Los Angeles State Historic Park
September 4, 2010
Don't let anyone mislead you about FYF Fest. It was not held in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles. The daylong celebration of all things indie was in fact held in the shadow of the sun. And the radiant ball of gas did its damndest to commit hipster genocide.
But by day's end, those greasy-haired ragamuffins held the battlefield and shimmied victoriously and sang along to the dance-punk stylings of New York's The Rapture. The impromptu rave-like environment spoke volumes of the fortitude of music fans who endured oppressive heat, dust clouds, long lines, pricey food and drink and fetid portable toilets. It also spoke to the vision of festival founder Sean Carlson, who though he has yet to work out all the logistical kinks that go with managing the event, still gives local music fans a day chock-full of top shelf, sub-mainstream bands at a reasonable price.
This year's event featured 38 bands on three stages and a slew of comedians (sorry folks, I missed Janeane Garofalo). The same gripe critics level at other musical festivals still applies: it's impossible to see every band, and figuring out the best way to get the most out of the experience requires some critical pre-planning and puzzle solving skills.
Sacrifices must be made, and in almost every case it was necessary to leave one stage during a band's set to hurry across the field for another act. In the defense of the planners, most bands went on at their scheduled times and there were few technical difficulties (save for during Wavves set, but more on that later). The biggest criticism goes to the price and availability of water. I don't know who's to blame, but it should be criminal to lure people into a gated, crowded area on a day with near triple-digit heat, tell them they cannot bring their own water or empty containers, then allow vendors to charge $4 for a 16 oz. bottle while only one drinking fountain is available.
The line stretched at least two city blocks behind the public spigot. You had to feel for the folks who spent an hour waiting to quench their thirst. This was driven home when I saw a young girl in a first aid tent lying on a cot under the watchful eye of Los Angeles County Paramedics. One enterprising vendor offered to fill my empty water bottle for two dollars. He planned on dipping it in the tub of melted ice cooling the bottles people were paying $4 for. Looking at folks emerging from portable toilets and reaching their hand in the tub to fish out their bottles, I passed. As for the music, the day's shortcomings were eclipsed by some musically inspiring moments. After the jump, check out a list of the day's highs and lows.
Tightest Set: Local Natives.This Silver Lake by way of Orange County quintet killed it. Singing in pitch perfect four-part harmonies, these guys delivered a set both uplifting and awe inspiring. Lead singer Kelsey Ayer triple tasked by singing, playing keys and augmenting the thundering percussion of Matt Frazier with a floor tom of his own. It was impressive watching him do these things simultaneously but his work on the single drum was something to marvel at alone. He would bang out tribal rhythms with a single stick, deftly shifting between the skin of the drum and the rim. The band as a whole demonstrated total mastery of their talents with voices crescendoing and waning in unison with a precision and deliberation that didn't obstruct the emotion of the songs. The set highlight was the simmering, soaring “Who Knows, Who Cares.”
Biggest disappointment: Dead Man's Bones. My apologies to Mr. Ryan Gosling for speaking frankly. I appreciate the fact that he's branching out from acting and giving kids in the Silver Lake Conservatory Children's Choir a chance to express themselves musically. It was stirring to hear the nearly 15 youngsters clad in various costumes sing the refrain, “My body's a zombie for you.” And Gosling, like many actors is a competent singer. But the gloomy songwriting and sparse arrangement of Dead Man's Bones, which consists of Gosslin and Zach Shields on guitar and keys in front of a choir still lacks musical richness and sophistication, not to mention enough material to adequately fill an entire set. This was evidenced when each of the young choir members engaged in a best costume contest judged by audience applause which lasted several minutes. Sadly, the biggest thrill was the novelty of watching an Oscar-nominated actor play music with a bunch of kids.
Worst audience reaction: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Ted Leo is one of those punk rockers who also happens to be a competent musician. His songs have always been catchy, edgy and manage to draw on unconventional influences such as Thin Lizzy. Unfortunately, during his set, most of the people watching him showed little enthusiasm for what he was doing. During the closer, “Biomusicology,” he spoke into his drooping mic: “Have I pissed somebody off so much that I can't get help with this mic?” He asked the question again before a stagehand came out to render assistance.
Most deserved audience apathy: Panda Bear. Standing on a darkened stage, the genius of Animal Collective played two notes through a loud synthesizer for 10 minutes. You could almost hear people scratching their heads.
Worst set placement: The Rapture. Judging by the crowd's rapturous response to these New York dance punks and festival headliners, I may have been the only one who noticed this. But their catchy brand of bouncy, synthy music felt like an extension of !!!. The two were separated by one time slot, were featured on the same stage and are of the same genre. That said, The Rapture delivered a tight, energetic set that got progressively more kinetic toward the middle when they played perennial favorites “Whoo Alright Yeah Uh Huh,” and “Echoes.” During these jams the show took on the feel of a massive backyard party. At one point the band was joined on stage by a pelvis thrusting, underwear-clad fan who was chased to the end of the stage where he jumped into the crowd.
Best call and response: Big Freedia. The New Orleans “bounce” rapper sounded the call “I've got that gin in my system.” and thousands of hipsters responded, “Now someone's gonna be my victim.” Dig the booty dancers.
Overheard: “Come on, let's wrap this shit up,” yelled one fan at the end of The Rapture's set. The same fan was seen dancing during the last number.
The crowd: A hipster mecca. Guys wearing prison striped tank tops, cut off jean shorts, straw fedoras and pork pie hats. Girls in spandex leggings, sun dresses, big floppy-brimmed hats and parasols galore.
Most surprising act of mercy: As the throngs were exiting the fenced area at show's end under the watchful eye of two LAPD officers, one genius decided to start throwing rocks at their cruiser. The cops quickly reached over the chest high fence and grabbed the guy who immediately said he respected the work they were doing. Instead of pulling him through the fence like a piece of cheese, they told him to get his ass home.