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Soaring high: From the Givers' opening to the Eagles' close, there was an abundance to like at ACL

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Our team has slept and showered in some order, but we're all still thinking about the great and sometimes mind-blowing music we experienced at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Our highlights below. Share yours and read/see all our coverage at austin360.com/acl.

Top moments: Patrick Caldwell

1. Givers, 11:45 a.m. Friday.The opening slot of the first day of a musical festival is generally a pretty thankless affair, but Lafayette, La., indie darlings Givers attacked the stage with an impressive fervor, churning out bouncy Afrobeat-influenced pop that perfectly complemented the sunny skies and cheerful vibes of the festival's first day.

2. Miike Snow, 3 p.m. Friday.Raucous, sweaty and very, very crowded, Swedish trio Miike Snow's midafternoon set at the Honda Stage was everything a dance party should be. Bonus points for the surprise guest appearance of Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, singing that band's "The Kids Don't Stand a Chance."

3. LCD Soundsystem, 6:30 p.m. Saturday.The sun was just beginning to set as LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, rocking a five o'clock shadow and a necessary pair of sunglasses, took the Budweiser stage. Under that perfect atmospheric accompaniment, Murphy burned through the greatest hits of the band's sterling dance-punk that climaxed by taking advantage of the new darkness with a disco ball, a fancy light show and a note-perfect version of "Home," a highlight off this year's "This is Happening."

4. Speak, 12:40 p.m. Sunday.These strapping young Austin synthpop lads might be one of the louder acts to ever play the humble BMI stage, but they were obviously relishing every moment of their performance. Their giddiness and excitement translated so well you could even catch some folks dancing in their chairs.

5. Foals, 1:15 p.m. Sunday.Foals have been an impressive art-rock outfit since their Dave Sitek-produced debut "Antidotes," but their grooves were so propulsive and intricate on the fest's final afternoon that it left you wondering whether someone had put something in the band's water. The songs off this year's sophomore effort, "Total Life Forever," positively erupted with life.

Top moments: Michael Corcoran

1. Robert Randolph and the Family Band, 7:15 p.m. Friday, Clear 4G.If Ryan Bingham weren't so crowded, I would've missed this spiritually powerful set by the best act I saw at the very first ACL. A time for rediscovery amid the fields of up-and-coming acts.

2. Muse, 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Budweiser.These three musicians were at times reminiscent of the three musicians of Led Zeppelin and Queen — so intricate and yet so explosively tuneful. Didn't expect much and walked away convinced I'd just seen the greatest rock ‘n' roll band in the world.

3. The Strokes in my left ear, Phish in my right, 8 p.m. Friday, AMD and Budweiser.My work was done for the day, so I crumpled into a chair that seemed to be equidistant from the two main stages. Both acts seemed to be on fire, but after trying to get within the same ZIP code of the Strokes, I headed to Phish, where their amazing musicianship translated from far away.

4. The Relatives, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Clear 4G.Reunited '70s gospel funk band from Dallas blows away more touted Kings Go Forth.

Top moments: Joe Gross

1. Ted Leo delivering wise, thunderous, political punk rock at noon on Sunday.A lovely way to start the day.

2. The revelation that was Warpaint.Their Sunday set was a little inert, but their set the night before opening for Sonic Youth at La Zona Rosa was outstanding, a blend of Bangles harmonies and early '80s-style minimalist dance rock. Even if they are Hollywood show biz kids, they are a blast live.

3. Absolutely everything about the Mountain Goats, all the time, forever.

Top moments: Parry Gettelman

1. Qbeta.This ultra-high-energy Sicilian band puts multiculturalism on the spin cycle to create a distinct and indefinable style of its own.

2. Kinky.From Monterrey, Nuevo León, they brought stadium-sized charisma to the Clear 4G tent with their electrifying fusion of funk, rock, electronica, and a half-dozen other genres.

3. I love Mellow Johnny's for catering to the growing contingent arriving by bike.And the guy who put free air in my tires cracked me up after I told him I had left my good bike at home for fear of thieves. "Safety first, expect the worst," he said with a grin. Words to live by.

4. First Aid Kit.Young Swedish sisters sing in gorgeous harmony, and their songwriting is mature beyond their years. Although, they're a frightening example of how Europeans are more fluent in English than we are.

