AUSTIN — In just 10 years, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has grown from a community happening to one of the leading national festivals in the crowded summer circuit. The 10th annual ACL festival officially got underway Friday morning with sold-out, sprawling crowds in all corners of Austin’s Zilker Park on the banks of the Lady Bird lake. A solid infrastructure, reasonable wait times and free shuttles between downtown Austin and the festival grounds kept the day running smoothly.
Coldplay and Kanye West shared headlining duties from opposing ends of the park, though Coldplay’s audience severely outnumbered that of the ever-present West. Sounding surprisingly fresh and relevant, Coldplay bathed the masses in multi-colored lights, lasers and a fair mix of new material and older fan favorites. “Yellow” and “In My Place” came early in the set, the former having aged well since it first put the band on the map some 11 years ago. For all his eccentricities and Bono-esque egotism, lead singer Chris Martin proved Friday that, if anything, his Brit pop anthems can go toe-to-toe with those of Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and Gorillaz/Blur mastermind Damon Albarn.
As expected, West’s set was recycled from his April appearance at Coachella with songs from 2010’s excellent “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” dominating the set list. Past hits like “Jesus Walks” were peppered in throughout the performance, but alas, the show offered nothing entirely new from a rapper so hell-bent on evolution.
The day’s best performance came from Santigold, who played as though she hadn’t left the indie radar since her 2008 self-titled breakout. “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Lights Out” came early in the strong set rife with costume changes, coordinated dance moves and genre-bending polyrhythms. Energetic renditions of “Say Aha,” “Creator” and “Anne” kept the sizable crowd engaged up until the very moments before Coldplay took the stage a few hundred yards away.
Electro pop darlings Foster the People played to possibly the largest single audience of the day on the Google+ stage. And while the sea of youth was there patiently waiting for “Pumped Up Kicks,” songs like “Helena Beat” and “Houdini” whet many an appetite. Side note: I remember seeing Foster The People for the first time nearly six months to the day, in Austin, during South by Southwest. It was a day party at Mohawk, and the band played a toe-tapping set to a modest crowd. One unofficial “song of summer” and more than 20 million YouTube views later, this L.A. trio is virtually a festival headliner.
Modern soul man Charles Bradley delighted a crop of the festival’s older patrons late in the afternoon on the Vista Equity stage. The 62-year-old singer channeled James Brown, Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield with shimmying dance moves, triumphant screeches and a sparkling sequin vest — no need for a shirt underneath. An R&B cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” became a quick sing-along.
Elsewhere, the North Mississippi Allstars melded southern rock and improvisational jams, highlighted by a rousing take on their semi-hit, “Shake ‘Em On Down.” Folk music and indie-rock found its place with the Cave Singers and Kurt Vile in the afternoon sun. Vile stuck mostly to his masterful 2011 release, “Smoke Ring For My Halo,” though a charging version of his first hit, “Freeway,” satisfied the modest crowd.
Electronic music up-and-comer Beardyman entertained hundreds on the BMI stage — ACL’s smallest, most intimate stage — with breakbeats and remixes, including a sample of “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. Late at night back downtown, dubsteb maestro Skrillex played a sold-out show at La Zona Rosa. The hour-long, sweat-drenched, strobe-heavy set was the hottest ticket of all late night after-shows and saw the young Sonny Moore sampling an array of his DJ kin from Deadmau5 to Major Lazer.
Andy Beam is a New York photogrpaher and a new contributor to Reverb.