10 Best Things We Saw at Austin City Limits Fest 2014 – Rolling Stone
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10 Best Things We Saw at Austin City Limits Fest 2014

Pearl Jam, Outkast, the Replacements, Lana Del Rey and more highlight the Texas institution’s sunny first weekend

ACL Festival

Chad Wadsworth

Austin City Limits Festival — a Texas institution almost on par with South by Southwest — kicked off its second year as a two-week music bonanza with three days of almost cloudless skies at picturesque Zilker Park. Onstage, veteran rockers Pearl Jam played to their top headlining spot and Eminem nearly stole the entire weekend. The EDM trifecta of Skrillex, Zedd and Major Lazer moved the crowd, alongside the Dirty South goodness of Outkast's ongoing reunion and the kitchen-sink eclecticism of Beck. With the first half of the 2014 edition now in the books, there is one thing everyone can agree on: Next weekend, we need to get Iggy Azalea a bigger stage.

outkast

Outkast close out day one of the Austin City Limits music festival in Zilker Park.

Chad Wadsworth

Best Reunion, Clinton/Bush II-Era Edition: Outkast

By this point in their festival reunion tour, it was well known that Outkast would open their set with the funk hurricane of "B.O.B." Of course, this made the performance no less thrilling, and the duo proceeded to follow it with a few tracks from 1998's Aquemini. Nodding toward their later creative rift, André 3000 simply stated, "I'm a go see a man about a horse" and left the stage, allowing his counterpart to showcase Speakerboxxx cuts like "The Way You Move," Sleepy Brown's silky accompaniment becoming an unlikely highlight. André 3000's follow-up solo suite was uneven by comparison – he's always had the higher ceiling and lower floor – but the sheer ecstasy of "Hey Ya!" was enough to forgive a meandering misfire like "Prototype." Even without new material, this reunion felt organic and loose, with the long-time friends finding their groove, trading flows and cracking wise throughout the night.

St Vincent

St. Vincent brought her avant garde charms to the Austin City Limits music festival in Zilker Park.

Chad Wadsworth

Best Attempt to Keep ACL Weird: St. Vincent

Working blistering solos into avant-garde compositions plucked straight from the David Byrne and Laurie Anderson-taught art rock master class, Clark got weird, provocative, punishing and even pop, all in the same set. The many hundreds of people jamming out to "Digital Witness" and "Birth in Reverse" surely appreciated this, and one wonders if the Austin Chamber of Commerce –the group who made "Keep Austin Weird" their official slogan – felt the same way.

Iggy Azalea

Chad Wadsworth

Best Bass Rumble: Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”

With eight stages in a mid-sized municipal park, ACL Fest crowds occasionally end up traffic-jammed in front of a stage that's far too small for the artist playing on it. Such was the case with Iggy Azalea's Saturday slot, when it looked and felt like every one of the 75,000 or so people in attendance was trying to get close to the Australian phenom. Eventually, 20 minutes of squeezing between people packed like sardines earned you the chance to hear bass rumble for "Fancy" but little else.

Lake Street Dive

Chad Wadsworth

Best New Voice: Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive

When Rachael Price opens her mouth and lets loose with her cool cannon blast of a voice, you sort of forget to breathe for a few seconds. Price's talent was on display from the opening notes of "Stop Your Crying" on Friday afternoon, and the group around her casually placed these vocals over breezy instrumentals like "What About Me" and "Bad Self Portraits." Normally, you'd expect to her a voice like this singing country, but Lake Street Dive aim closer to Dusty Springfield or Peggy Lee. Based on their ACL response, that seems like a wise move.

Lana Del Rey

Chad Wadsworth

Best Purist Provocation: Lana Del Rey

Opening her set with "Cola" Lana Del Rey wasted no time journeying into a mid-crowd aisle to take pictures, sign autographs and collect at least one gift bag from a fan. By the time she stepped back onstage and into the soaring "Body Electric," one wondered if the bank of vocal effects processors and backing tracks in her setup deserved at least equal billing. Of course, whatever she was doing worked, and the massive crowd sang along passionately to tracks like "Born to Die" and "Summertime Sadness."

afi

AFI kick off the final day of weekend one at the Austin City Limits music festival in Zilker Park.

Chad Wadsworth

Best Music-Weather Juxtaposition: AFI

"We used to play hardcore. It sounded like this." Those words came from AFI singer Davey Havok as his band launched into the two-minutes-or-so maelstrom of "A Single Second," midway through a set that displayed the many creative turns punk bands can take as they grow older. For most of an hour the guys moved from the screaming pop-punk of their early day to the grandiose anthems like "Love Like Winter" that have defined their more recent work. While the Warped Tour alumni have stylistically shifted gears over the years, Havok's lyrical imagery has stayed rooted in the macabre – an odd juxtaposition their sunny, mid-day surroundings. With 20-plus years under their belts, though, the heat never caused AFI's energy or spirit to flag, and the singer carried on like the living embodiment of what might've happened if a young Edgar Allan Poe had ever fronted a punk band.

Benjamin Booker

Benjamin Booker played a blistering set on day two of the Austin City Limits music festival in Zilker Park.

Chad Wadsworth

Best Combination: Spanish Gold and Benjamin Booker

Nothing beats when early afternoon stage-hopping leads to catching a pair of acts that sound surprisingly complementary. Take Saturday, when a quick visit to groove rockers Spanish Gold led perfectly into Benjamin Booker's set of dirty rock & soul halfway across the park. Spanish Gold are the new project of My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan, versatile Austin guitarist Adrian Quesada and Hacienda singer Dante Schwebel, and the still-new combo were relaxed but steady as they showed off material from this year's debut album, South of Nowhere.

The young upstart Booker, meanwhile, was several notches more aggressive and ferocious, but the mutual appreciation of basic, muscular rock provided an obvious link. Set highlight "Old Hearts" was a punky summation of what Booker does best, with the smoldering "Happy Homes" dialing back the beats per minute and letting his lyrics linger over the thick crowd. That crowd got a genuine curveball thrown at them when the young guitarist played a pair of Celtic-themed tunes – including a reworked cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Mean Jumper Blues."

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