AUSTIN, Texas — There is exactly one big tree in Austin’s Zilker Park. And seemingly everyone was under it.
Every square inch of shade was occupied by someone at the third annual Austin City Limits music festival. But the intense heat and humidity — temperatures soared near the 100-degree mark each day — didn’t stop approximately 210,000 people from attending the three-day music festival.
With eight stages and more than 120 bands, the music ranged from roots-rock to reggae, from blues to funked-up jam bands. And although the cowboy-hatted crowd seemed partial to music of the twangin’ persuasion, hyped-up hipsters and alternative rockers ruled the day.
The Pixies were obviously the festival’s main draw — organizers credited the group with the festival’s first-ever sold-out day on Saturday — and performed each song with immaculate faithfulness to their studio renditions. Featured on the giant Jumbotron video screen above the stage, the group looked a little rounder and a little balder, but rocked liked it was 1991 all over again.
While the sprawling 45-acre site, the multitudes of people and the number of stages made it impossible to catch all the music, MTV News did manage to keep an eye on most of the significant action. Here are some highlights …
- “It’s OK to clap,” said the Killers’ Brandon Flowers as eye shadow ran down his face. It’s not that the band had a hard time kicking off ACL’s opening-day festivities, but the audience was acclimating itself to the oppressive heat that would stifle them for the next three days. The sweat-soaked Sin City hipsters forged on and even broke out the U.K. B-side “Indie Rock & Roll” for their understandably truncated 45-minute set.
- “Is it hot enough for you?” asked Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand — easily the hottest U.K. import of the festival. The group’s post-punk sound has apparently struck a chord with the masses, as its blistering set had festivalgoers of all stripes pogoing in the Friday-evening heat.
- “This song is stupid, but we’re going to play it anyhow, ’cause it tends to rock,” said Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy before the group launched into the crowd-pleasing “Kingpin” from 1996′s Being There. Never ones to be too ingratiating, the group — which had a gorgeous sunset as a backdrop on Sunday evening — also flexed its experimental muscles on material from its latest LP, A Ghost Is Born, highlighted by the 10-minute krautrock jam “Spiders (Kidsmoke).”
- Indie-rockers gone big time Modest Mouse battled the midday elements to showcase material from their Good News for People Who Love Bad News album, favoring twang-friendly material like “Bukowski” and “The Good Times Are Killing Me.”
- Some crowd members were even crying: Fist-pumping, anthem-screaming fans were out in full force for Dashboard Confessional’s acoustic-driven set. The sensitive emo-rockers represented for the fragile community with songs mostly from their latest, A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar.
- The Roots were the only outfit at the festival that relied solely on rhythm and rhyme. The group, which has been adopted by the jam-band scene in recent years, more than held its own against the more conventional roots-rock, twang and blues that dominated much of the festival’s lineup — in fact, with their funky percussion, improvisational stretches and noodley guitar soloing, the Philadelphia crew fit in rather inconspicuously.
- While there was no marriage proposal at this show (see “Cure, Pixies Hottest Things At Coachella (Aside From Weather)” ), Toronto’s Broken Social Scene did keep it in the family. Augmented by members of Stars and Metric, the 10-member collective grew to 11 with the addition of singer Kevin Drew’s wife on trumpet. The communal aesthetic extended to other bands on the bill when BSS’s technical difficulties were aided by Sloan’s Jay Ferguson (acting as guitar tech) and Franz Ferdinand’s Bob Hardy, who loaned his four-string to bassist Brendan Canning.
- Chicago chanteuse Neko Case represented both the female contingent and the alt-twang community with her smoky voice and country strum. Backed by an upright bassist and a banjo/lap steel player, the singer showcased material from her entire discography, plus songs from her upcoming live covers album, The Tigers Have Spoken, highlighted by a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain.”
- Who knew Calexico were so huge? The mariachi-inflected alt-country band was easily the first big draw of Sunday’s early lineup, vastly dwarfing the audience attendance on the other stages. Their set was highlighted by a note-perfect cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or,” and their horn section would later help out Wilco during “I’m The Man Who Loves You.”
- Finally, it’s probably safe to assume that Frank Black never dreamed he’d have 75,000 people singing the name of Luis Bunuel’s surrealist masterpiece, “Un Chien Andalou,” but that’s exactly what happened Saturday night during the band’s 1989 cult hit, “Debaser.” The evening’s cinematic references didn’t end there, as the quartet broke out “Where Is My Mind?” (immortalized in “Fight Club”) and the obscure Deal-sung B-side, “In Heaven,” a cover taken from David Lynch’s seminal “Eraserhead.”
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports .