I remember attending my first FYF Fest, or Fuck Yeah Fest, as it was referred to before corporate sponsors got their grubby fingers into the pot, three years ago when it was a mere $35 and a single day. It was essentially what old people who’ve never been to a music festival think of when they hear music festival — dirt clouds everywhere, hour-plus lines for food, port-a potties unfit for a maximum security prison, and $5 waters that were sold old hours before the fest ended… in late August. But what a few years can do. Now in its second year as a two-day fest, the previous main stage is now dwarfed by a new, bigger, fancier main stage that allows for bigger crowds, there’s more food choices than you’d ever need, $2 bottled water is everywhere (with free refill stations) and never once did I see more than a couple people in line for the bathroom. With mostly local vendors scattered throughout the L.A. Historic Park (only in L.A. can a giant dirt pit in the middle of downtown be considered “historic”), FYF Fest is the poster child for responsible use of corporate sponsorship, a concept which these days seems as possible to exist as pink elephants or a good Lady Gaga song.
After an exhausting Saturday of mostly intense, aggressive and noisy acts like METZ, Thee Oh Sees, FLAG, and a lot of set-hopping in-between, I was ready for the decidedly calmer lineup I had planned for Sunday. Like the sweet smell of wet grass after a thunderstorm, Day 2 offered up an array of soothing pleasures (although Baroness and The Melvins, who I sadly could not cram into my schedule, could have led to a very different day) that eased me comfortably into the much, much noisier evening hours I had in store.
Jonathan Richman: The perfect choice for a Sunday opener as people stumbled through the opening gates trying to shake of hangovers and the stubbornly clingy dust covering anyone within 100 feet of the previous days’ mosh pits, Jonathan Richman greeted weary yet dutiful festivalgoers who showed up right as the gates opened with his typically happy-go-lucky tunes about his confusion with cell phones, his taste for ice cream, and the intricate differences between good and bad sex, all with merely an unplugged acoustic guitar, his trusty sidekick drummer, Tommy Larkin, and Richman’s surprisingly flexible and unsurprisingly silly flamenco dance moves. While my unrealistic hopes that Richman may squeeze in “Pablo Picasso” or “Girlfriend” went unrequited, his sincerity and sheer joy of being alive and performing for this audience was infectious enough to make a small crowd of typically cynical, hipster-y, tech junkies look up from their phones, connect with him and one another and briefly, if only for a few songs, collectively become modern lovers themselves.
Mac DeMarco (Photo: Tod Seelie)
Mac DeMarco: Following the good vibes of Jonathan Richman, Mac DeMarco kept everyone happy and laughing, cracking wise with the audience throughout the sound check and tossing corporate-sponsored energy drinks blindly into the masses. But while I knew the young fella from his confidently cool jangle pop debut, 2, featuring a few great tunes and Mac’s winning Canadian Cheshire grin, I was clueless on his power over the ladies, particularly those not invited into the festival beer garden. I mean, if you’re looking for 18-year-old tail, it doesn’t hurt to be DeMarco, but fortunately he’s more than just a pretty face and delivered a tight yet laid back set. The dreamy, jangle-y songs mixed with DeMarco’s wit and charm made for some good old-fashioned innocuous fun that somehow logically led to finale of an hysterical cover of “Takin’ Care of Business,” as sung by Bob Seger with strept throat, and a sweet cover of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” turned metal rock-out. TMT already has documented DeMarco’s talent for amusing covers, so it was a pleasure to see he’s got more tricks in his bag.
Kurt Vile: After instantly enjoying Childish Prodigy and placing it high amongst my favorite albums of 2009 (as did TMT), I’ve had trouble getting into Kurt Vile’s latest two albums. Don’t get me wrong; they’re wonderful in a way, but there’s a complexity underlying them that takes a lot of patience and repeated listens before they click. Perhaps it is due to the sense of “insularity and self-involvement” that have bothered both TMT’s Joe Hemmerling and Gabe Vodika ), but live, those same songs magically come together. Seeing Vile after Smoke Ring For My Halo forced me to reassess my initially negative reaction to that album (I wanted, and still want, more “Freak Train”), and seeing him again, playing tunes from Wakin On a Pretty Daze, only reaffirmed the strength of that album, overrated as it may be. Despite his soporific stage presence — we are, after all, talking about a dude notorious for falling asleep at parties — there’s something about his music that thrives in the live environment, as if all the little intricacies he subtly peppers throughout his latest songs all pop out like hidden Easter eggs and convalesce into something more beautiful and impressive. For all his attempts at distancing his audience with his music, it’s ironic that it’s face to face that he can no longer succeed in doing that.
