The festival was exhausting. By Sunday I was happy to stay in one place, even if it meant seeing fewer bands. We also wanted decent seats for R.E.M., a show that was sure to be packed. We parked in the same place as Saturday, arrived at the venue around 12:30, this time with chairs, blankets, rain ponchos and umbrellas and set up camp at the Captial Metro stage, just in front and to the left of the sound board. I stayed there all day, as did a couple of others, holding the spot til R.E.M. and venturing out only for food and beer. It rained some early, and I was glad for my rain poncho, but then it stopped, though it stayed cloudy all day. I might have enjoyed the day’s music better if I’d roamed more, but it was my idea to set up camp there early, and I was tired enough that I was happy to sit. It was an entire day of bands I’d never seen before, and, except for R.E.M., never even heard before. I’m still tired, and I have work to do, so I’m going to keep this short:
12:30, The Shins — We showed up as they were getting started. Good, competent brit-pop. But they’re from New Mexico? The singer sounded exactly like Robert Smith of The Cure. Since the guitarist did all the talking between songs, I have no idea if the singer is actually English, or if it’s just an affectation.
2:30, G. Love & Special Sauce — Fun hip-hop blues. At first, G. Love’s constant smirk was annoying. By the time he closed with
The Pussy Song, it was funny.
4:30, Yo La Tengo — I’d been hearing how awesome these guys were since they played at a CMU spring carnival sometime in the early 90’s. I dunno. Yeah, they’re good at what they do. Not sure it’s something I would listen to. Their really soft, mellow stuff was nice, and would be good to nap to. Their loud punkish stuff was just annoying. Whatever. The highlight of the show was when they came out and did an N’Syncesque dance routine to one of their songs playing on CD.
6:30, Ween — For some reason, I’ve always classified Ween somewhere near They Might Be Giants, based, I think on the fact that there are (or were) only two guys in the band, and that their stuff is weird. I like TMBG. The only Ween song I can remember hearing before Sunday was
Push the Little Daisies, which I hate. Thankfully, they didn’t play it. Their stuff was much better than I expected, though still weird. David Bowie in blue jeans and T-shirts? Laura said their singer was
probably so weird you couldn’t have a conversation with him.
8:30, R.E.M. — The main event, and one of my Favorite Bands Ever. They didn’t disappoint. As I had hoped, they opened with
Finest Worksong, and then beyond my hopes, followed it with
Begin the Begin. Early on the bass tone was boomy and lacking definition, but it seemed to improve as the show went on. Otherwise, the sound was excellent. The rest of the set was a nice mix of older stuff, newer stuff, and the big hits, including, in no particular order:
- World Leader Pretend
- Fall on Me
- Losing My Religion
- Everybody Hurts
- Man on the Moon
- The One I Love
- The End of the World as we Know It
They did a bunch of more recent songs that I’m not really familiar with, as well as some brand-new stuff, including their new single
Bad Day, which was the first new thing from them that I’ve liked in a long time.
I was struck, watching them, by how much better a show they put on than most of the bands at the Festival. They didn’t become superstars by random chance. Stipe, who seems from his lyrics like the introverted poet type, roams the stage, dancing, kneeling, gesturing, walking on the monitors, shedding clothing, and singing directly to audience members — giving himself to the audience, and clearly in his element. A far cry from the typical Austin artiste, who thinks the introversion that generated his songs should carry over into his stage act. The only other artist I saw this weekend who gave so much to the audience was Robert Randolph, who is still my festival favorite, after R.E.M.