Austin City Limits Festival Recap: Day One

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By Zachary Swickey

Austin City Limits was back celebrating its 10th anniversary this weekend, a little earlier than its typical October slot, which helps explain the temperatures being a solid ten degrees higher than I recall from year’s past. It’s the last of the music festival season’s “big four” fests – Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapallooza obviously being the other three – and with Austin, Texas being rain-free for three months, I was a bit weary of how I’d handle the blistering sun.

Luckily for me, Theophilus London was ready to make me forget about the weather. Donning a jet-black tank top and equally dark cowboy hat with a flat bill all the way around, London rocked some tunes from his righteous Lover’s Holiday EP and some select tracks from his recent full-length debut Timez Are Weird These Days. He cut one of his tracks short when he was inspired by a sudden downpour of rain that came out of nowhere, all while the sun was still peeking through the clouds. “Hold up, hold up,” he said. “We gots to play a different song.” Unexpectedly, London broke into rhyming over a sample of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard soundtrack. The crowd erupted, ate up every moment, and the climax was London’s impressive freestyling over a funky warbling beat as he closed his set.

I made the trek across Zilker Park in time to finally see UK-import – and a favorite of the ladies – James Blake. While I had not fallen for the singer as much as some of my music-elitist friends, he won me over with his funky, experimental set. Blake’s affinity for sampling his own voice on the spot in a live setting was pretty rad to see. Expectedly, “Limit to Your Love” was the crowd’s favorite as the bass was visibly shaking the ACL banners draping both sides of the stage. He did look a little disgruntled at one moment when a raucous band was playing nearby and their sound was frequently bleeding into some of his mellower moments. (I could have sworn his sound guy began turning his bass up even louder.)

After catching a few tracks from Foster the People from a good hundred-plus yards away (despite getting to the stage forty-five minutes early), I headed to the Honda Stage to see the tail-end of the Cold War Kids set, including the classic “Saint John” from their ’06 debut album. I sat tight in anticipation of Santigold, who I was looking forward to the most on the Friday schedule.

Her band waltzed onstage wearing strange white flat-top wigs that appeared to be made out of rubber and chunky necklaces that looked like fashion out of “The Flintstones.” Her two dancers soon followed, sporting bullfighter-esque outfits with the neon colors from the 80s, and gold pom-poms in-hand. Appropriately, Santi (wearing a small tiara) kicked things off with “Go” the only release so far from her upcoming, still-untitled second album, which also features Karen-O of The Yeah Yeahs (but alas she didn’t surprise us with an appearance). Santi announced ACL was her first stateside stop in support of the to-be-released album, as she had been swooning fans overseas.

The set seemed to consist mostly of new songs that we were all getting to hear for the first time, and some select key tracks off her self-titled debut. “Say Aha” understandably got everyone moving, especially Santi’s dancers, who went at it nonstop while wearing the most stoic poker faces I’ve ever seen (they did not smile a single time…weird). One new track had the dancer’s wielding old school railway hammers as Santi chanted “build a wall.” Other new songs had the dancers rocking out on some white snares that you’d normally find in a drumline over a sexy, scratching guitar-lick as Santi sung, “You can make it alone only if you try.” For the fourth new track, I jotted down in my notes, “crazy jungle reggae with some kind of foreign chanting,” which is the best way I can attempt to describe the song.

Santi then snuck off for a quick wardrobe change while a dance-off erupted between the two dancers – who turned out to both be Texans – which included one doing an ass-shaking handstand (a sight to see I must say). Breaking into yet another new tune with an insanely fast drum beat (on a real kit, mind you), Santi contrasted it with a chill, slower vocal delivery. The high point came when she picked some fans from the crowd to join her onstage for a group dance, while she played the best track off her first album, “The Creator.” The lucky ones onstage went absolutely nuts as they attempted to display their best dance skills with Santigold even getting in some of their faces as she shouted, “Me, I’m a creator / Thrill is to make it up.” She then closed her show with one last new song (perhaps titled “Freak Like Me” as it was heard many times throughout) that was one of the fastest, and most-bumpin’, I’ve ever heard from her. All-in-all, an ass-kickin’ first day from some of the smaller acts at ACL.