Saturday, March 10, 2012

Radiohead @ Moody Theater - Austin City Limits Taping, 3/6/12

Besides winning the actual lottery, the ACL Blog lottery for a pair of tickets to see the Radiohead taping that the program has been trying to book for years was the hottest gamble in town for Austinites last week. One of the most in-demand bands on the planet, but touring rarely, Radiohead has sold out huge arenas globally on their current tour, making this 2,700-capacity show a treat for all invited (the band's show at the Frank Erwin Center the next evening sold out in mere minutes). 19,000 people entered online for only 1,000 spots on the space-available taping guest list. Shockingly, not only was I one of the few lucky ones whom the gods decided to smile upon this fateful evening, but three of my closest friends also won pairs of seats to the taping.

Making sure to show up right on time to ensure our entrance to the Wednesday, March 6th taping, we hovered around the studio doors, and once open, briskly skirted over to secure a group of 5 seats together about 10 feet from stage right. We couldn't believe our good fortune in claiming these seats, as the floor became packed to capacity. Usually the balconies are closed off for ACL tapings and capacity is limited to 800, but the entire venue was opened up and filled for Radiohead. And the crowd was into it from start to finish, noticeably surprising even the well-loved band members.

The show was everything we expected, and more. Frontman Thom Yorke turned the ACL studio into his personal rhythm test garage, and he couldn't look more like a wise shaman than when rocking a pair of maracas with his hair pulled back into a tight ponytail and eyes closed as if connecting to some sort of existential rock universe that only he has access to. Some other reviewers have commented that the show was a bit disjointed and imperfect, but they were probably just too far away from the stage to be able to connect to the intricate work being done by the band, who may have appeared disengaged from a distance. I can assure these doubters that the band was incredibly connected for most of the evening, and our entire group was blown away by the musicianship and tightness of Radiohead's band members. The twin-bald-headed-white-man drum set-up was almost too funny, but there was no laughing at the talent on display and electricity between the pair.

For a band that constantly strives for perfection in only its own eyes, it was clear that they were using the taping format to their advantage, stopping and re-starting a song halfway through because Yorke was displeased with his guitar work. Nobody minded hearing it twice. While this crowd did not experience the beautiful stage design and constantly-moving screens built for the rest of Radiohead's arena tour, I doubt anyone cared about that either. The setlist focused on tracks from 'The King of Limbs' and 'In Rainbows', and the crowd did get a few old goodies, such as rarely played 'Orgy' and 'Myxomatosis', before the band finished up with 'Paranoid Android' during a singular encore. The theater screamed for a second encore (probably aware this is standard practice at Radiohead arena shows), but the band did not return as the studio lights came on and people began to file out. Most people could not conduct coherent conversations in the hours immediately following the show due to the level of musical nirvana reached.

The taping will air as part of the fall 2012 season of Austin City Limits on PBS.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Free Press Summer Fest Lineup Out Monday 3/5

After weeks of delay, the Free Press Summer Fest (June 2-3 in Houston) lineup will finally be announced tomorrow, Monday, March 5th at an unannounced time. More importantly, while pre-sale tickets are currently $45 for a 2-day pass, you can score one for a steal if you feel like waking up when a limited amount of tickets go on sale for just $15 at 5 a.m. on Monday. They will probably go up to $60 after the lineup is released later in the day.

The Houston, TX festival planners posted on Facebook that the lineup would be "coming soon" on February 4th, but weeks went by with only the news that Major Lazer will be one of the headliners (whose performance at FFF Fest 2011 managed to explode and implode my brain at the same time). Also leaked are appearances by Two Door Cinema Club and Maps & Atlases. Word is that the festival team was waiting to make the big announcement due to working on booking someone "BIG". This could be huge; from the fest's humble beginnings in 2009, it has grown exponentially in an extremely short amount of time - probably helped by a combination of the continuing popularity of music festivals and a bit of Austin-envy. But Summer Fest is no joke - Weezer, Cut Copy, Ween, Beirut, Yeasayer, Chromeo, and Big Boi were just a few of the major acts to grace this festival last year, and The Flaming Lips and Girl Talk headlined in 2010. Keep an eye out for an update on the lineup.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

KXT's 'Summer Cut' Fest Rocks Dallas June 1st

The Flaming Lips are coming back! For anyone who missed their appearance at Houston's 2010 Free Press Summer Fest, as well as their Sunday pre-headliner slot at the 2010 ACL Festival (which I missed in favor of Band of Horses, a decision I do not regret), KXT's announcement of a one-Friday-night-only festival drew some excitement this week.

