A decade ago, L.A.’s FYF was the model of the guerrilla operation. Held for the first time in 2004 at the diminutive Echo club in Echo Park, ringing the ears of around 1000 people, and inciting unsolicited but no doubt friendly visits from the Los Angeles Fire Department, it was the glamorously unglamorous seed for what became its more refined 10-year-old self. Now transplanted to the less claustrophobic setting of L.A. State Historic Park, where it hosted nearly 20,000 wanderers and eternal children in the upper crook of Chinatown, it’s beginning to find itself toted as the underdog rival to Coachella, offering an expanding gamut of bands and performers from almost every slice of the musical food pyramid, and all in a uniquely photogenic location.
This easy comparison to its Californian neighbor might suggest that the FYF Fest is little more than a hipster version of other, larger occasions, but with its schismatic mixture of both serene and more acerbic sounds, as well as scenery that was simultaneously green and metropolitan (witness the trains that shuttled by in both directions every 10 minutes or so), its ambiance carries an individuality all of its own. As a result it wasn’t hard to understand why so many fans — mostly of college-age and slightly beyond — made the pilgrimage to watch people vibrate the air over three stages and one tent (all named after the four principal Sex and The City characters, for some inscrutably profound reason).
Inaugurating a Festival is a Double-Edged Sword
Eleanor Friedberger (Photo: Tod Seelie)
Buffalo’s Lemuria held a captive audience at 2:30 p.m. music-wise, but that audience was a little uncertain of itself, a little undersized, and a little too sober, meaning that despite the band’s enthusiastic charge through their tricksy strain of indie punk, their burgeoning crowd could only muster a round of nodding. But even without the commotion and hysteria that was to follow later in the day, their set merged disarmingly with the piercing sunshine and lithe shrubbery dotting the smaller Miranda Stage, and as it finished on older track “Mechanical,” I walked over to Samantha’s Tent hungry for the rest of the day.
It was at Samantha’s that the less rock-oriented acts generally worked their charms, and this included the block of comedians who footed both of her tent’s schedules. I tramped in just as the final act — Brett Gelman — was beginning to spew his exaggeratedly misanthropic, un-PC screeds to a divided audience. Starting with a pre-recorded message in which he indelicately refused to play FYF on account of the overprivileged ‘white boys’ who pack its crowds and the traffic he’d have to fight through to reach its venue, he then moved on to an expletive-ridden haranguing of the general notion that comedy should be about fun and entertainment, before finishing with an unimpeachable rap about sexual violence, all to the delight of one half of the crowd and the bemusement of the other.
One person who didn’t seem to appreciate Gelman’s blunt humor was Eleanor Friedberger, who on broaching the stage immediately after him inverted one of his lines and said to the audience, “A, B, C, D, E, F, G, Love You,” replacing the original four-letter word with the more philanthropic substitute. The tone purified, she bounced into “I Don’t Want to Bother You,” and by dint of her poised energy the revelers loosened up. Her commitment to her new (and old) material was palpable in her constant, sashaying movement and her centered stare, and this unshowy engagement was translated into the wide grins of the people around me, as well as the ceaselessly rotating head of the older gent at the very front of the crowd, who judging by his inability to stop himself, seemed to love every second of what he was hearing. Her supporting band were similarly enthused and beguiling, and as the set finished on “My Mistakes,” they were given the opportunity to extend and heighten its coda, producing what was one of the most blissfully unspoiled moments of the day.
Vitamin D, Serotonin, Ethanol, Tetrahydrocannabinol
Emerging from Ms Friedberger’s 35 minutes, I toed over to Mikal Cronin, the first act on FYF’s main stage (the ‘Carrie’ stage, unsurprisingly enough, although she was never the best one). His scorched take on pop-infused garage punk was made for sweltering festivals like FYF, and his set multiplied the emerging dynamism of the still-arriving faithful, with the occasional moshpit opening up, and the band themselves jittering around the stage as guitar solos sped out from the meaty PA system. However, not being a particular Cronin devotee myself, I broke from the mass in the middle of “See It My Way” and made the cross-venue trek back to the ‘Miranda’ stage, past the water stands, the smoothie stands, the merchandise stand, the food trucks, the little craft village, and also Metz rounding up their FYF involvement on the Charlotte stage with a fulminating version of “Wet Blanket.”
