"This is the biggest crowd we've ever played for," said a somewhat overwhelmed Thomas Mars. He's the frontman for Phoenix, who played mid-afternoon on Day 1 of the Austin City Limits Music Fest. And he let his emotion show more than once on the Jumbotron, peering out over the massive crowd at the AMD stage.
Austin appreciated his candor, cheering wildly. Since live music is all about connection -- vibrations linking the players to the listeners, and the size of the crowd amplifying the effect -- it was nice to be a part of that pivotal moment for Mars and his crew. Each person hollering and jumping seemed proud to add to the coming-of-age moment, welcoming Phoenix to a new level of the Big Time.
On the opposite side of Zilker, Thievery Corporation owned the LiveStrong Stage, with no trace of rookie-ness. While many other stages were surrounded by folks relaxing on the newly laid, soft grass, no one remained still for this show. Costumed dancers moved to DJ-spun global beats, mixed with live guitar and some impossibly fast percussion. Colorful and full of movement, it looked and felt (and smelled, herb-wise) like the Caribbean.
But by the time Thievery finished their set, Kings of Leon fans were already stealing prime real estate at the LiveStrong Stage before the existing crowd could clear. Perhaps it would have been wise to stand ground in preparation for the headlining show two hours later, but that would have involved missing Andrew Bird.
And his performance at the Dell Stage was a complete change of pace: less a Big, Entertaining Production and more a virtuoso performance. Bird plays multiple instruments at once better than most people can manage a simultaneous phone call and IM conversation. He whistles in perfect, "is that really a theramin?" tune while plucking the strings of his violin with one hand and playing a xylophone with the other. Blink, and you'll miss his swift change to the electric guitar slung across his back, which takes turns with the violin like two siblings sharing the front seat.
This man is truly in the moment, feeling what he feels as he plays and taking the crowd with him for the ride. Some came along dancing, others seated on the grass. It didn't matter. He brought them all.
Kings of Leon wrapped up the night on the East side of the park, as New York's Yeah Yeah Yeahs tried to fill the slot originally belonging to the Beastie Boys over on the west side. That's a tall order and I heard mixed reviews, but no one seemed disappointed from my vantage point at the Kings of Leon set. Tight and full of energy, they played well past the length of earlier shows that day.
The crowd left satisfied, but not too satisfied, as they filled Chuy's and Shady Grove and the chorus line of street meat vendors lined up along Barton Springs.