VAN MORRISON Closing out the festival’s first night, Morrison spanned nearly all genres in one performance. There was bluesy Morrison, tight-lipped on the saxophone for “St. James Infirmary.” There was jazzy Morrison, who with “Moondance,” made the vast festival feel as intimate as a club. The early doo-wop and rock & roll Morrison, on stage for the rarity “Don’t Start Crying Now (the first song he ever recorded as a vocalist) gave way to soul for Morrison’s tease of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.” Switching to country, Morrison pulled from his latest album, Pay the Devil, singing “Don’t You Make Me High,” which showcased his distinctively scattered syncopation. Best of all: his rendition of the hits “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Gloria” and “Wild Night” — which seemed to transcend all genres
BEN KWELLER “If you don’t care, I don’t care,” Texas-bred Kweller said, holding a bloody towel to his bloody nose that plagued him during an afternoon set. “I’ll fucking bleed to death for you!” Now that’s what we call rock & roll! Kweller tried to keep it going by playing the heavier tune “This Is War,” after which he blasted though three more songs before festival paramedics and management insisted he call it quits and whisked him away to the hospital. “They like to keep these tour buses really dry and really fucking cold, ” Kweller said, trying to explain the nosebleed. “A hot bus is a sick bus, so it’s dry as hell on there.
THE FLAMING LIPS “He has an element of fragility about him. I always new that,” Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne said of Ben Kweller’s bloody stage antics. “It’s always seemed like if you poked him the wrong way you’d break a rib or something.” But Coyne later stuck up for his younger buddy during the Lips’ set, throwing the usual fake blood on himself and asking the audience to throw tampons at him, too. As the sun set, Coyne who came prepared in hot pink galoshes for the evening showers, lectured on politics and got nervous when he realized he was Bush-bashing before a sea of Texans. Surprisingly, the crowd roared in approval. The Lips then launched into “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” as the crowd waved their arms and sang the refrain at the band’s command. The crowning touch: their classic “She Don’t Use Jelly” — and a confetti blizzard finale.
WILLIE NELSON“I’ve played ACL more times than anyone, I think,” Nelson told us on his tour bus (which — by the way — sure smelled good). But he wasn’t talking about the Austin City Limits festival. Nelson was the first musician to ever perform on the PBS concert series of the same name, now in its 30th year. You could say he’s got the town of Austin on lockdown so it’s no wonder everyone came to see the braided legend strum away on his acoustic to a chilled set that included tunes like “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “On the Road Again” and “Georgia On My Mind.”
THE SHINS As one of the most anticipated acts at this year’s festival, the Shins started off on a high note with the Garden State classic “Caring Is Creepy.” They went on to a mix of tracks from their 2001 debut Oh, Inverted World, the breakout sensation Chutes Too Narrow, and the band’s upcoming Wincing the Night Away, due January 23rd. Later that night, as frontman James Mercer and bassist Martin Crandall caught the Iron & Wine show in the parking lot of the artist village, they told us that the band wrapped up recording the new album just last week. “We literally finished recording four days ago,” Mercer said with relief. Nice timing.
THE RACONTEURS Forget the red and white. Jack White appeared onstage Saturday night in plaid pants as the Raconteurs opened with a grand intro track. Blazing through a set that included the radio friendly “Steady As She Goes,” the psychedelic “Yellow Sun,” a cover of Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang” and the album’s title track “Broken Boy Soldier,” the boys amped up Austin’s rock factor and reminded us why we love this band.
CAT POWER Indie diva singer Chan Marshall (Cat Power) took the stage with the Memphis Rhythm Blues Band and gave an a cappella spin on the summer’s infectious, catchy single by Gnarls Barkley, singing “She’s fucking crazy. I’m fucking crazy.” Marshall later delivered an ethereal version of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” off her 2000 compilation of cover songs, The Covers Record. Next were crowd pleasers (“Could We,” “Living Proof,” and “The Greatest” among them) before Marshall sat down at the piano for the haunting track “I Don’t Blame You.” Cat Power’s shows seem to be unusually prone to glitches. Technical difficulties ended the final tune early as Marshall dedicated the set to her band, who bowed and waved their arms in thanks — or relief.
THE SECRET MACHINES Opening with their swelling anthem “Alone, Jealous and Stoned,” the Secret Machines did psychedelia justice during their hour-long performance. The trio, formed only five years ago in nearby Dallas, mixed old tunes with tracks off their latest album, Ten Silver Drops. The set featured swirling segues, fuzzy distortion and a deep bass drumbeat that sped up and slowed down right until they closed with the contagious once-you-hear-it-you’re-a-fan tune “First Wave Impact.” “They like us here in Austin, ” drummer Josh Garza admitted after the show.
THE KINGS OF LEON Greeted like royalty at their all-too-short ACL set Saturday night, The Kings of Leon drew one of the rowdiest crowds of the day, including girls in bikinis clutching “I Love Matthew” and “Marry Me, Matt” signs. Only two dates into a September tour with the Stills, the band treated fans to a preview of the countrified rock on the upcoming Because of the Times, including a track we think will be called “I’ll Be There,” given that the phrase was repeated about 800 times. The set included oldies like “Taper Jean Girl,” “Milk” (which came with some nasty feedback that had the audience booing) and “The Bucket.” “I apologize for playing the songs a little fast,” said frontman Caleb Followill before leaving the stage. “They’re going to try and cut us off tonight.”
TOM PETTY Before rain and lightning forced Petty and his band to seek shelter, the crowd heard classics like “Free Fallin’, ” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” and a rendition of the Traveling Wilburys’ , “Handle With Care.” Some fans left, ignoring announcements that Petty would play again. (Didn’t they hear it rains for just 20 minutes in Austin?) But the band soon returned with the Chuck Berry classic “Too Much Monkey Business,” followed by “Runnin Down a Dream.” The lyrics were perfect: “The last three days the rain was unstoppable/It was always cold, no sunshine.”