Pete’s Top Albums of 2011

2011 was another year of musical discovery for me. Clocking in highest on the discovery meter were San Francisco’s Girls; but right up there with Girls were two bands that can’t technically qualify for my best of 2011 album list: Delta Spirit and Titus Andronicus. Their latest albums – History from Below and The Monitor (respectively) – were both released in 2010, but I didn’t hear them until this year. Overall, when I think of 2011, these three groups reigned supreme in my corner of the world.

When it comes to 2011 live shows, it was also Titus Andronicus that blew my mind (back on April 18th at The Rhythm Room in Phoenix). All punk and passion, courtesy of front man Patrick Stickles. My jaw hit the floor.

But on to the albums. Looking back at my iTunes and listening history, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to muster up a Top Ten list. Sure, I could B.S. and include something like the Beasties’ Hot Sauce Committee Part Two – which I enjoyed on some level, but never listened to straight through more than twice. Thinking about albums, ’tis all about honesty, and what’s truly important to me as a full body of work. So in that spirit, here are my Top 8 albums of 2011…

1. GirlsFather, Son, Holy Ghost ($5 on Amazon)

I had heard – and loved – “Laura,” a single off Girls first album a couple years back. But it wasn’t until this year that I fell completely head over heels for the San Francisco band led by Christopher Owens. The quirky “Honey Bunny” video drew me in – and when I tracked down the new album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, it was over – I was hooked. It’s rich with emotion, it rocks, it’s delicate… I can’t wait to follow Christopher around from here on out and hear what he has to say. Both Girls full lengths and the EP are excellent – discovering them has been the music highlight of my year.

Highlight: “Alex” – Hypnotic. Beautiful. Sublime.

2. Greg BrownFreak Flag ($4.99 on Amazon)

Here’s one that surprised me. Though I loved “The Poet Game” single many years back, no full album of Greg Brown’s had really come along that knocked my socks off. Freak Flag did just that. Full of beauty, wisdom and Greg’s wry sense of humor, it’s the folk masterpiece of 2011.

Highlight: “Where Are You Going When You’re Gone” (mp3) – All groove and growl. Toe tappin’ funky folk (there is such a thing).

3. Middle BrotherMiddle Brother ($5 on Amazon)

I love Delta Spirit. I love Deer Tick. I love Dawes. So it’s no surprise that Middle Brother was up among the tops this year, since the group is made up of the front men of all 3 groups. I had the pleasure of seeing Middle Brother live this summer at the Newport Folk Festival, which may very well have been their last performance… but something tells me Taylor Goldsmith, John McCauley and Matt Vasquez will be making more music together somewhere down the road.

Highlight: “Million Dollar Bill” – This is a Goldsmith-penned song that also shows up on Dawes’ new record, Nothing Is Wrong. On the MidBro version, the three guys each get a verse, and the result is profound, in my ever so humble opinion. I prefer it to the Nothing is Wrong version.

4. DawesNothing Is Wrong ($4.99 on Amazon)

It’s hard not to be endeared to this L.A. band that channels the SoCal /  Lauren Canyon 70’s vibe. Taylor Goldsmith is a brilliant lyricist, and they’re just getting started. That’s scary (in a very good way). And their live show? Forget about it. Passionate and fiery stuff…

Highlight: “Fire Away” – This tune features Jackson Browne on background vocals, Taylor’s brother Griffin taking lead vocals on the bridge, and the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench on the organ. Great sing along chorus – a tune that really takes off into the stratosphere by song’s end – especially live.

5. My Morning JacketCircuital ($4.99 on Amazon)

Jim James (er – Yim Yames) and the boys of MMJ always put me in a good place. Another solid studio album featuring tunes that ignite in a live setting. I must have watched MMJ on at least 3-4 festival webcasts this summer. Another mind-blowing live band that can also deliver in the studio. Confession though: I just don’t like “Holdin On To Black Metal.”

Highlight: “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” – I’m a sucker for some mellow MMJ. A great moment when the drums come in at “I-I-I-I’m going where there ain’t no fear…”

6. Deer TickDivine Providence ($5 on Amazon)

Snarly wild man John McCauley is back with another Deer Tick record. This time he shares the spotlight with drummer Dennis Ryan and guitarist Ian O’Neill, who write and sing on a few tunes. Divine Providence has a little bit of everything – honky-tonk rock, punk, pop. Oh, do I need to mention they’re also a killer live band? I saw them three times this year – twice in their home state of Rhode Island as they took over the Newport Blues Cafe during Folk Festival time.

