Event: Austin City Limits Festival 2016, Weekend 1, Day 1
Venue: Zilker Park
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 30 September 2016
My fourth year! Much like last year, the lineup seemed a bit weak to me, but it still wasn't hard to find a day I wanted to see. Actually, there were a few of acts scattered across the weekend that interested me, but they were thinly spread out and I was unconvinced to go for more than a single day. Since I had to work most of the day and I got inside the festival grounds a bit later than I was hoping, I missed Chairlift and Bombino, but I've seen the latter twice before, and I caught the former on the webcast the next morning.
I wasn't particularly excited about any of the bands playing for a couple hours, so I just picked things that seemed like they had at least a slight chance of being good. I started with Foals, a British band that kept switching contexts between indie rock and hard rock. The indie rock parts were tolerable, particularly when they leaned in an 80s new wave direction, but the harder stuff was just bland heavy riffing and some jarring screaming. I wasn't very impressed by the instrumental performances at any point. They kept threatening to break into big solos, but instead they just kept riffing more. They were missing something in the ways of nuance.
From there I wandered over to St. Lucia on the Miller stage while eating a burrito. I was totally unimpressed by their generic electronica, and the sound from the Cirrus Logic stage was fiercely interfering. I gave up and ended up going to that stage for Cold War Kids, who weren't much better and were also suffering from the cross-park noise. (Seriously, there were three stages all facing into the same section of crowd.) Cold War Kids at least had a decent piano rock vibe, but they came off as fairly generic pop rock. A few hints of Erasure slipped through, but filtered through acoustic piano and electric guitar. It struck me that when they stuck to keyboards, they had something going for them, but every time they'd switch to more guitars and it'd go downhill.
I was supposed to be meeting a friend around this time, but cell phone reception was so spotty near the entrance that we managed to miss each other and I gave up trying to find him after an initial search. I took the opportunity to see Flying Lotus after I missed my chance earlier this year due to the cancellation of Levitation. He was definitely as weird as I was expecting (seemingly just for the sake of weirdness), and he lived up to the reputation of being difficult to classify and categorize. However, this very confusion makes him rather fascinating to behold. He draws you in by forcibly keeping your attention purely with his creative instrumentals. His raps were fine, but the real draw is his skill with blending a psychedelic collage of samples.
Eventually I realized I'd better find my friend, so aided by better reception I went in search of him in the Tito's tent, where Corinne Bailey Rae was playing. She was nominally playing a pleasant take on soul, but she frequently diverted into dancier electronic pop territory. I was less excited by that, but she had a solid band and a great voice at any rate. The bassist was superb but unfortunately kept switching to keyboards to synthesize the instrument in a far inferior fashion.
[Corinne Bailey Rae.]
After a detour to the food stalls and the merch booth, we headed towards the Samsung stage to get a decent spot for Radiohead. Despite that we missed out on some other options in the meantime, it was probably worth it. Here's the setlist:
01. Burn the Witch
03. Ful Stop
05. How Soon Is Now? [The Smiths cover tease]
06. 2 + 2 = 5
06. The National Anthem
08. Lotus Flower
09. The Gloaming
10. Exit Music (for a Film)
11. The Numbers
14. Everything in Its Right Place →
17. Street Spirit (Fade Out)
18. Give Up the Ghost
19. Paranoid Android
21. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
22. There There
23. Karma Police
Radiohead, again augmented by second drummer Clive Deamer, began the show predictably and rather inauspiciously. "Burn the Witch", nominally a song driven by rapidly bowed strings, was simulated by a chugging bassline and what seemed to be synth strings, but the energy suffered from the substitution and Thom's voice wandered a little too far off-key. "Daydreaming" works fine as the follow-up track on A Moon Shaped Pool, but on stage its loose, drifting atmosphere didn't help ground things any more than the opener did. Thankfully, the band opted to skip a few more low-key album tracks and dove straight into the higher-powered "Ful Stop", finally kicking things off in earnest. "Airbag" solidified the deal and was greeted by huge applause.
Pausing briefly for a breather, Thom Yorke started singing lines from The Smiths' classic "How Soon Is Now?". The audience sang along, but before they got too far, the band launched into "2 + 2 = 5". From that point onward, they basically played a conventional greatest-hits set, interrupted only briefly for two more songs from the new album: "The Numbers" and "Identikit". While those may be two of the best songs on the album, I was surprised that they only ended up playing five songs from A Moon Shaped Pool. (At least they skipped the redundant version of "True Love Waits" that is a downgrade from the I Might Be Wrong live version, which itself was a downgrade from the original 1995 live version.) They similarly only played three songs from the previous album, The King of Limbs, and they didn't play any of the non-album singles they released around that time.
In fact, they didn't play anything at all that could be considered unexpected or surprising. Even "Exit Music" is one of their regular numbers, and this performance was marred by a brief loss of sound amplification and by an unruly group near me that decided to shout at each other during the quiet start of the song. I was hoping for "Let Down" (which they've been playing surprisingly often on this tour), "Climbing Up the Walls", or anything they hadn't played in a long time, but to no avail. The last time I saw them, they played an obscure b-side ("The Amazing Sounds of Orgy") and a song that wouldn't be released for four years ("Identikit"), so my hopes weren't entirely unfounded.
That said, what they did play was superb after the first couple duds. I'll take "Reckoner" and "Nude" any day, and the audience was exceptionally excited for "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi". I still think "Everything in Its Right Place" works best in its right place as a set- or show-closer, and while it seemed a little too brief this time around, I liked they way they ran it straight into "Idioteque", which they in turn brought to an uncommonly frenzied pitch. "Karma Police" would be hard to complain about, and Thom graced us with a singalong coda of the chorus before leaving the stage for good.
Considering the limits of the festival stage and the fact they haven't toured in four years, Radiohead still maintained a high standard of performance, and they covered a wide breadth of material from the large catalog they have available to draw from. The show was a good time, but it seemed like they were playing a bit by the numbers. There really weren't any surprises and little to make the show stand out in a positive way. Their stature is such that they could afford to experiment and play around, so it was disappointing that they didn't take the opportunity.
After leaving the festival grounds, I went to Stubb's to catch a late night show of Andrew Bird, which I will cover in the next post.
St. Lucia: C-
Cold War Kids: C+
Flying Lotus: B
Corinne Bailey Rae: B-
P.S. Foals' setlist is here, St. Lucia's is here, Cold War Kids' is here, Flying Lotus' is here, and Corinne Bailey Rae's is here.
P.P.S. Thanks to Jacob!