At the end of ACL 2008, Dave Grohl asked for mercy from the security guards who had nabbed a kid who had just bolted across the stage. “Go easy on him. He’s not an assassin, just some drunk college dork.” The dork’s people, all 60,000 of them, shouted their support.
The Foo Fighters closed out the festival with hits and misses, a Mose Allison cover, a few drum solos (they had to fill an hour and half after all), a hilarious triangle solo, and lots of jabber and good-natured cursing from Grohl. Oh, and a few very pretty acoustic numbers, with piano from Rami Jaffe and fiddle from Jessie Green. I suppose I should have risked what remained of my dust-encrusted body to get close enough to actually see the dudes, as opposed to the virtual big screen dudes, but from my lawn chair half a mile away the light show was excellent and the drunk girls behind me offered unintentionally brilliant Mystery Science Theatre commentary. And it’s not like I’d know a great Foo Fighters set from an average one to begin with. They were loud. The masses sang along to “My Hero.” People were happy.
I showed up a little late to day three, but early enough to catch the last three songs from AA Bondy, including a boot stomping take on “Vice Rag” and an “old song from the British gospel group Bananarama.” Bondy worked his self-effacing charm, apologizing for being distracted by the Foo Fighters light show in full test on the other end of the park. “I should have brought my pyro,” he said. “What’s an acoustic guitar without twelve-foot columns of flame?”
I took my iced coffee and blanket to the AMD stage to hear the last few songs from Nicole Atkins and the Sea, a band who rocked the jam with much less annoyance than Blues Traveler (that hoary act would play later in the day), and camp out for Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who attempted to sound check as the Kills thumped and moaned at a stage just a park slope away. Welch’s mid-day set wound up plagued by false starts and feedback and wind blowing over their acoustic mics, which doesn’t mean they weren’t great.
(Welch and Rawlings)
I hung back, up on a hill, to catch half of Stars’ set, which sounded fine, occasionally beautiful, even if singer Torquil Campbell is perpetually trying out for the Smiths (and even if the Fleetwood Mac comparisons are amongst the silliest ever made). The lines from “A Thread Cut with a Carving Knife,” “Raise a trembling glass and shout fuck the war!” and a dedication of “Going, Going Gone” to George Bush sounded sincere, and as their fuzzy and chimey ‘80s traditionalism and Amy Millan’s small, lovely voice rolled over me I felt a share of the band’s good fortune to be at this sun-soaked, breezy park on a Sunday afternoon.
(T-shirts that passed by during Stars: Reality Is Fabulous. What’s Another Word for Thesaurus? Make Levees Not War. I Listen to Bands that Don’t Even Exist Yet.)
As the lawn chair platoons multiplied around me, I scurried to the opposite side of Zilker to hear the final notes of Silversun Pickups, notes that were made by a collapsing drum set and mic stands, and a drummer sprawled over the trashed heap of metal and wood. Singer Brian Aubert jumped down off the stage and into the photo pit to high five the front row. (Excellent. Wish I had gotten here earlier.)
Gnarls Barkley was next, which meant missing Okkervil River and the Raconteurs, but my hunch was right. Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse have figured out how to completely rethink their recordings in a punk soul fashion, bashing and thrashing with little digital assistance. I didn’t see a laptop on stage, just a splash-and-trash rock drummer, second percussionist, stand up bass and twin organs, all performers decked out in sequined bow ties, and Cee-Lo in a black high priest cape, which didn’t last long.
“Are you ready to rock and roll?” he asked. Sure, why not, as the hair on my legs quivered from the bass thump and the crush around me went nuts. Highlights included “Surprise,” which ended with a staggering solo acoustic strumming riff, the Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone” (with Danger Mouse banging away on a xylophone), the distended reggae warp of “Blind Mary” from The Odd Couple and the scary beautiful frenzy of the song I most wanted to hear, “Just a Thought.”
“This is a bittersweet day for us,” Cee-Lo said. “It’s the end of our four month tour, so it’s as bittersweet as this song.” ACL 2008 was festival that, for me anyway, climaxed with a chilling sunset performance of a song about contemplating suicide. Even the hottest party needs a catharsis.