Skies were blue and the sun often fierce as the seventh Austin City Limits festival got underway yesterday (Sept. 26) before 65,000 fans at Zilker Park. The Mars Volta, N.E.R.D., Vampire Weekend and the Swell Season were among the opening day highlights.
Clearly relishing headlining status, the Mars Volta battered the audience with epic psychedelic jams like the twisting “The Widow” and the ear-splitting “Goliath,” which drafted into free-jazz territory.
Earlier, N.E.R.D. turned out one of the day’s best sets, encouraging fans up on stage to dance amid tunes like “Lapdance” and a medley of “Everyone Nose” and “She Wants To Move” that touched on the melody from the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Frontman Pharrell Williams also urged the crowd to vote, regardless of party affiliation.
Having risen from a largely unknown act to headline-worthy festival act in the wake of the film “Once,” the Swell Season impressed with orchestral ballads like “People Get Ready” and a cover of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” performed solo by vocalist/guitarist Glen Hansard.
Vampire Weekend drew a huge crowd in the early afternoon, delivering fan favorites such as the poppy “Oxford Comma” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” Toward the end of the set, the group was joined by the Tosca String Quartet, which added new dimension to “M79” and “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance.” The last show of the group’s long tour also featured a new song, tentatively titled “White Sky,” another dose of Vampire Weekend’s catchy Afro-tinged pop.
Taking a break from touring with Zoey Deschanel as She & Him, M. Ward drew an overflow crowd for his afternoon performance. “Requiem” was transformed from a hush-hush quiet ballad to an uptempo, country rocker, while opener “Rollercoaster” became a slower, bluesy number tempered by a playful tone.
Earlier, Yeasayer mashed up psychedelic and tribal rock while Hot Chip got the crowd moving with “Over and Over” and a newly arranged version of “Out at the Pictures.”
Austin City Limits continues today with Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Beck, Conor Oberst, MGMT and the Black Keys.