7/11/06 ACL Music Festival '05 DVD review

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Austin City Limits Music Festival 2005
Review By: Rich Rosell

Stars: Jet, The Allman Brothers, The Bravery, Thievery Corporation, The Black Keys, Kasabian, Bloc Party, The Frames, Kaiser Chiefs, Blues Traveler, Ambulance LTD, Eisley, The Decemberists, Jason Mraz, Mike Doughty, Aqualung, Keane, Rachel Yamagata, Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle and The Dukes, Gov't Mule, John Prine, Widespread Panic, The John Butler Trio

Other Stars: Roky Erikson, Palm Elementary School Choir, Zap Mama, What Made Milwaukee Famous, Dan Willis and The All Nations Choir, South Austin Jug Band, Nic Armstrong and The Thieves

Director: Howard Carey, Charlie Jones, Charles Attal, George Couri, Shannon Blackburn, David Mider, Daniel Gibbs

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief mild language)
Run Time: 01h:51m:03s
Release Date: June 20, 2006
UPC: 014381300925
Genre: music

DVD Review
Austin, Texas is like a music magnet, and it seems to just attract all manner of creative hipsters. Things like the annual South By Southwest Festival get most of the big press, but the PBS series Austin City Limits has been catering to a wide range of artists—serving them up live and in somewhat intimate surroundings—for 30 years. Maybe not so intimate, and on much a larger fest scale, is the Austin City Limits Music Festival, a three-day multi-stage event painted with a very, very wide stripe of musical variation.

This two-disc set from Image is like postcards or snapshots recalling the 2005 festival, with 24 bands whittled down to just one song each, presented in no particular order. It's a strictly no-frills presentation, with no intros, no rambling stage patter, just song after song by such diverse artists as oldtimer Southern icons The Allman Brothers sandwiched here between the retro-'70s arena attitude of Jet and the neo-post-punk noodlings of The Bravery. One minute it's John Prine storytelling his way through Lake Marie, next to the jam wanderings of Widespread Panic, or perhaps the radio-friendly pop of Jason Mraz butted up against ex-Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty. Some of the transitions work better than others (Kaiser Chiefs into Blues Traveler comes to mind as one of the more disjointed), but what does come through is the message of melding musical differences that Austin City Limits nurtures so well.

Performances are captured from a number of camera angles, and thankfully the consistent editing is not of the MTV/fast cut/short attention variety, and instead handled with deliberately casual movement that can linger on a solo or sweep around behind the drum kit without causing the need for a dose of Dramamine. The presentation offers enough variance in shots and angles to keep things from becoming static, and audience reactions are kept to minimum.

There are a lot of great performers represented here, and things like The Decemberists' spot-on rendition of July, July! or Robert Earl Keen's infectious Feelin' Good Again just reinforce the notion that both of these are deserving of their own full-length concert DVDs, if we're lucky. It is no doubt a challenge to condense a three-day festival in under two hours of live material, and that's really what this set is. An overview. A cursory sampling. The extras on the second disc (see below) delve a bit more into the periphery, fleshing out the fest vibe, including a Roky Erikson performance that truly merited a slot in the feature.

It just made me want more.

Set List:

Jet - Cold Hard Bitch
The Allman Brothers Band - One Way Out
The Bravery - Unconditional
Thievery Corporation - Warning Shots
The Black Keys - Set You Free
Kasabian - L.S.F. (Lost Souls Forever)
Bloc Party - This Modern Love
The Frames - Revelate
Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict a Riot
Blues Traveler - Hook
Ambulance LTD - Primitive (The Way I Treat You)
Eisley - Golly Sandra
The Decemberists - July, July!
Jason Mraz - Did You Get My Message?
Mike Doughty - Madeline and Nine
Aqualung - Brighter Than Sunshine
Keane - We Might As Well Be Strangers
Rachael Yamagata - Be Be Your Love
Robert Earl Keen - Feelin' Good Again
Steve Earle and The Dukes - Warrior
Gov't Mule - Time to Confess
John Prine - Lake Marie
Widespread Panic - Love Tractor
The John Butler Trio - Treat Yo Mama

Extra Extras:

1. Photo Gallery

Extras Review: This two-disc set from Image comes in a clear plastic case, housed inside of a thick cardboard slipcase, and a two-page insert has the track listing. Disc 1 carries all the performances and nothing else, and has24 chapters, one per performer.

