Austin City Limits

Live From ACL: Buckets of Rain, and a Bright Spot or Two

The streak is over. In eight years, Austin City Limits has seen plenty of days of unbearable heat, but hardly any rain. The most significant time was during Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' headlining 2006 set, but even that was more of a lighting show than an actual shower.

All that ended Saturday, to spectacular (and disgusting) effect. It started raining in Austin before noon, but the heavens really opened up around 3 p.m., and Zilker Park became an ocean of umbrellas and ponchos until it finally let up around 6. It also gave Rocks Off an image that will stay with us until our dying day, unfortunately: a shirtless broseph in jean shorts relieving himself right there in the middle of the field, twin streams of piss spilling from his pant legs like twin spigots. Moments like this make Rocks Off think we are seriously getting too old for this shit.

But there were some high points Saturday as well. First and foremost there was MuteMath, a band we've never really paid attention to before but delivered a mighty impressive set before the downpour. The New Orleans band had an enormous sound, with waves of Edge-y infinite guitar (especially on "Typical"), sturdy, swift, electro beats and propulsive bass lines that both anchored the sound and spurred it forward. And singer Paul Meany even made the keytar seem respectable.


We also were impressed by the Sam Roberts Band, who we had never heard of before, but played mellow, atmospheric rock a la Coldplay or Peter Gabriel. Their hypnotic, lengthy songs swirled around Roberts' faraway-sounding vocals, as the music folded back on itself over and over again, gaining intensity each time.

Then we walked over to Grizzly Bear, one of those bands we're almost predisposed to hate because of the massive amounts of praise heaped on them by the blogosphere, but we really didn't. It's a shame they weren't playing at night, though, because most of their set was slow (slow), lullaby-like songs with lots of cooing and soothing vocals. The graceful electric piano and carefully strummed guitars added to the sleepy effect, and the drums caught the music more than pushed it forward. It wasn't the most exciting set we've ever seen, but it was excellent rainy day music - and indeed, the drops started to splatter again about 45 minutes in.

We beat a retreat over to the Wildflower Center Tent and took refuge while waiting for Henry Butler. If there was any upside to the rain Saturday, it was that it probably made a lot more people check out the blind New Orleans pianist than would have otherwise, and we can't imagine they were disappointed. Butler opened with some funky barrelhouse jazz, stoked by his bassist's bottomless, popping lines, and segued into Crescent City standby "Iko Iko," a straight-up Big Easy cissy strut that showcased Butler's amazing dexterity in its boogie-woogie Professor Longhair shuffle blues.

We knew we couldn't stay holed up in the tent forever, and headed out into the rain. We caught a little of Flogging Molly's amped-up Irish jigs and Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights' torrential blues-rock, but enough was enough, and we sought shelter (and food) in the media tent before heading back out for Levon Helm and the Decemberists. Stay tuned...

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray