For more photos from Saturday, see our slideshow here.
Aftermath was eager to catch Gogol Bordello, only because our companion had missed their last Houston show at Meridian in 2008. We were convinced he'd get a kick out of them, so we dragged him over to the AMD stage early in order to get a good view.
One thing we like about this band is that everyone pulls multiple duty, sharing in the lyrics or performance aspect of their show. They still play with the same high energy that got raves when Super Taranta! came out, but they've toned down much of the spectacle. Halfway through their set, the lone dancing girl (usually there are two) still had not emerged on stage with the large drum they were previously notorious for playing.
The band did pepper their set with pro-immigration speech: "Because no human should be illegal." Whatever that means; English is not singer Eugene Hutz's first language. After that, we looked at our companion, who was not as impressed as we'd hoped, and who'd wanted to see LCD Soundsystem instead. So we left the west end of Zilker Park to walk all the way to other side to catch the end of that band's set.
We caught the last two songs of the latter, and again, our companion, who loves the band, was not impressed. The crowd was huge, so we had to resort to watching them on the screen instead of on the stage, but he felt like their set was boring and repetitive. It may have been different had we been closer, but Aftermath was happy to be anywhere.
At this point, the sun was setting and the tiniest fingernail of a moon was rising, and Zilker Park was turning into a gigantic dance party. Just behind the crowd for James Murphy and Co., people were gathering for Deadmau5, glowsticks at the ready.
Don't get us wrong. We love dancing as much as the next guy, but a mass of 20,000 grubby bodies thrusting to house music isn't really our thing. We watched from afar through the first song as several mouse-masked minions boogied to the beat of the on-the-fly DJ. The stage show seemed awesome, all laser lights and bizarre imagery. But it was time to move on.
Over at the Honda Stage, Matt & Kim, who played the Houston Press Music Awards Showcase in August, were doing the exact same set they played for H-town. Now this was disappointing. We think the band is fun, of course, but it's kind of hard to buy into their "We're so crazy and spontaneous" persona when they use the same gimmicks - the cheesy pop covers to fill in between songs, the slow-motion dance number - at every show. Our increasingly surly companion also remarked, "I can only take so much of that real-estate-salesperson chipperness at one time." Touché.
And despite her seemingly slipshod political philosophies, we're still big fans of her music. If nothing else, we knew the show would be a spectacle, and on that front she certainly didn't disappoint.
Instead of using the giant stateside screens to broadcast her performance, they were used as graphical devices, playing videos of everything from human jump-rope to soldiers poppin' and locking.
And the stage was full of M.I.A.'s entourage, include a trio of women clad in burkas covered with graffiti who served as mere backup dancers. Not sure what message that was supposed to convey, but it certainly added to the batshit-crazy, someone's-gonna-have-a-seizure vibe of her stage production.
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(A sidenote here: The absolute best job at ACL has to be the two people on the right side of the Honda stage who translated every song into American Sign Language. From The Strokes to Gogol Bordello to M.I.A.'s gunshots on "Paper Planes," they were really getting into it. So much that they traded off every other song so each person could take a breather. Aftermath didn't see this on any other stage, but maybe we missed it. They were as much fun to watch as the bands.)
Overall, though, the show seemed plagued by the same problems that upset fans at the NYC show - half the time M.I.A. was barely singing over her own recorded vocals, And while the girl's got amazing dance moves, the show just didn't do it for us. A thousand Judd Apatow fans relished her performance of "Paper Planes," but it was "Born Free," her almost straight-up cover of the 1977 punk song "Ghost Rider" that Aftermath was waiting for. She performed that most recent hit as her single-song encore.
But there were two awesome moments during the show. At one point, she climbed atop a 20-foot tall stack of speakers and began riding them seductively while actually singing, not rapping or talking. She also spent a lot of time in the crowd, which is ballsy at a venue as huge as ACL. During her final song she disappeared from the stage for abut five minutes. We were pretty far back and could't see a lot of what was going on, until suddenly our companion pointed to our right. And there she was, 10 feet away, sitting on the hands of her fans some 60 or so feet from the protection of the stage.
Other than Dan Black nothing much stood out to us at ACL Saturday. We were hoping for a life-affirming performance like Spoon's or The Strokes from Friday. But Sunday has promise. It's the day wherein we know the least about the bands, and there's always that hope of finding our new favorite soundtrack.