Austin City Limits has expanded to two weekends this year, and the lineup includes Atoms for Peace, Depeche Mode, the Cure, Phoenix, Wilco, Kendrick Lamar, Vampire Weekend, and Lionel Richie. ACL has announced its full 2013 schedule, and as always with festivals, some must-watch sets are scheduled to overlap.
The two weekends’ schedules are largely the same, and to be sure, it’s not like too many people will be struggling to decide between Swedish krautrock-folkies Junip and former MTV Singled Out guests the Verve Pipe. Do you want to watch U.K. synth-pop icons the Cure or rejuvenated Nashville rockers Kings of Leon? Do you see guitar-mongering major-label exiles Wilco or synth-toting major-label upstarts Passion Pit? You probably know. And you’ll have two chances, so you can actually do all of the above.
Still, when festival-goers arrive at Austin’s Zilker Park come October 4-6 and October 11-13, difficult decisions will await. Let us make them for you. (And to catch up on last year’s ACL event, check out Austin City Limits 2012: SPIN’s Best Live Photos.)
5. Hundred Waters vs. the Parquet Courts, Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
The unlisted option here would be to sleep in after the first night and rest up for Day Two, but that would be a mistake. Florida-based ambient-folk hypnotizers who happen to be signed to Skrillex’s OWSLA label? Or blink-and-you’ll-miss-the-joke New York indie-rock smart alecks? Either would be a more than worthy way to start the day.
Recommendation: Forced to choose between easing into things or getting jolted awake, we’d skip coffee and go with the band behind SPIN Essential album Light Up Gold. Just kidding, we’d still need coffee. (Also see Parquet Courts: New York Post-Punk Geeks Play Fast and Loose.)
4. D’Angelo vs. Franz Ferdinand, Sunday, 3:30/4:00-4:30/5:00 p.m.
Unlike with Hundred Waters and Parquet Courts, most big ACL conflicts involve a 30-minute offset, so at least there’s theoretically a chance of catching bits of both sets. Still, this juxtaposition between the the neo-soul legend and post-punk revivalists requires a decision between two acts making renewed bids for relevance. D’Angelo’s follow-up to the near-perfect Voodoo is always a couple of percentage points from being finished, and 2012’s Bonnarroo documentary footage shows how captivating he can still be live. Then again, Franz Ferdinand’s 2004 self-titled debut has aged surprisingly well; their new album Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action arrives next month; and they put on a fine set for Live at Letterman.
Recommendation: D’Angelo, because he knows anticipation usually trumps reality.
3. Vampire Weekend vs. Arctic Monkeys, Friday, 6:00/6:30-7:00/7:30 p.m.
America against Britain! Cosmopolitan New York against fiercely regional northern England! U.S. media hype versus U.K. media hype! Exclamation points aside, this is actually a tough choice between two smart, talented groups that both excel at what they do. Vampire Weekend’s new Modern Vampires of the City is a SPIN Essential album. Arctic Monkeys’ forthcoming AM arrives in September and features Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme.
Recommendation: No disrespect to anyone who would choose differently, because Vampire Weekend have shown they can bring it live, but Arctic Monkeys’ recent material is exciting precisely because it’s so different from these bands’ brainy, word-wise images. On AM‘s “Do I Wanna Know?” and “R U Mine?,” they flex and flirt with a forceful confidence that recalls when glammed-up rock still was pop. You won’t have to be able to make out the words from the back of the crowd to feel Matt Helders’ drum salvos.
2. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion vs. Queens of the Stone Age vs. Purity Ring vs. Depeche Mode, 7:30/7:30/7:45/8:00-8:30/8:30/8:30/9:30 p.m.
Obviously ACL would really, really like you to go both weekends. How else to choose between ’90s indie-rock heroes with a ferocious live rep, masterful desert rockers with a solid new album in ...Like Clockwork, synth-pop up-and-comers with an imaginative live show, and, like, actual synth-pop O.G.’s?
Recommendation: You can still catch a fair bit of Depeche Mode no matter what you do, so unless that’s the band you’re here to see anyway — in which case, why are you reading this? — you might want to plan on just seeing the end of their set. That still leaves the 7:30 hour, though. Purity Ring are great, but they don’t have the catalog yet to stack up with either of those other bands. You know what? JSBX wins out of sheer unpredictability. And to hear Jon Spencer shout his band’s name onstage.
1. Phoenix vs. Neko Case vs. Shuggie Otis vs. Atoms for Peace vs. Lionel Richie, Sunday, 7:00/7:30/7:30/7:40/8:30-8:30/8:30/8:30/9:40/10:00 p.m.
This is an unfair battle royale between sophisticated French popsters, a devastating-voiced alt-country singer, an R&B cult legend, that band with Thom Yorke that isn’t Radiohead, and a guy whose former band first got famous opening for the Jackson Five. On the other hand, you could just pick Phoenix and Lionel Richie and see basically both entire sets.
Recommendation: Once again, we probably recommend going both weekends if you happen to be in the Austin area anyway. For the rest of us, Otis deserves all the recognition he can get at this point, and then, yeah, we hear that Yorke fellow plays with some impressive band mates. Can’t stream their records anymore, anyway.