Live Review: My Bloody Valentine, Paris, France, June 5, 2013

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In space, no one can hear you sigh.

In the late ”80s and early ’90s, My Bloody Valentine radiated dreamy vocals muffled through a thick veil of cobwebs. The band warped densely distorted chords till it whirlpooled downward into a black hole.

Then, abruptly, the quartet set us adrift to ponder the enormity of the universe, while it contemplated how many angels could fit in his navel.

Two decades after 1991’s monolithic Loveless, the band has finally released a follow-up: this year’s m b v. The new tunes range widely: from Loveless-like whale-song dirge (“She Found Now”) to frilly drum ’n’ bass dementia (“Wonder 2”). The driving “In Another Way” even has a Madchester shuffle beat and a jerky riff that could attract a chorus of barking seals.

Listeners typically have one of two reactions to such music: sobbing in admiration or curling up in the fetal position in horror. This evening, in legendary 19th-century music hall Le Bataclan, there was a good mix of both.

The drum stutter intro to “Only Shallow” elicited an ecstatic shriek from the audience. The group’s performance was visceral and gorgeous. On m b v’s “Only Tomorrow,” Kevin Shields plucked a judiciously lumbering guitar line that cut through the din to hypnotic effect. On the wall behind the band, each song was enhanced by a projection of trippy footage that would delight armchair existentialists, were the images not so colorful.

In fact, the members of MBV are what goth poseurs ought to aspire to be: not insufferable blank slates obsessed with death, but sensitive souls oppressed by beauty, rendered dizzy and isolated by the spinning of the Earth.

True, MBV may sound like a live owl tossed into a wood chipper or a flotilla of Harleys riding a rollercoaster. Imagine Donovan affixing a tremolo bar to a chainsaw. Those of us who are converts—we unhappy few, puking to the choir—can forgive the uninitiated’s amateurish mal de mer, their rookie squeamishness. They can’t be faulted for being blind to the perfection of pain.

The set closed with the deafening “You Made Me Realise.” The song’s so-called “holocaust section” of white-noise drone lasted 10 glorious minutes and approximated an A-380 attempting to land, sans landing gear.

Once the song’s last tendrils of feedback retracted, the capacity crowd struggled to the exit. One young woman waited out the exodus on the floor. She sat immobile, her arms wrapped around knees brought up to her chest, her face buried in her thighs. She may have been weeping.

MBV was exquisite tonight. Nausea never felt so good. Vomit never tasted so sweet.

—Eric Bensel

Live Review: The Mountain Goats, Washington, D.C., June 3, 2013

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Throughout the first show of the Mountain Goats’ current tour with the Baptist Generals supporting, John Darnielle kept mentioning how nervous he was. “I didn’t use to be nervous,” he said toward the end of the evening, sweaty and smiling broadly. “But there didn’t used to be 1,200 fucking people at our shows.” And the sold-out crowd at D.C.’s venerable 9:30 Club let up a sound that shook the beams.

Darnielle needn’t have worried. The current tour of the Mountain Goats is a two-man affair—the first duo incarnation of the band since 2007, as Darnielle pointed out—and from the moment he and bassist Peter Hughes stepped onstage, both they and the crowd were in it for keeps.

The whole night was a family affair, of sorts. Denton, Texas-based act the Baptist Generals, who released the dark, trippy, excellent No Silver/No Gold in 2003 and then seemed to fall off the map, came roaring out by playing new release Jackleg Devotional To The Heart in sequence, setting out a low-end thunder that rumbled and rattled through the 9:30’s ground floor and two upper decks. After a live soundcheck, the Generals roared into “Dog That Bit You” from Jackleg, and most of the crowd conversation stopped abruptly as singer/songwriter Chris Flemmons led the audience through the new record’s dense tangle of songs about bad love and worse love, while Darnielle and Co. watched happily from the upper-stage left balcony (“You guys look like those old Muppets,” quipped Generals bassist Ryan Williams to loud laughter). Still, by the time Darnielle joined the Generals to play keyboard on “Turnunders And Overpasses,” the repeated coda “What do you want?/What do you want/For your heart?” hinted at the raw, beating pulse beneath the anguish of the thudding arrangements. The mutual respect and affection between the Generals and the Mountain Goats was apparent throughout the set; even fans who’d never heard the Generals seemed to come away impressed.

