Sep 292011
 

London’s erudite pop duo Graffiti6 performed Sunday, September 18th at Austin City Limits 2011. Right now they’re touring internationally in support of their debut album, Colours. Jamie Scott, the singer-songwriter who makes up one half of the group, gave AME a chance to talk with him a few days after the Festival.

Austin Music + Entertainment: Give us your thoughts on ACL 2011, Jamie.

Jamie Scott: I loved it, it’s probably one of the best festivals we’ve played at. We played on the main stage (Editor’s note: The Bud Light stage) that also had Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes on the same day, which was an honor. Of course, it was hot, too hot to think, really. But otherwise great.

AME: Did you get to see any of the ACL festival after your set?

JS: We had to get a coach straight to the airport after our show, so we didn’t get to see anyone. We didn’t get to see Fleet Foxes, who I love, so that really hurt. We flew in and flew straight out as well, so we never even got to see Austin, but next time!

AME: What is going on with Graffiti6 beyond the festival circuit?

JS: We release our first EP and single in October. The idea is to keep touring and play in front of as many people as you can, I suppose.

AME: It sounds exhausting.

JS: Yeah, it is. We’ve been on tour and the band flew out from the UK about ten days ago. I was doing promo for 2 weeks before that. We’ve done about 24 flights in 15 days, so there has not much time to check out the cities. But it’s cool getting to play the music in front of so many people.

AME: How do you come up with your songs?

JS: Well the collaboration is between Tommy (Editor’s note: DJ/producer TommyD) and me. Tommy was quite influential and into the hip-hop and house scene in the UK. I grew up on folk music, but we had this little bit where we’re both fans of bands like Free, that classic rock sound. We both love Motown and Northern Soul, and that’s what makes up the Graffiti6 sound.

I find it really hard to describe my music. Someone in a blog described it as “psychedelic northern soul,” which is quite a long phrase but it got it. Northern Soul is one of the main influences, and folk music is big on me as a songwriter, so they got it to a T. I’m a big fan of singer-songwriters. We were lucky to play a gig with Ryan Adams, who’s one of my heroes. I love his new stuff. Amos Lee is awesome, and Bon Iver, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes; those bands inspire me.

AME: Can you pick out any of your songs that could be seen as “definitive Graffiti6?”

JS: You know, it’s hard. The single we’ve released, “Annie You Save Me,” and “Stare Into The Sun,” which is really our calling card and started it all off. My favorite song on the record, though, is “Free.” In truth, they all go together but are quite different. It’s the whole body of work that makes our sound come together.

It changes with every song. A few songs on the record are just jams where I or Tommy picked up a guitar or bass and got something. Other tracks, like “Stare Into The Sun” and “Lay Me Down” were brought into the studio. It’s an eccentric album all around, making it all kinds of difference that end up in the same place. Like a calm storm, or “colours,” like the album title. I’m privileged to be a part of that. You can do whatever you want to do.

We made the record ourselves on a label we set up in the UK. For us the internet is an authentic way of reaching people. It’s solely responsible to getting the band to where it is now; it’s why we came to U.S.

AME: What’s it like bringing your music across the ocean to America?

JS: They like us in America. In the U.S. we’ve had the best reaction, other than Holland. We sell out the biggest places over there. But we’ve concentrated over here in America and we get a feeling.

AME: What’s the plan after the tour?

JS: Going back to the UK to get some sleep. Not all together, obviously.

Sep 282011
 

Athens, Georgia’s Futurebirds is a psychedelic-tinged country rock sextet. They performed in Austin on Friday, September 16th as part of Austin City Limits 2011. AME was able to catch a quick conversation with drummer, guitarist, banjo player and vocalist Payton Bradford as the group continued their American tour in support of their recently released EP Via Flamina.

Austin Music + Entertainment: What were your major impressions of ACL 2011?

Payton Bradford: It was cool; we had a good time. It was a great experience and we played an early set to a good crowd. So it was a good set overall. We had never played before noon before, so that was a new one for us. We played Thursday night at Emo’s, too, and that was great.

