Where else to start but at the top with the newly announced Austin City Limits Music Festival lineup? Four of the five top acts — Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Keys, Jack White and Florence + The Machine — are the same as August’s Lollapalooza slate, which makes sense since Austin’s C3 Presents books both fests. Swapping in Neil Young and Crazy Horse (ACL) for Black Sabbath (Lolla) illustrates the primary difference between the two fests: country/classic rock-leaning sounds at ACL vs. more aggro material at Lollapalooza (even if Sabbath is more of a grey hair act than Lollapalooza usually tops a bill with).
Looking ahead, those five at the top could cause some scheduling headaches for festival goers on Friday and Saturday nights. Assuming the Chili Peppers headline alone on Sunday night, as their top placement suggests, some combination of Black Keys/Jack White/Neil Young/Florence + The Machine will play essentially head-butting sets at opposite ends of Zilker Park. Ugh.
It's a good problem to have, when you think about it in the long view, but it feels like Florence + The Machine might get short shrift when all is said and done, and that’s a shame.
The Sunset Bunch
The next tier of acts (we’ll call these the "sunset bunch" since that’s about the time they’ll be playing each night) has lots to feel good about, from the always dependable and rib-rattling Iggy & The Stooges to hip hop legends and Jimmy Fallon house band, The Roots. The Avett Brothers, along with The Civil Wars, are another contemporary roots/folk band that exemplifies ACL Fest’s biggest creative target as well as anyone on the lineup.
Indie bands The Shins, M83, Metric, Tegan and Sara, Two Door Cinema Club, Andrew Bird and SXSW darlings the Alabama Shakes all fit comfortably in this lineup as well and will make for engaging ear food as the sun heads west.
Radiohead, again. If ever there was a year when it seemed like the acclaimed British band was going to add ACL Fest to its list of headlined festivals, it seemed like 2012 was going to be it. They played the Frank Erwin Center in March at a show promoted by C3, and then wowed the audience at an Austin City Limits taping.
So it seemed like Thom Yorke and company were building up some solid Austin mojo, but a peek at their tour schedule weeks ago showed they’ll be in Europe in mid-October. Instead we get a group of Californians who are an even-money bet to come on stage wearing socks on their dongs. Alas.
Bruce Springsteen. He played uniformly impressive shows at SXSW, delivered one of the conference’s best keynote speeches ever, has another solid album on the shelves and couldn’t find a more target audience than ACL Fest. His absence is a head scratcher.
His current tour is only booked through September, and that’s on the east coast. Time for someone to fess up for sliding The Boss a bad breakfast taco when he was here in March. That’s the only explanation.
The Beach Boys. A secondary headliner at Bonnaroo, who probably would have commanded top billing here, and — call me a heretic if you want— they just don’t have that much gas left in the tank. Think I’m wrong? Watch their performance from this year’s Grammys. The prosecution rests.
Other missing artists: Fun. (authors of a huge summer anthem and completely comfortable in front of oversized crowds), Snoop Dogg (holo-Tupac or no, could there be a better same-stage setup act for the Chili Peppers? Nope.), Bon Iver (taped an ACL episode last month and played the Long Center last year, so the absence isn’t a huge surprise, despite an apparently bogus sneak peek scratch off) and At The Drive-In (played their first show in 11 years at Red 7 in April, but an ACL absence pretty much guarantees them headlining Fun Fun Fun Fest).
On the Fringe
Of course it’s not all Americana-derived as you zoom around the further reaches of this year’s lineup. AVICII, Bassnectar and Thievery Corporation, all in the top third of the lineup, show that ACL Fest is adapting to the growing popularity of DJ-focused/electronic acts.
The Canadians in Crystal Castles and South Afrikaners in Die Antwoord also shade in that beat-heavy direction, albeit with aggressive, in-your-face male/female singing duos. The “WTF?” factor with both is pretty off the charts.
An Honest "Wow"
In terms of acts that could bring an honest “Wow!” out of the mouths of audiences, there are four good bets.
Gary Clark Jr. Prediction: by the time 2012 is over and young gun Austin blues man Gary Clark Jr. puts his mark all over it, there are going to be a lot of Austin residents kicking themselves hard for missing his now long-gone cheap, but always dynamite, residencies at Antone’s.
Esperanza Spalding. Even with an out-of-left-field Grammy in 2011, she is still an unknown quantity to most and, if given an at all reasonable time slot, this jazzy and funky sometimes-Austinite could walk off stage to lots of stunned cheers.
Gotye. A mercurial Australian with heaps of Peter Gabriel, Sting and David Bowie influences, he crafts a beguiling kind of pop that can make an idle listener break off a conversation in mid sentence to train both ears on the music. “Somebody That I Used To Know” (featuring Kimbra, another act to watch this year) is downright haunting.
Lee Fields & The Expressions. If there’s a solid bet out there, it’s that each year ACL Fest will feature a breakout soul/funk act: think of Aloe Blacc, Fitz and The Tantrums or Charles Bradley in years past. If that’s your thing, then Lee Fields is the man who’s going to make sure you can call the three days at Zilker a success.