The Ike Reiily Assassanation is a band that, whenever possible, doesn't hit the stage until after midnight, so when I saw that the IRA would be performing a noon set at ACL, I was both thrilled and appalled. Granted, the other bands slated to play the days bigger slots probably had more fans than the Chicago five piece group, but Ike's brand of rock and roll is faster and more rowdy and more deserving of late night billing than most. So, being a smaller fish in a pond of...well, whales, Ike's band was relegated to an all too brief half hour set to kick off Day 2 of ACL.
Arriving at the festival just before noon on Saturday, there was already a crowd of a couple hundred dedicated and excited fans hovering around the Ausin Ventures stage where the IRA would soon tear through a handful of songs. There we sat waiting in the hot sun for them to start, and when the band started it was apparent that these were tried and true Ike fans. Many people sang along, and after the set flew by, the band was out in the crowd socializing with old freinds who made the trip from the Chicago area and meeting old fans for the first time who said things like "I saw you guys for the first time in New York a few years ago and have been a huge fan ever since." We were hoping we'd get to spend some quality time backstage with the one band we had connections to at the festival, but alas, the IRA had their first ever gig in Mexico that very same night and couldn't stick around. So we said our goodbyes and dove into some shade.
After a little break from the sun, we saw a bit of the set from former Mavericks frontman Raul Malo. The Mavericks were a pretty cool honkytonk country band with a bit of a Latin flavor. My favorite songs by them were "What a Cryin Shame" and "Oh What a Thrill". Unfortunately, he didnt play either of those songs. But, he did cover a Dwight Yokum number called "It only Hurts Me When I Cry". Very uplifting indeed. This was really cool because I had seen Raul's voice compared to Dwight's before, and Mr. Yokum is one of my favorite country artists. He also sang that "Besame Mucho" (kiss me much) song that Sanjaya sang on American Idol. Sadly, that is the only way I know that song, which I probably should not admit, but it's true.
Again, the diversity of bands at this festival was astonishing. This particular act drew out thousands of older country music fans and their children. In Fact, this was by far the most kid-friendly festival I have ever been to, and not only did parents bring their youngsters, but they allowed their tweeniebopper kids to go to the festival also, as there were thosands of fresh faced youngsters wandering around in packs.
The legendary Soul Stirrers were next on our agenda, and they were absolutely fantastic. Hailing from a small town in Texas, the band has undergone many lineup changes since they started out around the year 1930 (not a typo!). They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, and are the only Gospel quartet that can boast of that honor. Once fronted by the late great Sam Cooke, this is a band that had Christians and athiests alike praising the power of music. Soul, gospel, faith and emotion came togehter masterfully when Willie Rogers, the current leader of the Soul Stirrers belted out "A Change Gonna Come" after paying tribute to the man who wrote that brilliant preotest anthem, Sam Cooke. Rogers displayed more soul in his singing than anyone I had ever seen, and it was inspirational to be in the prescence of a group that has had so much impact and positive influence on several generations of muscicians. Another highlight from their set was when Wille Rogers left the stage to start a train of fans around while leading a rousing rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In".
Stephen Marley, the second son of Bob, was already playing on the main stage when the Soul Stirrers finished. He has got to have one of the biggest, most genuine and contagious smiles of anyone I have ever seen. Maybe it was all the Ganja being openly smoked throughout the crowd, but the energy surrounding the stage and the music was overwhelmingly optimistic and positive. Stephen sang some of his fathers most poignant and well known reggae classics like "No Woman, No Cry", "Jammin", and "Could You Be Loved", along with lesser known gems like "Punky Reggae Party" and "Duppy Conquerer".
Back over in the Revival Tent where the Soul Stirrers had just played, New Jersey bluegrass outfit Railroad Earth were sawing away on fiddles and various other stringed instruments. Packing the tent to the gills with their east coast take on bluegrass, RRE is a really fun band to see and were the one band I had already seen earlier in the year, at 10KLF back home in Minnesota.
Next we very briefly watched a very old and tattered looking Steve Earle, but it wasn't all that great so we moved on and tried to get a good spot for what was our most anticipated show of the day, Arctic Monkeys.
