By 8 p.m. Sunday, all but one of the 130 bands at Austin City Limits had taken the stage, and it was tough to find a spot within 500 feet of that final act if you hadn”t shown up early. After packing the weekend with mostly indie-rock artists, the festival organizers had gone with a giant name to close things out.
Joined by a small army of auxiliary musicians, the Eagles dutifully played their hits for two full hours. Bathroom-break cuts, like 2007″s ‘Long Road Out of Eden,” were few; the first 15 minutes alone featured ‘Take It to The Limit” and ‘Hotel California.” The sound was crisp, the banter was friendly, and the encores were ‘Take it Easy” and ‘Desperado.” It wasn”t exactly thrilling, though no one in the crowd that flooded the lawn at Zilker Park was complaining.
Just before the Eagles, at 7 p.m., you could have chosen between three different flavors of elegance: the English singer-songwriter (and folk-rock guitar hero) Richard Thompson, Norah Jones and the National, the Brooklyn band who mix Leonard Cohen-esque vocals with refined post-punk guitars. Before their set, National frontman Matt Berninger chatted about the big year his band are having: Their latest album, High Violet, hit Number Three on the pop charts, and they just headlined Radio City Music Hall. ‘We”re peaking now,” Berninger told Rolling Stone, before donning a suit and playing before a couple thousand fans, ‘and we”re trying to peak as well as possible.”
It was easily the tamest day of the festival — the ‘Austin Eats” row of food merchants, which featured everything from sausage-peddlers to Stubbs” Barbeque, looked especially inviting. But the day did feature one big spectacle in the Flaming Lips” early-evening set. Beforehand, Lips frontman Wayne Coyne chatted with typical warmth and enthusiasm about Austin (‘We”ve been coming here since 1984,” he said. ‘It was one of the only places that”d led us play back then”) and how he approached festival gigs: ‘The beauty of a festival is that [the crowd] is not all there to see you — they”re partying, they”re drunk, they”re screaming at crazy shit,” Coyne said. ‘Fuck it. That frees you up to not worry that you didn”t have ten hours to set up your laser beams. You just shoot them off!”
At 6 p.m., Coyne appeared in his now-familiar giant plastic bubble, which he rode out into the crowd. The Lips” set was full of visuals like that one: The band, flanked by two large groups of orange-clad dancers, also played around with giant yellow balloons and megaphones that shot out red smoke, and the big screen behind them flashed colorful psychedelic images.
The pacing to the set was odd: Pauses between songs went a little too long, and one call-and-response bit (where Coyne asked the audience to mimic the sounds of various objects, like motorcylces and bumblebees) went way too long. But Coyne was an earnest cheerleader: ‘I love you! Come on!” he said at one point; at another he called ACL ‘one of the great festivals in the world.” And the Lips closed out their set with a Big Rock moment that was kind of touching, launching into ‘Do You Realize??” while a couple thousand sunburned audience members — including many whose attention had been wandering till right then — sung along to Coyne”s sweetly warbled lyrics.