Saturday, October 12, 2013

Austin City Limits Festival 2013, Weekend 2, Day 1

Event: Austin City Limits Festival 2013, Weekend 2, Day 1
Venue: Zilker Park
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 11 October 2013

Introduction: I moved to Austin about five months ago and I immediately bought a ticket for this festival. I just couldn't resist. Too many good bands! Anyway, due to work and other responsibilities I did not get in until about 5:30pm, but I saw portions of three sets from bands I barely knew previously in addition to the entirety of Depeche Mode's headlining set. I have no idea what the setlists were except for Depeche Mode's, and that's the only one that's already been posted to setlist.fm so far. (Why do I even bother writing my favorite bands' setlists down during the show when there's always someone even more obsessive out there?)

So for today I'm going to list each band I saw and write up a short summary of my thoughts. Depeche Mode will get special treatment with the setlist and a more complete analysis, since I have a better idea of what I'm talking about with them.

Okkervil River: I saw the last 30 minutes of their hour-long set. I'd heard good things about them in the past, but before last week, I'd thought they were a country-folk type band. Obviously, I was wrong. They are far poppier than I would have guessed (especially for being named after an obscure Russian short story!), but that's no problem for me. They use a lot of acoustic guitar and keyboard, but they also use electric guitars and brass and harmonies and they end up filling up quite a big sound, but not in a heavy, thick, bloated way. Amazingly, the sound at their stage was really good and I could pick out each part fairly well. (Actually, the sound was great for all the bands I saw, which was honestly quite a welcome surprise.) The lead singer and the general style owe a lot to Bright Eyes, but to be honest Okkervil frontperson Will Sheff's voice doesn't grate on me the way Conor Oberst's sometimes does. (Sorry!) Anyway, I liked their set fairly well. Maybe I'll even buy a record.

The Black Angels: I again saw the last 30 minutes of their hour-long set. I'd never heard of them before last week but they are a local Austin band (as are Okkervil River, apparently) and I guess they've been making records for several years. They play a slightly dark blend of psychedelic rock, drone, and trance noise. It was like the Jesus & Mary Chain with a bigger debt to Pink Floyd and hints of Psychic TV and their comrades. They relied on a lot of vocal effects and atmospherics to make a kind of spacey high-end, while the low-end was mostly fuzz bass or otherwise rather heavy. They reached some good spaces, but admittedly little stood out from it all.

Wild Belle: I saw most of their hour-long set, but I missed the start. They were also new to me and I guess they are new to the world; they just released their first album. The band is really just a brother and sister, and they are backed by a few extra musicians. I have no idea what their album must sound like, because on stage they jumped from style to style with wild abandon and yet graceful ease. One song stood out for it's nice synthpop tones. A few were standard rock or pop structures. A later song was a disco homage. They truly shone when they took a chance and reached further out of the box than most bands bother to. I liked that they could wrap themselves in a given style, but own it and make it theirs instead of becoming swallowed up in someone else's ideas. That said, the songs that were more conventional or predictable didn't do much for me.

Depeche Mode: Depeche Mode!

Setlist:
01. Welcome to My World
02. Angel
03. Walking in My Shoes
04. Precious
05. Behind the Wheel
06. World in My Eyes
07. But Not Tonight
08. A Pain That I'm Used To
09. A Question of Time
10. Enjoy the Silence
11. Personal Jesus

Encore:
12. Shake the Disease
13. Just Can't Get Enough
14. I Feel You
15. Never Let Me Down Again

Woah! Now, as you may know, DM is just a three-piece these days, but they are augmented by keyboardist Peter Gordeno and drummer Christian Eigner. Honestly, the two bonus musicians did most of the instrumental work. As per the running joke, Andrew Fletcher hardly touched his keyboards. Meanwhile, lead singer Dave Gahan apparently never touches an instrument, and songwriter Martin Gore mostly preferred to play guitar, a shocking turnabout from their early days. I suspect that many songs were grounded in backing tapes, but Gordeno clearly did perform most of the complicated keyboard work once handled by former member Alan Wilder, and Gore and Gahan have their signature contributions as well.

The setlist was pretty amazing for only comprising fifteen songs and only lasting 95 minutes. "But Not Tonight" and "Shake the Disease" were definitely unexpected for me, and not only that, both were performed in stripped-down versions with just vocals by Gore and piano by Gordeno. They were great performances and in both cases, the arrangements were new to me.

Actually, most of the back-catalog songs were altered in their arrangements in some way. In some cases, it was just more guitar from Gore; "Personal Jesus" in particular began in a slow tempo focused on Gore's guitar, and he even took a guitar solo in the extended outro! In others, it was Gahan demanding the audience sing along to countless repetitions of the chorus, such as at the end of "But Not Tonight" and in the middle of "A Question of Time" and "Enjoy the Silence". And in yet others, the songs were extended substantially, often incorporating elements from 12" remixes or other versions. This was particularly evident in "Enjoy the Silence", "I Feel You", and "Never Let Me Down Again".

Now, if you know me well from reading this blog long enough, you will know that I am quite fond of such live rearrangements. The band could have played the songs just like they are on the albums or even just sequenced all the parts and just hit play while dancing. (Well, I suppose they did hire someone to play those parts, and Gahan does spend a lot of time dancing with unmatched energy, but still!) Instead, they chose to spice things up a bit, change things around, and make the whole experience for more interesting and engaging for their devoted fans. I appreciate that greatly.

The audience was quite enthusiastic and it's hard to say if certain songs got more fan response than others – with one exception. I was surprised that "Just Can't Get Enough", the earliest song the band still performs, appeared to garner the most adulation. The song is older than I am, but perhaps even new fans are strangely drawn to it. I mean, I guess I am guilty of that myself, but I still like their mid-period albums best.

The weirdest part of the night: "Precious" was accompanied by a video featuring almost-still shots of dogs in front of a brick wall. Huh. (Second weirdest: Gordeno played a high-fretted riff on a bass guitar during "A Pain That I'm Used To". Who would have guessed?)

Scores:
Okkervil River: B+
The Black Angels: C+
Wild Belle: B-
Depeche Mode: A
Overall: B+

Final Thoughts: I had fun and I'm quite excited for the next two days. I only got rained on for about 20 minutes and no one stole my bike, so I can hardly complain. And remember, a C truly means "average" to me, and B is honestly "good". The only reason Depeche Mode didn't get an A+ is because they didn't play longer. (Most of the major headliners are booked for two hours.)

[Edit 2013.10.13:] P.S. The Black Angels' setlist has been uploaded here:

01. Telephone
02. Broken Soldier
03 .Bad Vibrations
04. The Prodigal Sun
05. Young Men Dead
06. I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia)
07. Indigo Meadow
08. You on the Run
09. Twisted Light
10. Don't Play with Guns
11. Bloodhounds on My Trail
12. Yellow Elevator #2
13. Always Maybe
14. Evil Things

[Edit 2014.10.04: I recently found a bootleg recording of the video webcast of the Black Angels' set, and I've got to say, it was better than I remembered. Probably still somewhere in the B range, but definitely better than C+.]

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