Highlight: “The Bump” – The Deer Tick theme song. “We’re full grown men! But we act like kids!” The drunken devil strikes again.

7. Lenny KravitzBlack & White in America ($10.49 on Amazon)

I was frankly surprised by Lenny’s latest. Rock, funk, soul, pop – yep, pretty much the Lenny Kravitz blueprint throughout his career. But the hooks and melodies caught on quick with me, and had me coming back for more helpings. The last time I enjoyed a Lenny album this much, I was 21 (1991’s Mama Said)!

Don’t knock it ’til you’ve heard it.

Highlight: “Liquid Jesus” – A sexy 70’s soul vibe as Lenny channels his inner Curtis Mayfield.

8. Frank TurnerEngland Keep My Bones ($9.99 on Amazon)

I was looking forward to a full length album from the UK’s Frank Turner since stumbling across his set at the ACL Festival a couple years back. It was worth the wait. Frank’s working class, populist folk/punk is alive and well in England Keep My Bones.

Highlight: “If Ever I Stray” – Certain songs give me goosebumps and make my eyes well up with their sheer power. This is one of those songs.

My Morning Jacket – Smokin’ From Shootin’ at ACL

Here’s My Morning Jacket performing “Smokin From Shootin” at last weekend’s ACL Festival. MMJ have just announced a set of tour dates with both Band of Horses and Delta Spirit – basically my wet dream of a show. But alas, Phoenix, Arizona is once again not on the radar. So I’ll need to live through amazing live HD clips like this. Gotta love the age we’re living in when anyone anywhere can share the live experience… it ain’t the real thing, but it’s as close as you can get.

My Morning Jacket Mania

[BUY Circuital]

The last few weeks have brought on a pretty substantial My Morning Jacket-athon in my end of the world. I watched their entire Bonnaroo set (most of it with my 5 year old daughter, who dubbed them “My Morning Sweater” until the “Jacket” finally caught on); I caught the full 3 hour show from Louisville they recently performed for Amex’s Unstaged series; I caught their Mountain Jam set, their new VH-1 Storytellers special; and basically, I’ve been immersing myself in their new album Circuital, for which my fondness has been growing exponentially along with the temperature here in Arizona (113 degrees tomorrow, yow)…

Seeing them on their Z tour almost five years ago locked them in as one of my favorite bands- and as we’re wont to do with our favorites, we always revolve back around at points throughout our lives to a full-on listening mania. So that’s where I am right now.

Here’s a couple from the UNSTAGED gig. You can’t catch all 3 hours anymore, but they do have 30 minutes up, which I would heartily recommend.

Here’s “Smokin From Shootin” – beyond the amazing build up and powerful release that this song has, what I find cool is how Jim James can put all of his heart and soul into singing the lyrics, while simultaneously playing those sparse, meaningful guitar riffs. Fun to watch & hear…

“Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” with Daniel Martin Moore | MMJ can be one of the loudest, most ferocious rock n roll bands out there, but they can soften it up as well as anyone, and with high soft vocals of Jim James , it makes for some of the sweetest music out there (speaking of beauty, whoever didn’t see Jim (or Yim) sing “All the Best” with John Prine on Letterman, go hither too). This is beautiful, and Daniel Martin Moore’s contribution makes me want to track down some of his stuff too).

And ooh look, here’s the Mountain Jam set – fuzzy white moonboots and all…

[Ick’s Pick] Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine

I discovered the treasure trove that is the music of John Prine back in the early 90’s, during my last year of college. The Missing Years about knocked me on my butt, with its witty wordplay, catchy cadences, and gorgeous melodies. The album led me directly to Great Days: The John Prine Anthology, which gave me a crash course in this American treasure, the postman turned folk singer from Maywood, Illinois.

In reading the liner notes of the new tribute album, Broken Hearts &Dirty Windows – Songs of John Prine, I found out that Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) had the same experience – growing up in Wisconsin and happening across the Anthology; getting to know John Prine through classics like “Sam Stone”, “Paradise”, “That’s The Way That The World Goes Round”, and “Hello In There.”

