Festival-goers got an immaculate first day for the eighth annual Austin City Limits festival, which kicked off yesterday (Friday, Oct. 2) - and the day's spectacular weather seemed to have rubbed off on many artists, who frequently commented on the fondness they have for the Texas capital city.
"We sure do love Austin," Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O told the crowd towards the end of their set. "We have some history here, man." Although she didn't elaborate to the group's past, they shined in their headlining performance. Karen O was dressed in elaborate red, white and blue kimono-style garb, shedding the outfit only to adorn a glowing mask during "Heads Will Roll," and running around the photo-pit during "Cheated Hearts. " Other highlights included an acoustic version of "Maps" and a rocking version of "Gold Lion" off 2006's "Show Your Bones."
Across Zilker Park, Kings of Leon lead singer Caleb Followill told his fans that some of his favorite songwriters are from Austin and that it's "one of his favorite cities in the whole world." Clearly fan favorites, a massive crowd that surrounded the Kings' stage, the band tackled "On Call" from 2007's "Because of the Times," and "Crawl" from this year's massive-seller, "Only By The Night." Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder joined the Kings' on tambourine and vocals for "Slow Nights, So Long" in an impassioned performance where he traded vocals with Followill before tossing the tambourines into the crowd as he finished.
Former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones was also quite active, sitting in on mandolin earlier in the day with Sara Watkins before joining his regularly scheduled duties with Them Crooked Vultures. The sound was loud and fierce for the super-group's first U.S. festival appearance, and singer/guitarist Josh Homme told the crowd that the nearly full moon made him consider tackling Michael Jackson's "Thriller." After drummer Dave Grohl played a few measures of "Billie Jean" on the drums, the band stopped and fired up "Minderaser." Although they're currently touring without any recorded music for fans to purchase, the crowd responded positively to super-charged rockers "Dead End Friends" and opener "Elephant."
Those that wanted a break from the harder rocking acts packed the Dell Stage for Andrew Bird, who was surrounded with larger than life colored phonographs. Bird has cultivated quite a following over the years due to his prodigious violin skills and pitch-perfect whistling and didn't disappoint in either of those regards. Indeed, the extended violin intro before "Effigy" was one of the more poignant moments of his set, keeping the audience fixated on the soft arrangement that precedes his vocals. "Fitz and Dizzyspells," "Oh No," and "Fake Palindromes" were also highlights, where he showed off his knack for blurring folk, rock and orchestral sounds into one seamless blend.
French-pop act Phoenix made its first appearance at Austin City Limits, commenting that they had to come to Texas in order to play for their largest crowd to date. A sea of people showed up for the group's late afternoon set and it wasted no time in playing its hits. Opening with "Lisztomania," the group followed with a handful of suave choices from its back catalog, playing "Run Run Run" from 2004's "Alphabetical" and "If I Ever Feel Better" from 2000's "United." "Lasso" and "Fences" were also played from this year's breakout album, "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix."
Earlier in the day, the Walkmen debuted new tunes while mixing in old ones such as "The Rat" and "All Hands and the Cook." Retro-country rockers Blitzen Trapper played many of the cuts from 2008's "Furr," with standouts including "Black River Killer" and "Gold for Bread."
Austin City Limits resumes today with headliners Dave Matthews Band, Ghostland Observatory, the Decemberists, the Levon Helm Band and Grizzly Bear slated to appear.