And then Darnielle and Hughes took the stage. It’s hard to know how to figure Darnielle sometimes. He’s a singer/songwriter whose prolific output and frequently high-verbal lyrics could easily come off in less adroit hands as precious navel-gazing. And yet somehow, this gangly guy who learned American Sign Language in junior high because he thought it might help him meet girls (as he mentioned at this show) is damn near the most affable, most charming frontman in current rock music. Even at the 9:30 Club, which is small but by no means all that intimate, Darnielle and Hughes gave off a vibe like they were playing in the back yard of someone’s house, all high energy, broken picks and even one charmingly flubbed ending. (“That was my fault,” said Darnielle sheepishly. “I forgot how we’d decided to finish it.”)

So the high-energy happiness with which the Mountain Goats invariably perform, like they’re just goddamn glad to be there, is one part of the charm. Most significantly, though, Darnielle’s songwriting—which was, after all, the focus of the evening—is as openly confessional as a Sylvia Plath poem without ever trying to solicit an iota of sympathy from the crowd. That’s the nut of it, I think. When he tries his hand at genuine grownup gravitas, as evidence that night in a tune like “It Froze Me,” he’s a fine enough songwriter. But where he really shines is in those moments where he fully engages the id of the beaten kid in all of us, and the strongest, most riveting performances of the night were those full-throated here-I-am barnstormers: “Ox Baker Triumphant,” “Dance Music” and opener “Pure Gold” aimed for the back wall and trailed fire as they passed overhead. The set list reached back into the crates, but also featured especially riveting performances of “The Diaz Brothers” and “Cry For Judas” from last year’s Transcendental Youth. For the hardcore fans, too, there were treasures, the most electrifying of which was a performance of the legendary, still maddeningly unreleased “Alpha Chum Gatherer,” which appears only on an exceedingly rare bootleg of an early board mix of songs recorded for the album Tallahassee.

When all his cylinders are firing, Darnielle writes like a five-year-old kid would, if that wide-eyed little guy experiencing everything for the first time had a 40-year-old poet’s long-range perspective and razor-keen turn of phrase. I can think of individual songs by certain artists that approach that target, but I cannot think of another songwriter whose body of work pins it as reliably or as extensively as Darnielle, which is likely the reason that people who get bitten by his songs get bitten hard. That connection was apparent in what was likely the evening’s most stunning moment, the air-raid rendition of “No Children,” which the entire crowd seemed to sing (and occasionally scream) in unison with Darnielle in an act of group catharsis, and after which most acts would probably have been content to walk off the stage claiming victory. It was there in the enthusiastically received encore “The Best-Ever Death Metal Band In Denton,” a treat from the upcoming remastered release of All Hail West Texas, as the audience gleefully yelled “Hail Satan!” at all the right moments. It was apparent in Darnielle’s several playfully filigreed pre-song introductions, touching on his well-documented childhood abuse, 1970s-era pro wrestling’s parallels with indie-rock “neighborhood scenes,” and a long, hilarious routine about the worst-attended gig the Mountain Goats ever played (head count: literally zero) at which they encored (!) with absurdist stomper “Furniture Store.”

And since the rhythm section rarely gets its due, let’s give it here. Darnielle often mentioned the absence of drummer Jon Wurster as a minor terror for the duo to overcome. But though he spoke little throughout the night, Hughes anchored the entire set with precise, indeed impeccable timing. Case in point: When the duo set up for “Tallahassee,” Hughes’ loop-pedal bass line got hung up on maybe an eighth-of-a-second delay on each repeat—just enough to notice—and Hughes course-corrected for it , as he had to under Darnielle’s more fluid keys and vocals, every single time. That’s what you call a consummate pro, friends.

In each of their sets, both Darnielle and the Baptists’ Flemmons recounted a somber gig they’d once played together, many years ago, for all of 24 people, most of whom were in the bar to watch football. After the sound faded and the lights came up, Darnielle stuck around like a mensch by the merch table, to sign and shake hands with hundreds of the fans, many of whom embraced him with unembarrassed affection. For a self-described weirdo to have reached this level of artistic skill and popularity ought to give hope to every current weirdo kid in America. And that night, with Darnielle a sweat-soaked mess and the thank-yous passing every three seconds between him and the milling, grinning crowd, it looked like it had.

