ACL Day One Recap: Hipsters, Hippies and The Poor Schlubs Stuck In Between.

Patrick Michels
Julian Casablancas wears his sunglasses at nights.
Well, Austin City Limits, you redeemed yourself. After a slow start to the festivities, things picked up very quickly, as predicted, and, by three o'clock, things were in full swing. But Night One--despite names like Miike Snow, Girls, The Black Keys, Beach House, The Sword, Spoon, Sonic Youth, Ryan Bingham, Vampire Weekend, The Strokes and Phish amounting to, essentially, a hipster's wet dream--wasn't without its surprises.

The biggest surprise? Despite the healthy hippie contingent present at this show the Strokes outdrew Phish in their head-to-head headlining slots--and by a healthy margin, no less.

After the jump, quick hits on the bands we caught and some other observations from Day One.

  • The Black Keys, who we caught just a few weeks back in Dallas when the band was opening up for Kings of Leon, is continuing along its steady ascent to prominence. The band drew a massive crowd to the AMD stage for its mid-afternoon set---and, more important, an attentive one. A good sign for the strength of Brothers, the band's most recent release: When "Everlasting Light" came on, the entire sea of listeners started head-bobbing at once, and in unison.
  • The sun is a hell of a thing to contend with--something Spoon fans had to tussle with as they squinted West at the AMD stage, hoping to watch the hometown favorites. But once it went down, the hat gave way to a gorgeous, cool night.
  • Spoon, even in the face of its squinting fans, put on the most impressive display of Day One--more impressive, even than later performers The Strokes, Phish and Sonic Youth--with a set aimed at pleasing long fans and newcomers alike, spanning the band's catalog, and playing all its hits. You forget how many great songs the band's written along the way. It's an impressive list. And though frontman Britt Daniel at times appeared frustrated with some squeals that came through the PA at set's start, it didn't hinder his dramatic, impressive stage presence. Best set of Day One--by a neck over Sonic Youth, and by a large margin over the rest of the pack.
  • Seven o'clock was to be the big showdown of Day One: Vampire Weekend, Sonic Youth, Ryan Bingham and Robert Randolph were all slotted to perform in that hour. It was a landslide victory, though: Vampire Weekend outdrew Sonic Youth by more than double, and the other two performers saw meager crowds. Consider it a truth, for better or worse: Vampire Weekend is massive, and its pleasing, inoffensive sound is as good as gold in a festival setting. On this night, the band was stuck on a secondary stage; in the future, VW should be aiming for main stage or bust. Seriously: Their crowd may have been the single-biggest of the day, as fans of Phish and The Strokes alike gathered to pass the time..
  • Vampire Weekend may have drawn the big draw of Day One, but, like Spoon before it, Sonic Youth refused to let their set pass them by. Level-wise their performance saw the best sound of the day, with a perfect mix to match the band's sound. And make no mistake, Sonic Youth's sound is one that's aged well--especially in a festival setting, and even more so after the sun has gone down. Even better, the band was in ridiculously high spirits as it sped through its set with nary a break. Kim Gordon sounded great, and Thurston Moore was an artistic vision on his guitar. A personal favorite moment? When Moore referenced Friday Night Lights and gave a shout-out to the crowd, saying: "Texas Forever!"
  • The Strokes sounded good and were as slacker-ish on stage as ever--almost to their detriment. It was only a so-so offering, though. The band very much just seemed to be going through the motions. And even with a new album in the works, fans only seemed to care about the band's most recognizable songs. "Last Night" was, of course, the biggest hit of the set--many a fan packed up their belongings and left right after its early-in-the-performance offering. But, as frontman Julian Casablancas told the crowd when he said "We're gonna play some songs that we haven't played in forever," the band wasn't performing to placate the fair-weather supporters. Who, then, were they playing for? They sounded good, I guess, but they also started their set 15 minutes late and cut it short 15 minutes of its supposed end. In turn, fans got 60 minutes where the band was slotted for 90. It's not the Strokes' forte to get sweaty and inspire the crowd to jump around, but, man, they could've done something; it just seemed like they didn't even want to be there. Fans expectantly hung around anticipating an encore, and they never got one. Overall, the nostalgia for the turn of the millennium was nice and all, but, mostly, it just ended up being disappointing.
  • For all the Phish-hating I did yesterday, I actually very much enjoyed what I heard of Phish's set. It was long--duh--but ridiculously intricate. And a ten-minute a Capella scat breakdown that sounded like the Glee cast on steroids and speed was relatively jaw-dropping. So, too, was the orb-like adornments surrounding the stage, making Phish seem almost other-worldly. Which, indeed, Trey Anastasio's guitar playing is.
  • More impressive than Phish? The number of bikes parked around ACL's grounds in the designated bike parking lots. It was inspiring.
  • One thing you can't help but notice at a Phish show: The crowds, which consist of middle-age hippies and former '90s dudebros reuniting with their old college pals. Their enthusiasm is endearing, though, for as terrible as their dancing may be. Nice people, though: I received no less than six high fives from strangers during Phish's set, unprovoked.
...and now we're in the thick of Day Two, which has already seen sets from Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Lissie, The Very Best, Bear in Heaven, Pete Yorn and others. We're about to go check out Gaslight Anthem, Lucero, Manchester Orchestra, Black Lips, Mayer Hawthorne, Broke Bells, The xx, The Temper Trap and other before dinner, at which point we'll catch you up on the happenings. Then, after we eat, it's back out for LCD Soundsystem, Matt & Kim, Deadmau5, MIA and Muse. Busy day here for Day Two, for sure.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman

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