Yo La Tengo: Does anything even need to be said here? This is Yo La Tengo we’re talking about. This is possibly the most consistent band on the planet for the last 20 years and one not always mentioned in conversations of bands you must experience live only because they continue to release one amazing album after another (OK, Popular Songs and the Condofucks thing were a little less-than-stellar) with no sign of slowing down. This is a band just as in their own skin playing acoustic lullabies and dreamy pop as they are with nine-minute rock-outs while swinging guitars over their heads. This is a band whose music is the equivalent of hugging a giant soft teddy bear while skydiving. So how were they this time you ask? If you must know, they were fucking awesome.
Beach House:Playing songs almost exclusively from Teen Dream and Bloom, Devotion’s “Heart of Chambers” notwithstanding, and with Victoria Legrand heading up almost all of the vocals, it’s as if Beach House knew exactly what I wanted from them. Aside from the vocals, the band didn’t veer far from album versions, but they played them with a precision and emotion that helped to recreate the dreamy atmospheres they’ve laid to tape, hitting such high notes as “Zebra,” “Lazuli,” and, of course, ending on “Myth,” the lack of surprises made up for by everything else being as good as I could’ve hoped.
Les Savy Fav (Photo: Tod Seelie)
Les Savy Fav:Outside of Let’s Stay Friends, my familiarity with Les Savy Fav extends no further than always hearing “You’ve gotta see them live,” so during a day filled with mostly chill, laid-back acts, I chose an energy boost of upbeat dance punk. Frontman Tim Harrington came out right on time and before starting, announced to the crowd that he had to take a shit, and after more than 16 hours of fest time and 14 sets already clocked in, patience was not among my remaining virtues. Yet wait I did, cursing Harrington for the pain shooting through the soles of my feet. But 10 minutes later, Harrington returns, clad in a ridiculous neon poncho, and immediately starts going absolutely nuts before the first guitar chord disappears from the night air, both he and I leaving our bodily functions behind for the next 40 minutes as he proceeded to don a silver, skin-tight full-body suit for the second half of the set. I don’t remember much of the music aside from it being upbeat and fun, but this was Harrington’s show and he owned that stage like no one else that weekend (Thee Oh Sees aside, but that’s pretty much a given by now). The moment he dropped a flashlight down his silver suit, stuck it between legs and bent over towards the crowd, shining the light out of his ass, well, that’s pretty much the essence of “you’ve gotta see them live.”
My Bloody Valentine: I’ve been kicking myself for the past four years for missing MBV when they passed through L.A. For most of that time, I, like most people, assumed Loveless was still the end and that Kevin Shields would spend the rest of his days tinkering with remasters and perpetually avoiding the inevitable disappointment of whatever he put out decades after the release of his landmark album. Sure, m b v is a bit of a disappointment in that it’s not, you know, Loveless, but it’s the kind of disappointment I find pretty amazing. When I made it to the main stage and claimed my spot in the crowd, it was a bit of surreal feeling (surely impacted by repeated clips from Last Action Hero, Double Team, and a few other 90s action flicks looping on the giant monitors) when that thing I missed and never thought I’d have, was finally there.
The band emerged, Bilinda said “Hi,” Kevin said “Hello,” and the sonic assault began. It was just as I imagined: waves of noise pulsating through the air, simultaneously serene and invigorating, and it was glorious. And then that other thing you hope will never happen once you get the thing you never thought you’d get; well, that happened. I don’t know if it was a blown speaker or some other piece of equipment, but midway through their third or fourth song, the sound cut almost completely out for about 5 seconds. My heart sunk, then rose, then it happened again… and again… and again. And finally the fest director came out and announced they needed a 5-minute break to fix the issue. I don’t know if I can express this kind of disappointment, one surely qualifying as a first-world problem or the upcoming Things White People Hate blog, but imagine having the chance to hear your favorite album only once more in your life before it is lost to the world forever. And then imagine you’re sinking deep into whatever world it takes you to and your little brother comes in and unplugs your headphones, waits a bit, then plugs them in before running off laughing. And then imagine that happening four goddamn more times. Well, I don’t have a little brother, but that set gave me a lifetime’s worth of little-brother frustrations and yet, like everyone I know who bitches about their annoying younger siblings, I loved the hell out of it too. It wasn’t the transportive experience I imagined, but it was still a set that opened with “I Only Said” and ended with “You Made Me Realize.”
Even with a number of supremely annoying and excusable bumps on the road (fortunately, although the timing couldn’t have been worse, this was literally the only problem I experienced in two full days at the fest), MBV did everything within their power to destroy the crowd’s eardrums one song at a time. Like m b v the album, MBV the live experience is the unforgettable disappointment that I still can’t help but love to death. After all, a chipped Holy Grail is still holy, right?