At Zilker field. As Friday's shadows lengthened, a young woman - tall, pale, boots - approached Rocks Off.
"Are you going to Pretty Lights?"
"I don't think so."
"I don't know."
"Do you know where I can get some Molly?"
Note to self: Find out what 'Molly' is.
Molly, fellow old people, is MDMA, better known as Ecstasy. Rocks Off did not in fact have any Molly, but we did see Foster the People for a while, and they're some pretty happy fellows. Lots of sweetness and drum triggers, and a crowd at least twice the size of any we've ever seen at the Google+ stage.
We can see the appeal, even if we didn't hear a lot of substance. The Bay City Rollers came to mind, except they would have no idea who the Bay City Rollers would be - this is a band for whom MGMT is classic rock, and incorporates a lot of their bliss, if not the psychedelic oddities.
Overheard During the Set: "They are really boring me - I was really hoping they wouldn't be boring, but they're boring me."
"So much for your idea to run back and forth between stages."
"I think this is their popular song."
(during the actual popular song)
"I hate it that we're missing this song."
Foster couldn't have been more different from the bands we saw on either side. Shaggy Kurt Vile & the Violators came across as a shogaze Lou Reed - walls of reverb and jagged guitar, petulant, art-damaged odes to freight trains and the like. Bright Eyes, who we saw around ACL 05, has bulked up his sound with disco electronics (et tu, Conor) and real Springsteen muscle. The lyrics of a song like "Landlocked Blues" might be a bit obtuse, but the emotions aren't.
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We don't know how, except that we were so tired the only way to keep going was to keep moving, but we managed to see almost the entire diaspora of African-American diaspora in one hour: Blues of both the rural (North Mississippi All-Stars) and urban (Gary Clark Jr., with a fine R&B slow jam) varieties, and a funky, funky finale from soul man Charles Bradley.
We parked ourselves a football field or two away from Nas & Damien Marley for a half-hour under the green-and-gold flag of the United States of Bass: Marley exuberant and uplifting on his dad's "Exodus" and "Could You Be Loved," Nas sullen and swaggering on "Hate Me Now" and "Braveheart Party." Their hip-hop and reggae trains connected completely exactly once (that we heard), on "Road to Zion," a soul-drenched ballad with serious spiritual underpinnings.
And, wouldn't you know it, we did go see Pretty Lights. Lots of pretty lights. And processed vocals, samples, and melodies that soothed or agitated. Mostly ginormous beats that made the park quake, and a wicked Bahsten/Northeast accent that came out whenever the DJ asked the crowd to get the fuckin' pahty going. They had little trouble. Like Foster the People, this kind of music isn't our particular area of interest, but we can see the appeal. Never having met Molly, though, we can't say how she might have affected the outcome.
Rocks Off wandered some more, and wound up in the last place we thought we would: Coldplay. We couldn't help it, they played the Back to the Future theme before they went on. It was a good call, though. Coldplay is monstrous, a lumbering beast of melody and sincerity.
Chris Martin and mates opened with a new song (we think), "Heart as a Weapon" (we think), with quicksilver guitars and more lasers than the Natural Science Museum's Floyd show. They came right back with "Yellow," still as dewy-eyed and beautiful a love song as you're ever going to hear. They almost lost us to Kanye West about "Power," but, as Martin softly strummed, we circled back to near the stage and could still hear Kanye's vocoders from all the way across the park - until Coldplay fired back full-bore with "Politik."
Lose track of a band for a while and you forget how many hits they have, and how they got there. A simple song like "Yellow," which needs little more than an acoustic guitar, grows into "Viva La Vida," which had drummer Will Champion banging away on a goddamn tympani. Martin has never concealed his ambition, but he's always delivered the melodies to match.
And he's got a sense of humor to boot. "Your girlfriend wants to see Coldplay," he sang during "Everything's Not Lost," "all the boys want to see Kanye West." What's a man to do?
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Saturday. We've already heard Stevie Wonder sound-checking. What's next?
Overheard At ACL: "Every time somebody says 'Gumby,' you drink" - shirtless bro carrying around a giant inflatable Gumby.