When the White Stripes, who were scheduled to be Saturday night's headliners, cancelled at the last moment due to Meg White's "Acute Anxiety", we, along with thousands of other fans, were very disapointed, but with so many other great bands playing, it was easy to get over that and instead focus on what we would be seeing. Arctic Monkeys were origianlly going to be palying head to head against Muse, another English band that is far bigger overseas than they are here. Unlike Arctic Monkeys though, Muse had played the ACL festival before, and had impressed the important people enough that instead of playing their set at the same time as Arctic Monkeys, they were invited to fill in for The White Stripes on the Main Stage a couple hours later. What this meant for Arctic Monkeys is that there really was no other significant act playing at the same time, so by default thousands of extra people came to see what all the fuss over these young lads was about, altough it was clear that many of the people in the crowd had never even heard of Arctic Monkeys. "Where are they from?" one young man in the audience asked another. "England?" his buddy responded unsurely.
Allow me to ever so briefly recap the Arctic Monkeys rise to international (but not American) prominence. Following what many called a "deafening buzz" on the internet about the band, their debut album sold an unbeleivable 118,000 copies in the first day and beat the Beatles to become the fast selling album in UK history. Since then they have continued to grow in popularity around the world, and when their second album came out in May of this year to critical and popular accalim, they were cemented as leaders of England's new school. Arctic Monkeys have been touring to support the new record, full of Alex Turner's clever wordsmithing and the unique sonic experience of thundering drums and quick, heavy guitar riffs, and this year they have headlined the biggest fetivals in Europe like the legendary Glastonbury Festival.
Back in Austin Texas, however, Arctic Monkeys were seen by many as a bunch of overhyped young foreigners, and not given much of a chance. I can symapthize a little bit. Their sound is so different from anything else out there, and the lyrics are so quick and insightful that they may seem pretentious, or just incomprehensible, to the uninitiated. Turner sings (or does he speak/rap?) with a strong accent and his British slang is often jumbled to make it difficult to decifer, but he is a genius of observation and has a very dry, fast moving sense of humor to go along with the pace of the set and songs.
Fresh from headlining Englands 35 year old masterpiece of culture, Glastonbury, it was clear that these young musicians were not used to this kind of uninterested, dissmissive crowd. Glasto, as its known overseas, sells out its 160,000 tickets in minutes, but here the energy level in the crowd was unbelievably low. Alex pressed on with the set and managed to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing. It was almost dusk, and when the sun began to fade for the night, you could feel the collective sense of relief as it cooled down to a more comfortable temperature. "Can you cheer up a bit now, the sun's gone down?" Alex said, and I remarked that he was probably up on stage thinking to himself "What a bunch of cranky wankers!" Then without warning they launched into a song proclaiming "They say it changes when the sun goes down around here...".
These are some of the coolest picures ive ever taken, the way that the clouds were parting as the set came to a close, allowing the sun to break through and shed some proverbial light on the Arctic Monkeys, as if to illuminate their presence to the thousands of unimpressed onlookers. It was fantastic. I wished so much that everyone at that show could have felt the same way I did, like I was witnessing the landmark gig for the Arctic Monkeys in America. This was perhaps their biggest stage yet in America, for though they have played on SNL, Letterman, and have made other t.v. appearances, this seemed like it could be the breakout performance that had people in America buzzing about them.
Absolutley knackered after that intense show, it was time for a brief break before heading over to what would be another highlight of the weekend, Muse.
Muse just opened the new Wembley Field in England with a two night stand, and here at ACL, they rocked my fucking face off. More than any other band in recent memory, I was astonished at how cool they sounded, and they are only a three piece band. The stage show was equally mind-bending. It was face melting area rock complete with a full visual assault from two jumbotrons. There were colors floating from the stage as the band laid waste to thousands of unsuspecting fans who probably thought there was something of an ordinary rockshow in store for them. Maybe it was the blaring sun we had to contend with all day that had everyone feeling wiped out, but it looked like many of those people who were leaving the main stage long before Muse's set finished simply could not take the assault on the senses anymore. the visual effects were stunning. At one point I turned to Brianna and just to clarify asked, "They *are* bending time and space right now, aren't they?" I really wanna explore that crazy band and delve into them a bit, they were fascinating. These are not my videos, but they give an idea of what the show was like.
Whew, as I said, I was blown away by these guys and it was an awesome treat because I knew absolutely nothing about them going into the show and had no idea what to expect. We had survived another insanely hot day in Texas, and still had an entire day of music to go.