5. Trombone Shorty: Most likely to headline next time.

6. Richard Thompson: If there weren't about 100 guitar slingers in the audience taking lessons, there should have been.

Top moments: John T. Davis

1. Saturday:Watching young fiddle prodigy Ruby Jane Smith and one of her bandmates in ecstatic communion with the crowd, while everyone danced, whooped and testified to the gospel powerhouse Jones Family Singers. For a moment, the polished performer became just another 15-year-old girl, caught up in the power of the music.

2. Saturday:For all the touted special effects and stage extravaganzas at ACL, one musical embellishment stood out. As Broken Bells performed their set-closing "The Mall and the Misery" on Saturday afternoon, one anonymous juggler out in the vast audience kept perfect time to the music by flipping red juggling pins into the air, over and over. At least on a human scale, it was the best special effect of the weekend.

3. Sunday:I hesitate to call it a highlight, but reading of the death of 70-year-old rock and soul pioneer Solomon Burke today in Amsterdam calls up fond memories of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member's majestic (literally — he performed onstage enthroned, in an ermine cape) set at ACL in 2004. With his daughters singing backup and a full horn section in black tuxes, roaring through hits like "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" and "Cry to Me," while a gaggle of fans scaled the side of the big stage to dance ecstatically, Burke ruled the festival for a memorable hour. ACL isn't just about the next big thing. It always has been and always should be a venue for pioneers and innovators, and Burke was both.

Top moments: Deborah Sengupta Stith

1. Nortec Collective!From the mad scientist beat masters to the relentless instrumentalists, the electro-Norteño ensemble unleashed a barrage of sound that blasted the roof off the Clear 4G tent and left a legion of new fans buzzing for days.

2. The incredible dancers who flanked singer Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya of the Very Best.Busting with some sort of Afro-vogue-pop-lock hybrid they brought an exhilarating energy to the Budweiser stage.

3. Stumbling upon Karl Denson of the Greyboy Allstars sitting in with the electro-percussive outfit Beats Antique.His supremely funky saxophone added great texture to a driving rhythmic groove.

Top moments: Matthew Odam

1. Phish:I am not ashamed to admit that I went to more than my fair share of Phish shows back in the mid-'90s. The Grateful Dead helped introduce me to improvisational music — which led to my nascent interest in jazz — but Phish really extended my appreciation for improvisation, introducing me to a wide range of contemporary bands. I had not seen the band in a decade and was thrilled they were in such fine form Friday night. Following a decade that included an extended hiatus and what seemed to be the end of the band, the Vermont quartet is back in full force. With their set chock full of mostly older classics, they might not have inspired me to drop everything and pack up my car and hit the road, but they did give me a thrill on Night 1 of the fest.

2. Trombone Shorty:Some people like to while away their Sundays in peaceful lazy manner and some like to engage with the spirit. I chose the latter. What's been come to be known as the jazz/gospel tent — Clear 4G was the official name this year — always features music that resonates with the crowd. Maybe that's because the music at that tent always seems to come from the soul. Such was the case with Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue who transported the sweaty faithful back to New Orleans and Jazz Fest, while slapping some West Coast funk on it that echoed the great Tower of Power.

3. Favorite quote:"I'm Don Henley and these are the Don Henleys." — Shearwater multi-instrumentalist Kevin Schneider kicking off the band's set

Top moments: Chad Swiatecki

1. Two Cow Garage.Not connected to the festival, but I was on after-show duty and saw this Ohio foursome at Red 7 on Wednesday night after the Strokes booted all media from their Stubb's show. Making the best kind of roots-tinged rock, TCG's new "Sweet Saint Me" has three undeniable earworms and is likely my record of the year.

2. The Black Keys.Ohio strikes again, this time with a band that's making the most of its first real creative and commercial sweet spot. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were pretty much forces of nature Saturday at Stubb's, bending and stylistically expanding their songs any way they pleased.

3. The Black Lips.One part skronky, fuzzed-out garage rock free-for-all, three parts "I might not make it out of here alive," this Atlanta combo is hard to hate and harder to not feel nervous around. Imagine a rock band made up of four Jack Nicholsons as McMurphy from "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" and you're there.

Top moments: Matt Shiverdecker

1. Sonic Youth/ACL Taping.Thursday night, I was fortunate to be in the audience at the legendary KLRU studios as Sonic Youth played an 80-minute set that will be edited down for a Jan. 22 episode of "Austin City Limits." It was an incredibly tight performance with tracks from last year's "The Eternal" mixed in with classics from older albums like "Daydream Nation."

