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Scene Report: Atoms For Peace and the #FOMO Super Bowl

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Chad Swiatecki

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 14, 2013

Sign you’re in a time/place for which no roadmap or game plan exists: Radiohead and Atoms For Peace honcho Thom Yorke is rather confusedly making the “Hook ‘em” hand signal of the University of Texas during a brief pause on the stage at ACL Live, which is very much not the venue he’d planned on being in 24 hours prior.

Here’s what else happens when a downpour straight out of the Book of Genesis (in the middle of a previously unimaginable drought, mind you) washes out the third day of Austin City Limits Festival.

• Bands big and small that are itching for a gig start casting about through social media, looking for available stages in a city that happens to have a whole lot of them. This causes …

• Twitter explodes. By noon on Sunday rumors of all size and shape were flying, anything was in play and nothing sounded out of the question. Phoenix karaokeing at Ego’s? Sure. Lionel Richie sitting in with Heybale at Continental Club? Well, he did release that country covers record last year, so it could happen. Some young punk band from L.A. playing the homeless shelter downtown? Oh, wait. That one actually happened.

The highly speculative, on-the-fly nature of the day gave it a very SXSW flavor and turned it into an unexpected jubilee for the Fear Of Missing Out (#FOMO) set. Lines started forming at hotly rumored spots around 3 p.m., with the crowd outside ACL Live eventually wrapping around three corners and across an intersection for a show that didn’t start for seven hours.

“I’m on cloud nine!” Austinite Jessie Davis said around 6 p.m. while wrapped in a rain poncho she didn’t really need to protect her from rain that was no longer falling. Davis had scored an Atoms For Peace wristband after two hours of waiting with friends. Her luck helped balm the disappointment of the cancellation of Sunday’s festival slate, of which AFP was her highlight.

“There was no question about coming down here when I heard about it,” she said. “I knew that this was the one I had to go to.”

Scores of similarly determined fans had as much time to burn as Davis and had the forethought to pack enough booze and food to make the normally pristine Second Street district look like a UT tailgate site, for one night anyway. By night’s end trash bins up and down the block were overflowing with the refuse of Yorke-heads from Austin and far beyond.

Sydney, Australia native Adam Byrnes seemed almost blasé after scoring a wristband. An Austin stop for ACL Fest was one pit stop on a six month trip around the world and the cancellation of one festival date wasn’t anything to get riled up about.

“I was up all night with that thunder and lightning and was expecting there to be flash flooding, so I wasn’t surprised when they canceled,” he said. “I really wanted to see Lionel Richie but then I heard from a friend that all the acts were spreading out to the different clubs and figured, ‘Why not come see this one?’”

Once inside the theater Byrnes and more than 2,500 other fans got an up-close taste of Yorke’s electronic art rock, which he makes with the help of Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and acclaimed producer Nigel Godrich.

This is the part of the report where I admit to being a lapsed Radiohead fan who hasn’t had more than accidental exposure to Atoms For Peace. It’s beat-y as all heck and sounded occasionally poly-rhythmic and Yorke seemed to be having a ball dancing like Julia Louis-Dreyfus on ‘Seinfeld’ when he wasn’t singing or playing guitar and piano.

But what I think doesn’t really matter. Atoms For Peace’s hastily scheduled and close to perfectly executed show was the centerpiece for a distinctly Austin day that will be talked about for a long time to come. It was the day when one company’s screaming misfortune (that being ACL Fest promoter C3 Presents) turned into dozen or so close-ups with big-name bands all over town, as long as you knew which Twitter handles to scour.

“I was really disappointed at first, but this has turned out to be more fun in a way and turned into an ACL that I’ll never forget,” Austin resident Erin Coker said from under her umbrella outside ACL Live several hours before the show. “With everything that’s happening, it almost feels like South By.”

She was more right than she knew. They’re different animals, of course since at more than a week in length SXSW has grown into the Olympics of FOMO. But on Sunday ACL Fest mutated into its unexpected Super Bowl.