Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Austin City Limits 2004

Just a few impressions from Austin City Limits 2004, notable for the scorching heat and the disproportionately huge crowds on Saturday (something like 75,000 people). The organizers should really limit sales better, but I suppose they wanted to cash in on the swell of people for the Pixies.

- Neko Case played her usual mix of originals and covers. Not a prolific song writer by her own admission, she remains an impressive song interpreter. Even in 100°+ heat (that's 38°+ for everyone who's not from the US), she can still raise goosebumps with the soaring notes of "Furnace Room Lullaby," especially the acapella ending that spellbinds every audience I've been in.

Two great quotes from Neko:
"Hey there's Beatle Bob! It's a festival officially now."
"There's literally a vulture circling over there. That's the sign my time is over. Huh, that's never happened to me before."
Neko Case site

- Witnessed the smallest navel I've ever seen. Roughly 3/8" long at it's widest point and so shallow as to be a mere indentation. My first thought was, "Navel reduction plastic surgery?!" No photo, sorry.

- I coined a new word.

Chatterchairs - music festival-goers who set up chairs blocking access to the stage and then talk nonstop through the band's set. See also total bastards.

- Cat Power was pretty decent. For those of you that don't know, Cat Power usually is just Chan Marshall singing accompanying herself rather starkly on guitar or piano. She has a been a reputation for repeatedly abandoning songs halfway through and ending her shows with a whispered apology for how "badly" she's just performed. While these behaviors have mightily peeved some, many others find this to be a proof of a fragile artistic soul. Frankly, it's kinda schticky. When she minimizes it, she can be be incredibly riveting. She's got a voice and affect that's curious and hypnotic.

At ACL, she opened her set with a cover of "Sinnerman," which I'm familiar with through Nina Simone's version. The trick to successful covers is to either copy the original well and capture the spark, or transcend the original so as to reshape the way the audience comes at it. I'm thinking of Lyle Lovett's cover of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man". He turns that well known song of a woman citing wifely duty to a cuckolded man begging for fidelity. Chan Marshall worked the trick on "Sinnerman" by transforming Nina Simone's strident declaration into a desperate plea. Later in the set she did her thing to "Satisfaction." Where the Stones version is strutting declaration, and Devo's a frantic explanation, Cat Power's is resigned defeat. She just has the one way with her covers, slow them down, strip out the instrumentation, and sadly sing the words, but it works.

Anyway, at ACL she played every almost everything through to the end and only ended her set five minutes early, a fairly good reading on the Cat Power pretentiometer. It was rather comical to hear her apologize for her set, then set about packing up her guitar while the audience clapped and called for more song. See Chan? They like you.

- Broken Social Scene are a supergroup of sorts with most members playing in other Toronto-area bands (Stars and Metric being two). Their shows at SXSW 2004 garnered good press and they seem to be gathering a following. All in all a fun rock show, though noting in particular stood out for me.
Full of energy and lots of guitars (at one point six arrayed across the stage), the singer did remind the audience that, "You have a choice coming up soon. Make the right one. Only you can save the world, America." Which must have been directed at the minority non-Texans in the audience as this is by far the safest state for Bush, even taking into account the supa-Democratic environs of the capital Austin. And yes, we love our little progressive oasis in the political desert of Texas that gets regularly attacked when Congress is in session.

- Despite somewhat lackluster energy, the Pixies were incredible. It's hard to view the show objectively when the band in question has been in my top 5 for the last 14 years and I never got to see them live back in the day. So Joey could have played while lying on his back while goat placenta was rubbed into his scalp and I still would have loved it.
A profoundly strange moment came during the show when I realized that the drunk and/or stoned fratboys in full "uniform" (frat party t-shirt, ragged basball cap with radically curved brim, khaki or blue shorts) behind me knew the words, even the Spanish ones. Now that's a bit odd for a band with no radio or MTV hit that broke up when these kids were we'll say 8 years old. Nevertheless, hooray for them and it was lovely to be in the middle of big crowd singing selected lyrics lustily.
I look forward to seeing the Pixies again in Houston and Dallas in a couple weeks.

OK, I'm bored of writing about ACL Fest and you gave up reading this a while ago so, the mustard blend at Texadelphia is like crack to me and I was quite put out when it was denied to me at their food booth. Saracens!

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