They came, they saw, they danced and got covered in stinky mud. Such was the case on Sunday (Oct. 4) as Pearl Jam, the Dead Weather, Michael Franti, and Ben Harper closed out the 2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival. The fest grounds in Zilker Park had become a sloppy affair during Saturday's deluge, but that didn't deter tens of thousands from showing up and getting dirty for day three. Sunday's forecast called for showers throughout the day but the rain held off, with the sun breaking through in the mid-afternoon and baking the splattered crowd before the cool of night came in.
The site's nice green turf, created in a months-long resodding effort using a special compost beneath the grass, was obliterated by the rain and stomping feet. According to the Austin-American Statesman, the concert site will be closed until at least October 16. Unbeknownst to concert goers, the foul-smelling mud that ended up surfacing was a brew of collected yard trimmings and treated sewage. According to the same article, promoter C3 Presents always pays for any damages to the park and will do so again this year.
"I'm already covered in moisture, I can only imagine how you are," Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder told the massive crowd that stayed for Pearl Jam's first headlining appearance at ACL. Vedder and company tore through an explosive set that featured classic cuts such as a jammed out "Even Flow," "Why Go" and a particularly up version of "Daughter," as well songs like "The Fixer" from new album, "Backspacer."
Ben Harper, who had performed on the fest's other huge stage earlier in the day, joined PJ on "Red Mosquito" from 1996's "No Code," but a guest spot by Perry Farrell was the huge surprise. Farrell lent his vocals to Pearl Jam's muscular cover of Jane's Addiction's "Mountain Song" right before PJ closed its two-hour set -- and the festival itself -- with Neil Young's "Rockin' In The Free World." It was a performance that will have Austinites talking for a long time.
Prior to Pearl Jam's set, a mass of mud-slathered peope gathered for the Dead Weather and Michael Franti & Spearhead, each act providing a very different vibe. Franti delighted his crowd with his island tinged song "I Got Love For You," which he explained was written for his son. He also played his current single, "Say Hey (I Love You)," during which he brought up kids from the audience to dance on stage and sing with him.
Jack White's Dead Weather helped graduate lead singer Alison Mosshart to a main stage; last year, she performed with her band the Kills in an early day slot to only a couple thousand. On the big stage, Mosshart showed that she was clearly adept for a leading role, delivering slow, sultry vocals during "So Far From Your Weapon" and fiery wails during "New Pony."
Mosshart wasn't the only frontwoman who proved to be a stand out. Heartless Bastards' Erika Wennerstrom delivered an energetic set of dirty rock and roll early in the day. The group's message in the first part of their set seemed to hone in on aging during "Done Got Old" and trying to change course during "Gray."
Benefiting from a 4pm time slot and the day's first sun rays, the Arctic Monkeys tore through a frenetic set that included older hits such as "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" and "The View From the Afternoon," as well as "Crying Lightning" and the ballad "Cornerstone" off of their recently released third album, "Humbug." The Arctic Monkeys continue to be a major festival draw and proved that as their career progresses their sound does too. The band's early stuff surely is catchy, but the tempo shifts of newer cuts "Pretty Visitors" and the slower, tamed opener "My Propeller" are indicators that they can be restrained, yet refined.
Another of the highlights of the day was Brooklyn's Dirty Projectors who filled in for Sonic Youth, who cancelled due to injury. Those that were unfamiliar with the art-pop stylings of Dave Longstreth's band quickly found that his noodley style of guitar playing matched perfectly with the vocal prowess of Amber Coffman, Haley Dekle and Angel Deradoorian. The group played a number of cuts from this year's breakout album "Bitte Orca," with "Cannibal Resource" and "Two Doves" receiving the best response. Longstreth was visibly drenched in sweat as the band closed out their first appearance at the festival and proved that while their arrangements may be challenging to some, it was clear that their songs translate well in a setting like this.
With Austin City Limits at a close, so ends the major festival season for 2009. Though economic conditions have been less than favorable, if the attendance at Austin City Limits - and the amount of people desperate to buy tickets outside the gates are any indicator -- rock festivals didn't suffer too hard this year. Despite rain and mud, rock festival fans in Austin certainly didn't.