We woke up and did the gig, which wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary. We woke up, got there, got it done, and left. It was hectic. We know we had to do it, though.

The only festival that we’ve played of that size and caliber was Bonnaroo, which is definitely different. I mean, ACL is not a camping festival, so it’s smaller in terms of people. Logistically it was easier getting around, as there were roads and stuff. We couldn’t leave our cars out all week, of course. But it was also easier to navigate; there were big signs for food and stuff that were easy to see.

AME: How do you think your sound played at ACL?

PB: Yeah, our sound played well, I guess. I think Austin’s been a good spot for us. We played there for our first tour and every time we’re going west in some direction Austin gets a stop. It either serves as a gateway further west or the place where we stop before we head to Chicago or some city in a different direction.

AME: What are the next steps the group is taking?

PB: We put out a new EP, Via Flamina, in April and we’re working on our second full-length record right now (Editor’s note: their first was 2010’s Hampton’s Lullabye).

AME: Are any of the new songs making it onstage right now?

PB: We are playing the new songs, as well. We don’t have a ton of stuff road-ready yet, but the stuff that is ready is coming out big. I guess to us, the sound isn’t that different from our early material. It feels like a natural progression. We’re a little more comfortable in the studio now. The songs are different, I guess, because of the nature of our mindset. I don’t know; it depends on the songwriter.

AME: What music have you been listening to lately?

PB: There’s all kinds of stuff, honestly. The band’s collective music taste is across the board. We picked up the new Phosphorescent album and that has gotten a lot of play in the tour van. Also we’ve been listening to the Drive-by Truckers, which is a band we’ve gotten to play with.

AME: Are there any long-term plans you’d like to share? Where are you right now?

PB: Right now we are going around New Mexico. Beyond that…Oh, I don’t know. Not crashing and burning, for one. Just working on getting the new record ready and touring more and trying to get to more festival shows. We want to be working our way to cities we don’t get out to enough. Hopefully we’re just keep doing what we’ve been doing and get more people to hear it. Pushing ourselves.

I think all bands have to deal with the different music industry landscape; you have to push yourself harder and harder to move. The problem is there are so many times when bands have shelf lives, and they don’t want to work any harder or they can’t. Inspiration dries up and shit happens. That’s what you try to guard against. But I always try to be out there being productive.

Look for upcoming news about Futurebirds’ second LP in the next year.

Sep 232011
 

The sun returned from its two-day vacation on Sunday, marking by far the hottest early afternoon of ACL’s three days. AME made sure to arrive before 2:30 on this day so we could see The Walkmen’s set at the AMD stage. But it always takes longer to walk than you think it will, so the reedy overtones of Hamilton Leithauser’s voice greeted us as we pushed in over the dry, outlying Zilker grounds.

Thankfully, we’re fast walkers and only got inside the crowd ten minutes late. I only know The Walkmen from their 2010 album, Lisbon. But that instant classic is enough to make a fan, so they were a must-see. The expectation for the weather to be wetter and cooler had extended beyond the crowd; the quintet were dressed much the same way they are in the picture above. “If I had known it was going to be this hot, I’ve would’ve worn my short-shorts,” Leithauser cracked halfway through the performance. Dude, historic, terrifying drought or no, it’s gonna be sweltering in Austin at 2:30 in September. But Hamilton is a great front man, holding down the center of the stage in his smart suit and grooving with Paul Maroon’s instantly-recognizable, reverb-drenched arpeggios. He kinda reminded me of David Byrne.

Lisbon masterpieces like “Blue as Your Blood,” “Juveniles” and “Woe is Me” blended with older Walkmen standbys, like “The Rat.” They even played a likeable tune Leithauser claimed “they had just written.” While I wasn’t familiar with at least half the songs played, it’s clear that The Walkmen are a great band who are getting better with each release. I should explore the back catalog.