The June 1st 'Happy Funtime Fest' is produced by Live Nation and presented by KXT 91.7, a local Dallas radio station that switched over from Christian radio to the Adult Alternative format in 2009. For a city that doesn't really have a festival to match Free Press or ACL, this is "kind of a big deal" for Dallas. Oddly, the festival is being hosted at Gexa Energy Pavilion (Starplex/, a large outdoor amphitheater in Fair Park featuring covered pavilion seats and a sloped, uncovered lawn. I've heard that the acts will be split between the main stage (The Flaming Lips, St. Vincent, Fitz & The Tantrums, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) and a side stage with some of the less popular and local acts. Who knows if KXT is still planning on adding anyone major to the line-up, but my guess is no. Out of the line-up, the only band I have previously seen live is Fitz & The Tantrums, and it was a top 3 ACL show for me in 2011. The Flaming Lips may decide to do a special performance of one of their classic albums, or Dark Side of the Moon, or go more current with their material...only time will tell.

The fest kicks off at 5 p.m. and will go until 10 or 11 p.m. at night. 1000 lawn seats went on sale for $11.34 ($9.17 before fees) Saturday at noon, and there are still more than 50 available, so pick them up at this price before they go up to $27.58. There are also still plenty of pavilion seats available for $75 incl. fees. Tickets are available at There are overhead fans in the pavilion and who knows how hot it will be...but my friends want to dance on the lawn. Decisions, decisions. And of course, Free Press Summer Fest 2012 is the Saturday and Sunday immediately following Summer Cut, so maybe it will just have to be a festival-filled weekend full of music and driving across the state.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Civil Wars @ Moody Theater - Austin City Limits Taping, 2/29/12

'Critic's darling' is a term thrown around quite a bit, but no music act of the last year embodies the spirit of the term better than The Civil Wars. Their debut album Barton Hollow, released just one year ago, peaked at #10 on the Billboard 200. Fresh off their double Grammy win for 'Best Country Duo/Group Performance' and 'Best Folk Album' (and an unconscionable snub for a 'Best New Artist' nomination), the duo brought their classic blend of folk musings, pop-tinged harmonies, and singer-songwriter honesty to the Moody Theater for the opening of the 2012 Austin City Limits taping season on Wednesday, February 29th. After playing a sold-out show at the Paramount just last month, Austin was more than happy to offer a warm welcome back to The Civil Wars.

Joy Williams of The Civil Wars lets her passion out at
Eddie's Attic in Decatur, Georgia on August 16, 2010.

Always at the mercy of the ACL blog ticket lottery gods, I was not one of the lucky winners, but fortunately a few of my friends made the guest list. One of them graciously met me downtown so that I could be their +1, despite their own inability to attend. I am forever grateful to said friend, because this was a spectacular show (there was a smile plastered across my face for most of the concert).

A musical pairing that seems almost too good to be true, Joy Williams and John Paul White sing about the highs and lows of marriage, and for a few moments you wonder if they are married to one another and are using this as some sort of twisted couple's therapy. Not the case - both are married to other people, and not only does John Paul have four children of his own, Joy got the crowd chuckling when she mentioned her new-found role as a 'human bakery'. This explains her positively beaming demeanor, but she was gorgeous and slender in a flowing, layered black dress, even showing some skin in the back.

The setlist centered around tracks from Barton Hollow along with a few covers and a couple new songs. Upon starting into 'I've Got This Friend', Joy joked this was the pair's "one and only happy song." John Paul reminisced about waiting for Austin City Limits to come on TV as a child (as it was on one of the only channels...), and both performers made it clear they were extremely thankful to be a part of the 35+ year tradition, seemingly blown away by the crowd's adoration. They also described their first meeting in a songwriting session in 2008, and how it was a pure music connection from the start. The first song they wrote together that day ended up on the album. And while John Paul mentioned growing up surrounded by bluegrass, folk, and Americana (which elicited cheers from the crowd), Joy half-jokingly admitted having a completely different musical background, growing up listening to radio-friendly pop "in California". Yet, somehow the pair found a way to bring their two styles together into one seamless combination of eerie perfection that can only be found in the rare live setting.

The comfort the pair demonstrates on-stage is reassuring, considering it's just the two of them and a guitar; although Joy did play piano on two songs, she is clearly at her best when free of any instruments, letting her body move and vocal fluctuations vary with the mood of the moment. It's easy to lose yourself watching her, and occasionally you forget that John Paul is on the stage. He provides an essential and constant backdrop to Joy's voice that just makes the whole thing 'work'. 

The audience held on to every note as if it were the last they would ever hear. You could hear a pin drop in the studio in-between Joy's breaths, but once each song ended, the audience erupted into appreciation for the experience. After leaving the stage, a rousing and unending cheer for more brought the duo back out for an encore, featuring slow-burning covers of 'Billie Jean' and Smashing Pumpkins song 'Disarm.' When the lights came up, every single person in that studio of 800 knew they were smart not to miss this one.