ACL '10, Night Two: Muse, Matt & Kim and M.I.A. Muster Might, Magic and Meh.

Night fell down on Austin Town and it figured it'd be a busy night. And with The xx and Temper Trap setting the table for LCD Soundsystem, Gogol Bordello, Monsters of Folk, Deadmau5, Matt & Kim, MIA and Muse, Saturday did indeed set it self up to be remembered as ACL 2010's strongest.

Except for the part where MIA screwed things up during her set.

But, yeah, aside from that, it was pretty killer: Matt & Kim and Muse were especially on-point as Night Two bid itself adieu. Read reviews of Matt & Kim's magic, Muse's might and MIA's big ol' bore of a performance after the jump.

Matt & Kim may have been bred in the DIY venues of America, but its high-energy, don't-call-it-cute display seems built for a festival setting: The duo's simplistic dance-party jams, quick-witted banter and flair for the festive--drummer Kim Schifino, supported by the crowds, offered her audience a "booty dance" and keyboardist Matt Johnson scaled the Honda stage''s scaffolding--made for the most entertaining set of ACL 2010 thus far.

The duo also earned marks for inspiring the most attentive audience of the fest; crowds familiar with Matt & Kim shimmied away from their vantage points and those unfamiliar couldn't help but look on. The band's enthusiasm is infectious, its cheery nature a vibrant one.

There was no new material--nothing from November's anticipated Sidewalks, which finds the band at its most produced to date and, possibly, in need of a more filled-out performance set-up. But no matter, 2009's Grand proved material enough, with that disc's "Daylight" bringing the revelry to its infectious peak, bordering on fever pitch. And that was no small feat, what with this crowd already having acted out its devotion: Earlier songs elicited clap-alongs and wave-alongs, and even a full-blown scream-along for the band's cover of Biz Markie's "Just A Friend."

M.I.A.'s set saw plenty of anticipation on the west end of the fairgrounds, but little payoff: The first song saw didn't even see Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam on stage, and, though she came out for the second, that first song worked as a fitting metaphor for her entire mumbled performance.

Here's the thing about performing in festivals, especially on a main stage: Very few people actually see the performers; they rely on the accompanying video screens to share the visual side of the performance. But rather than the performer (or any of her five packing dancers or DJ) , M.I.A.'s screen showed illustrations. M.I.A., meanwhile, spent minimal time in her set's early going on stage, instead opting to interact o the grass in front of her closest fans. An admirable offering, perhaps, but it left the rest of her crowd in the dark, straining their necks to see her dancers or maybe just the neon "Maya" sign that served as her backdrop.

Her vocals weren't helping matters, either. They were already mixed too low, and Maya, for the most part, mumbled her way through the proceedings. Audiences thinned out--only to be pulled back in once the video screens finally--mercifully--showed the performer stalking the stage, and performing her biggest hit, "Paper Planes."

But it was but a brief moment of the potential this set could've reached if properly put forth. For her next song, her backing screen showed simply a blue screen. It had an almost calming effect--one not unlike the effect M.I.A.'s set had over the heat of her performance's hype.

Where The Strokes and M.I.A. missed and Phish came up just a little short, Muse offered the first home-run of a closing set on Saturday night:
The British trio, sometimes bolstered by a fourth on piano, scored on every point M.I.A. missed, its massive bombast sounding crystal clear and its driving anthems hitting home.

Muse, the band appeared intent to prove, is not one thing, but many: a hit-making machine; a band with ridiculous mass appeal; a band that steals influence from a barrage of reference points; a band that pays proper homage to rock's past; and a band that doesn't mind playing the role of crowd-pleaser.

"This is our favorite state," the Brits told this Texas crowd, before later aping Hendrix and performing three-quarters of our national anthem.

There were other teases: Between songs, vocalist and guitarist Matthew Bellamy would tease the audience with classic rock riffs, eventually scoring gold when the audience picked up on the melody of The Animals' "The House of the Rising Sun" and, unprovoked, played collective vocalist.

The band, before offering a two-song encore, also seemed out to prove that it isn't just some bad for fan girls and boy geeked out on its role in the Twilight series, playing songs that sounded more metal- and blues-heavy than those with radio-only awareness of the band could have expected. Of course, those radio hits made their mark--"Resistance," "Uprising" "Time Is Running Out" and "Supermassive Black Hole" especially--and the ecstatic crowd all-too-willingly made its appreciation known.

Muse writes music as if it's sound-tracking the most dramatic, Hollywood-scripted, post-governmental revolution ever imagined. On this night, the good guys won.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman

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