With the release of this fantastic new tribute album, it’s clear that Prine has had a similar impact on a host of younger artists – and it’s interesting that the artists on this record rank among some of my current favorites: Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket, Old Crow Medicine Show, Deer Tick, Drive-By Truckers… it makes sense now: we’re all rooted in Prine’s music, and as they’ve matured and made music of their own, its these same roots that have pulled me into their music.

The common theme is humble, genuine, gritty, homegrown American music.

The standouts for me on this record include Deer Tick’s “Unwed Fathers”, featuring the sandpaper vocals of John McCauley and the sweet accompaniment of Liz Isenberg; Josh Ritter does “Mexican Home” from 1973’s Sweet Revenge. Ritter takes Prine’s uptempo version. and slows it way down – exposing the song’s melancholy core:

“My father died on the porch outside
On an August afternoon
I sipped bourbon and cried
With a friend by the light of the moon
So its hurry! hurry! Step right up
It’s a matter of life or death
The sun is going down
And the moon is just holding its breath.

Drive-By Truckers do their thing, taking The Missing Year‘s “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” and shifting it into overdrive; My Morning Jacket also do a Missing Years tune, “All The Best”, which Jim James and Prine recently performed on Letterman (worth a look); the Avett Brothers pick what I think is the perfect song for them: “Spanish Pipedream”; and Old Crow Medicine Show take the beautiful “Angel from Montgomery” and add their old timey flavor to it.

The big surprise for me was the album’s finale – “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” as performed by Those Darlins, a female trio from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. First off, it’s one of Prine’s most hilarious songs, the innuendos flying left & right. And then you add a sexy rhythm, an island feel, and the sensual and sassy singing of Those Darlins. Play this at a BBQ this summer, it’ll be a guaranteed hit. It’s such a fun ride, and a fitting finale to what amounts to a great tribute to good ol’ John Prine.

John Prine and Jim James: “All The Best” on Letterman

I did a double take earlier this week when I noticed the music guests scheduled for Wednesday’s Letterman: John Prine with Yim Yames (Jim James) of My Morning Jacket. Much to my surprise, the song they sang is one of my all-time Prine favorites, “All The Best”, which was actually the song that turned me on to John Prine back in my college years. The song was included on the soundtrack for Falling From Grace, a 1992 movie directed by and starring John Mellencamp and written by Larry McMurtry (Prine also appears in the film). “All The Best” was also featured on Prine’s standout 1991 album, The Missing Years, which became one of my most treasured albums.

The duo were out to promote what looks to be a stellar John Prine tribute record called Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs Of John Prine. Other artists covering Prine on the album include Bon Iver, Justin Townes Earle, Conor Oberst, Drive-By Truckers, Avett Brothers and Deer Tick. If this isn’t worthy of a pre-order, I don’t know what is.

As for the performance itself, well, how can you go wrong? John and Jim trade verses, then share the last one. The low burn of John Prine’s voice coupled with Jim James’ higher register voice makes for one beautiful performance.


Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs Of John Prine (out June 22)


The Missing Years

The Year in (Ick)Music – Pete’s List

It always takes some work on my part to parse out what was released this year, because I’m always discovering great music from years past too. But I’ve done it (and thrown in some pre-2008 tunes – I’m sneaky that way).

So without further ado, here’s my list! – Pete

Albums of the Year

1. Vampire WeekendVampire Weekend :: The hipsters give this band a lot of shit – why, I’m not sure. But I’m not a hipster, I’m just a dude who knows a catchy, original album when I hear it, and Vampire Weekend’s debut was one of my top albums of the year. “A-Punk”, “Campus”, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”. Mansard Roof”, “Oxford Comma”… this album is full of great songs.

2. My Morning JacketEvil Urges
:: I love variety, and these guys bring it with every album. On ‘Evil Urges’, we get Jim James’ best Prince impression (“Highly Suspicious”), and some deep down and soulful grooves that reach back to 70’s soft rock and soul. Standout tunes: ‘Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream, Part One”, “Thank You Too!”, “The Librarian”, “Smokin from Shootin”.

