ACL Day 1 Recap: Sonic Youth, Spoon, The Strokes, Nice People...

For lots more pictures from Friday, see our slideshow here.

Rocks Off wonders what kind of guitar budget Sonic Youth has. They aren't very gentle with their instruments. This occurred to us as we were standing a few feet from the large screens projecting their extended, distorted set to a crowd that should have been much larger.

We've seen the noise pioneers three times now: In 1995 at Lollapalooza in Dallas, at the Verizon Theater in Houston five or six years ago, and then last night. And while our admiration for the band never wavers, we always come to the same conclusion: Seeing the band live is not the same as listening to their albums. A Sonic Youth concert is an exercise in patience.

We watched Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore play their guitars with drumsticks and other implements just a few minutes after Spoon ended their set by knocking over a beautiful old upright piano. Here is one band we had not seen before, and they lived up to all of our expectations. Loving Spoon may be de rigueur these days, but we don't care.

There's a reason for that, as evidenced by the huge crowd dancing to every note of the mariachi-style horns on "The Underdog." One little kid was rocking out with a pint-sized guitar and was probably having more fun than we were, which is saying a lot. It's high time that band came back to Houston, though singer Britt Daniel commented that yesterday's show was the last stop in a month-long tour.

And now, a word about the ACL crowd. Everyone has been so awesome. We've heard people remark that this year seems more crowded than last, and for the big bands that's certainly true, but the remarkable thing is that no one has crowded us, no one has gone aggro, no one gets upset if you stumble over their blanket or step on their toes. In light of Houston's reputation for concert jackassery, it's rather refreshing.

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That was the case as The Strokes took the stage, a few minutes late and after dark, when one could barely see where they were stepping. Aftermath saw them in Oklahoma City in the Is This It days and was unimpressed by their live show, but things have certainly changed.

The band hasn't released an album or toured in four years, and the came out a little rough during their first song, the title track form that album. Singer Julian Casablancas' voice sounded weak and off. But by the second number, "Hard to Explain," the band was firing on all cylinders.

When the video for "Last Nite" came out in 2001, the band, lumped together with others like The Hives and The Walkmen, seemed like a flash in the garage-rock revival pan. Ten years later, it's clear just how influential that album was. And the Strokes know it, as their set was a well-balanced combo of old hits, lesser-known songs off their 2006 album First Impressions of Earth and new and rarer material.

And Casablancas himself, who in 2001 was like the Pied Piper of hipsterdom, now seems much less interested in the trappings of "cool." His stage banter last night, influenced by god knows what, was hilarious. He sounded like a modern-age Dean Martin, "shooting from the hip," as he put it.

"How is everybody? I can't see shit because like an asshole I wear sunglasses at night... I can hear Phish in the distance..." Then to a bandmate: "No man, I'm just making small talk." Then back to the crowd: "We're gonna do some songs we haven't done in FOR-EVAR!"

He later complained that his voice sounded like shit, but on "Under Control," "Trying Your Luck" and "New York City Cops" the entire band just wailed, sounding like a harder and darker version of their original incarnation.

If this is a bellwether for the album Casablancas and guitarist Nick Valensi have supposedly been working on for the past two years, then we can't wait.

Satiurday outlook: Black Lips, Local Natives, Gogol Bordello and hopefully watching M.I.A. do something outlandish on stage.

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