There always seems to be one element out of whack when I go to a festival. It can relate to climate, band lineup, weather, surroundings, accompaniment, and even VIP-entry status (let’s just say I’m used to getting the royal treatment).
When thinkin’ on Fun Fun Fun Fest, six things spring to mind: dust, drum machines, dust, close proximity between three stages, dust, and ____ (I think you get the point). Was it just a tad dusty? Yeah. I can tell you more, but nothing compares to blowing your nose after a day of scuttling and looking down at a pile of melted gummy coke bottles. This was a taxing event, but an enjoyable one because I’m a sucker for a concert wherein an attendee can switch between three stages of underground magick dozens of times per night.
Quick point: Is anyone discouraged by the new breed of artist? I’m not sure I saw a kid younger than 25 playing an instrument, and if I did, they weren’t playing it well. The most crowd-sucking groups consisted of DJs sporting hype men and/or dancing ladies or white dudes with chaos pads, drum loops, and laptops. Is FlyLo responsible for this? Fifty percent of the time I spent at Fun Fun Fun Fest consisted of watching people push buttons, or sometimes a button (singular). With trappings that could only be attributed to 1986, it was like The Wizard without Kevin Arnold. I think these hordes of dancers genuinely wish disco was back and we could all dance to monotonous beats and never think about anything again just to revolt against The Mars Volta. It’s like, yeah, but… we all understand the folly of Mars Volta (I can’t even fuck around here; I’m a fan). It’s no reason to lose one’s fucking head.
Look I’m not gonna bore you with the details, I-… actually, come to think of it, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. And I’m going to do it well.
tUnE-YarDs: I don’t personally take kindly to this outfit, but they project just as well from a large setting as they do from a tiny Denver tacklebox, so that’s a good thing. Nice mix of vocal gymnastics and coke-bottle percussion. Undeniable groove, undeniably not my thing.
Dan Deacon: Talk about a huge letdown, and not at all by fault of Dan Deacon, a favorite of both Gumshoe and Tiny Mix Tapes. The sound for his set was atrocious, and you could tell it was killing him. And by extension, it killed me. He had the chance to get the crowd going on a few occasions, and when the music blared continuously, it almost seemed like we might be blessed with one of those mythical smart-talkin’, digi-slamming Deacon shows. I didn’t even get a look at the guy — he doesn’t like stages — and there was an ominous cloud of dust floating above the pit. Perhaps the engineers were trying to duplicate the visual impact of the dust clouds by letting the speakers distort and crackle, or perhaps they did a horrible job. Either way, Deacon didn’t get his day.
Cold Cave: The coldest of all caves: I’ve been hearing about this group for awhile, and they were pretty much what I expected. They adhere to the genre that likely gave them their name and believe in synths, double-time hi-hat rhythms, and tortured vocals. Dominick Fernow brought the energy; that was obvious from the go-get, and he could be seen mulling about before the show, making sure all his wares were ready for the performance. He didn’t really need to do much — most of the sequences appeared to be pre-programmed, ready at the touch of a button — so he tried to get the folks hyped instead, whipping around his small shock of hair and indulging in robotic dances. Singer Wes Eisold is lean, lanky, and full of pain. I miss Some Girls, yet I’m glad he’s doing his thing, period.
M83: I tried to watch these guys and they eagerly sucked the big, sweaty balls I’d always hoped they’d avoid cradling in their collective mouths. Apparently this guy’s a singer! Hey I can’t see too good; is that fuckin’ Freddy Mercury up there? Man what happened to this band? Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts is such a distant memory at this point I can only think of bands like Cave In, who had such a rare chance to do something big and failed in every sense. This is Thievery Corporation for white people too uppity to be into Thievery Corporation. Wretched, left after two songs, you know the drill.
Rakim: Rakim broke his foot. Might have been the most anticipated set, for me, so this one still stings. BUUUUT…
Kool Keith: … Hey, what a replacement! Perhaps the only guy on the premises who could fill the void admirably, Kool Keith played a set for those who missed him on Friday and those who wanted another black-hot dose. He played a few Dr. Octagon tunes, so I walked away happy, but he was rapping along with backing tracks at times, and that is one of the true evils of live rap. I got over it.
Girls: The fact that Girls have a long backstory instantly meant I would shy away from checking them out. Ditto for the P4k rub-‘n’-tug. I have to admit though, they’re a damn-good Eggo. I wouldn’t say they’ve figured out their sound yet — all sorts of clear influences from The Cure to Tom Petty shine through uninhibited, which… actually is one of their biggest assets — so I’d say give them time to really pull everything together. Unfortunately, they might get too big too fast, or might have already, which will stunt their growth. We’ll see.
Hot Snakes: I was excited to see Hot Snakes — a Drive Like Jehu post-fact — and their set just flew by me before I even knew what was happening. They haven’t changed; I have. I just don’t get as big a charge from their stuff as did when they came out with that record and fuckin’ bounced soon after. Tight, loud, and repetitive, like The Thermals on ‘roids. Yay?
Major Lazer: Major Lazer’s motif is simple: Fast, funky, somewhat fresh, and furious. The emphasis on quick, repetitive bass patterns was enormous; without them, the kidz would have been left to foot-foot to a series of clicks and exhortations from hypeman Switch, whose full-time job is to run around, scream every so often, and yell “major lazer.” Pretty sweet gig. He get benefits? All this said, I dug ML’s set. So intense (almost feral) you can’t help but give them a tiger-style stance and mental fist-pound after the first few songs are done. This is what the young people want. I don’t want this brand of pre-programmed DJ skronk to become the norm, but chances are it will (or already has). I’ll just leave it at that. A guiltier pleasure than Foreigner 7-inches and a “Leader of the Band” 45 (both of which I hold dear), to be sure.
That’s it for Day 1 (which is Day 2 technically, as I had to be at work on everyone else’s Day 1); Day Tizzle right around the corner.
One quick note before we jump into the bands of Day 3: I am hyper-aware of my age, and that’s why I think it would be really fun to put on a tight-fitting shirt, Will Ferrell-belly flopping, put on a long-ass Iron Maiden wig, poke some holes in my Lee jeans from 1989, and run around talking to all the “hippest” kids at the festival about that INSANE Bruce Dickinson solo album from a few years (okay, decades) back, Tears of the Dragon. “Oh manh, remember that kids? That was such a killer-diller record man. KILLER. Bruce bangs ‘em; he bangs ‘em all!”
I’m just saying, it would be really fun, to do…
Asobi Seksu: Asobi-Sek? For me, neither here nor there. Hearing a faithful cover of a Jesus & Mary Chain classic always warms my cockles, but in the end, who cares about unremarkable rock?
Ceremony: My bad — I was thinking this was Celebration, that great post-psych group. Instead I got Ceremony, a dust-kicking, throat-raping punk group with more crudity per-capita than the entire population of Mississippi (which is insane). Not bad at all. Not what I was expecting, but not bad. Definitely either-you’re-into-it-or-you-hate-it-territory though.
Grimes: Do I even need to write this? Everyone knows about this gal Grimes, and to be honest I couldn’t be more offended by the lousy quality of her music. Her spiel fits perfectly with the button-groping hordes of tomorrow, the lazy, pre-programmed kids that loop in lieu of creative chops. And there she goes, trying to get on my good side; what’s this, a male dancer? Let me get this straight: she has the money to hire actual help on stage — which she could use by-god — and rather than get a musician to assist her in fleshing out her bony sound, she hires a fucking fly-boy? Jesus christ. It’s worse than I thought.
Mates Of State: MATES OF STATE!!! HERE we go, a band I can count on to lift me from the indie-rock doldrums (and we ain’t talkin’ Ariel Pink here). They’ve been around so long and proved so mu—… wait a second, these guys fucking suck, and it’s not even their fault. Thing is, in the last 5 to 10 years, it’s become increasingly trendy to play simple, developmentally challenged keyboard lines along with whatever else is in the recipe. And as a result, the Mates Of State sound has turned into an institution I just can’t get behind. It’s refreshing and cute when one or two bands are doing it, as was the case when Mates started out, but now it just drives me up the wall. NEXT.
Austra: Ahhhh yes, Austra. Ye sounded good at SXSW 2011; how will ye fare with increased visibility and about 500 more people in the audience? Well, I guess ye performed rather well, though it was hard to be as excited about this female-dominated group without my wife there to stoke the coals. Two dudes watching a band like Austra is a little like two dudes trying to watch Sisterhood of the Travelling Ya-Ya Pants or whatever it’s called. We were soon thinking about snickerdoodles and mini-pizzas, if that tells you anything. They do have one truly unimpeachable single, however, and as always, that was a great go. THE SIREN SINGS FOR YOU! BOW DOWN TO HER AND HER LIKEMINDED MINIONS AS THEY DO THE RUNNING-GIRL DANCE…
Baths: If I’m a record, I’m broken; I understand that. But Baths, more than even Grimes, presented a problem for me because visually I just can’t get excited by the spectre of Seth Rogen circa Undeclared pressing buttons, nodding his head, and singing (awfully) at random intervals. Maybe if he were a sick-ass performer and knew how to work a crowd, like Dan Deacon, I could let it go, but nooooo. This dude is the ultimate anticon. stereotype — i.e., good on record, terrible in concert — and needs to go back to the drawing board where his live show is concerned.