After the show we became aware that until Fleet Foxes at 6:30 that we had no “must-see” choices. Because I’ve been hearing about how awesome Broken Social Scene is for years we chose their 4:30 set at the Bud Light stage. They’re really good! It was a bit of a shock to see a stage with four guitar players going at once – where are all the parts for them to play? – but the band’s sound was rawboned and strong, and watching additional songs made it clear everyone had something to do. I didn’t know any of the songs they played, of course, but obviously the years of buildup were on to something. This is the great thing about ACL: if you pick the right stage you can discover awesome music you never knew you were a fan of.

At least four of the people in this picture are professional guitar players

The same sentiment rang true for the following band. Manchester’s Elbow, holding court at the Google+ stage, gave one of the highlight sets of the entire festival. First of all, I think Google+ had the best overall sound performance of the three days. Elbow’s concert was another feather in its cap. But to focus on the band, Guy Garvey is one of the top lead singers in music now. An unconventional rock star, Garvey looks like a cooler version of Ricky Gervais and sings with a broadsword baritone that recalls Morrissey, but with a kinder heart in its chest.

Between songs Garvey slayed the crowd with his frequently humorous stage banter. He embraced the darkening clouds in the sky, pleading to the heavens for rain because he “heard you could use some rain in Texas.” Eventually the rain briefly returned, but it looked as if the clouds really unloaded once they got past the Park. When the ACL powers-that-be were forced to lower the Google+ banner from the stage rafters because of wind risks, Garvey implemented a back-and-forth crowd chant and crouched amusingly on the stage below the descending banner.

Elbow’s music alternates between tidal wave-sweeping big ballads and ball-beating rockers. Each phase of their sound promotes the big-hearted humanity emanating from the band’s front man. After their ACL set, I’m thinking they picked up a lot of new fans.

Fleet Foxes then showed up at the Bud Light stage, but the AME crowd didn’t want to get in the nitty gritty of the crowd. Many people were already sticking their places for the upcoming Arcade Fire closing set, so it would’ve been too difficult to be worth it. But the band’s folk-tinged, Beach Boys harmonies sounded wonderful in the early evening air. Thank God Bud Light figured out its sound issues. Tracks from the group’s latest record, Helplessness Blues, sounded the best to my ears. This was also when we were enjoying those Kirin Ichiban draft beers that were available near ACL’s big-screen football tent. It was a nice breather section, which is what Fleet Foxes’s music is perfect for.

The group wanted to head back to Google+ for Empire of the Sun. I had never heard of the group (an Australian psychedelic-electro duo), so I had literally no idea what to expect. It was an overwhelming, surreal experience. Empire of the Sun puts on one of the craziest, most mind-bending live sets you’ve ever seen. Leader Luke Steele wears robin’s egg-blue, star-shaped headgear while wailing on his heavily processed guitar and keyboard lines. The guy is an incredible shredder, and the live experience is more elaborate and gaudy than a Billy Corgan-Lady Gaga mash-up. Odd, synchronized dancers who were made up like creatures from the Silent Hill video games pushed the effect even further. The pummeling, ceaselessly kinetic music didn’t move me as much as Elbow’s previous set, but it was impossible to not be impressed by this.

And all of a sudden ACL 2011 was winding to a close. Arcade Fire started immediately at 8:30, which sucked for people who wanted to see the end of Empire of the Sun. Their should be at least a five minute passing period between performances to get into the crowd. We were still waiting in line for the bathroom when “Ready to Start” kicked in.

But once in place – we somehow managed to get close enough to see Win, Regine, Will, Richard and the rest – it was the amazing Arcade Fire concert that you always expect. This is a live act in the same realm as Springsteen or the Stones, meaning every time you see them it’s going to be one of the most memorable concerts you’ve ever been to. Win Butler introduced the classic “Intervention” by saying “when we wrote this song there was another Texas governor trying to be president.”