Finally I found the Underachievers in the middle of the noirish, squalor rap of “Herb Shuttles,” and what was merely a whiff during the earlier Eleanor Friedberger stint became an obvious, wafting deluge, one that permeated most of the weekend. The crowd congregated around the stage had grown in size since Lemuria, and they lapped up the quicksilver verses delivered by Issa Dash and AK, most of these taken from the Indigoism mixtape. A highlight that didn’t come from this debut was “Proclamation,” which AK introduced as his, “Favorite song ever — because it’s an actual song,” and which samples the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” to maximum effect. However, interest in the band was quickly dispelled for some when they reeled out “Herb Shuttles” for the second time, and so without too much hesitation I moved in early for a spot ahead of Ty Segall.
Segall and his band perched intimately on a row of stools, from which they recreated the acoustic neo-psychedelia of new album Sleeper almost in its entirety, save for a couple of omissions. At one point a subsection of the crowd, most likely charmed by the placidity of the interplay and the coruscating bursts of Segall’s slide guitar, decided to engage in what looked more like barn dancing than any of the faux aggression you’d usually observe at a rock gig, their arms occasionally interlinking as they rotated playfully and gleefully around each other. And for good measure Segall closed up with “Caesar,” the fuzz rebounding through the bodies of the front rows.
Bandanas and Toupees
Just as Ty Segall was wrapping up, Horse Meat Disco were kicking off in Samantha’s tent, playing a range of their own glitzy, Italo numbers interspersed with remixes of dance staples veering from Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” to Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown.” The tent was growing in mobile residents, most of them evidently excited by the change in pace, but rather than stick around I transferred myself back to Charlotte’s stage, where Toro Y Moi were in the middle of “Rose Quartz.” In the past I’d generally found Chaz Bundick’s soulful chillwave a little diffuse and intangible, but with the heft of the faultless speaker system behind him, his music was invested with an entrancing intensity that arguably made it one of the highlights of the day. As they played out their set with single “Say That” the sky became ochre with the drowning sun, and even though Bundick wasn’t especially prone to vocables in between songs, the teeming audience basked happily in the tranquil vibe he and his band radiated.
After they disappeared backstage to all but unanimous applause I made the tactical decision to stay exactly where I was and wait for Devendra Banhart to emerge, since even though I was extremely tempted to position myself for The Locust’s set, I instead opted to see Deerhunter, who were posted to begin on the Carrie stage 10 minutes after the San Diego band started on Miranda’s at 7.45. That meant I enjoyed the first third of Banhart’s FYF tenure, which was characterized by some of the most rapturous approval of the entire weekend, with every song being welcomed noisily by hardcore throngs of the singer’s admirers. Most of these pieces were lifted from the Mala LP, the broody melancholia of tracks like “Daniel” and “Never Seen Such Good Things” being a perfect complement to the bruised dusk that had enveloped L.A. State Historic Park by that time.
Eager for a prime spot near the front of Carrie’s, I cut short my sampling of Banhart’s understated showmanship and dutifully waited for Deerhunter to introduce themselves. Opening with a beautifully lush “Cover Me/Agoraphobia,” the band quickly moved on to a rippling “Neon Junkyard” while Cox — dressed in his zebra-striped cloak and with his face veiled by long locks of black hair — was treated to a distant cry of, “You’re sooo skinny,” from someone next to me. Predictably the focus was on Monomania, but even though that album could be said to be a slight disappointment, the brunt and rawness the band have nurtured through it also imbued their older output with a greater weight and urgency, with the now signature 10-minute version of “Nothing Ever Happened” being an almost masterful tour de force. Cox was in fine form as well, exchanging tokens of sociability with the crowd between songs, and even playing the guitar behind his neck during closer “Monomania.” And it was during this song that his elusive facade was dropped when, during a crescendo of vitriolic guitar noise, he reached for his jet black coif, pulled at it and revealed — at least to those of us who don’t keep up to date with changes to his appearance — that it was a wig. Suddenly he looked remarkably frail and human, and the band’s set gained an extra resonance, not that it needed it.
