Judge Geoffrey Miller doesn't think they'll ever be able to capture the essence of a big music festival on DVD without simulating the scent of pot and the pain of $5 bottled water.
It's a document of one of the biggest music festivals of 2005…minus most of the bands you actually care about!
It's only been in the past few years that annual music festivals have taken off in North America. Long a staple in Europe, they've been overlooked here in favor of traveling tours (like Lollapalooza and Warped) or one-offs like Woodstock. That's changed recently with festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo attracting big names and bigger audiences. Right behind those two is the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which has grown rapidly since its debut in 2004. This two-disc set, simply titled Austin City Limits Music Festival 2005, contains 24 performances from last year's three-day event and a bevy of bonuses, including interviews, backstage jams, and documentaries.
Among the bands who made appearances at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2005 absent from this disc: Coldplay, Wilco, The Arcade Fire, Oasis, Death Cab for Cutie, Franz Ferdinand, The Fiery Furnaces, and many more notable, popular acts. A DVD with a line-up like that would be quite an enticing proposition. Alas, that was not to be, likely for various legal and copyright issues. Instead, there's a mix mostly consisting of B-list major label acts and indie artists.
Opening up the disc is Jet with "Cold, Hard Bitch." Jet are engaging, energetic performers, but the song itself is generic, forgettable rock—a second-rate Rolling Stones rip-off. It's a similar story with The Bravery, the Candlebox of the "new wave of new wave." Kasabian, one the weakest bands to ever get run through England's infamous rock hype machine, are just flat-out awful, regurgitating the "Madchester" scene of the late '80s minus the fun and druggy excesses.
There are a few bright spots along the way. Bloc Party mixes U2's bombast with post-punk fervor on "This Modern Love." A two piece guitar-and-drums blues-rock duo in the vein of The White Stripes, The Black Keys are sloppy but soulful. The Decemberists triumph over a muddy mix with "July, July!" Last but not least, Eisley's "Golly Sandra" is gorgeous, languid, country-tinged balladry.
In general, however, the performances aren't exactly what I'd call inspired. I've never experienced a Texas summer, but I've been told it's brutally hot—probably a little too hot for some of these bands, who primarily hail from relatively chilly climes like England and the northern U.S. Many of the performers, especially the ones playing during the day (which is most of them, since the majority of the nighttime headliners aren't featured on the disc) look sweaty, tired, and eager to retire to the shade. Ambulance LTD, otherwise one of the better bands here, look like they're about to fall over mid-song.
With pedestrian camerawork and an occasionally thin sound mix, Austin City Limits Music Festival 2005 is a little too "public access television" for its own good. The Last Waltz or Stop Making Sense this is not. The music, of course, should be the focus of any disc like this, but the presentation is so dry that it's actually detrimental to the performances. Cranking up the panache and style just a bit would have livened up the proceedings considerably.
The second disc is dedicated entirely to extras. There are a whopping 14 band interviews, although they're all brief (one to three minutes). The bonus backstage jams are good fun if only because their casual, relaxed joy is infectious. The "Rest of the Fest" bonus footage is negligible, but the four "Mini-Documentary" featurettes are the disc's highlight. A "day in the life" documentary following Ambulance LTD tops their performance on the main disc; "Voices From Within" is a humorous look at Blues Traveler and their life on the road; and "214 Circle Drive" examines the life of Ruthie Foster, a middle-aged blues singer from a small town in Texas.
The best of the mini-docs is also the longest: a look at the return of Roky Erickson. The legendary leader of the 13th Floor Elevators and psychedelic pioneer has wrestled with mental illness for decades. Now nearing 60, he's back and ready for his first performance in almost 20 years at 2005's Austin City Limits Music Festival. The documentary skips past the details of his troubles, but includes praise from luminaries like Lucinda Williams and Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Freeman (who also introduces Roky onstage). The moment where Roky tears into the first song and proves he's truly back to his old self towers over anything else on either disc.
Not every musical event is worth capturing for posterity; they can't all be Woodstock, folks. Austin City Limits Music Festival 2005 would probably have been better off staying as a memory for its attendees, and a DVD that's mostly full of second-tier acts that doesn't help to change that. There's simply not enough here to be worth the price of admission. Save your money up to go see the 2006 festival in person instead.
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