There was also the Haiti aid message that Arcade Fire has been pushing for a decade now. It’s good to see them holding to their political roots, even if it turns off some people in the crowd. I noticed that there was only one song – the David Byrne collaboration “Speaking in Tongues” – on the ACL set list that was different from the group’s Backyard concert-of-the-year several months ago. However, it was a different track order so the show was sufficiently different to be a new experience. “Wake Up” usually has a reliable encore spot, but it was brought out much earlier than expected.

The group still performs with the intensity of a hungry band onstage for the first time. This, despite the fact that Arcade Fire are now the most respected and acclaimed modern rock group. You could tell the audience had gone through something special once the finale “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” rippled out. “We won’t be back for a while, so thank you!” was Butler’s farewell. It takes Arcade Fire three years to make a record, but if they keep up this level of quality in their music and performance I’ll look forward to their next visit to Texas in 2014. While I still say the Backyard concert was a bit better, only the cynical would be disappointed with Sunday’s final concert.

Final ACL thoughts

. It really does take a lot out of you to spend significant time at the festival on all three days. As a friend said, “I don’t have to worry about what I eat here because there’s so much walking.”

. You can tell who are the newbies and who are festival veterans. The lanky-armed, shirtless guy named JJ sitting Indian-style with a blanket? He’s done this before. Not so much the late-50′s couple who are incredibly angry that people are smoking cigarettes around the lawn chairs at the Stevie Wonder stage.

. This year was amazingly efficient in terms of fan relations. The lines moved fast everywhere, and if you used the bus service leaving from Republic Square Park you were treated to an extremely comfortable, free bus ride to the grounds.

. If you didn’t use the bus, the best way to get to the Zilker: Barton Skyway.

. Dream picks for ACL 2012: it used to be R.E.M., based on their awesome 2003 headliner show (my first ACL ever), but with the sad news earlier this week it’s obvious that won’t happen. However, Thom Yorke has said that Radiohead will tour in 2012 and rumor has it The Rolling Stones will mark their 50th anniversary by doing the same. Could you imagine a Radiohead Friday headlining gig and a Sunday close-out with the Stones? It’s too good to be true, probably, but that’s why it’s a “dream pick.”

Anyway, whatever the final picks, we’ll be sure to be there in some form next year. ACL 2011 was a wonderful, and exhausting, three days. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Where are you in this crowd?

 

Sep 212011
 

The AME crew found a significantly better route to Zilker Park on Saturday, which meant that we were in much better mental and physical shape to take in what ACL had to offer. As always, there were acts that I regrettably missed. Two of Austin’s hot risers, the sun-washed electro group Fresh Millions and eccentric hippie crooners Cowboy and Indian, and Los Angeles’s The Belle Brigade had early shows and played before my group arrived. The Belle Brigade’s self-titled 2011 release might be one of this year’s best records, so that one particularly hurt. But I have a feeling all three of these groups will be playing in the city again soon, so it was important to forward on.

As we entered the park we were able to hear the last 20 minutes of Young the Giant’s concert. It was totally context-free and hard to get a track on the music because of the late entry onto the grounds, but the band sounded muscular and dynamic. I’m sure the first forty minutes would’ve been fun. The first full act I was able to take in was Alexander at the Google+ stage. Alex Ebert is front man for Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, but his serene, accomplished solo material shows off the less exuberant side of his musicality. The album is also one of the year’s strongest releases. Ebert, in his floppy, wide-brimmed hat and loose shirt, overcame the mid-day doldrums that sunk Friday’s afternoon acts and pulled the crowd into his spiritual,  folkie sound. A few members of the Magnetic Zeroes served as Alexander’s backing group, but the solo act is a totally different animal from his commune/other band. This was proven when the group launched into an impromptu, totally re-arranged version of “Carries On,” one of the highlight track from 2009′s Up From Below.

It was a wonderfully ramshackle, off-the-wing performance that rested on Alexander’s steady-eyed, memorable compositions. “Awake My Body” and “In the Twilight” stirred the pot, but Ebert’s stage banter helped to warm the crowd up. One song was pulled out despite Alexander’s warning that “we haven’t rehearsed this.” This led to a great, halting performance that featured Ebert instructing the stalwart Stewart Cole to “go ahead, pick up your horn, you know, da da da da da da.” Cole responded by throwing out a few melody lines that mirrored Ebert’s lyrics. The effect and song were charming. “A Million Years” closed the show on an appropriate sing-a-long. I’m thinking this Alexander Ebert is a pretty major talent. Both times I have seen him live (my first time was with his band last year at La Zona Rosa) he’s excelled. Some people in the audience didn’t even know he was involved with the Magnetic Zeroes – they must’ve been waiting for Skrillex – but their attention was rapt.

The plan was unclear after that, but our choice was made for us by the fact that we had lost our group in the ACL crowd and now needed to re-locate them. This is a common occurrence that every festival-goer has to tread through, so there was a dutiful trek through Alison Krauss & Union Station’s adoring crowd at the Bud Light stage. In the time it took to find our compatriots (which we finally did) we heard Krauss and her astounding Union Station swoon and tear through many of the roots siren’s most revered tunes. The track that got everyone excited was, of course, “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” Eleven years ago, Krauss’s rendition of the traditional tune jump-started the 21st century folk revival. Arguably, one of modern music’s biggest upheaval’s can be traced to Alison and The Coen Brothers.

Back at Google+, we checked out the reason for that huge crowd push forward following Alexander’s set. Black-haired, black-suited, bespectacled DJ Skrillex took no time driving his ravenous crowd into a frenzy. His whizzing samples and looped beats didn’t let up at any point during his set, and Sonny Moore (his real name) looked like he was having a blast. He was dancing at his station as hard as his fans in the crowd. According to The AV Club, some people consider Skrillex the “Nickelback of dance music,” whatever that means, but those people sounds like jerks. “Wahh, people are having fun! This must be bad.” The crowd was loving this set, and even though it’s not my preferred genre I appreciated the energy and effect. A memorable part of Skrillex’s set was an onstage dance by a young boy who had been fully decked-out in punk rock attire by Austin Kiddie Limits. At one point, Skrillex picked the kid up and had him shout out to the crowd over the microphone. Then he put the kid back down – he went back to dancing – and Skrillex hit another knob without missing a beat.

After that it was kill-time until TV on the Radio. We got some food and drinks and heard a bit of Cut Copy. AME received a Cut Copy EP about a year ago, but it didn’t make much of an impression. Wow, was I wrong on my assumptions about this band. They were more lively and less down-in-the-mouth than I ever would’ve expected. We should probably give them a second chance.

But when 7 PM rolled around it was about one thing: TV on the Radio at Google+. I’ve been talking several times in this article about some artists’ 2011 releases being among the best I’ve heard all year. Well, Nine Types of Light, TV on the Radio’s latest, might be the best of the year. It was a ferocious, knock-you-back-on-your-ass performance. The Brooklyn band more than lived up to their critical darling status. Watching the galvanizing opener “Halfway Home,” or the beautiful rendition of “Will Do,” or the pummeling “Blues from Down Here,” there’s no way this isn’t one of the top music acts performing at the moment. Also, an “I’m old” alert: several high school girls walked in front of me during the performance singing along perfectly to “Staring at the Sun,” one of TV on the Radio’s earliest popular songs. I don’t even know those words. Yikes. It was a shame to realize Gerard Smith couldn’t be with them, but TV on the Radio may have given the best show at ACL 2011.

Additionally, multiple reports place Christian Bale backstage during TV on the Radio’s set, recording the show on his iPhone. I didn’t see him, so he must’ve been visible from the opposite angle of where I was. Still, that’s pretty cool to have Batman at ACL.