Disc 2 is where all of the extras are, under the main heading Backstage Pass, which is further subdivided into Interviews, Mini-Docs, Rest of the Fest, ACL Raw, Photos and Credits. Here's what those subsections (with the exception of the self-explanatory Credits) contain:

The Interviews segment might have been more aptly titled "Comments", considering the longest segment runs just under three minutes, but in a way the length is just about right. Fourteen of the featured bands—some just individual members, others the full group—talk about variations of the same thing (touring, writing songs, where their name came from), and include Ambulance LTD (01m:50s), Aqualung (02m:59s), The Black Keys (01m:51s), Blues Traveler (02m;27s), The Bravery (02m:42s), The Decemberists (02m:16s), Gov't Mule (02m:37s), Jason Mraz (02m:41s), Kaiser Chiefs (02m:49s), Kasabian (02m:03s), Keane (02m:12s), Mike Doughty (02m:24s), Rachael Yamagata (02m:50s), and Widespread Panic (02m:21s).

Mini-Docs features four pieces of increasingly longer length, each of which covers an individual artist. Ambulance LTD ACLMF'05 (04m:40s) was directed by Bradley Beesley, and has interviews with band about the development of their set list, and follows them taking in the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Voice From Within Featuring Blues Traveler (07m:47s) was directed by Dan Shaw, and earns brownie points for having a good sense of humor as it looks at "artisans of the world"—in this case a rock band—and has pseudo-serious narration about the live music scene. 214 Circle Drive Featuring Ruthie Foster (10m:16s) was directed by Margaret Brown, and takes an up-close look at an indie singer/songwriter as she hawks her CDs, talks about her life, and strums a tune or two.

The high point here is Roky Erikson (16m:29s) directed by Kyle Ellison, a must-see piece about the triumphant return of the former 13th Floor Elevator frontman and his performance at the ACLMF. Erikson, who has led what can only be described as a very troubled life since his rock heyday, has praise heaped on him by a disparate collection of musicians including Kinky Friedman, Lucinda Williams, and Charlie Sexton, eventually building to a live performance. I'm a little disappointed Erikson wasn't included as part of the main performance section of this release, but this short doc is all good.

Rest of the Fest is a series of four quickie bits, three of which are somewhat generic peeks at the fest itself. 3 Days in 2 Minutes (01m:42s), while not actually two minutes in length, delivers the old standby time-elapsed camera to show the influx of crowds, while Inside the Gates (04m:34s) wanders the grounds talking with random concert goers and Movin' and Shakin' (02m:01s) is a collection of footage depicting fans enjoying themselves during assorted performances. Allman Brothers Band Bus Tour (03m:27s) offers a look inside at the band's well-appointed but crowded traveling house on wheels.

ACL Raw has seven eclectic performances, ranging from intimate jams more for the musicians' benefit than anything else, to traditional onstage numbers performed before an audience. The set list here features:
Jason Mraz and Rachael Yamagata Jam (04m:33s)
Nic Armstrong and The Thieves Jam (02m:48s)
South Austin Jug Band Jam (02m:23s)
Zap Mama (04m:03s)
Palm Elementary School Choir (03m:06s)
What Made Milwaukee Famous (04m:05s)
Dan Willis & The All Nations Choir (06m:19s)

A photo gallery contains six screens of 15 thumbnails each, for a total of ninety images. Clicking on a thumbnail enlarges the photo, which identifies the artist, and the navigation then allows to click through the remaining images at full size.

Extras Grade: A-

Final Comments
The biggest complaint here is that the featured bands are only represented by one song, but that's also the biggest positive point in a way. As an overview, the presentation of mostly new artists interspersed with a few stalwarts makes this an interesting cross-section of talent where everyone gets equal footing. A short doc on Roky Erikson, sort of buried on Disc 2, is yet another reason to seek this one out.