Austin City Limits Music Festival
Zilker Park - Austin, Texas
Day Three: September 17, 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2006, Volume 13, #10
Written by Christopher J. Emge
One of the great pleasures of a large-scale event like the Austin City Limits Festival is in being blown away by previously unfamiliar acts. Such was the case with the highly lauded, Canadian singer-songwriter Sam Roberts. His brand of variegated classic rock made an almost immediate impact upon the audience. Unlike, say, The Raconteurs, who seemed to be paying tribute to the past, Roberts’ retro-minded style didn’t overwhelm his songs. As a result, he was able to put his own, more modernized spin upon his influences. Roberts’ unbridled enthusiasm bubbled to the surface of Resistance, which — with its Humble Pie-meets-Small Faces ambience — established the tone for his set. Elsewhere, Bridge to Nowhere sounded as if it could have sprung from a collaboration between Bob Dylan and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. Overall, the Sam Roberts Band proved to be the right band to slice through the very humid and very still air to reach into the crowd’s body and soul.
At first glance, it might have been easy to dismiss Scottish-born singer-songwriter KT Tunstall as a knock-off of Dido, but it didn’t take long for the audience to realize that there’s much more depth to her material. She opened her set with the lovely Another Place to Fall, and despite its simplistic pleas — "Affection is yours, if you ask/But first, you must take off your mask" reads one refrain — she managed to make it work. Later in her set, she kicked up some dust with Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, while on Ashes, she settled into a country jig. Most importantly, with her charm and charisma, she won over the crowd, which was composed mostly of younger females.
Son Volt’s Jay Farrar unjustifiably has been living in the shadow of his former Uncle Tupelo partner Jeff Tweedy, and this seems all the more puzzling after witnessing his reconfigured band’s fine performance at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Although Son Volt isn’t known for its live work, the group did what it does best: It rocked hard while incorporating more than a hint of country-imbued twang. Farrar's nasally voice is an underrated asset in that he has a unique, impassioned seriousness that is best epitomized by the protest anthem Endless War as well as the mid-’90s, semi-hit Drown. The ensemble also delivered a terrific rendition of Who from its overlooked effort Okemah and the Melody of Riot.
The Flaming Lips long has been known for the crazy, confetti-throwing, costume-wearing, free-for-all nature of its live shows, and all of the essentials were in place for its highly anticipated performance in Austin. Placed inside a see-through, rubber ball, front man Wayne Coyne immediately ventured into the audience. There also were folks dressed in Santa Claus suits and technicians donning Justice League ware. The band ran through a slew of its better-known tunes, including the timely opener Race to the Prize. However, the songs from its latest endeavor At War with the Mystics didn’t fare any better in a concert setting than they do on the album; they largely remained utterly cold and distant. Similarly, because its full stage set-up is geared aesthetically toward smaller venues, The Flaming Lips’ performance suffered significantly from the large-scale atmosphere of the festival. Coyne’s lengthy, between-song banter also came across as a pointless, self-absorbed exercise.
The clouds began to gather just prior to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ set, and after a ho-hum, opening barrage of hits that began with Listen to Heart and continued with mainstays such as I Won’t Back Down and Mary Jane’s Last Dance as well as his new single Saving Grace, the rains came pouring down, thereby causing a 30-minute delay. Returning to the stage in front of a crowd that had grown more sparse, Petty made the best of it, despite the less than stellar sound, which itself was the result of several amps that had been knocked out of commission by the downpour.
Completing its 90-minute performance in its entirety, Petty and his band fed off the infectious enthusiasm of the crowd. The biggest surprise, however, was the intriguing cover songs that he unleashed, including Peter Green’s Oh Well and Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business. Nevertheless, the highlight of the set was Don’t Come Around Here No More from his 1985 outing Southern Accents. Here, Mike Campbell demonstrated his guitar prowess as he shifted from propulsive rock to sweet, Jerry Garcia-esque melodies. Although it wasn’t as good as Coldplay’s festival-closing appearance in 2005, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ show was far more memorable.
All in all, the 2006 Austin City Limits Music Festival, once again, proved to be the "can’t miss" event of the year. It’s rare that one is able to catch so many old favorites, while also discovering so many equally worthy outfits. Ranging in age from teenagers to those who first saw Van Morrison in the ’60s, the crowd was amazingly diverse, and with the exception of a few overly talkative attendees and obnoxious drunks, the behavior of everyone was unparalleled. The food options, too, actually provided a good representation the city, and the overall affordability of the event is virtually unbeatable.
Christopher J. Emge currently is the head of Artist Relations at Creamy Radio, a commercial-free, internet-based radio station. For more than 3 years, Creamy Radio's playlist has boasted an eclectic mix of music that runs the gamut from mainstream fare to material from local and independent acts.
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box