8 PM marked the huge movement of humanity back to the Bud Light stage to see the legend, Stevie Wonder. One of the genuine geniuses of music, Wonder represents a huge coup for ACL. Too bad Bud Light’s sound problems – which were apparent at Kanye West’s show the previous night – were even worse Saturday. Why had Alison Krauss sounded so great earlier that day? When one of the de-facto greatest musicians in American history graces the ACL stage, the people should make sure we can at least hear his voice. An opening cover of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” heralded Wonder’s appearance. He was wearing a gold and red-striped dashiki and playing a keytar. The intro went on and on and on, and I looked forward to a set dominated by Stevie’s Songs in the Key of Life approach. That means that each tune is about seven or eight minutes long. Length is not a problem when it’s Stevie Wonder, and the man himself seemed extremely into it onstage.

I bet the people up close had a great show. But the further back you were the more you had to strain to hear “Higher Ground,” “Sir Duke” and a note-for-note rendition of “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Wonder hit all of the jams – “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” and the inevitable finale “Superstition.” His voice sounds exactly the same as it did 40 years ago. Even with the sound problems he was special in person. I can only imagine how transcendent the experience would’ve been if the speakers were up to their full ability.

Sep 202011
 

Everyone who did ACL this past weekend is probably nursing their sore calves, thighs and feet right now. It’s one of the best things about this city, but there’s no doubting that ACL can be an exhausting experience to go through. Heck, it’s even difficult to get to the festival because of the hideous traffic situation that forms around Zilker Park. But once inside, the often-haphazard paths followed to the Festival’s entrance are well worth it.

The following is simply a rundown of the acts I saw over the three days, accompanied by observations on the festival as a whole. This was the most time I’ve ever spent at ACL. I know there are a few hardcore souls who arrive at opening bell, but my 21 cumulative hours over the three days represented a new high.

After the regrettable events at SXSW 2011, it seemed like ACL made an especially concerted effort to make the festival as accommodating and smooth as possible. The refillable water stations were a life saver in the mid-afternoon heat, and port-o-let access was the most plentiful yet. Those volunteers manning the booths really earned their stripes; the lines were huge as always at the food stations and bars, but I really think they moved faster. Also, that 160z Kirin Ichiban at the Craft Beer station was totally worth the $7.

The first act to catch my ear was Los Angeles’ Fool’s Gold. I always expect blues rock at the early afternoon shows, especially on a Friday, but Fool’s Gold takes their music in a surprising direction. African poly-rhythms and world music-inflected melodies made the show a spicy, surprising event. Heavy hints of Talking Heads influence were obvious but not derivative. The band has released a record this year, called Leave No Trace. That’s probably worth looking into.

From that surprising success to the festival’s first disappointment, we wandered to James Blake at Honda Stage after Fool’s Gold. Much has been made of Blake this year, and while I still hadn’t caught on I wanted to check the hoopla for him on Friday. Sadly, Blake’s monochromatic electronica/dub-step – which often holds on one chord for an entire song – fell flat in the afternoon stupor of ACL’s first-day visitors. The applause was appreciative, but Blake barely mustered any momentum during the stretch I was at his stage.

Then it was back to Austin Ventures for Electric Touch, who are really cool guys in person and thus piqued my interest to see in a stage setting. They look like old pros up there, they mold the roomy platform to their specifics. I expect their soon-to-be-released major label release will be similarly poised. Again, though, the artist in question was forced to yield to the low-energy afternoon masses. Electric Touch’s music is fast-paced and dynamic in a way that it needs a nighttime position to best showcase it. On Friday, Christopher Leigh’s guitar licks and Shane Lawlor’s front man belting existed in the vacuum of the stage. It wasn’t the band’s fault; the crowd wasn’t ready to get up for what Electric Touch was serving.

At 4:30 we saw the first great concert of ACL, at least for me. Big Boi, of OutKast fame, came out white-hot and totally swayed the crowd to his point of view by peppering his set list with both old OutKast classics and even more ferocious takes on tracks from 2010′s acclaimed Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. Big Boi’s full-band approach was unexpected if you are used to seeing hip-hop artists who use a turn table and computer (more on that later), but the real-time R&B backbeat – especially from the bassist and drummer – pushed the performance to another level. I really need to buy this guy’s records.

