In fact, most of the stage performers book for the final sets of ACl '11 seemed to downright enjoy the circumstances in which they were playing -- none more so than AWOLNATION frontman Aaron Bruno, who quite literally crowd-surfed when someone handed him a surfboard to match his Hawaiian shirt. Miraculously, he somehow completed a lap above the crowd, maintaining his balance on the board before being returned to the stage.
It was just one of many impressive feats that closed out the 2011 Zilker Park festivities.
Immediately following AWOLNATION's curious post-grunge-meets-electro-pop offerings on the Honda, former Austinite Ryan Bingham was provided a hero's welcome on the nearby AMD stage -- interesting since an actual hero, or at least a guy who plays one, was looming off to the side of the stage. Christian Bale -- yes, batman -- watched on from a private perch, joined by some cameramen, a female actress and director Terrence Malick, who was spotted around Zilker Park all weekend long, shooting for an upcoming film. Bale drew plenty of attention -- a group of young females continuously screamed "We love you, Batman!" the actor's way until he, clad in a very Bruce Wayne-like suit, finally gave in, smiled, and acknowledged their attention -- but it was Bingham who truly shined.
"C'mon, let's get rowdy!" he shouted to his ever-eager audience. "This is Texas!"
Indeed. And Bignham's set, which wasn't scared to lean too heavily on his fantastic 2007 debut, Mescalito, seemed aimed specifically at this set, begging its audience to stomp their boots and sing along. They did. Happily. Euphorically.
Audiences did something similar on the following Honda stage performance from Death From Above 1979, albeit more aggressively. The recently reunited Toronto dance-punk duo of Sebastian Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler (also known as MSTRKRFT) kept their on-stage thrashing mostly reserved, but their audience was the opposite, crowd-surfing, flailing about and attempting to circle pit in the butts-to-nuts area in front of the stage.
Moments later, it became immediately clear that Elbow's across-the-park Austin City Limits debut at the Google+ stage was a more reserved one. But it was no less entertaining. The arena-ready pop-rockers -- long favorites across the pond -- dazzled with musicianship and a particularly theatrical performance that saw frontman Guy Garvey proving himself a particularly magnetic performer, even during the bands more restrained numbers. Even modifications being made to the Google+ stage mid-set -- the television screens and advertisements flanking the stage were lowered because of wind concerns -- Garvey kept his composure, joking with the crowd and starting an impromptu call-and-response that led up to the band performing its rebel-rousing "Grounds for Divorce" calling card. It was a superb, uplifting moment -- one that would only be topped a few minutes later as Elbow performed the lilting "Lippy Kids" from their most recent release, winning over a crowd largely unfamiliar with its material.
Very few of the next round of performers faced that kind of hurdle: On the Austin Ventures stage, Gomez performed to a large crowd of die-hards; on the BMI stage, We Are Augustines revved up a small, but passionate crowd with their punk-leaning rock; and, on the Bud Light stage, Fleet Foxes would've surely pleased the flannel-wearing set, were it cool enough for such dress. It wasn't, but the crowd seemed pleased nonetheless. To Fleet Foxes' credit, their folk set wasn't nearly the downer that so many other folkies at this year's fest happily offered; the band seemed to up their game in response to the large crowd sprawled out before them. That crowd, Fleet Foxes fans or not, appeared receptive to the offerings.
But it was clear that most were simply setting up for the night and weekend's finale from Arcade Fire. The Montreal band with Texas ties (Win and Will Butler were born and raised in The Woodlands and wrote their new album, The Suburbs, as an awkward ode of sorts to their upbringing) seemed in fine form, excited to be in Austin.
"We love this town," Win Butler exclaimed at the set's start. "We begged to play this festival."
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Later, his Texas roots again showed as he mentioned the droughts plaguing the state: "I don't know if we've ever prayed for rain before at a festival," he said, laughing, " but we are this time."
With less vocal prowess than normally showcased -- but with sufficiently more swagger -- the exuberant Butler led his band through an inspired set filled with special treats ("Speaking in Tongues") and familiar favorites ("Wake Up").
A fine ending to an up-and-down weekend, for sure.
For once, ACL seems to have learned the lesson: Always end on a high note.