—Eric Waggoner

Live Review: Fatso Jetson & Glowsun, Roubaix, France, May 9, 2013

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Gun to your head, whose balls would you prefer crammed down your throat: Tony Iommi’s or Josh Homme’s? Trick question: Iommi’s nuts are so huge they couldn’t squeeze into an blimp hangar, let alone down your pie hole.

The Black Sabbath guitarist’s legendary sack has echoed down the ages, teabagging generations of metalheads into blissful submission. Even in this Flemish outpost of Northern France have They sown Their divine oats. On May 9, stoner-rock pioneers Fatso Jetson and Yawning Man plowed through the town of Roubaix on their “Legends of the Desert” tour, with “Iron Man” riffs and fat spliffs in tow. (The headliners finished their set after the departure of the last metro of the evening, so this teabagee left early, his world adequately rocked.)

For such an unassuming dive, the La Cave aux Poètes club has a theatrical flair. The stage is cheesily lit to resemble an ’80s arcade game, kitschy as a still from the original Tron movie. The ceiling is so low that drummers can no more easily toss their sticks triumphantly into the air than spectators can pump their fists in caveman enthusiasm. A curious venue for the ceremonial Banging of the Heads.

Opener Glowsun lights a stick of incense at the front of the stage, which is flanked by guitarist Johan Jaccob’s haunting art nouveau silkscreens. The hypnotic “Death’s Face” finds the Goldilocks groove—Hawkwind-heavy hooks and wah-drench leads driven by a pace that is just right.

The French trio applies a thick layer of trippy effects, which does nothing to detract from its power anymore than CGI does from a sci-fi film. Instead, windy flanging and warm echoes add a goth-y menace and space-y otherworldliness. Vocals are rare because largely unnecessary. When Kong stomps on your chest, what need is there for words?

If Sabbath are the Olympic gods of metal, then Glowsun are the femme fatale Aphrodite born from Their castrated genitals. And if Acid King is a post-toke hacking cough, then Glowsun is the smooth drag of the blunt that precedes it.

Glowsun shines brightly.

Palm Desert, Calif.’s Fatso Jetson starts its set with the titanic “Magma,” which sinks even deeper into the lower registers when Mario Lalli’s guitar amp gives up the ghost. He scats his way admirably through the tune and is running (loudly) through a replacement by the second song.

Although squarely in the realm of desert rock, Fatso Jetson has more in common with Delta blues fashioned with matter from a neutron star than it does with the sun-baked cow punkery of fellow desert dwellers the Meat Puppets. On record, there are surfy, jangly elements that would fit snuggly in a Dick Dale instrumental. Live, the band unleashes mammoth riffs and maintain a dizzyingly high level of energy. Its performance is one of seasoned professionals: loose and adaptable, yet tight and immediate.

Between two songs late in the set, some jokester yells in shaky English, “Make some noise!” Then another Sorbonne scholar invites the band to perform an act best left to consenting adults.

“I’ll make some noise,” answers Lalli, “but I won’t lick your balls.”

And so the Almighty nuts have come full circle.

—Eric Bensel

Live Review: Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Glenside, PA, March 19, 2013

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If you heard a distant rumble or saw a flash of light on the Northwest horizon Tuesday night around 9 p.m., that was Nick Cave, like a bat out of hell, smiting Glenside, Pa., to a crisp as per his satanic majesty’s request. And it was good. Very good. How could it not be? Everyone knows Heaven has better weather but Hell has all the best bands. Cave looked and sounded in peak form (good hair, great suit, whipped himself about the stage like an electrocuted Elvis), and his voice contained multitudes. Deep, dulcet and strong like bull. Part angel-headed hipster, part Pentecostal preacherman. All pomade and sweat and Old Testament gravitas.

So too, the Bad Seeds, who these days paint within the lines and with much more subtle strokes thanks in no small part to the addition of the Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis a decade back. With his enchanted fiddle on “God Is In The House,” magic flute on “We No Who U R” and his chiming, incandescent, Velvetsoid guitar thrum on “Jubilee Street” Ellis made grown men cry in their souls—this grown man, anyway. Prior to Ellis, the Bad Seeds seemed to come with only two settings: Mellow and Maelstrom. Tuesday night, they mapped out all the emotional peaks and valleys in between with nuance and precision.