Later, it was a little bit of this (Kurt Vile and the Violators were bluesy and raw), a little bit of that (Cold War Kids had a fantastic closing 20 minutes) and overhearing the kinetic guitar work emanating from Foster the People while we grasped for drinks and food. Bright Eyes was a lot less maudlin than expected. I think I like Connor Oberst’s voice more now than I did in high school. And during Santigold we gave our haunches a break and sat down while the electro-R&B chanteuse put on one of Friday’s most energetic shows. It was two hours where we tried to get a glimpse of as many people as possible, but we still missed Nas and Damian Marley, Pretty Lights and Sara Bareilles. Phew.

While in line, we were lucky enough to overhear Mavis Staples at the Vista Equity stage. Formerly of the iconic Staple Singers, Mavis hasn’t lost her fire in her later years. This fact was best attested to during “This is My Country,” where Staples went on a lengthy, politically-motivated sermon. “I’m seeing too many children walk around with no shoes on their feet. I’m seeing too many children walk around without a whole family to raise them. I’m seeing too many people walking around disrespecting our president. Saying he’s not a real president. Shameful. There are people going around trying to piss in a cup and call it tea!” The crowd roared.

Of course the main draw at that point was Kanye West. One of modern music’s last remaining superstars, West wore his reputation well on Friday night. His elaborate light show, with synchronized dancers, distracted the audience’s view until West began his opening number – “Dark Fantasy” – from a rapidly-rising metal platform. West lorded over the crowd amassed at the Bud Light stage, rapping from 50 feet up in the middle of the maw. Honestly, the complexity of the setup seemed to get the best of ACL’s sound team at first. Kanye’s microphone dropped out of earshot once or twice during “Dark Fantasy,” but West was right on beat for the entirety. When the sound came back he hadn’t missed a line.

After, Kanye came back to Earth and walked down the center aisle to the stage. He was slapping fans’ hands as he progressed. What followed was a one-man, onstage wrecking ball. Other than his two loop/turntable men, West held the entire space himself. Oh, and there were ballerinas, too. There was another mic short-out, which cause me to worry that we’d seriously have patches where Kanye’s rapping couldn’t be heard. It didn’t happen after the second number, though.

The concert was split into three “acts” and seemed elaborate and monumental despite the attention being squarely focused on West. He reminded me of The Joker in The Dark Knight - a larger-than-life figure who implements a huge event basically all by himself. Kanye was more magnanimous than The Joker ever would be, though, as he took a significant amount of time to thank his crew, his fans and the ACL team.

But it’s hard to watch Kanye perform and not get the indelible sense that this music goes beyond a career for him. You see the force with which he attacks modern tracks like “Power” and “Lost in the World” and past classics like “All Falls Down” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” and it’s obvious he’s working through something personal up there. He has moments of levity, like when he broke into the opening line off a track from this year’s Jay-Z collaboration Watch the Throne, only to drop it and say “wait for the next tour on that one, folks.” But overall this is a serious artist at work here. “Runaway,” which was pushed past the 10-minute mark while West freestyled his autotune and a single ballerina improvised, was the break-off point. If you were willing to follow Kanye’s brooding, schizoid-spiritual path, you loved it. Others, though, were surely alienated by the lengthy outburst.

Whatever your opinion on that section, everyone walked away from Kanye’s show (which ran past 10, and West thanked ACL for “letting me go past my time”) having had an experience impressed upon them. Coldplay is a strong, successful band that deserves its accolades. I’m sure they put on a great show for their fans. But I feel that even the folks who chose Chris Martin thought to themselves “I bet Kanye put on a pretty great show.” Of course he did. But I’ll go farther than that. Other than Radiohead, Kanye West is today’s most important recording artist. Friday night convinced me.