Before the gates for FYF Fest opened this past weekend, many of its faithful festival goers had plenty of shit to talk about the big names on the bill--Kanye West (who took over for Frank Ocean) and Morrissey. Simply put: They were too big. They were too big to be on the same show as the underground acts we love, too big for the festival's Echo Park cred to remain intact in the sight of all those pining for the chaos of Chinatown "back when FYF was good." Most of all, they felt too big to connect to the actual spirit sweat-soaked, uncensored "Fuck Yeah!" moments that were always FYF's prime commodity. I mean, is it even possible for an artist with his own shoe line or a private jet to understand the spirit of what we're trying to doing here? Do they even get it?
Judging by each of their performances over the weekend, it turns out they actually kinda do.
On Saturday night, nearly every living soul inside the gates deserted their post to go see Kanye (even plenty of the ones who claimed they wouldn't). Why? Because,well, it's Kanye. Residents across the street from the LA Sports Arena and Exposition Park could be seen filing along the rooftops of their buildings or hanging out of windows waiting for a glimpse of his Yeezus-ness. True to form, the hip-hop star was late to the stage by about 15 minutes or so. It was only exacerbated by the fact that the sound guy was able to play Pink Floyd's entire album Wish You Were Here back to front before the show started. But hey, playing the part of the punctual, gracious understudy isn't really West's style.
To his credit, Yeezy started with an homage to the artist he replaced, opening with Watch the Throne's "No Church in the Wild." Because it started with Ocean's a capella vocal, there was a second where we thought the R&B singer might've punked us all by actually showing up, but alas. Whether or not it was intended, 'Ye's line "You should be honored by lateness, that I would even show up to this fake shit! on "Stronger" carried an extra dose of venom as he screamed at the top of his lungs. Even if you wanted to hate him for that, it's kinda hypocritical considering you probably didn't show up until after the sun went down anyway.
Truth is, Kanye's sense of self-entitlement and cockiness meshes well with the mentality of the average festival goer at this stage of FYF. We want everything our way, right now, easy to use, etc. Paying $175 for a ticket can do that to a person. So hearing some of that reflected back at us from an the headliner made him even more relatable to this group of festival goers in a way he would never have been before.
But even self-aggrandizing 'Ye knew when to take his wall of spotlights off himself for a minute. If you've been keeping track of your Facebook feed, you know Rihanna did guest vocals on "FourFiveSeconds" while singing from the pit--pretty rad--and returned again, this time on stage, to sing the hook on "All of the Lights." But just when we appeared to be steering towards a full-blown Wango Tango, Yeezy and his second guest, rapper/producer Travi$ Scott whipped up a little unscripted frenzy we like to call a mosh pit during his appearance for "Antidote" and "Upper Echelon."
"I wanna see more mothafuckin' moshing, more mothafuckin' crowd surfing," Scott yelled from the stage. "I wanna see more mothafuckin' chaos!" Yeezy himself commanded the crowd to open the pit up for several times, furthering his attempts to play with the crowd instead of just play for us. And if you were able to mosh to Kanye, then you know what this festival is really about. It's not just about going apeshit for the sake of your favorite punk band. It's about going apeshit for the sake of going apeshit. When the pit opens up for a chart topping pop song, that's when you know the spirit of the fest has won.
Likewise, Morrissey showed his FYF-ness the following night by appealing to our general dislike of beefed up security--and for some, just a dislike for beef in general. Even though stage crashing was probably pretty easy to pull off at FYF in previous years, festival organizers were ready to put all hands on deck to prevent any Moz tackling, which his crowd is known to do from time to time. One gal still managed to get through to touch him during "Alma Matters" before being hauled off into the darkness a cluster of guards.
Unlike an arena show at an enclosed venue like Staples Center, hearing and watching Moz's song selection unpacked in the middle of the neighborhood around USC also turned out to be pretty punk rock. "Ganglord" in particular, with lyrics espousing hatred for police brutality ("They say, 'To protect and to serve, But what they really mean to say is, get back to the ghetto, the ghetto!"
) was tense and a bit uncomfortable a times, considering we were just a stone's throw away from an actual ghetto. A cut-and-pasted assortment of footage featuring police beating up minorities (including Rodney King) played behind him to ensure his message was both seen and heard, forcing us to face it head on. No question that kind of attempt to shock is something any FYF fan can appreciate, or at least understand.
The best anti-authority move of the night came during a false start of "World Peace is None of Your Business" when he ordered the extra security at the front to get out of his sight.
"Why so much security?" he asked into the mic. "What do you think's gonna happen? Did somebody sneeze? Can at least 50 of you go away please?"
What's more FYF than telling security to F-off, right? The crowd responded with cheers: "Morr-is-sey! Morr-is-sey!"
Then of course then there was the meat shaming. The gloriously twisted meat shaming. Sure the average Morrissey fan was ready for him to say something about all the animal flesh being peddled and served around him. Hearing the song "Meat is Murder" was pretty much a given. But to have a drive-in movie sized screen showing images of decapitated cattle and baby chicks being grinded into bloody pulp was something that left nothing if not a scarring impression on those who weren't already seasoned fans. Or those who happened to be eating a seasoned hamburger. But even that type of shocking propaganda felt native to the original confrontational, no-holds-barred spirit of FYF. It reminded festival goers that they could actually be offended at something they paid to see.
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In an era where big promoters make millions by replicating the same festival bill with the same critical favorites month after month, there's little room left for shock and awe anymore. Especially if you're a crazy music journalist whose penchant for going to festivals borders on masochism. It's getting to be where if you've been to one or more big fests this year, you've been to 'em all.
And you could argue that Kanye and Morrissey--two guys who've had more than enough experience putting on the same show night after night--were only there to give us the pinnacle of predictable performances. And we're not gonna argue that they didn't do that for the most part. Of course they kept it straight forward and played the hits. But even in the context of what was expected of them, these are two artists also reminded us they still know how to be the wildest wildcards on the bill when they want to be. And when they decided to say "Fuck Yeah," and go off script, people listened.