appreciated you.  You were the only thing keeping her going some afternoons.

Flag City:  What's up with the flags anyway?  I think my favorite was the one with the likeness of "prison Michael Scott" from the Office.  There were also two cardboard phalluses sword fighting at half of the sets I went to for the weekend (maybe that seemed like a good idea to make at the time?)

Flags everywhere

A grainy Broken Bells.  I really wanted my new iPhone in time for this show...

Austin Bike Tours & Rentals:  guys were super nice.  They even dropped off a replacement key for my lock after I lost one.

Pearl Jam:  I've known you a long time.  You're like the guy I met back in fifth grade that I always thought was pretty cool, but maybe we weren't ever best friends or anything.  You weren't a head case like some of the other guys that were popular in grade school that flamed out by freshman year.  We hung out some later in high school and even into college.  After that we mostly forgot about each other but then I'd run into you somewhere and each time I thought "hey I like talking to this guy" but then months would pass before you entered my brain.  Then about a week ago I ran into you at a bar and you were slurring your words and had a few grey hairs around the side, but otherwise still looked like you were doing all right.  I realized that I had no idea what was going on in your life in the last eight years even though we're both on Facebook and Twitter.  But we talked about all this old stuff that happened way back and the conversation never grew stale.  It could have gone on for hours longer I'm sure - never growing redundant - but I was starving and it was time to go home, so I left a little early.  Maybe I just take you for granted because I assume you'll always be back around...

Rock* versus EDM (and everything in between):  back in 2001(?) my roommate and I pitched the idea of having an all electronic party at our fraternity and we were practically laughed out of the room.  Even the mega-DJs of that time - Paul Oakenfold, Sasha and John Digweed, and Sandra Collins were part of a niche sub-culture.  They never EVER would have picked up major billing at a festival like this in the States, not that there were many good ones back then (see the calamity that was Woodstock '99).  The good festivals were all in Europe anyway.

Times have changed.  The crowd for Zedd must have been in the tens of thousands.  Skrillex and Calvin Harris were top row headliners.  The younger crowd loves this stuff.  It sells.

I can't tell if this is a blip or a sign of where music is going.  In twenty years will "rock" be like bluegrass or jazz - a genre that appeals to a niche audience?  Will "rock" bands headline any festivals?  Is this the crest of EDM or the long pronounced death of rock?

The problem with EDM is - it isn't overly memorable.  Sure, I can and do run to it.  Yes, I'll drive to it on a long road trip.  But I couldn't tell you what I appreciated about any one of the electronic acts versus the other.  And every time Skrillex would get something going, twenty seconds later he was on to a different beat altogether.  It's music manufactured for kids with ADHD.  I felt like I was swallowed up by a video game console and I spent an entire night's shallow sleep trying to unscramble my brain.

In the end,  it was the old favorites that resonated:  Eddie Vedder's trademark vocals echoing between my ears on my ride home with the masses down Barton Springs Road.  I was singing silent verses of Daughter and Elderly Woman Behind a Counter as I dodged crowds, avoided rickshaws, and witnessed drunk teenagers wiping out on the gravel path stumbling home after a weekend of revelry.

A week later I'm reading the twitter feeds about Weekend Two and catching up on all the pictures.  It was a good time.

Now if I could just figure out a way to teleport to Zilker Park from Durham...

Don't ask how long we waited in line for this picture opportunity

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