Clear blue skies and searing heat set the mood at Zilker Park as the Austin City Limits Music Festival set off on its 11th annual incarnation. 75,000-plus festivalgoers celebrated the sold-out return of ACL early in the day with sets from Delta Spirit and captivating soul-rocker LP.
LP, who is finally getting her day in the sun (quite literally, in cases like this) after penning classic-hit songs for the likes of Rihanna and Christina Aguilera, commanded the stage with a diminutive physicality that defied her booming, soulful delivery. Dressed like a female 60s-era Dylan, her image led with a big mop of black and sunglasses as she pulled from her two existing albums and upcoming third, and performed an enthralling version of Beyonce's "Halo".
Cover songs are always winning festival fare, guaranteed to boost a crowd reaction. Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit took liberty with the trick on a gorgeous cover of Paul Simon’s “America,” while EDM sensation AVICII opened his set with a stellar mix of The Who's "Baba O'Riley". The man presses play and waves his arms around to the music just like the rest of us (ahh, 2012 live music…), but few people were paying any attention to the DJ, who was perched in a booth atop a giant porcelain face that displayed psychedelically captivating 3D images across its surfaces, synced to musical cues.
Weezer's first appearance at ACL Fest started off on slightly shaky ground, with "My Name Is Jonas" resonating with OG fans and few others, while cheesy new hit "Memories" faltered in its conveyance to the capacity crowd. "Surf Wax America" brought everyone around, however, as the perfect festival singalong brought the Summer vibrations back to life. With high temperatures and a blazing sun overhead, it certainly didn't feel like Fall in Zilker Park.
At the BMI stage, Patterson Hood (from Drive-by Truckers) drew a tough straw in being scheduled to perform at the same time as Florence + the Machine, but rose to the challenge with an impressive set of alternative country and Southern rock.
Pulling a wide variety from their two albums – Lungs and Ceremonials – Florence + The Machine ran through gorgeous yet familiar paces in their set, which was the final U.S. date on the band's extensive tour. Frontwoman Florence Welch interacted with the crowd in much the same way she had at Music Midtown, Lollapalooza and various dates between, imploring fans to hug each other, to make out, to climb atop each others' shoulders.
Appealing to enchantment and ethereal love, Welch swept across the stage like a Disney goddess in a green velvet gown as they opened with "Only If for a Night" and ran through favorites including "Cosmic Love," a gripping "Shake It Out" and a deafening-singalong-inducing closer "Dog Days Are Over".
The Black Keys headlined the night, and with nearly the entire festival audience in attendance the Akron blues duo – accompanied by an additional guitarist and bassist – tore through every one of their extensive catalogue of radio hits. The performance was passionate – particularly in a beautifully lengthy guitar intro to "Girl Is On My Mind" and an utterly haunting beginning to latest hit "Little Black Submarines".
However, after having recently seen festival headliner veterans Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam engage their audience in electrifying fashion, I couldn't help but be disappointed in the lack of energy exchange between audience and artist during the Keys' set. Auerbach wasn't standoffish, and the crowd was more than engaged, but there was a disconnect on some intangible level. Is it the single-flavor essence of the music that doesn't emotionally enrapture people like the aforementioned bands, or something more?
Whatever the case, the Black Keys delivered another powerful night-closing festival experience, setting the bar on professional execution that Jack White, Neil Young, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and more will meet later this weekend. See you there!
Watch ACL's official highlight reel:
Weezer ACL Setlist 2012:
My Name Is Jonas
Surf Wax America
(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To
Island in the Sun
(Rivers sang an improvised … more)
Say It Ain't So
Pork and Beans
The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)
Undone – The Sweater Song
Florence & The Machine ACL Setlist 2012:
Only If for a Night
What the Water Gave Me
Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
Shake It Out
Dog Days Are Over
Photos: Johnny Firecloud