Saturday, September 17, 2011
Friday at Austin City Limits: Kanye West, Ray Lamontagne, and Foster the People (September 16)
Kanye West's set was one of the best of the night.
Read about day three of Austin City Limits featuring Arcade Fire, AWOLNATION, and more, here.
AUSTIN Light sprinkles ushered in the first day of the tenth annual Austin City Limits Music (ACL) Festival, but it was a welcome reprieve from the humid heat that has been plaguing the area and the state. Music and festival fans came in droves to see their favorite ACL artists, and rumors swirled throughout the day as to who the main headliner of the evening, Kanye West, would share the stage with. As the day went on, the anticipation and excitement of seeing an artist like West was palpable. But first, crowds sampled the artists with earlier sets.
As the festival gates opened and music lovers made their way around Zilker Park, Hudson Moore, the Fort Worth born musician who has laid his roots in Austin, greeted audiophiles with pop country tunes from his newest album, Fireworks. Musically, Moore's sound is akin to Keith Urban with a little more southern rock twang, but his swoon-worthy boyish good looks was what got the crowd of mostly female fans screaming, singing, and dancing for more.
A southern gentleman, Moore thanked the audience repeatedly for taking the time to catch his show, even calling out the “troopers” since his set was so early on opening day. Moore was an excellent choice for an opening act, and his music was a good excuse to get festival-goers excited to spend the day at ACL.
Outside of the synth-based, electronically drenched indie scene that has become much too common, there is a band fighting the tide and going even further past the current '80s trend. This is the Cults, a pop duo from New York with a retro style and an underlying dark side. The group had an early slot on the opening day of ACL, an unimportant fact when considering that their sound is made for festival stages. Their magnetizing style easily perks the ears of passing crowds, which explains their instant success as of late.
“Abducted,” a current single, kicked off the promising set with a surprisingly large crowd for the mid-morning show. Front woman Madeline Follin bobbed the entire time, matching their '60s pop-rock sound with her cute poses. The sways began to ripple through the crowd. In “Go Outside,” their seemingly innocent melodies masked the twisted lyrics underneath. But all too quickly their show was over, giving way to an outburst of resistance from the unsatisfied crowd.
Although Lamontagne is an exceptional musician whose soulful voice has the ability to draw you in, his show at ACL was disappointing. His performance was beautifully haunting as always, but his whispery vocals were no match for the loud hip-hop beats that were going down clear across Zilker Park as Big Boi played. Lamontagne is not a man known to get loud; he rarely talks during songs, doesn't grant many interviews, and refuses to do music videos.
The sheer fact that he agreed to play at a festival of ACL's size is surprising, and he would have fared better in a more intimate setting, where his music can be heard clearly and be fully appreciated. Austin City Limits is not the place for his brand of southern folk.
Foster the People
Foster the People
The timing couldn’t be better for Foster the People to play ACL. Not only is their single “Pumped Up Kicks” blowing up on national radio, the LA band is also enjoying the summer release of their debut album, Torches. What wasn’t pleasing was the location of their Friday set. Their stage was so close to the main path of passing groups that the audience for Foster the People and the moving crowd blended into one massive group, creating the biggest traffic jam of the day.
This resulted in blocked views of both the screen and the stage and drastically reduced how much the distant fans could hear of their set. Thankfully, this didn’t stop the youthful crowd from singing and clapping along. Drummer Mark Pontius picked up the heaviest task of performing multiple drum solos, which dominated the afternoon set. The band added percussion jam sessions into their show, tapping into their creative skills even further than expected. “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” ignited a vigorous ripple through the packed field, showing that these guys will make it past their groundbreaking single.
Of course, “Pumped Up Kicks” was saved until the end, which erupted a widespread singalong so loud that it matched front man Mark Fosters’ volume. They have substance that surpasses their single, and the ACL crowd tapped into that from the first note.
What’s great about headlining Kanye West is that he’s not going to just rap a few songs and bid adieu. He’ll take every chance to transform a “gig” into a performance worthy of a closing curtain. He’s a perfectionist whose vision and talent set the standard for other hip hop acts. This was proven in his approach at ACL: Ballerinas, laser light shows, and an offstage intro changed his set from another concert to an experience worth documenting.
After an operatic intro with flitting ballerinas and a towering statuesque backdrop, Kanye appeared high above the center of the crowd on a raised platform to a surprised audience with “Dark Fantasy.” The sea of fans picked up the words from his first line, continuing their passionate singalongs throughout the entire set.
He fittingly separated the show into Acts, which seemed to have individual themes intact. Act 1 covered many of his hits, including “Jesus Walks” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.” An exuberant laser show pierced past Kanye’s silhouette and cascaded over the masses, sending light across the field. His flow was untouchable; it overshadowed any added embellishment.
The highly intuitive and heart wrenching side of Kanye came out in Act 2, bringing in songs like “Love Lockdown” and “All Falls Down.” His renderings of love lost and deep regret give him an emotional edge that intrigued and hypnotized audiences. Then he adjusted the mood with a flip of a song, as he did during “All of the Lights,” which was one of his best of the evening.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy hosted the majority of Act 3, giving way to his bitter and acidic outlook on the media and public opinions. His swarm of graceful ballerinas re-enacted the tragic “Runaway” video with sharp, quick movements. He insisted for fans to hold onto the ones they love, perhaps exposing his own heartache and loss.
Kanye and the dancers exited with a bow, nodding as if they, too, knew how epic the concert was. Whether Kanye's attitude is bearable or not, his state of mind was magical, making his show one of the best of the day.