I would imagine that when FYF Fest began back in 2004 with a bunch of local bands playing in Echo Park, the organizers never had any idea that not only would the festival make it to ten separate incarnations, but that it would expand to become a two-day outdoor festival with a good 20,000 people or so in attendance. And yet here we were, covering the festival for the second year straight at the Los Angeles State Historic Park, only this time with a great big number “10” on the assorted t-shirts and hoodies for sale.
Buffalo’s Lemuria certainly tuned in to both the spirit and the history of the festival, declaring almost immediately during their set that it was an honor to be the headliners at the festival’s 10th year. The energy they provided with their pop-punk music was a lovely way to start the weekend as well. Pop punk in fact feels like an overly simplistic way to describe Lemuria’s music, which manages to mix the sweetness of the vocals with crunchy sounding guitars and song structures that do not always head in the direction you were expecting.
Opener “Brilliant Dancer” was the best example of this, progressing from its opening jangle through an anthemic chorus and a sudden tempo change into its second half. The band approaches its songs with an open mind, and this, combined with the fact they were clearly having such a great time, made their performance a potent and entertaining opening to the weekend.
Lemuria was followed on the same stage (named the Miranda Stage, incidentally, thanks to the gloriously random decision of the organizers to name each stage after a different Sex and the City character) by the brain child of Katie Crutchfield, Waxahatchee, which has grown from a quiet, home-recorded solo project into something much bigger on the back of the universal acclaim for this year’ s Cerulean Salt. The three piece carried an entirely different energy than the preceding band, with all members decked out in shades and seemingly effortlessly moving through the set.
The personal and intimate nature of Crutchfield’s songs was slightly lost on the festival stage, and there is no doubt that seeing her in a small venue would play to her strengths much better. Again, though, she definitely looked like she was having fun up there, and it was encouraging to see such a strong attendance for an artist whose talents are slow-burning rather than attention-grabbing.
We hauled our way all across to the other end of the park to the Carrie Stage, the festival’s main stage, to catch the glorious power pop of Mikal Cronin. His four-piece band certainly took the title for the most hair we would see on stage this weekend, with literally meters of the stuff on show, and the timing of their set could not have been better.
In truth, the set was kind of functional rather than anything special (although there were some pretty bitching guitar solos in there), and it was as if Mikal figured just playing these songs on the main stage later on a Saturday afternoon would be enough in itself. He was right, of course. Songs like “Shout It Out” feel like they were written for this very purpose, and the number of people dancing in the sunshine suggested Cronin found the response he was looking for.
The stage then cleared for a total shift in direction towards the revivalist soul of Charles Bradley and his band. Bradley’s long personal history has been covered in plenty of writing about him (not to mention in a recently made documentary), but it’s still a joy to see an artist begin a recording career in his sixties, even more so when you see him and know for sure that there is no gimmick at work here. Backed by a tight and terrific-sounding band, Bradley looked like an absolute star, strutting through a set with such confidence that it’s extraordinary to think that huge festival crowds are so new to him.
His rich, raspy voice sounded in great nick, and he looked in good shape as well. He’s certainly got better moves than I do. It was the feel-good set of the day, performed by a talented entertainer who seems to consider himself genuinely blessed to be performing to such a crowd, and the love was suitably reciprocated.
Our third straight band on the main stage was The Breeders, and another opportunity for me to see one of my absolute musical heroes. Considering Kim Deal was a bassist and vocalist for the Pixies, which is the greatest band of all-time (yeah, you heard me, Beatles fans), I’d pretty much be happy to watch her reading a book on stage. However, that kind of intro risks belittling her other band, who just happened to record a classic alt-rock album of their own back in 1993 and appeared at the FYF Fest this year to perform that album in its entirety.
So the revelers got to hear the whole of Last Splash, including probably the most recognizable bass line of the nineties (everyone knows “Cannonball” even if they don’t know they know it). The band sounded great, with the Deal sisters in particularly good form as raconteurs, and Kim has to be the most consistently grinning performer in all of music. They even threw in the bonus of a song from their debut album, Pod, and a guest appearance from Bradford Cox on backing vocals, who could not have looked more happy to be joining The Breeders on stage. It was a great tea-time treat for the crowd.
From the sunshine of that set we moved back to the Miranda Stage, watching the sunset as we headed towards literal and figurative darkness. The Locust were appearing in LA for the first time in five years, playing one of only two shows they have scheduled this year. It has now been a decade since the release of Plague Soundscapes, an album of 23 songs in 21 minutes that is the sound of absolute chaos on tape. The members took to the stage in their notorious outfits, all lycra with creepy bug masks, and set themselves for the frenzy to come.
The Locust were one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing, and they did not disappoint. These blisteringly fast songs, most of which barely reach the one-minute mark, were played with complete technical assurance and whipped the crowd into total mayhem. Faces and brains were melted along the way as the band’s signature sound mixed blazing speed with drawn-out electronic drones. They sounded like thrash metal songs with all of the oxygen sucked out of them, and while The Locust aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, they drew a large and mostly admiring crowd for their set. I’m guessing no one else played more songs in one set during the whole weekend either.
TV On The Radio has been quiet since the release of their album Nine Types Of Light, which in truth was the first album of theirs that had left me underwhelmed. Before that they had been on an extraordinary creative streak, proving themselves as one of America’s finest with a string on indefinable releases that established them as a soulful, diverse, and constantly forward-thinking indie band. Their return to the stage here came with a tease of new material, which would suggest that that hiatus is about to come to an end.
The new material sounded great, but for the most part, the set drew from that run of great albums, and backed by a small horn section, the band brought a contagious energy to the evening. Their music regularly shows real subtlety, but their festival set was all about overpowering a huge crowd.
Tunde Adebimpe was in top form, strutting across the stage with the zeal of a preacher and the confidence of a rock star, while Kyp Malone played the straight man in the act as the band whipped through the likes of “Wolf Like Me” and “The Golden Age” with the conviction of a group that knows its place in the echelon. A charged and passionate version of older classic “Staring At The Sun” was a personal highlight, but how wonderful in general to be reminded how good this band is. Welcome back, boys.
On the subject of a return to the stage, we finished our evening having to choose between two fine bands in the cruelest time clash of the weekend. While the Yeah Yeah Yeahs headlined the main stage, we found a spot at the other end of the festival and nervously awaited the arrival of Death Grips. I say nervously because their no-show at a string of recent gigs (including Lollapalooza) had the audience wondering whether the band was actually going to show up. The nerves were eased when I recognized the hooded figure setting up the drum kit as Zach Hill, and so we prepared for what was to come.
The band took to the stage only a few minutes late and looking like they had just been thrown out of a bar, brooding with intent. They then delivered 50 minutes of high-octane, aggressive hip hop with an extraordinary amount of energy and stamina, never stopping for a breather or a sip from a water bottle. MC Ride stalked from one end of the stage to the other constantly, all wiry limbs and punk-rock energy, while Hill drilled his drum kit incessantly to accentuate the ground-shaking beats provided by the decks behind the pair.
The crowd was a mass of limbs and dust, a gleefully crazy sight in the shadow of the stage. The best show of the day ended part one of FYF on a real high, and finally ended the jinx of fellow LA Music Blog writer David Fisch, who has been chasing this band around for about as long as the Cubs have been chasing another World Series. He, like everybody else in the crowd, had his expectations matched and then comfortably exceeded.