By Zachary Swickey
The weather gods no longer had pity for the crowd on day three of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. The sun began shining bright and early for us festival-goers, but thankfully, all eight members of Mariachi El Bronx hit the stage promptly at 12:30 in the afternoon and soon made us all forget about the sweltering heat beating down on us. (How could we complain when they were in full-blown mariachi garb sweating like a Spanish Slipknot?)
Appropriately, they snapped right into the opening track of their recently-released second album, 48 Roses. Frontman Matt Caughthran’s vocals were spot-on as he serenaded, “So please save some forgiveness for me / a man blinded by love can’t think clearly.” When the song was over, he couldn’t help but be taken with the scenery. “I really wish you guys could see the view from here. It’s beautiful,” he marveled. Caughthran joked that he wished he had brought some psychedelic substances to enjoy the setting even more, but noted he would’ve looked like an a**hole if they had missed the show because he tried to sneak drugs onto the plane from St. Louis.
“Cell Mates” was everything I hoped it’d be. The vibrant horns were alive and showed no signs of jetlag despite the show being an off-date that was squeezed in since El Bronx are currently the opening act for the Foo Fighters. Caughthran had no problem sharing the background of a few songs as he interestingly proclaimed “Silver or Lead” was about the similarities between Jesus Christ and Pablo Escobar (admittedly, it’s hard to tell if he’s joking sometimes, but that’s part of his charm). Caughthran then urged us all to ignore the BS in life and embrace the good, noting there was plenty to go around at ACL before breaking into another stellar, mellower track from their new album. “This song’s called ‘Poverty’s King,’” he said, “and it’s about being poor but happy.”
Rounding out their set, “Revolution Girls” is one of the new album’s livelier numbers and had the crowd clapping along furiously. Caughthran claimed the song is about the rite of passage a man faces south of the border when visiting the ladies that the song’s title references (once again, it’s hard to tell when he’s joking). The swarm of people that arrived during Mariachi’s set was a pretty impressive spectacle itself.
I stuck around for a quick chat with violinist Ray Suen and drummer Jorma Vik about all that is Mariachi before I eventually found myself in front of the Honda stage anxiously awaiting Toronto’s Death From Above 1979. It was DFA’s second trip to Austin this year, following their surprise, pre-Coachella gig at the South by Southwest Music Festival, which ended up being their first official reunion and incited riots that required mounted police and all. No riots went down on Sunday, but there was definitely a fervor as the noisemaking duo blasted through their set.
Drummer and vocalist (yes both, and yes, at the same time) Sebastian Grainger resembled a porn star version of Andy Warhol with his thick mustache and bleached-out hair. His musical partner, Jesse Keeler (who is also one-half of electronic duo MSTRKRFT), had no problem providing the audio ruckus from the group’s only release, 2004’s You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. His beefy Roland keyboard was simply stacked on top of a gear case, but simplicity cannot be used to describe the group’s maniacal sounds. Keeler commented, “With the wind and the rain, it’s like a Garth Brooks video up here,” before the group launched into “Too Much Love” as Grainger wailed, “If I didn’t forget you, my heart would explode / Yeah there is too much love.”
I know puffing on Parliaments is fashionable for some music elitists, but I’ll bet Grainger is nicotine-free as he had no problem pillaging his drum kit while maintaining his vocal duties throughout. Randomly clarifying the difference between “sadists” and “masochist,” Grainger then drove into the group’s reggae tune “Dead Womb,” which at only two-minutes long is still one of their more demanding tracks. The catchy “Black History Month” features one of Keeler’s finest grungy bass riffs and the crowd voiced their admiration loudly. The destructive audio duo closed their set with another fan fave, “Do It,” off their debut EP, Head’s Up. The track sure sounds Nintendo-inspired at times, but the ferocity is something one must see in a live setting.
All-in-all, I’ve never experienced a more friendly music festival that had such good vibes all around. I did not witness a single fight, which is simply unheard of for a rock show let alone a sold-out music festival for 75,000 people. ACL is all about being green too with a decent percentage of the crowd arriving via bicycle (I even noticed several bikes chained literally in trees). There are few fests as reliably awesome. Keep it weird, Austin.