ACLiens: A Recap of Austin City Limits 2015
Austin City Limits, one of the largest musical festivals in the world (it's even two weekends now), just wrapped up, and it provided another weekend's worth of interesting people, fantastic music, and obnoxious logistics. I thought I'd take this opportunity to walk you through my experience, day by day, hour by hour, song by song. Okay, I wouldn't actually subject you to such torture, but let's recap the events!
My sister had come down for the weekend, so I was somewhat beholden to the acts she wanted to see. Luckily, she has similar (but worse) tastes than I do, so there wasn't too many scheduling issues with the acts I wanted to see. The first thing you have to consider when making your way down to Zilker Park, grounds for the festival, is how exactly you're going to get down there. The direct exits are closed from the highway, and the most common way is to scavenge downtown for incredibly overpriced parking and take the ACL shuttles down there. The primary issue with this method, cost aside, is the shuttle wait going and coming. All things considered, it's not a terrible plan; however, one of my coworker's lives about a mile and a half from the park, so I was able to park at his place and take a Lyft down there. The rides cost anywhere from 4-7 dollars for each of the three days which was worth the convenience, although the nighttime return was a less savory experience that we can delve into later.
Upon entering the park, I was promptly frisked by security, probably because my "These Hoes Ain't Loyal" t-shirt set off some red flags over at HQ. Regardless, after my intimate experience with the park security, my sister and I met up with some of my friends at the Nate Ruess (lead singer of Fun) set. The layout for the festival is remarkably consistent from year to year, so none of the stages are hard to find and it looked almost identical as the last two times that I had went. Ruess had a fun (pun intended), replete with some actual Fun songs after he did his solo stuff. After his set was done, I had a few hours to kill until Brand New took the stage, so I generally stumbled around, taking in the surfeit of high-waisted shorts and immaculately groomed facial hair. It was truly remarkable how uniform the festival dress code was. I thought I had seen the same girl several times, but it turns out everyone just wore the same outfit.
Digression aside, somehow I ended up at the Billy Idol set because my sister wanted to take a video for a friend. I couldn't name a single Billy Idol song, but I will say that he looked exactly like I'd remembered seeing him on TV. He even dressed like he was still living in the 80s, but if I'm ever knocking on 60 and look that good, I'll probably be shirtless in a leather jacket all the time too. His set amounted to background noise from me, so I don't have much critical or insightful analysis for you to consume.
After he was done, I scurried over to see Brand New (for the second time in a week as I spent way too much going to their sold out ACL after hours show). Jesse Lacey and company put on quite a show, with his minimal talking, dissonant chords, and overpowering vocals that occasionally devolved into screamo. My sister was mostly confused during the set, but I think by the end she gained an appreciation for Brand New. I'm not sure what Lacey is saying half the time, but it sure sounds cool!
We made our way towards Ciara's baby daddy, Future, after the Brand New set because I had to hear how Future "fucked my bitch in some Gucci flip flops" live. It also begged the question: Gucci makes flip flops? His set was somewhat forgettable, but he was entertaining and got the crowd pretty hyped. The highlight of his entire set had to be this father/son combo next to me (the son was no older than 12) discussing the cultural phenom that is Future. "I think I kind of like him," said the son. "Me too," replied the clearly out of his element father. Future, bringing Caucasian families together since....well, whenever people started listening to him in the 'burbs.
The two big acts Friday night were the Foo Fighters and Disclosure, neither of which I cared for. My sister was equally indifferent towards them, so I made an executive decision to avoid the end of night rush and leave early. Unfortunately, the massive cell phone massing basically makes data impossible to get, so we got to trek nearly two miles back to the car due to my inability to connect to a Lyft or Uber.
Saturday started a bit earlier for us. We got there around noon to see Echosmith. It was a solid show, and Sydney Sierota got the crowd really involved. Also, I had to do a quick wikipedia check to make sure she was 18 because she is ridiculously attractive. A weird thing about concerts is that a lot of times you really don't know what a lot of band members look like, so actually putting a face with the voices and instruments can be a weird and surprising experience. Per a friend's suggestion, I went to check out Father John Misty afterwards. I'd never heard of him, and I was pleasantly surprised. He was a folky and sardonic Jesus look-alike with a pretty fun show. He was heckling the VIP members and was pretty talkative with the audience which was refreshing. I was actually so moved by his performance that I went out and immediately acquired his discography. I missed out on Vince Staples for this set, but I saw Vince the week prior at another ACL late night show.
After the Father John Misty show, I had an hour or so to grab some food to recharge. Venturing into the dangerous food area, replete with ravenous concert goers and lines so long, they make SXSW jealous, I decided to go to the shortest line possible. Indian food is delicious, so I tried the Tikka Masala wrap. It was an okay product, although paying 8 bucks for a small wrap is never fun. Afterwards, I soon realized that Indian food in an area that restricts you to only sketchy porta-potties probably wasn't the most intelligent move. Fortunately, this lapse in judgement did not cost me my dignity, but it was a nearly traumatic event that warranted sharing with you all.