3. What Laura SaysThinks and Feels :: It was refreshing (and surprising) to be so blown away by a local band. Tempe, Arizona’s What Laura Says is on the rise. Their label debut, ‘Thinks and Feels’ is retro psychedelic indie rock. With influences ranging from late 60’s psychedelia to Simon & Garfunkel to Dr. Dog and Ben Folds, this is an album I can play straight through 10 times and find something different every time. Beautiful harmonies and melodies, and a lot of surprises.

4. Cadence WeaponAfterparty Babies :: Edmonton rapper and former Pitchfork writer Rollie Pemberton aka Cadence Weapon has one of the most unique sounds out there. On ‘Babies’, Cadence lays down his quirky rhymes over techno grooves.

5. Okkervil RiverThe Stand Ins:: Led by my favorite of the bunch, ‘Lost Coastlines”, this album has not left my iPhone/iPod since I bought the album.

And growing on me fast:

Fleet FoxesFleet Foxes :: Appalachian church / folk music. You’ve undoubtedly seen this album on a bunch of top album lists. Initially, I wasn’t blown away, but this is an album that creeps up on you. Standout tune: “White Winter Hymnal”.

Songs of the Year:

1. “Strange Overtones” (mp3) – David Byrne :: “Joyous” is the first word that comes to mind when I think of this song. I first heard it on one of Radio Free Wohlman‘s podcasts earlier in the year. And then I saw Mr. Byrne come out on stage in Austin, he and his band dressed in white, and perform the hell out of this song in the show opener. This tune gives me goosebumps and doggone it, it makes me happy.

2. “Get Better Soon” (mp3) – What Laura Says :: An outlaw country shuffle of a tune. Great opening line: “Don’t worry about me, it’s you that needs the help”.

3. “Thank You Too!” (mp3) – My Morning Jacket :: My favorite from their ‘Evil Urges’ album. Laid back, smooth – exuding that late 70’s rock n’ soul vibe.

4. “Sausalito” (mp3) – Conor Oberst :: Like MMJ’s Jim James, Conor’s another one of those younger prolific MF’ers, and I really enjoy what he has to offer. “Sausalito” has that country roots feel I love so much, and it’s a pretty damn infectious tune.

5. “Oh Please” (mp3) – Jon and Roy :: Jon and Roy are one of those great under the radar singer/songwriter talents. They call Victoria, British Columbia home, and sometime this year, I must have got an email, and I stumbled across “Oh Please”. I love this tune. Simple. Soft. Real.

Cover of the Year

Creep” (video) – Prince – Live at Coachella :: Prince has done some cool covers (Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”), and some not so cool (‘I Can’t Make You Love Me”, “Everyday Is A Winding Road” – a Sheryl Crow cover on a Prince record? Come on dude..), but his version of Radiohead’s “Creep” was something fresh and exciting to hear – even with the re-worked lyrics that changed the feel of the song. I would have loved to be at this Coachella show, or, as Prince calls it, “Co-A-Chella”.

Disappointments of the Year

John MellencampLife Death Love and Freedom :: I gave this album a few serious tries. I’m a big admirer of Mellencamp, and I was really looking forward to it, especially after hearing the lead single “My Sweet Love”. But I found it too dark, and too in need of hooks and melodies, which JM is surely capable of. It’s a rootsy, bluesy, morose record, and has received some stellar reviews. It’s John’s “dark” record. But truth be told, it didn’t do a thing for me. For dark Mellencamp, I’ll take “Jackie Brown”.

No Boss in Phoenix :: I’m still at a loss as to why Bruce’s Magic tour, with two full U.S. legs, totally skipped Phoenix, Arizona – the 8th largest metro area in the USA. Granted, most of the time I feel like I’m in a cultural wasteland with no soul, but that’s beside the point. I did travel to Anaheim for a show, though, and got to see Tom Morello shred it up with Bruce on “The Ghost of Tom Joad”.

Best Live Show of the Year

George Michael, June 22, U.S. Airways Arena, Phoenix :: Say what you will, but George’s show here in Phoenix was my live highlight of the year. Ol’ George is now back to his old ways (amphetamines and public toilets and whatnot), but as anyone who saw this tour can attest to, George was in prime form. His 80’s classics, his humble and genuine stage presence, his stage setup (Giant Screen!), all made for a show that ranked 10 out of 10 in my book. I was riding a GM high for weeks after this.

