ACL '09: School of Seven Bells Starts Day One Off On A High Note--And Offers Us Some Details On its Next Release.

Sorry if this post comes off as a little, I dunno, off. As I write this in the ACL press tent, Daniel Johnston's giving an on-air interview to my right, School of Seven Bells is giving a web chat interview to my left, and Jonathan Tyler and The Northern Lights are talking up a print reporter behind me. Meanwhile, Dr. Dog's rocking out a set no more than 200 yards away--and playing "Hang On," no less. 

It's all a little distracting.

But even in here, things are calmer than the scene out in the park grounds. A cool four hours (and then some) after Austin's Nelo opened the festival, the crowds as starting to show in full force--and things are getting kinda crowded, even at the smaller stages.

As for those not-quite-primetime stage's crowds, consider it a combination of the spillover and hurry-up-and-wait effects. Not sure what to see while you're waiting for Phoenix? Sure, what's keeping me from checking out Todd Snider--not me personally, but you get what I'm saying. Audiences are checking out bands they otherwise might not have.

That's how things worked out for School of Seven Bells, at least. Shouldered with the burden of playing Day One of ACL at 12:30 in the afternoon, well before the crowds reached their current levels, the band had a potentially tough set lying before it. But with only Asleep at the Wheel and The Low Anthem truly competing with the band for listeners, fans with more rock- and electro-leaning tastes trekked toward the far east end of the park for SVIIB's performance at the LiveStrong stage.

And, as they played a loud, surprisingly heavy set, audience members bounced along with the electronica-fueled sounds created by Dallas native Ben Curtis and his bandmates, twin sisters Ally and Claudia Deheza.

"It worked out with everything for us," a visibily exhausted--but still quite pleased--Curtis shared in the press tent after his band's set. "I mean, we got to play on the most kick-ass sound system in the park. And we had a great crowd."

"It was crazy," shared Ally Deheza, sharing Curtis' same demeanor. 

That much was clear while watching from the crowd, as the band shared smiles with one another on stage and profusely thanked the crowd for showing up early and supporting their set. In return, the band offered the crowd a gift of its own, performing a few tracks off the follow-up to its phenomenal late 2008 release, Alpinisms, which Curtis says is about halfway complete and set to be named Disconnect From Desire.

"It's a bigger sound," Curtis shared--and that much was pretty clear from the onset, as the band's performances of the new songs certainly seemed to indicate a slightly heavier direction. "It's also a little more direct in a way--simpler with the harmonies."

That much, at least, could also be said of a few other performances in Day One's early offerings. The Knux, a hip-hop troupe forced to relocate to Los Angeles in the post-Katrina wake, stoked its audience's fire with hip-hop cliches (dance instructions, shout-outs and snippets of samples from classic tracks from other artists) at the XBox Stage, but also surprised with a surprising sense of musicianship; joined onstage by a DJ, the two main members of the group also played guitar and keyboards at times. That added element did wonders for the band's biggest hit to date, "Bang! Bang!" which feature Rah Almillio shredding the song's opening riffs in the middle of the stage as his brother/collaborator Krispy Kream paced the stage in front of him. It was a short set--a good 20 minutes shy of the band's allotted hour-long set--but the sea of fists in the air during the band's Harold and Kumar-approved "Cappuccino" was a clear sign of the audience's appreciation.

Unsurprisingly, audiences turned out in even bigger force for The Avett Brothers' set at the far west stage of the fest, sponsored by AMD. Technically proficient, but still pleasingly dirty, the band's performance couldn't really disappoint the fans--not even if it tried. Before set of beyond adoring fans, the band played a set filled with tracks off its just-released, Rick Rubin-produced I and Love and You. It didn't matter if the crowd knew the songs or not--they were just there to cheer regardless. Still, it's tough to deny the band's energy, musicianship, or folk-pop sensibillities, even if the new record is more produced than anything the brothers have yet released.

Up next tonight: Sets from Phoenix, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Raphael Saadiq, Them Crooked Vultures, Andrew Bird, K'Naan, Kings of Leon, Daniel Johnston, Robyn Hitchcock, Thievery Corporation, John Legend and more. We'll hit as many as we can--surely not all, though--and will update you at the end of the night with our thoughts. Surely, by that point, we'll have performance and crowd shots to share with you as well.

Stay tuned throughout the whole weekend for updates: DFW's own Sarah Jaffe and Jonathan Tyler both play the festival tomorrow, and the Toadies are set to perform a main stage set on Sunday.

Oh, and in some late-breaking news: The Raveonettes canceled their set tomorrow. Replacing them? Another DFW-based act: Neon Indian.

Rest assured: We'll let you know how those sets turn out, too.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman