Austin City Limits: The Top Five Can’t-Miss Undercard Performers

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Labor Day may have come and gone, but the equinox isn’t until September 23, so this weekend Austin City Limits will just squeak by with the last festival of the summer. Normally before big festival weekends we try to narrow down the best option when multiple must-see bands play at the same time on different stages, but the ACL 2011 schedule is pretty well-spaced, besides which we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the big names based on their performances at other festivals this summer (like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza). In short: be sure not to miss Arcade Fire, closing out Sunday night, and be sure to see at least one of the two headliners on Friday (Coldplay and Kanye West) and Saturday (Stevie Wonder and My Morning Jacket). All five sets promise to be thrilling. But let’s talk about some other acts that can’t be missed.

1. Foster The People (Friday, 5:30-6:30PM)
We’ve already said plenty about these You Oughta Know alums whose “Pumped Up Kicks” was a dark-horse Song of the Summer, but if we had to distill our reasoning for naming them “must-see” to one mention, it would be their enthralling Lollapalooza performance. This is what this band does to a festival crowd. Be a part of it.

2. Sara Bareilles (Friday, 7:30-8:30PM)
We’ve been fans of Sara Bareilles for some time now, but there’s a canny calculation to recommending her set on Friday night. The You Oughta Know alum will be appearing as a judge on NBC’s The Sing-Off this fall, and the much-anticipated (by us) video for “Gonna Get Over You” will be her third single off Kaleidoscope Heart, which means she may head back into the studio after The Sing-Off wraps. In other words, it might be a while before she is on the road again.

3. Fitz and the Tantrums (Saturday, 5:00-6:00PM)
To be quite honest, early evening Saturday is about when our energy starts flagging at festivals, so were we attending Austin City Limits this year, we would try to finagle tickets to Fitz and the Tantrums’ sold-out aftershow that night at La Zona Rosa (with fellow ACL performer Aloe Blacc supporting). Both artists inspire us to get down, which we find more rewarding once we’ve gotten our second wind. That said, seeing them at the festival doesn’t cost any extra, and they’ll be crack performers even for a tired audience.

4. TV On The Radio (Saturday, 7:00-8:00PM)
It’s been a while since we’ve seen TV on the Radio live, but they’ve never been less than stellar, and their performance at this summer’s Pitchfork Festival was reportedly one of that weekend’s highlights. They’ve been supporting Nine Types of Light with acclaimed shows all summer.

5. Randy Newman (Sunday, 7:30-8:30PM)
Randy Newman has over forty years of performing, recording, and songwriting to recommend him. Anything else we say would just be gravy. He doesn’t play shows that often anymore, either—he’s only in Austin on Sunday night because on Monday he’ll be taping a special for this season of the series Austin City Limits. It’s a cut-and-dried case of a legacy artist who lives up to his reputation and who doesn’t play out that often. We bet even Hayes Carll, whom we’ve recommended, and who is playing on a different stage at that time, wishes he could see Newman’s set.

[Images: Getty Images]