Band of Horses, September 28, Austin City Limits Music Festival :: After discovering the greatness of Band of Horses in January, I was looking forward to their ACL set from the moment I saw it was scheduled. I lingered around the stage all afternoon and made my way front and center when it was time for their set. I was not disappointed. Ben Bridwell and company rocked out with great tunes like “The Funeral”, “The Weed Song”, “No One’s Gonna Love You”, “Is There a Ghost”… And just as cool, the next morning at the Austin Airport, I met Ben Bridwell and told him just how great his music is.

Other great shows this year: Los Lobos, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Steve Earle, Citizen Cope, Erykah Badu, John Fogerty, Gogol Bordello.

Best New (to me) Artist/Song:

Band of Horses :: 2008 was, for me, Year of the Horses. It took me until January 2008 to discover their incredible two albums, ‘Everything All the Time’ and ‘Cease to Begin’. In September, I got to see them front and center at Austin City Limits Music Festival. Ben Bridwell (above) is one of my new musical heroes. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in the future (right now, they’re recording their third album in Muscle Shoals, Alabama).

Jenny Lewis :: I may not dig Jenny as much as my five year old daughter, but I was happy to discover her music this year – particularly her album with the Watson Twins, ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’. This video to “Rise Up With Fists” is what initially reeled me and my daughter in.

Missed the Boat” (mp3) – Modest Mouse :: “While we’re on the subject, can we change the subject now…” Another of my most listened to songs of the year. I love Isaac Brock’s voice, and on this tune, James Mercer pops in for some sweet backup vox as well. Great song that I didn’t hear until this year.

Just Can’t Forget” (mp3) – Jonny and Josh :: I stumbled across it on MySpace early in the year. Someone had it streaming on their profile. Jonny and Josh are singer/songwriters in the Denver area, and they wrote a song here that connected with me immediately. Dark and melodic, with a rhythm and hook that sticks with you.

Nobody Knows” (mp3) – Faces :: I’ve discovered a lot of the Faces catalog this year, and this song is one of the best. Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane (I believe?) share vocal duties here.

“Diner” – Martin Sexton :: Quick and catchy, with that old timey feel.

“Lover’s Waltz” – A.A. Bondy :: A warm, pleading, gentle tune.

“The Story” – Brandi Carlile :: I heard this about a gajillion times during the Olympics, but it didn’t get old. Really a great pop song, and a great voice.

Ickmix 2

ickmix 2

I used to really enjoy creating mixes for friends and – well – especially girlfriends. Inspiration would smack me like a freight train, and I’d dig into my collection and weave together tapestries of musical brilliance (at least I thought so!) and what I thought to be clever proclamations of affection. Well, the girlfriends are no more (my wife would kill me), but I have to get my mix fix in every now and then. So indulge me, my internet friends, and take in my new Ickmix.

It’s a fairly mellow mix. I’m a mellow fellow. I hope you enjoy. If you do, let me know. It may give me a kick in the pants to make more.

Ickmix 2 (mp3 – 63MB – 46:00)

Playlist after the jump:

Ickmusic @ ACL: Day Three Recap

Here’s the last of the Austin City Limits Festival recaps: Day Three comin’ at ya!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yo La Tengo – This was the perfect way to kick off the day. We had a late Denny’s breakfast, with a couple cups of coffee. It turned out that no caffeine was needed, though. The Yo La Tengo wall of sound tore through us like a jet engine. We showed up in time to hear their take on the Beach Boys’ “Little Honda”, one of my faves from their ’97 album, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One.

The jet engine experience came during the last song of their set , as the trio tore into “The Story of Yo La Tango” [yes “Tango”]. It was fun to watch Ira Kaplan enter “the zone” during these feedback and distortion frenzies. Georgia Hubley, Kaplan’s wife, kept the rhythm, and burly bassist James McNew laid down those steady bass lines that made my first live – albeit brief – Yo La Tengo experience a memorable one.

The Story of Yo La Tango (mp3)

Here they are doing “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” at ACL..

dead link

The National – We caught the first few songs from Brooklyn’s The National. The only exposure I really have to them is through their latest album, The Boxer. I picked it up on eMusic a few months ago. Matt Berninger’s vocals remind me of that Peter Murphy type vibe. I got to hear my favorite, “Slow Show”.