Cave was wickedly funny. During the gangsta-rific “Stagger Lee,” he mocked a loutish woman up front whose incoherent shouting marred more than song. “Where the fuck is my husband in this fucking place?” he whined, though it was unclear if he was merely mimicking her outbursts or pleading with the missing husband to come fetch his trainwreck wife and spare us all this indignity. When some goober shouted out repeatedly that the stage volume was “too soft” (get a Q-Tip, Goob; they were loud as fuck), Cave silenced him with “‘Too soft?’ You deaf cunt!” Ah, good times. Glad to see that Cave still doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

After opening the show with a handful of long, slow-burning potboilers from the new Push The Sky Away, Cave and Co. released the bats and let rip with the classics (“The Mercy Seat,” “Deanna,” “Red Right Hand,” “The Weeping Song”) as well as some deep-catalog nuggets for the devout (“From Her To Eternity,” “Your Funeral, My Trial” and a hellfire-and-brimstone “Tupelo” for an encore). But the real revelation last night was “Higgs Boson Blues,” a song that, sequenced eighth out of nine songs, gets lost on the new album, which suffers somewhat from an overabundance of meditative midtempo-ness.

On record, the song is largely notable for the metaphysical cleverness of its title, but live “Higgs Boson Blues” was a long, sweaty noir-ish hallucination that somehow combined Lucifer, Robert Johnson, the Large Hadron Collider, speaking in tongues, Hannah Montana crying with the dolphins, the assassination of Martin Luther King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, and the God Particle into a dream narrative whose surreal profundities, as they are wont to do, defy literal explanation. But it all ends satisfyingly with Miley Cyrus floating face down in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake like William Holden at the beginning of Sunset Boulevard. Let us pray.

—Jonathan Valania; photo by Eric Ashleigh

Live Review: Dinosaur Jr, Paris, France, Feb. 6, 2013

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All inert and living matter tends toward entropy. Soups go cold, erections turn flaccid. What once was tight, now is flab.

I present you with one shining exception: Ladies and gentlemen, Dinosaur Jr.

More than 25 years ago, this legendary trio forged a blistering brand of post-hardcore punk that blended mumbled lyrics about isolation with piercing bursts of anguished aggression, inspiring those who would later found grunge. Their music was the perfect soundtrack for the X generation’s slackerdom: frustrated and furious about the world, but too lazy and lethargic to do anything about it.

After an awkward separation from bassist Lou Barlow that lasted a decade and a half, the original lineup reunited in 2005 to record and tour again. Impressively, the three had lost neither their breathtaking originality nor their musical chops. By which I mean that they still rock.

Playing at Paris’ Trabendo club, the group peppered its set with tunes from all three of its eras: the latest incarnation reunited with the Prodigal Lou (“Crumble,” “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know,” “Watch The Corners”); the ’90s major-label days (“The Wagon,” “Out There,” “Feel The Pain”); and its most explosive period of ’80s classics. The latter tunes—“Repulsion,” “Tarpit,” “Freak Scene,” “Sludgefeast,” an unexpected Deep Wound “cover” of “Training Ground,” an extended jam on “Forget The Swan” and the trio’s incomparable cover of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”—were just as incisive and fresh as the first time your parents heard them on an SST cassette tape.

Throughout the show, J Mascis remained largely immobile, a stoner Gandalf swaying gently back and forth like a mother rocking her child to sleep. Yet these are no lullabies. Mascis continues to emit the most razor-sharp leads this side of Hendrix. As a unit, these dinosaurs reign supreme. Entropy has no purchase on the group, certainly not tonight.

Ears are split, heads are banged, asses are duly kicked.

“You’re standing,” Barlow warns the crowd between the first two songs, “right in front of a massive stack of amps.”

Yeah, no shit.

—Eric Bensel

Live Review: RJD2, Icebird, Philadelphia, PA, Dec. 29, 2012

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“There is nothing better in the world” than playing for his hometown crowd, shouted locally based electronic artist RJD2 into the microphone in the middle of his set of controlled chaos at the TLA in Philadelphia late Saturday night. Ramble John “RJ” Krohn, who has multiple albums, EPs, collaborations and the Mad Men theme song to his name, looks more like your company’s IT guy with his rumpled collared shirt and slight frame than one of the most prolific hip-hop producers of the last decade. Watching him live mixing and deftly swiveling records on his multiple turntables, however, you can see why he’s onstage and not in the cubicle down the hall.