Cannibal Corpse: If there was one band that could slice through the banality and bear the restless crowd a fresh coat of blood, it was Cannibal Corpse, and they rattled us all around like a bucket of decaying bones, BASHing with bass-blessed blast beats and SMASHing with death-metal riffs too chuggin’ to be anything but 100% for-realz. I hope festival planners take heed, as packing in a wide-ranging variety of artists really made Fun Fun Fun stand apart, despite my many complaints. These old, grizzled metalhedz don’t stand out like a sore thumb, however, more like a thumb that’s been placed on a cold, shiny metal surface and POUNDed into pulp until the blood is just part of the mush of skin, bone, and thumb-hair (hey, some of us guys got lots of it!). They played a lot of the tunes — if they can accurately be called “tunes” — I would have expected, like “Hammer Smashed Face” (though the lack of hyphen in the song title is disturbing), and drudged up several I’d never heard. Then again, when you release a dozen-odd albums and never truly change your style, it’s tough to tell a blast-beat from a bowel-clenching scream anyway. Simply put, there were a lot of younger folks on the Black Stage trying their damndest to be as heavy as they could be, but in the end, most of them looked like kids having a tantrum compared to Cannibal Cizzle. SCREAM BLOODY GORE BITCHES!!!
Hum: This is what aging does to you, I guess. I still haven’t managed to find a single person who remembers Hum and their can’t-miss-it-if-you-lived-in-the-Pacific-Northwest-at-the-time, one-hit sperm-burst “Stars” (as in, “She’s out back counting”). Well, GODDAMN IT, I remember them all too well. I didn’t buy the album — listened to it at Wherehouse Music back when there was a such thing as a “CD store” — but I always had a deeply tamped respect for the band because they didn’t sacrifice anything to get to #1. “Stars” is heavy, heartfelt, and carries with it not a trace of artistic sacrifice (though this is all relative, of course). And as I watched these by-now old dudes resurrect their post-grunge, strangely shoegaze-y tunes, I felt the purest sense of joy I’d experienced at a festival since Interpol’s “Not Even Jail” turned me into a tiny fanboy penis with eyes. This is what four people who play with even a modest modicum of skill can do for a crowd full of 22-to-36-year-olds as nightfall swallows the dusty Texas day.
Slayer: I walked by as Slayer were playing. I’ve seen them before, and I had a hard time remembering what I even liked about them in 9th grade. “Seasons in the Abyss” has a cool intro, but overall it’s as boring as (original) sin. Ditto for “South of Heaven.” Those days of selling eight CDs to buy a copy of that Slayer live 2xCD are looooong gone.
Odd Future: This is the toughest part of the review, because the dude I went with thinks I left after Hum/Slayer. And I did. But then I came back, and my phone died, so I couldn’t tell dude-man (who snapped some nice pics, check ‘em out), “Hey, I dispensed with my VAGINA and decided to stick around for Odd Future! Let’s party!” And I still haven’t, so hopefully this is cool, brah. Anyhoo, Odd Future… lord have mercy on Gumshoe because I’m fully on board. Never cared to check this unit out before, and when you start getting into the late twenties and early thirties, pushing the envelope lyrically doesn’t have the same appeal as it once did (besides, Brotha Lynch Hung pretty much went as far as I was willing to go with abortion-hop); that said, they put on a great show. At one point, Tyler, The Creator was hit on the grill by a water bottle, and rather than laugh it off, he charged into the crowd with his boys in tow. They didn’t find the chucker, and it was probably all an act, but Tyler was barking out fire like a kennel-dog from hell after the incident, nearly screaming his raps and ripping into his microphone like frail tissue wrapping paper. I remember another quote that was telling: One of the dudes yelled, “Anyone got both their parents?” When a couple of people raised their hands, dude was like “FUCK YOU.” Hmmmm. I simply can’t deride these young, pissed-off fellows. Not even sure if I have the strength any more…
A fine end to another confusin’-ass concert festivus.
[Photos: Ric Allen; FFF Fest (top)]