The third and final day of the 11th annual Austin City Limits Festival featured a palpable sense of relief from the sold-out crowds, who clearly preferred the blazing temperatures to the rainstorms of the previous day at Zilker Park. The festival was an atmospheric and artistic success, with final-day attendees reveling in early sets from hometown hero Gary Clark Jr., The Lumineers (who absolutely packed the Austin Ventures stage) and Die Antwoord, before leading to a night of wildly celebrated performances from The Avett Brothers, Childish Gambino and headliners The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Beloved folk-rock outfit The Avett Brothers had the crowd dancing with a high-energy mix of older gems (“January Wedding”) and select highlights from their recently-released LP The Carpenter, particularly the sunset-ushering fifth track, "I Never Knew You".
The rollicking banjo-flared “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” was perhaps the most celebrated song of the performance, as fans danced around the dry-mud lawn.
Later, Childish Gambino’s set Sunday night was surprisingly aggressive, though the sardine-packed crowd seemed completely unfazed. Donald Glover's formidable rapping skills have always been accompanied by a levity of humor and near-campiness, but it was an entirely different kind of fun this time around (though he did rhyme over a piece of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep"). Comedic between-song banter was minimal as the comedian-turned-rapper exploded in a dark fury as he moved through what seemed to be his entire catalogue, hitting a highlight with the smash-track “Heartbeat,” the crowd screaming every word.
Without an opposing time-slot competing headliner (such as Saturday's Jack White/Neil Young scheduling dilemma), the entire capacity crowd at ACL shift their attention to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who opened powerfully with “Monarchy of Roses,” off their latest album I'm With You. This wasn't the RHCP I'd seen at Lollapalooza, where the band floundered, missed chords, lyrics and keys with abandon and generally went to pieces – these players were honed from the get-go, with boundless energy that defied their three decades as an active band.
After frontman Anthony Kiedis announced “We specifically came to mess with Texas,” the group punched through “Dani California” and an extended intro into “Can’t Stop” between bassist Flea and newcomer guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. The two would lead a jazz-infused funktastic backbone of rhythm throughout the night that intensified in near-psychic improvisational jams between songs, further solidified in caliber by the fact that Klinghoffer was forced to sit through the majority of the performance – he was still nursing a broken foot from an accident in August.
Kiedis was aided in his slightly lagging energy by a monstrously buoyant Flea and Klinghoffer, who both enthusiastically provided backup vocals on a number of the band's singalong-overload set. This freed up our mustachioed frontman to do some of his kung-fu vogue moves for the crowd:
Ending their performance with funktastically extended power plays through older gems "Sir Psycho Sexy," "They're Red Hot" and staple closer "Give It Away," Kiedis sent the masses off with a humble statement of appreciation: "Thanks for coming to the show. Be good to each other, get home safe. I'll be in better shape next time."
Leaving the park, roaring cheers infected the entire crowd massing through the exits for a solid two minutes. Clapping, whistling, screaming for joy – a true testament to Austin City Limits having perfected the formula of the music festival.
RHCP Setlist: Austin City Limits 2012
Monarchy of Roses
She's Only 18
Snow ((Hey Oh))
Throw Away Your Television
Tell Me Baby
The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie
Right on Time
Suck My Kiss
Under the Bridge
By the Way
Chad & Mauro Jam
Sir Psycho Sexy
They're Red Hot
(Robert Johnson cover)
Give It Away
Photos: Johnny Firecloud