The most recent incarnation of RJD2’s experimental spirit is Icebird, which features the smooth and passionate Ne-Yo vocals of singer Aaron Livingston and the instrumental alchemy of Krohn’s productions. Supported by a band that evening, Icebird opened with vigor, punctuated by the frenzied skill of “Chuck” the drummer.

Close to midnight, RJD2 emerged in a button-adorned robot costume and addressed the crowd through a voice scrambler, a play on his moniker’s R2D2 namesake. He then pulled off his costume and jumped behind the five turntables and multiple mixers and computers to kick off his mesmerizing performance. He glided among the various pieces of equipment, frantically switching discs, scratching actual records and adjusting dials and levels as Chuck’s hands flew over the drum set. “I could have put all of this stuff on a neat grid,” said Krohn. “But that would be fucking boring.” Playing fan favorites like “1976” and “Deadringer,” RJD2 put his skills front and center—he was truly a disc jockey this night.

—Maureen Coulter

Live Review: Carlton Melton, Nantes, France, Nov. 4, 2012

Sitting on the confluence of the Loire and Erdre rivers, the city of Nantes in Southern Brittany is not just an intersection of maritime traffic but also of creative diversity. Nantes is the birthplace of science-fiction pioneer Jules Verne and the muse for his fantastical stories. It was here that poet André Breton met Jacques Vaché, who inspired the former’s imaginative mind-fuckery of surrealism. Even today, Nantes is home to a vibrant rock and electronic music scene as well as a theatre troupe that conjures 20-foot mechanical giants and time-travelling elephants to lumber through her cobblestone streets.

So it is fitting that one of the premier space-rock bands would bring its travelling acid trip to this immense bong bowl of 800,000 souls. Carlton Melton—two members of whom were formerly in Philly and San Fran favorites Zen Guerrilla—played the closing night of the city’s 10th annual Soy Festival. The contrast between the band’s recording space and the venue for this show could not be greater. They improvise their albums in a geodesic dome deep in the woods of Northern California, while Nantes’ Stakhanov club is a cramped duplex stinking of stale French beer.

Their performance begins without fanfare. In fact, the line separating guitar tuning and opening notes is so fine as to be imperceptible. With “PhotosOf Photos” and “Smoke Drip,” Andy Duvall teases light pricklings from his guitar, which Rich Millman complements with soft, ethereal chords. “Space Treader” then swells and contracts, oozes and bleeds. Once Clint Golden’s bass and Millman’s guitar converge to give form to a more traditional structure, Duvall sits behind his drum kit, and “The One That Got Away” roars to life like a starship achieving escape velocity. The trio goes from emitting a wavelength to riding a groove.

The band is now a ramscoop collecting stray notes, synth farts and fragments of Hawkwind, Spacemen 3 and Bardo Pond to gain speed. They close with the monumental “When You’re In,” a Pink Floyd cover that rages until it tears itself apart, atom by atom, note by note. In the outro, Millman methodically downtunes the low E string to emphasize the song’s disintegration. Its effect is as chilling as it is bowel-loosening.

Carlton Melton’s set is the Big Bang in reverse.

A hypnotic drone of dispersed notes awash in echo coalesces into a rush of accelerating energy that, in turn, culminates in a massive wallop to the gut. The band sets controls for the heart of the sun, then slams its ship into the furnace of hell. After that, what the fuck do you do for an encore?

—Eric Bensel

Live Review: Fun Fun Fun Fest

MAGNET’s Matthew Irwin reports from the 2012 Fun Fun Fun Fest in Texas.

Saul Williams destroyed Fun Fun Fun Fest … for me. After his midday performance on Saturday—the second day of the three-day music festival—I had a hard time having a good time again.

Let me temper this post with the acknowledgement that Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest is the best metropolitan music festival I’ve attended. It’s small(ish) and caters to fans more than frat boys, it emphasizes local bands (the Black Angels and the Sword, for instance), and it provides unmatched access and benefits for fans with a little more cash to spend (in the FFF vernacular, Pretty Important People, or PIP). The portable handwashing stations, however, did run dry by midday Friday, and I never found a wet faucet again, which seems like a small oversight, but it’s one that speaks to a greater failure of FFF. It skimps on the details.

