As with any set plan you have going into a festival, things never pan out in the ways you expect. Did I anticipate seeing Tyler Morris & The Hearts of Worship when the day started? Absolutely not. But their rousing gospel hip-hop set left me with one of the most satisfying, energetic highs of the festival. As did the psych-twang of Phosphorescent and Moondoggies, both of which were also pleasant surprises.
Fitz and the Tantrums is among the most entertaining and hardest working bands out of LA, so their show was deservedly packed. Strutting through crowd favorites like “Moneygrabber” and “We Don’t Gotta Work It Out,” they thanked Austin and SXSW for being the reason they were signed to Dangerbird Records in 2010.
Making my way over to lock in to the Bud Light stage for Cee Lo and Stevie Wonder, I knew I would be remiss if I didn’t at least catch a song or two from Wanda Jackson. Cut to 45 minutes later, when I was bummed that the Queen of Rockabilly had to graciously leave the stage. Her 73-year-old growl matched with the retrospective stories she told between songs made for an intimate experience that’s usually difficult to pull off in a festival setting. She said she’s satisfied to hear that the songs she recorded in the 50s are now being recognized, and that she’s taken the same enthusiasm to newly recorded material that she did with Jack White for last year’s album, The Party Ain’t Over.
Even though I was late to Cee Lo, it was clear that he and his very attractive, talented band had been basking in the audience’s love from the beginning of the set. He’s definitely a presence on his own, but unlike Kanye who proved his unmistakable ability to individually command an audience, I kept hoping that someone from Cee Lo’s collaborative past would appear, be it Danger Mouse, his old hip hop / upcoming reunion crew Goodie Mob, or even fellow Atlanta and Dungeon Family member Big Boi, who performed all over town on Friday. Even still, he had a solid set, bringing out Austin’s own Nakia, a singer championed by Cee Lo on NBC’s The Voice, to sing the fan favorite “F*** You”.
As much as I would have liked to have seen TV On The Radio or Chromeo, I thought it wise to stay put and get as close to the stage as possible for Stevie Wonder. I am wholeheartedly sure that I made the right decision. When he finally walked out, Stevie was vamping funky on a keytar before breaking into “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” one of a few amazing covers that were performed that night, another being MJ’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which only Stevie could really do justice. After pulling a Hendrix by humping his aforementioned keytar on the ground, Stevie proceeded to go through hit by hit, orchestrating poorly executed sing-alongs (how can you expect full control over a crowd that huge?) and waxing idealistic about education and gun control. He even demo’d a rough, still half unwritten new song with a Middle Eastern flavor, something not usually appreciated in festival settings, but hey, this is Stevie Wonder. Though attendees further back complained that the performance was less than spectacular, boring or hard to hear, if you were anywhere up close, you knew you were in the presence of a master still effortlessly owning his craft. Check out the set list from what was, for most people, the defining festival highlight:
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)
My Eyes Don’t Cry
Master Blaster (Jammin’)
The Way You Make Me Feel
Living For The City
Don’t You Worry ‘bout A Thing
I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)
Ribbon In The Sky
Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours
Do I Do
For Once In My Life
My Cherie Amour
I Just Called To Say I Love You
Check On Your Love (working title)
Isn’t She Lovely (chorus and verse)
You Give Me Fever (snippet)
We’ve made it to the final day of the festival. Here are a few of the bands you should check out:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. 1:30-2:30 (Honda)
Since they played our SXSW day party this past March, the band has signed to a major label (Warner Bros), released a full length album and played almost every major festival this year. I heart them so hard.
Suzanna Choffel 2:30-3:15 (Austin Ventures)
A late addition to the ACL lineup this Austinite will wow you with her smoky voice and charming delivery.
Death From Above 1979 5:30-6:30 (Honda)
They’re noisy, hard and heavy but I can still dance to it. I was bummed when they broke up in 2006. This reunion tour makes me happy. I’m in.
Empire of the Sun 7:30-8:30 (Google +)
Ziggy Stardust riding a unicorn while shooting rainbow lazers. That’s what I think of when I hear Empire of the Sun. I expect this to be a visually stunning show and I will be dancing.
Head over to DMX’s Facebook for more pictures! You can watch ACL’s official Saturday recap below.