Here they are singing “Mr. November” @ ACL…

dead link

Sound Tribe Sector Nine – I wish I could have seen the full set by electronic jam band STS9. I may be wrong, but I think they’re all instrumental, right? We only dropped by for a couple – late in the set – and we already felt like we were late to the party, so off we went….

STS9 ACL Snippet

Ben Kweller – ..We saw the first three or four tunes of Ben’s set. Ben’s got some chops on guitar, and he had the power trio thing going too. He’s 26, but looks like he’s under 20 (form a distance). He has some great rock star moves, thrashing and flailing about like a red-maned 21st century Leif Garrett. There was an overabundance of upper teen-aged girls there for his set, too – which I had no problem with at all, mind you. But alas, my bro and I were soon off to our next musical adventure…

Here’s Ben slowing it down with “Old Hat”…

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – We only caught a couple of tunes this time around, but my wife and I enjoyed a Grace & the Nocturnals set back in April at the McDowell Mountain Music Festival here in Arizona. So we had enough time to catch her on the Hammond B3, and rockin’ the Flying V front and center. Talented singer and a talented band. But… I don’t know. I just don’t get a”WOW” out of the experience like a lot of others do.

Common – One of the two full sets of the day that we caught was Common. I’ve seen a few hip hop shows in my day – well, pre-90’s hip-hop that is. The last hip-show I probably saw the “Jam ’88 Tour”- which was LL Cool J , Public Enemy, Whodini, and Run D.M.C (among some others that I can’t remember).

But it was worth the wait, because Common is one of the few hip-hop artists today that I can enjoy. Kanye’s a huge talent, but just too much of an ass. Others I hear are just too cliche – money, violence, misogyny.. it’s been played out for a while now. I’m sure there’s a ton out there I would like if given the chance though.

Common was a late announcement to ACL. Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela were slated to perform, but cancelled the week before. A number of people, then, were probably expecting R&G on the stage, when out popped Common. There were other gospel, R&B, and soul acts performing at ACL, but it was great of the organizers to bring in the intelligent hip-hop sound.

Common brought along a DJ, a drummer, and a keyboard player. The “band” hip-hop feel, a la the Roots, probably won over a lot of the crowd from the start. But it was Common’s smooth, slick lyrical flow that endeared the crowd to him. Performing songs like “Black Maybe”, “Drivin’ Me Wild” (with Lily Allen samples in the background), and “Go”, Common was in charge, commanding respect from the overflowing crowd at the Dell stage. Even my bro, who has little history with the rap/hip-hop genre, was converted.

Here he is rockin’ da (mostly) white folks with “The Light”…

Lucinda Williams – My intention going in to the festival was to enjoy Lucinda way up close, but as we found out quickly, ACL has a way of scheduling your time for you, rather than the other way around. So, while we caught a good part of Lucinda’s set, it was from far back in the grass, closer to the nearest beer tent than to the stage. We heard some good ones. Among them, “Joy”, “Essence” and a cover of the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”.

Amos Lee – Favorite set of the day went to Philly soul-folkster Amos Lee. My whole family has loved “Arms of a Woman” ever since I snuck it on to a Wiggles CD (along with Metallica’s “Whiskey in the Jar”- get’ em started young) a couple years ago. It’s the perfectly crafted, perfectly sung, soulful love song. Like Amos Lee himself, the song is criminally under appreciated.

I hate to be an advocate for the placement of a song in a commercial, movie, or TV show, but if any song can appeal to a wide demographic of people, this one is it. This one’s a HIT folks!

From the moment Amos came out on stage with his Fender and went into “Dreamin”, the crowd was his. There is no other reaction than to be awed when you get to experience a voice like this live. The mainstream/ MTV / popular radio world seems so distant, otherworldly, and laughable when you hear a person like Amos sing. Effortless, smooth, and heavenly, quite frankly. For me, he’s on the same level as a Raul Malo: a voice from the gods, yet somehow managing to exist just below the radar.

