Austin City Limits marks the finale of summer festival season, and perhaps as an homage to sweltering events like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, the Texas heat hovered in the 90s all weekend, giving attendees the chance to air out their bikinis and shorts and cool off in front of a watery fan called the Sister Mister.
On the event's first afternoon Jenny Lewis, whose new album Acid Tongue had just debuted three days earlier, offered material from 2006's Rabbit Fur Coat ("Rise Up With Fists," "You Are What You Love") and declared how "psyched" she is about new songs ("Acid Tongue," "Carpetbaggers"). She even managed a non-silly, acoustic cover of "Love Hurts," while simultaneously courting a new fan in Bill Murray, in Austin to shoot a film and singing along from the side of the stage.
Across the field Conor Oberst took the stage suited, in a shiny tie with a white flower in his lapel. After greeting the "Dusty Texans," he slipped into alt-country mode, peddling shiny wares from August's Conor Oberst, most notably "Danny Callahan," "Milk Thistle" and "Eagle on a Pole." If the New York-based songwriter was in the market for Southern hospitality, he needed to look no further than an eager fan's front row sign proclaiming she'd happily buy him dinner.
Beck took the stage slightly late and left slightly early on day two, but his abbreviated set still swung with the pleasing arc he's brought to all of his summer festival gigs: bring it hard and fast to start, throw in some mid-tempo sways, put the band centerstage for an electro freak out, and then ease into the ending with the slower bits. He occasionally let his freak flag fly in Austin, initiating a call and response rooted in Eighties fashion references in which he begged the crowd to "Say Sergio Valente! Say Jordache, turn it up!"
On the fest's third day, Gillian Welch stopped by with longtime bandmate David Rawlings to give an unlisted set during which Welch easily charmed the crowd ("Everyone loves a chick with a banjo. It may be just a fetish, but there you have it!"), and made a clear-as-a-bell go at "My First Lover" and the adopted child's lament "No One Knows My Name." Against Me! churned out one of the fest's most well received sets, concentrating on material from 2007's New Wave ("Thrash Unreal," the trippy "The Ocean"). An appearance by Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sara ("Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart") was a welcome diversion, but the boys in black hardly needed help winning Austinites over.
When Tegan took the stage later with her sister, the pair announced that their last Texas gig at SXSW "really sucked." Redemption they sought, then, and redemption they found. Spending less than their usual stage time bantering, the sisters instead focused on material from last year's The Con. The pair also covered Rihanna's "Umbrella," and played the White Stripes fave "Walking with a Ghost," which Jack White could probably hear from the Raconteurs' proximity the next stage over.
When it was time for Foo Fighters to close out the festival, Dave Grohl attempt to befriend the audience by suggesting he wouldn't leave until the cops chased him away. He then led the Foos through newer singles like "Long Road to Ruin" and "Let it Die." Pleasant surprises included a rich backup band (complete with violin, cello, accordion and triangle), a Foo-ed up cover of the Who's "Young Man Blues" and an epic drum solo from Taylor Hawkins that served as an interlude to "Stacked Actors." Still, at the scheduled ten o'clock mark, the Foo Fighters left, as they were contractually obliged to do. But then, they came back and played an encore, and nary a cop was in sight.