Porta Potties and The Ignorance of Modesty
TV On the Radio (Photo: Tod Seelie)
I marched from Deerhunter to Dan Deacon, who was just setting up shop. If there was any doubt the sound at FYF was some of the best on the festival circuit, Deacon finally exploded it when he installed himself with a blistering run through “Guilford Avenue Bridge,” which sounded crushingly dense and multidimensional even from 100 yards away. And if the impeccable sound wasn’t enough, Deacon also won the award for most talkative and gregarious performer of the day, at one point dividing his audience into two so that they could have a dance-off between each other as he blasted out “Konono Ripoff No. 1.” Unfortunately, it was at this point that certain of my biological functions began clamoring for attention, so as Deacon initiated his third and final song (the marathon “Wham City”), I joined the large queue for the gents, not yet knowing that my V.I.P. wristband granted me entry into a less oversubscribed area.
I don’t know if it was a function of the then-large gulf between the stage and I, but TV On The Radio’s “Young Liars” initially sounded far too riven by higher frequencies, almost painful in its pitched squall. Whatever the cause of this momentary lapse, I trooped in closer and witnessed the remainder of their 10 songs from a more involved vantage point and the problem subsided. Like Deacon, the band were overjoyed to be a part of FYF, ripping through a greatest-hits selection of their work, and also whipping out two new songs for those crowing for something a little extra: the melodic, climaxing “Million Miles,” and also new single “Mercy.” Tunde Adebimpe joked with the crowd, asking them — in reference to the festival’s name — to bellow ‘Yeah’ after every impishly shouted ‘Fuck,’ and the band finished with a bristling version of “Staring at the Sun” to much fanfare.
Not that I’m especially interested in bands that effectively form tribute bands to themselves, I migrated over to watch the second half of FLAG’s incitement of Greg Ginn’s wrath. From a purely technical perspective their reminiscence of Black Flag songs was faultless, with Damaged cuts like “Rise Above,” “Six Pack,” and “No More” executed with all the crooked finesse of their original recordings. However, even though the moshing elements of the crowd were obviously thrilled to see them, I’m not big on nostalgia, so I watched from afar, propped against a tree while a young male neighbor excitably swung his arms around and played air guitar to every memory.
As I waited for what was my headline act (sorry Yeah Yeah Yeahs), there was talk of whether Death Grips would actually make an appearance. The notoriety of their no-show at Chicago — and the cancelled dates that followed — now hung over their name like a vague fog, and understandably there were reservations in the audience that further patience might be rewarded with yet another piece of conceptual art. The protracted length of their soundcheck didn’t help either, with one of the teenagers speculating that maybe the soundcheck was the show, a suggestion which mortified his two friends.
It was to our nearly uncontainable excitement that all these misgivings were unfounded, since despite the minor delay all three members of Death Grips materialized from the shadows. They played their full set, and it was utter bedlam. Beginning with phasing surges of white noise and Hill’s frenzied, freeform pummeling, they segued into “Lost Boys,” which sparked a sudden rush toward the front of the stage. To speak frankly, everyone lost their shit. I almost lost my shoe. As has now become de rigueur for them, they performed without breaks and without pleasantries, one song flowing into another, punctuated only by the braying of the crowd, which for the upper half at least was one restless, heaving pit.
Their setlist was spread more or less equally between The Money Store and No Love Deep Webb, although they threw in “Guillotine” and “Takyon (Death Yon)” for a little balance. Particularly big responses were extracted by “Hacker” and “Come Up and Get Me,” though my favorite was “No Love,” since I always take an inordinate satisfaction from screaming the ‘Too many hoes’ verse (which, somewhat ironically, I’m pretty sure is about music critics). The only possible downside to their 50 minutes was that there was no new material, though I heard no complaints from the hordes of people colliding into me every five seconds, all of them goaded on by Burnett’s swaggering gesticulations. The band finished on “Lock Your Doors,” and after it was all over I trudged back to Union Station, encrusted in sweat amid thousands of beaming FYF patrons. Then I collapsed onto my bed, where I probably dreamt of the next day.
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?