2. Caitlin Rose.A morning set on Saturday from this young Nashville-based singer was one of the weekend's most pleasant surprises. Rose was joined onstage for one song by John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, who recently had e-mailed her to say he was a fan.

3. Matt & Kim.I had to miss their set out in the park, but Matt & Kim were one of the friendliest interviews I had all weekend. It was amazing to watch them bounced around the press area doing tons of interviews for their upcoming album "Sidewalks" with endless charm.

4. The Sword.Although I wouldn't consider myself much of a metal fan, the Sword put on one of the most entertaining sets of the entire festival. It didn't hurt that it was also one of the best sets for people-watching. I think the most puzzling moment of the weekend came when I saw two guys with matching Aerosmith tattoos in the middle of their backs cut into the crowd during this set for a better view.

Top moments: Sharon Chapman

1. Monsters of Folk after-show, Friday night at Stubb's.I got there late and wondered whether I should have just gone home to sleep. Then I heard Jim James and the sweet sounds of "Golden" while walking up and knew I was exactly where I needed to be. The talent, the passion for music and the affection for each other among the Monsters creates magic.

2. Saturday morning across Zilker Park.10 minutes of First Aid Kit, 15 of Lissie and 20 of the Very Best start Day 2 with an appropriately Austin-like mix of music.

3. Black Keys after-show, Saturday night.I last saw them live two years ago, at Colorado's Red Rocks. They were good then; this week, wow. And what Chad said above. The first time I've seen the Stubb's crowd (mostly) shut up for a band. Bonus: My first time hearing Foals live — go see this energetic, intense and smart band from England wherever you can.

Top moments: Kathy Blackwell

1. The walk-up.I was able to walk right up close to the stage to watch moments of greatness from Sonic Youth, Monsters of Folk doing My Morning Jacket's "Smokin' From Shootin'" and Local Natives' Saturday afternoon California harmonies. Made up for when I could barely see the Black Keys.

2. Black Keys after-show at Stubb's.Holy smokes. That's all I have to say about that experience.

3. Warpaint.My brother-in-law from Los Angeles recommended this four-woman group so highly that I was at the park by 11:45 a.m. on Sunday. I now love my BIL even more.

4. The food.Options seemed even better this year. Baked potato with okra creole from Olivia, fish sandwich from Bess, steak 'n' frit sandwich from Aquarelle, steak skewers from Lonesome Dove and Salt Lick's sloppy nachos. See you on the trail!

5. Watching South Carolina beat No. 1 Alabama in the much-appreciated Rock Island hideaway.

Top moments: Michael Barnes

1.The contrast between the profoundly relaxed setting at the Austin Music Lounge — with its lawn games, product booths, patio chairs, massage therapist, hairdresser and cast members from "My Generation" — and the boiling sea of humanity at the Lady Bird Lake gate inside Zilker Park, when fans from the AMD and Honda stages merged to unintentionally block those coming in.

2.The first rising of the moon balloon at the field's center on Friday, as Austin's jeweled skyline glinted against the setting sun and the vast masses assembling for Phish looked like a post-Soviet soft revolution — flags, swaying, uncoiled euphoria.

3.The realization that, on Saturday, if all went as well as it had so far, there would be, for the first time in nine years, no ACL survivor bonding; no social merit badge for having made it through the mud, dust, heat or rain; no grim sense of ultimate endurance; the gorgeous weather instead ushering Austin back into the laps of the Lotus Eaters.

Top moments: Brian T. Atkinson

1. Lucero's festival debut left the AMD stage in ashes. Everything fresh ("The Devil and Maggie Chascarrillo") and tested ("Bikeriders") worked. Invite them back. Immediately.

2. Eagles singer Don Henley certainly didn't need to grant us an interview. Gig sold out. Albums still sell. Henley gave rock stars a good name by going the extra mile.

3. Grace Potter gloriously shook alive the AMD stage early Saturday. Scorching originals ("Hot Summer Night") and an explosive cover ("White Rabbitt") perfectly fit her slot.

4. Amos Lee breaks no molds, but he seamlessly shapes acoustic blue-eyed soul. Lee drew a wildly diverse crowd that bridged cultural and generational gaps better than any other.