After Sharon Van Etten’s set Friday afternoon, I went backstage to find a port-o-potty and a bottle of water, discovering that, not only did PIP enjoy exclusive spaces full of complimentary booze and private bathrooms, but they also had access to the inner sanctum, the cordoned off region that gives staff, media, artists and other workers reprieve from the festival craziness. Then, in addition to an unprecedented absence of drinking water, sunscreen or other traditional considerations for media, they actually wanted me to pay for food and drinks, even coffee and water. The nerve.

I trotted my unquenched, dirty-handed self back to the Orange Stage, where I sat down next to Sharon for a minute. By “sat down next to,” I mean that she was sitting and I was sitting, 10 feet away, and staring at her. I seriously start to question my professionalism as a music journalist when it comes to SVE. She’s so awkwardly endearing onstage, talking between songs, then she confidently strides into the specifically personal and sad world of her lyrics. Her compositions undulate like breath around her words. She’s both the dark Brooklyn troubadour and the Tennessee girl. I swear my crush exists on a professional level.

The rest of the day found me over at the Yellow Stage, which, reserved for comedic performances during the day, hosted some of the smaller and lesser-known musical acts come late afternoon. Earth performed the anti-festival set with uber-low tempo, doom meditations. Festival goers worried about missing an act on another stage found plenty of reason to jet, and in truth, Earth isn’t much of a middle-of-the-day band, but I at least found Dylan Carson’s battle with the “asshole photographers” who refused to turn off their flashes entertaining.

The highlight performance of the weekend took place next, when San Antonio’s Girl In A Coma stepped onstage. I’ve been following them since 2010’s Adventures In Coverland, which revived and retooled a smattering of popular rock music of the last 50 years, and they own that shit the way Patsy Cline owns “Crazy.” Onstage, the girls remember that rock is as much about persona and presentation as it is about music, but it’s the intensity of their relationship to the music that gives the illusion that a whole lot more is happening. Exits & All The Rest was a next-level album of originals for the group that made a number of end-of-the-year lists in 2011, but I think Girl In A Coma has greater material in store as they continue to define their sound outside the boundaries of badass chic rock.

Saturday, I returned to the Yellow Stage and caught an “angry,” mediocre comedian and a comedic vaudevillian magician whose greatest trick was downing bottles of Budweiser, before Saul Williams took the stage. Williams lifted a wide, dark notebook with words scrawled in big letters, and proceeded to dis … everyone. He said that the song lyrics of your average festival band are full of abstract complaints, but ultimately meaningless. He belittled hipsters and their cute, little mustaches. He said that problem of technology is that it reflects us back and we don’t like that. And he said that if we wanted to hear women scream, we should try prisons. The audience of mostly white hipsters stood silent, jaws open, for a palpable pause, before a few hoots and whoos shot out. Williams went into his piece “Telegram,” which notes, in a telegram to hip hop, that cash and murder have not been added to the table of elements. Somewhere in there, my eyes welled up with tear, though none fell.

I returned to the wild expanse of festival glee, un-gleeful. I shuffled through with my head down, until I came to the American Spirit trailer, and decided to poke my head inside. Whereas Austin City Limits posted its no smoking policy throughout the Zilker, FFF actually invited Marlboro and American Spirit to set up camp on the festival grounds. I smoked cigarettes for 15 years, and quit because, well, it’s a stupid, miserable fucking thing to do, and I wanted to know what the hell was going on in those tents, with lines 20 people deep. A nervous, fast-talking young dude quickly took my license and scanned it while asking about my smoking preferences. I noted the wood-paneled walls and the pairs of people, one American Spirit rep per smoker, kicking back as if it were some 1960s-themed lounge, rather than a data collection point for cigarette marketing. I admitted that when I did smoke, I smoked the yellow pack, the smooth, light version of their cigarettes, and he suggested I try something more robust. He reminded me that American Spirit uses natural tobacco, and it has an organic line. Though he never said it, the suggestion was clear: Smoking is hip, and these are good for you. Finally, the dude gave me a coupon for two packs of cigs for $2. I bought them with the intention of giving them to a friend, and picked up a pack of matches that read “freedom to smoke without harassment.” Forget 40 years of awareness campaigns, illness and death, this isn’t about your health, this is about your freedom, hipster.

I walked over to the Blue Stage, where I found Schoolboy Q chanting something along the lines of “Fucked her once; I’ll do it again,” so I kept moving, found a place to lie down in the grass, and yes opened a pack of cigarettes. I smoke two, mindlessly, with a cup of coffee, before the taste of carbon monoxide brought me back to myself, and threw both packs out. Forget passing them on to a friend; I’m done participating in that scheme. And my mood the way it was, I was nearly done with the festival, too, but I had to see the Sword. Though the doom-metal band paid off by actually making me feel better—smoke, lights, crowd surfers and heavy guitars, where have you been?—the deeper damage had already been done. Festivals may be a thing of the past for this music lover.

Live Review: Austin City Limits

MAGNET’s Matthew Irwin reports from the 2012 Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas.

About three songs into his Friday night set at Austin City Limits, M. Ward told the audience he’d heard this year’s fest was the biggest yet. Though the Portland-based singer/songwriter played one of the smaller stages at the seven-stage event, his performance concluded as the Zilker Park crowd reached its peak for headliners AVICII and the Black Keys.

The three-day event sold out at 75,000 people per day, which put a palpable pressure on personal space, even before Saturday’s rain showers. Festival-goers, however, remained lighthearted, many expressing reassurance at the news, released October 2, that organizers have decided to extend the festival to two weekends, with the majority of bands appearing at both. Doubtful, however, is whether adding more dates will attract a more dedicated crowd. We don’t want to impose our festival raison d’être on anybody else, but if one is willing to spend $200 on the weekend pass, plus the cost of transportation and festival food, she should be eager to listen to the music. Generally, those interested in talking more than rocking filter toward the back, but we were particularly disappointed in the gaggle of mid-30s women at Gary Clark Jr.’s midday performance gossiping over the music in the front rows on Sunday. This was not an uncommon occurrence.

Nonetheless, when we closed our eyes during Clark’s show, he almost could have passed for the Black Keys, but for his voice, a combination of the sounds emanating from his diaphragm and from his guitar, which clearly separated him from the Akron, Ohio. duo. We wondered: If he had come up around the same time as the Keys, which of them would have been on the big stage Friday night, especially after the Keys’ lackluster ACL performance, Dan Auerbach strangely punctuating his vocals with his hands like a diva.

A few bothersome points that deserve mentioning: 1) ACL faced off Neil Young & Crazy Horse against Jack White Saturday night, while letting the Red Hot Chili Peppers play uncontested on Sunday. Endearing in his persona with an all-woman band, White’s performance, nonetheless, felt like an imitation of a performance. Young, on the other hand, played as if those thousands of people had come only to see him, and they responded as if they had, singing his lyrics back in greater numbers than for other performers. 2) Some of the more popular sets were performed by DJs, such as Bassnectar and Big Gigantic, and not only did the bass invade the rest of the park, but we had thought that dub-step had reached its peak four years ago. 3) The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye bailed on his Sunday afternoon performance, with the official line being that he was sick, though attendees at his downtown Austin show the night before reported that he had been pretty drunk onstage.

Now for the good stuff: Rufus Wainwright produced a heartwarming and energetic performance, aware as any other musician that weekend that he had limited stage time, but unable to help himself from corresponding with the audience at various lengths. Like Young, he came to perform for an audience, not at a festival. Los Angeles band He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister was clearly the festival darlings, returning day after day for interviews in the media area, and infecting Stubb’s Barbeque on Saturday night with an Okkervil River-like, vaudeville folk that’s incredibly sexy and danceable, but also might simply be the sound of this time and place, begging the question, “Where might they go from here?”

We were partial to Oberhofer, the not-so-Brooklyn band from Brooklyn that just released the EP Time Capsules II, though band members told MAGNET they don’t really care for the term EP—it suggests a lesser achievement, whereas they feel theirs is a full expression where they are and where they want go. Lead vocalist and guitarist Brad Oberhofer took full advantage of the festival atmosphere, running around the stage whenever a break in vocals allowed, even leaving the stage altogether to run around the festival grounds. Oberhofer is the kind of band for which we endure festival crowds and unpredictable weather and strange scheduling. It is parts Deerhunter, Avi Buffalo and the Black Lips—experimental and moving, strange and sincere and all the way rock ‘n’ roll

Additional reporting by Melina Laroza; photo by Dave Mead