Once I completed my taste of India, I went to the Walk The Moon show. Walk The Moon is one of those bands that I've never listened to a whole album of, but every time I hear a song by them, I can't help but jam. They were really fun live, and the audience was into it. It has become a point of mine to spend more time listening to their library, and I have a massive soft spot for pop punk music.
Following Walk The Moon, we ran to A$AP Rocky which ended up being a good, if unremarkable show. I do regret not getting into the front because he gave them all milkshakes in what was the most random ACL swag event of the weekend. He also decided to forgo his overalls to borrow a belt from a member in the audience. After the show, I couldn't help but wonder if he returned the belt. Following A$AP's set, I made another trip to get some food, this time a Freebird's burrito. This was, by far, the single greatest decision I made all weekend. This was so far better than any Chipotle product I had ever had that I couldn't believe I'd never eaten there before. Thank you, Freebird's, for making my weekend amazing.
My sister wanted to get as close to Drake as possible because "OMG IT'S DRAKE. I WANT HIM TO TAKE ME WITH HIM," among other unrepeatable quotes. I'd be lying if I said I didn't like Drake's music, for the most part, but I do not fall into the "Drake is the God's gift to Earth" camp that most of the female contingent shared at ACL. He was very self aware during his set, saying he didn't want to do things that are too "Drake" such as lighting candles and giving backrubs before what would be, ostensibly, a long love making session to his own music. The highlight was his performance of "All Me" even though he skipped the 2 Chainz verse (2 Chainz 4 Lyfe), and his performance of "Back to Back" absolutely bodied Meek Mill.
I had never heard it before because a rap beef between what is essentially a rap superstar and a nobody who happens to be sleeping with Nicki Minaj didn't really capture my attention. Despite my reservations, Drake did put on a great performance, and I need to get in touch with him about his diet because he's gone full Dr. Dre and gotten massive in the last year or so. After the concert, we had to deal with stampede of everyone leaving at once, which led to Lyft prices of $11 for a 1.5 mile car ride which seems insane until you realize that Uber had a near 10x surcharge at the same time. Gotta love capitalism.
The previous two years of ACL, I never made it to Sunday. I was usually too exhausted to do anything, but due to my sister's presence, I made an effort to power through and guarantee the Brother of the Year award I so dearly coveted. We arrived at Zilker Park relatively late, around 4PM and immediately went to the Chance the Rapper show. I have mixed feelings on Chance, but I appreciate his originality. Plus, I love live bands with rappers. He seemed really chill, and I was head nodding to his show. The wildest thing I saw at ACL was the kid in the crowd wearing a Chris Duhon jersey that almost deserves a whole piece investigating how that purchase came to be.
Following Chance, I went to see everyone's favorite Icelandic folk band, Of Monsters and Men. As mentioned before, seeing faces to put with voices can be jarring, and the lead male singer, Ragnar Þórhallsson (don't ask me to pronounce that) was completely different than what I expected. Heavyset with a bomb ass hat game, he still had the voice of an angel.
Frankly, their performance may have been the most transcendent experience of ACL. I was completely into every song, and they sounded every bit good live as they do on record. If you ever get a chance to see Of Monsters and Men live, you must take it. Thankfully, they have a discography of only two albums, so all my favorite songs received live iterations, leaving me with nary a complaint.
The final headliner, The Weeknd, was Sunday night's big act. We stayed kind of far back, and this lady with a massive hat stood right in front of us. Despite my sister requesting her to move the hat (to which she said, "I have nowhere to put it," despite having a chair right next to her), she wasn't quite so accommodating. After much intra-crowd navigation to find just the right angle to see, the screen because there was no way in hell to see the stage, The Weeknd shut down ACL weekend. Crooning with his hair that was reminiscent of a dead poodle on a bald person's head, I found myself realizing that you know you've made it when despite how poor your hair style choices, no one says anything. Exhibit A: Donald Trump.
The Weeknd played a good mix of his new material, along with some older tracks from his Trilogy mixtapes. The standout song was "The Hills" which is just a fantastic song and sounded great live. I'll give full credit to The Weeknd for having an outstanding voice, even live. The Weeknd's set actually ended just prior to Florence and the Machine's (they were playing at the same time), so I sprinted across Zilker Park and caught the last few songs. I haven't been a fan of much of their material since their first album, but Florence is an amazing live singer. Plus, for some reason, she ended up running around the crowd wearing only a bra, so that memory will live forever.
Overall, ACL was a resounding success. It was high energy and none of the performances were offensively bad. Sure, the food is overpriced, transportation to and from is borderline nightmarish, and large crowds aren't exactly anyone's idea of fun, but this is what we sign up for when we go to music festivals. We're there to be around other people who are just as obsessively weird with their musicians as we are. I highly recommend going to it if you haven't had the opportunity yet, and the two weekend structure makes accessibility a bit easier than before. Plus, you know, Drake and stuff.