So, what happens to freshly laid grass in a public park after a day full of rain and thousands of people walking back and forth across it at the same time? Well, as anyone who was present for Day Three of Austin City Limits Festival 2009 (ACL) could tell you, it turns into a big muddy, stinking, sloppy mess, one with the power to swallow shoes and small children whole. The stories from this day will mostly revolve around how people were able to survive the conditions at Zilker Park without becoming a drunken bog monster, but Aftermath braved it all (including the projected 80 percent chance of rain, which thankfully never showed up), because the music is just that damn important.
Our day began at the Austin Ventures stage where we enjoyed the sounds of David Garza. It's been awhile since we've had the opportunity to hear this long-standing Austin singer-songwriter ply his trade, and it was nice to hear that he hasn't lost any of his chops. His 40-minute set featured an energetic version of soulful pop-rock that was laced with Latin flavors and Texas blues, and was an overall good fit for the tempo, feel, and mood of ACL. At one point, Garza looked out across the mud pit that passed for the grass where the crowd was eating up his music to declare, "Thanks for joining me here today. This is the coolest stage at the festival, even if we don't have the crazy big screen."[jump]
From there, we safely (meaning no spills, stutters, or drops) to the AMD Stage to get a little crazy with the kings and queens of camp - The B-52's. The '80s new wave band beloved by every karaoke DJ and performer wasted no time getting the crowd excited by quickly breaking out "Mesopotamia" and "Private Idaho." Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson were looking especially fabulous in a royal blue gown and teal go-go-stlyed dress, respectively, while Fred Schneider was decked out like a mod rocker with his black attire and silver high-top sneakers. The crowd was a good mix of 40-somethings reliving their youth (and their children) and 20-somethings familiar with the songs primarily because "Best of the '80s and More" radio stations. The band itself seemed to be having a great time together on stage, and that mood was matched by that of the eagerly dancing crowd, despite the thick mud all around. Schneider elicited a big smile from Aftermath when he shouted out, "Here's one we learned at karaoke," right before the group launched headlong into "Love Shack." Toss in "Roam," "Hot Corner," and "Rock Lobster," and you've got a concert packed to the gills with great songs and a great atmosphere.
Aftermath has a close friend who firmly believes that there are whole legions of bands, both signed and underground, from the past 25 years that all owe their existence to "Blue Monday" by New Order. Hailing from the United Kingdom, White Lies is certainly one of those acts, but these gents rise above many of their competitors by making music that sounds fresh, vital, and original, and not some sort of hackneyed copycat. It's true that the band is painting from the same palette as Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, and Bloc Party, in terms of rehashing early '80s post-punk into a workable form for this decade, but it's difficult to ignore any band that placed big, soaring tenor vocals over just the right amount of the typical British penchant for rainy, gloomy melodrama. We really dug this act's electric energy and how it balanced its sound carefully between the flashy sheen of Brit-pop and the dark dreariness of post-punk, but we do wonder how much longer this style of music might be sustainable and still relevant.
After departing the White Lies show at the Xbox 360 stage, we safely passed through the crowded, sloppy eating area to The Wildflower Center so that we could hopefully learn something about Ben Sollee. What followed was an enjoyable performance from a fresh-faced young gentleman with an expressive voice and over 20 years of formal training as a cellist, along with two associates, one on violin and the other on drums. Sollee's sound is most certainly influenced by the bluegrass of his Kentucky/Appalachian roots, but he's primarily a folk-pop singer-songwriter in the vein of Amos Less or Ray LaMontagne (but on the happier side of the spectrum). On the whole, it was refreshing to see this performer so excited and happy to be playing for people, and it didn't hurt that the crowd seemed to really be getting into his songs.