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Austin City Limits Music Fest Day 2: Believers Win, No One Loses

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On a day when one of the world’s biggest bands, which has a strong Oklahoma Roots, took the stage it was an Austin band with a cautionary tale to tell that had the most compelling act of the day, due in some part to the patronage of Oklahoma City.

Back in 1982, Alejandro Escovedo and his brother Javier were True Believers in every sense. Most importantly, it was the name of the band they had just started with Jon Dee Graham, Denny DeGorio and Kevin Foley. Secondly, it would’ve been impossible not to believe the hype surrounding the band with folks like Tina Turner and Iggy Pop showing an interest in their music.

Their first album, produced in 1986 by a small indie label, was good enough to draw the attention and deep pockets of EMI to represent the alt-rock outfit, which sounded like a leaner, meaner version of The Smithereens or R.E.M. with a grudge.

But battles with drugs, alcohol and big-shot record producers and engineers led to the band’s dissolution by the end of 1987. Three decades after the band was born and twenty-five years after its passing, the passing of a dear friend drew them back together.

Asked to headline a one-day tribute to the late SXSW exec Brent Gulke, The True Believers took the stage again and the experience was rich enough to inspire an attempt to create new music together.

And that means playing live as they did on day two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Saturday in the Zilker Tent. The True Believers were formed in Austin, so folks stuffed into the covered venue to catch a glimpse of the musical equivalent of Marcus Dupree. And the band didn’t disappoint, bearing its musical chops with a three-guitar attack that bored a time tunnel to 1986 and proved that stuck between the New Wave and Hip Hop movement was a progressive rock sound that would influence the return to more heavily armed bands like Nirvana, Oasis and Pearl Jam in the early 1990s.

Alejandro Escovedo, who has spent the nearly 30 years since the band’s demise carving out a niche as one of music’s most respected guitar-oriented songwriters, did most of the talking for the band. Introducing a new song called “Dedication,” Escovedo explained that “Back in the 80s, Oklahoma City was one of the few places that would have us so we played there a lot. We would tell the clubs we had three hours worth of material, which we didn’t, get the gig and practice the whole way there.”

The rousing, autobiographical tune stirred the already engaged crowd to a fever pitch. With this news, I suppose it’s an appropriate time to call put out an open request to our local rock venues to bring The True Believers back to Oklahoma City for a reunion show. VZD’s hosted them before, so there’s no reason they couldn’t open their doors again. Are you listening Chad Bleakley?

As for the rest of the day, which started out feeling like early July and ended feeling like late February, Deap Vally was my first stop. The adorably scuzzy two-piece girl band clad in a combination of cut-off denim and leather make more noise than you would think. The lead singer Lindsay Troy was a little  under the weather so the set only went 43 minutes rather than an hour. But an apologetic Troy hopped down from the stage after the last song and proceeded to share hugs and runny mascara with fans over the security barrier.

Next up was a Walk the Moon. This quartet has the right look and sound to make a lot of money in the music industry. Somewhere between Two Door Cinema Club and Franz Ferdinand are these perpetually peppy Cincinnatians wore face paint and a wardrobe that George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley might’ve worn while dismissing the new True Believers album back in ’86. The kids seemed to love Walk the Moon, but it was really hot and the sweat rivulets starting from my hairline and running rampant toward my waistline eroded my interest after about four songs.

Wilco played in the afternoon, and proved once again that if you’re going to talk about rock technicians, that Jeff Tweedy and friends are at the forefront. If Wilco is a band you’ve still only ever heard of in passing, the time is right to dig deeper into their library. And if if you ever have a chance to see them do a headlining set, pull up a blanket and make a night of it.

Kings of Leon finished out my night. The Followills, who by now we all know spent much of their youth in Oklahoma and still have strong family ties to the state, have performed at ACL at least three times that I’ve seen, and this was by far their most mature set. I’ve now seen them five times in all, and it’s been amazing to see this stage-shy rock gods evolve live. I remember a jam-packed show at The Diamond Ballroom when the boys hid behind huge mops of hair but couldn’t keep the muscle and energy of their music under wraps. Fast forward to 2013, and this is a well-oiled hour and half of rock ‘n’ roll entertainment. They even did an encore set, which is rare at ACL for a band who is not leaving the stage last.

The closing act was The Cure, which I skipped for selfish reasons. I will be back at weekend two of the Austin City Limits Festival and want to take in every whiny, sad, introspective, awesome song Robert Smith and his hair can muster in 90 minutes with my wife, who will enjoy it even more than I do. I can say with all sincerity, you should be there, too. Tickets are still available, go here to find out how to get them.

One last note: I finally made it to Food Row, which was overwhelming in its choices. I’ll post more about that tomorrow morning with the final recap. On Saturday, I went with the granddady of them all in ACL food lore: The Mighty Cone. Who arrived at the genius of a flour tortilla wrapped around a deep-fried avocado wedge, a deep-friend chicken wedge and spicy slaw in a paper cone is the high-end Hudson’s on the Bend on Lake Travis. The item proved so popular at the festival through the years that folks flocked to Hudson’s in search of the Mighty Cone only to be told it’s not on the menu with the Yak pastrami and antelope chops. So, the Mighty Cone got its own truck and is among the most popular of Austin’s esteemed mobile kitchens. And it was spectacular.

So, here are some more pictures from the days precedings…


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Dave Cathey

The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene. Read more ›