It really hit home toward the end of the set, when Amos sang a steamy Isley Brothers ballad. The ACL setlist page lists it as “I Wanna Know”, but I think it may have been ” I Wanna Be With You”. Regardless, it transfixed the crowd. After the show, my bro remarked how he didn’t want that song to end.

Amos closed the set with a killer version of “Arms of a Woman”. Here’s a funny “It’s a Small Youtube world” moment: the first Youtube video I found of “Arms of a Woman” was shot directly behind me. I was shooting my own video (it ended up being too large for Youtube). My large melon is the centerpiece of this clip (and a sobering reminder that I’m losing my hair!):

My Morning Jacket – I have to admit my expectations were probably a bit high for this set. I was front and center a couple of years ago at the Henry Fonda Theater in L.A., where MMJ came out and blew the roof off the place. The acoustics were perfect, my positioning was ideal, and I guess I was spoiled. For the ACL set, we were behind the soundboard to the right, and it covered about half of the stage (the sound quality could have been better too).

MMJ is definitely an entertaining bunch. This set featured a beach backdrop, the band decked out in tropical beachwear (including a long blonde wig on lead singer / guitarist Jim James), a metal detector guy roaming the stage for the whole set, and a half dozen hula girls holding pineapples. Sure, it was funny and different, but unnecessary, I thought. Maybe it was just me, but I found that it distracted from the music. But that’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable. Andrew Bird joined in for a great version of “Golden”, a beautiful acoustic MMJ tune. They played some off their most recent studio release, Z. And the highlight for me: the majestic rocker “One Big Holiday”.

Here, MMJ sings “Lay Low” at ACL….

dead link

Wilco – I had only one gripe about ACL: My Morning Jacket and Wilco came on at the same time. Our decision was to start with MMJ and catch the last portion of Wilco’s set.

As we walked up to Wilco’s set, and heard them wrapping up “I’m the Man Who Loves You”, I immediately regretted not devoting all of my time to them. Live and learn I guess.

We saw the last few songs, which reached back to A.M. and Being There: “Red Eyed & Blue”, “I Got You”, “Casino Queen”, and “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”. I can’t get enough of Tweedy, Cline and the boys, and look forward to their return to the Arizona desert.

Here’s a cool sidestage view of Wilco doing “Handshake Drugs”…

Bob Dylan – As the festival headliner, Bob was the last one to go on. We made an attempt to get somewhat close to the stage, but found very quickly that it was futile to try. Tens of thousands of people were jockeying for a decent position to check out the legend. So we settled for a couple football fields back, and hoped to at least check out the large stage video screens. Well, guess what Bob didn’t allow for his set? Close-ups.

So as “Rainy Day Women..” kicked in from a distance, and I mean a distance, and all we could see on the giant screens was a distant shot of the stage. We gave it a few verses and called it a festival.

Wrapup: More than a week has passed since the festival wrapped up, and I still have that “post-good time” depression that we experience from time to time.

ACL was the one of the most well organized, seamless festivals I’ve ever attended.

  • Every act started and ended exactly as scheduled.
  • No cars / parking allowed anywhere near Zilker Park.
  • An army of shuttle buses zipped the tens of thousands of us between the park and downtown Austin with little delay.
  • Volunteers were available throughout the park to help anyone with any question.
  • The abundance of BAR tents made getting a beer a BREEZE. $4 for a 16 ouncer. $7 for a larger souvenir cup.
  • Plenty of port-o-potties, even without the few that got torched on day one. I still feel for the ladies though, as some of these toilets were looking quite nasty by the end of the days.
  • Note to self: hit the merchandise tent on Day 1 next year. I waited till the last day and couldn’t find any shirts for myself or my kids (the wife got one, don’t worry).
  • The Waterloo Records Tent gave fans the opportunity to get autographs and pictures with some of their favorites. I got the chance to meet Steve Earle. Can’t beat that!
  • The Eats area was awesome. Plenty of variety along the long line of food tents.
  • The giant mist-spraying fans were a godsend in the 95 degree heat.

I already miss the experience. If you love music, add this to your list of things to do before you move on to the great festival in the sky. Or if you’re like me, join me every year for the foreseeable future!

Thanks again ACL and Austin, Texas. See ya next year.

My Previous ACL Posts: Thanks Austin | Day 1 Recap | Day 2 Recap

Official ACL Festival Site: