ACL '10, Night Three: Dad-Rockers Square Off Against Artsy Fartsy Types, And We All Win?

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Caity Colvard
The Eagles' Glenn Frey. You may also remember him from Jerry Maguire.
Well, we saw it coming, but, no matter, the third day Austin City Limits went out with a whimper. Actually, though, it was kind of an enjoyable whimper. See, three-day fests like this are killers on your little piggies. And, y'know what? Maybe all we wanted was to be gently sung at by the kind of music our parents listen to. It's comforting, dammit.

But it wasn't just those types (read: The Eagles, Norah Jones) who had us swooning--which, OK, might've just been the result of the tiniest breezes, our heavy backpacks and our sore leg muscles. Hipper outfits made Sunday especially enjoyable, too--like Denton's own Midlake, Band of Horses, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, The Morning Benders all had us feeling wistful and carefree--but, let's face it, we never really felt like we rockin' out all that hard.

Maybe it was just because of the especially rocking morning, but Sunday night felt a whole lot like our usual Sunday mornings do. After the jump, recaps of performances from The Morning Benders, Yeasayer, Midlake, The Flaming Lips, Norah Jones and, albeit briefly, the Eagles.


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Caity Colvard
Hey, this looks familiar...
Like Neon Indian at last year's fest, the Morning Benders saw a little added exposure at ACL 2010 thanks to a cancellation: Gayngs, slotted to go up against Chris Chu and Co. in the same time-slot at the opposite end of the park, cancelled their performance at the last minute thanks to a van getting stolen. The Morning Benders, in turn, saw their crowd swell. And they capitalized nicely, if coming off a little more crooning on stage than they do on record. The wall-of-sound production was evident in the band's updated beach rock, but it was washed out slightly by the outdoor facilities. Employing the same tactics they did at their tour launch at the Kessler Theatre on Friday, the band's set was enjoyable enough, but not nearly as sonically interesting as it comes across on record.

Yeasayer, too, struggled with the outdoor setting: Some bands just get it. You're playing a festival with tons of other options. First off, be thankful to your crowd for showing. Second, play your strongest songs. Yeasayer's failure to grasp either of these concepts early on in their performance hindered their set, and the same record-to-outdoor-venue concerns that were evident in the Morning Benders' set similarly plagued theirs. The band started its set mostly culling material from its 2010 release, Odd Blood, although leaving their singles for the end of their set, after a few quick diversions to 2007's All Hour Cymbals in between. Bands don't seem to get this: Set lists at fests shouldn't be written out like normal stage shows; they should be front-loaded and filled with all of your most recognizable material. Yeasayer didn't adhere to as much, and, by the time it reached its undeniable dance-along, "O.N.E.," the farthest back audiences had trekked off to catch just-starting sets from Henry Clay People and Midlake.

Call Midlake boring all you want on record. Live, they're something else altogether: With seven members on stage (flute/keys man Jesse Chandler has been a permanent sixth touring fixture for Midlake for some time now, and The Fieros' Joey McClellan has recently been tapped for backing guitar and flute duties), Midlake offered up a set of songs culled from The Courage of Others and The Trials of Van Occupanther that were a loud and bombastic as they were gorgeously and tastefully arranged. Midlake indeed performed its set on Sunday afternoon like it had something to prove, its Mojo award for Best Live Act seemingly at stake. And they played convincingly. Guitarist Eric Nichelson played like a possessed madman, bassist Paul Alexander with an unrelentingly stoic bounce, guitarist Eric Pulido with a smile masking an invisible chip on his shoulder, drummer McKenzie Smith with intense precision and frontman Tim Smith with a surprising amount of grit. They were true enough to their record sound--maybe just a little bit wider and deeper in this setting, though--but truly captivated when expanding each track out for impressive freak-outs that found the band playing louder, and heavier, than has been noticeable in the past. It inspired something you'd almost never expect to see at a Midlake show: fist-pumps and devil horns. And it was inspiring.

Nothing, though, is as inspiring as a performance from The Flaming Lips: Essentially performing a truncated version of its NX35 performance (same stage set-up, intro and everything--minus the power outages) and with "She Don't Use Jelly" added into the band's hour-long set, the band, even without full-on confetti cannons in tow, dazzled its ACL crowd with its usual uplifting offering. Face it: It's tough to sing along to "Do You Realize" with a cast of thousands and no walk away smiling. The five minutes following the band's set were eaily the most congenial of the weekend.

Speaking of congenial, Norah Jones was tasteful as ever, if a little too soft-rocking for her own good:
It's tough to argue with millions of records sold and a shelf full of Grammy statues to boot, but, as guitar-heavy as Norah Jones' The Fall may be, it's still the same old Starbucks fare, with only teases of grit coming in the form of "Young Blood." Listen: We've heard Norah Jones rock out, and we like it. Everyone else, meanwhile, like Norah singing about not knowing why or going away with her. That's OK--she's plenty capable at those, and, soft or not, she manages to make these soft-rockers charm in a live setting. Her crowd was especially docile and appreciate--maybe the most of the weekend--but Jones and her crowd were a little riled up at the end of her set. She ran over by a few minutes and the Eagles cut her off during "Sunrise." Jones paused, told the crowd that she and her band were going to "out-harmonize the Eagles" and proceeded to do just that. Once her band finished their very last harmony, the crowd, for the first time of the performance, cheered like rock crowds are supposed to.

The Eagles, meanwhile, sounded like the Eagles: Eye-roll-inducing as they may be, their is an impressive song catalog. Even those walking out of Zilker Park to bid ACL 2010 adieu were singing along to the band's songs under their breath as they and their friends mocked them and they walked past the thousands of picnic blankets strewn out about the park as families locked down to watch the entire set. The band sounded great--just like they do on the radio. And that's exactly what we turned on to get their catchy ditties out of our head on the way back to Dallas. But we left feeling good about things.

Maybe ending the affair on a soft note is a good idea.We left ACL 2010 feeling wistful and charmed, if also tired. Anyone out there wanna volunteer to give us a foot massage?

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