ACL Fest 2013 Day Three: Atoms for Peace and the National Prove Euphoric + More – Exclusive Photos
The third and final day (Oct. 6) of Austin City Limits' first weekend might rightly be dubbed 'The Day Everyone Wore Pants.' That’s because the daytime weather warranted a warmer alternative to shorts, and with temps hovering around a comfortable 70 degrees, it was perhaps the coolest ACL in the event's 12-year history.
Sunday also featured the fest's most colossal and divisive headliners. Following stand-out sets from Phoenix, Tame Impala, the National, Divine Fits, Franz Ferdinand, Dawes and more, one end of the grounds hosted Motown legend Lionel Richie, who was sure to draw to the bulk of the families and older folks. The opposite main stage featured Atoms For Peace, whose members include Radiohead singer Thom Yorke, that band’s longtime producer Nigel Godrich and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea.
Though the prospect of seeing a musical figure as influential as Richie was attractive, memories of the intensely spellbinding performance Atoms for Peace gave at Coachella in 2009 -- back when they were known only as “??????” -- made catching their set a must.
Nearly two hours later, there were no lingering regrets. Using an entrancing color motif to match the mood of their sound -- a layered mix of relentless bass, swirling guitars and kinetic percussion -- the band transformed songs from Yorke’s solo album 'Eraser' and Atoms’ recent release ‘Amok,’ turning over-technical glitch-tapestries into finely woven, heavily hypnotic soundscapes.
The method was similar to how Radiohead approached their last record, ‘The King of Limbs’: string together a ton of strange samples and distorted vocals and then rrecreate it live in way that’s altogether more musical and impressively dance-worthy. Here, that approach breathed new life into ‘Eraser’-era tracks like ‘Cymbal Rush’ ‘Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses’ and ‘Atoms for Peace,’ the latter featuring a haunting melodica line by Flea over an penetrating trip-hop breakdown that rivaled the most potent Massive Attack songs.
Most captivating of all was the group’s cover of UNKLE’s 'Rabbit in Your Headlights,' a macabre piano ballad that resolved into an infectious groove. Yet the definitive climax was a jam on 'Unless' that led to a freak-out dance-off between Yorke and Flea. The project is clearly an outlet for each of their most excellent eccentricities, executed here in a highly animated and accessible manner perfectly suited to close out ACL.
That said, several more acts are due recognition for their day three feats:
Best dance party: Two words: Franz Ferdinand. Further elaboration is unnecessary for those who have seen the Scottish quartet perform. But for everyone else, the essential thing to know is that they that attack with some of the catchiest dance tunes ever delivered via traditional rock means. This day's set included ‘The Dark of the Matinee,’ ‘Michael,’ the indomitable ‘Take Me Out’ and a swath of more sinister and suave-sounding cuts from new album, ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action.’ Phoenix were a close second in this category, but the unwise decision to put them on a side stage instead of one of the two mains made it nearly impossible to get a glimpse or hear well unless you’d made your camp there all day.
Best use of props: It was refreshing to see Tame Impala, the Australian band formed by uber-chill songwriter Kevin Parker, not taking themselves so seriously as they entertained a massive crowd of devoted fans that sang along happily to every word. Parker arrived on stage inexplicably wielding a large stuffed tiger, grinning like a child as he bounced it up and down to make its forelegs wave. The plush toy soon got knocked off the monitor he'd placed it on, and when a roadie ran out to prop it back up mid-song, Parker paused for a joyful cheer. Antics aside, it was equally invigorating to see the group stray from straight-on promotion of its latest album, ‘Lonerism,’ with additions of early tracks – 'Solitude is Bliss' and 'Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind' among them - that initially solidified the band as one of the most compelling in contemporary pyschedelia.
Best buildup: Critics like to complain all the time -- especially lately for some reason -- that the National’s sets are monotonous and overly focused on down-tempo compositions. That may be true throughout the first couple of tracks on the band’s set list, ‘I Should Live in Salt” and ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’ -- both baritone-heavy slow-burners off the group's recently released sixth album, ‘Trouble Will Find Me.’
It’s easy to decide you’re bored and tune out after a couple tunes, but if you stuck around long enough and really honed in, you saw twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner work their guitar lines up to gripping melodies at jet-engine volume on songs like 'Sea of Love,' and you likewise witnessed frontman Matt Berninger reverting his typically sweet singing into spine-tingling animal yells. Point being: the National served up a set where seeing it all the way through was the only way to get the full effect. And with the perfectly angled sun pushing luminous rays through the corners of the stage scaffolding as the music became a cacophonous roar, it was downright euphoric.
Check out more photos from ACL Fest Day 3, Weekend 1