ACL Diary: Coldplay rocks festival's opening day
James Corley, The Oklahoma Daily
Friday brought two things Austinites had been anxiously awaiting: a bit of rain and the return of the Austin City Limits music festival.
The 10th anniversary of the outdoor music festival held annually at Zilker Park in Austin runs through Sunday with more than 130 bands playing on eight stages.
After a long, hot summer, five minutes of rain and plenty of cloud cover for the next few hours provided a welcomed relief from the high temperatures, making for optimal weather for ACL.
I started with Theophilus London, a Kanye West-like artist from New York. London's set was peppered with driving techno dance beats and melodic choruses that made for a very enjoyable opening act for my 2011 ACL experience.
Next, I ventured over to Reptar, and the rain ventured over to Zilker Park. The four-piece from Athens, Ga., had draped pastic covers over their equipment to protect against the rain, but the showers were short-lived. Reptar's spastic style was a good mood-setter for the festival's typical indie-driven feel, and a medium-sized crowd — now wet from the rain — bobbed along with the band.
I hopped over to hear The Secret Sisters next. Their brand of good ol' Appalachian-style folk music was as soothing as it was filled with intricate harmonies. The pair told a story about how they never thought anyone would listen to their music, so they were surprised when their first album started to take off. That humility still permeated their performance.
I moved to the Honda Stage to wait out James Blake and caught the tail end of the Wild Beasts set. Then the best and worst part of ACL: waiting. I knew I wanted to get close, so I had to skip a band or two I'd planned on swinging by so I could stay up close for Blake.
It was worth it.
Blake's auto-tuned, electronically modified songs were soon blasting out of the stage speakers. Blake and his band — a drummer with a very non-traditional set of snare, high hat, drum pad and the occasional cymbal; and a guitar player whose sound was more often filtered through modifiers to sound more like a keyboard — delivered as expected with quiet-to-loud tunes powered by Blake's high, astral voice.
Blake had a broody stage presence, fitting right into the common stereotype of the tortured-yet-talented musician. However, my feeling was Blake just didn't enjoy being fawned over. It was more about sharing his music and far less about him, which made his on-stage performance that much more admirable.
I took about an hour break in the media tent before wandering back out, and everything had changed to pandemonium.
Work and school were finished for the day by this point, so Zilker Park — which had been so serene and easy to navigate the hour before — became an unending sea of people. Moving around became increasingly difficult as people set up camp to wait for either Coldplay or Kanye West, so I decided to settle in where I needed to be for my headliner of choice.
Fortunately, Bright Eyes was playing on the AMD Stage, where I was trying to snake my way ever closer to the front. I'd forgotten just how influential frontman Conor Oberst's music had been and still is on indie music, and the group put on a really good show.
After a two-hour wait, Coldplay started. The Brit-pop sensation pleased the crowd with a few familiar favorites — "Yellow" comes to mind, with the stage bathed in yellow light — before teasing it with a few songs from the group's upcoming album. But whether it was playing an old song or a new song, Coldplay kept the crowd engaged in the show with call-and-response strains, a captivating light display and an entrancing stage setup featuring a huge screen behind the band.
Finally, I decided to head out of the crowd a little early to catch the end of Kanye's set. Because there were so many people packed up to the stage, I still heard Coldplay's next big hit, "Charlie Brown," a song with a very full sound and an extremely catchy hook.
I stayed near the back of the crowd, having just worked my way out of a big one at the opposite end of the park, and enjoyed a few of the self-assured rap artist's big hits including "Run This Town," "Gold Digger," "All of the Lights" and "Stronger." Near the end of the set, Kanye played a very drawn out version of "Runaway" that by the end felt more like a church altar call than a show as the rapper thanked everyone he could think of and took advantage of having the crowd's full attention.
After everything, though, the highlight of Day 1 for me was Coldplay. The band's big-hit songs — "The Scientist," "Viva la Vida," "Lost!" and "Violet Hill" — evoked memories of life from when I listened to the whole "Viva la Vida" album non-stop for a few weeks in 2008 or when I first heard the band sitting in a movie theater watching the music video for "Speed of Sound." And regardless of whether it's genuine, Chris Martin and Co. portray a strong connection and high level of care for their fanbase, which always makes for a more intimate show.
Overall, the opening day of the 2011 ACL music fest was a success in my mind. Stay tuned for tales from Days 2 and 3.
James Corley is a journalism senior and the sports editor for The Daily. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamesfcorley.