Austin, TX - The 9th edition of Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest tore up Auditorium Shores once again last weekend with a heady mix of indie, punk, metal, electronica, and everything in between. While things got off to a bit of a rough start on Friday, it turned out to be a beautiful weekend with sunny days and cool nights - perfect to see that long lost band you used to freak out to in your parents' basement, or that hot new act you keep missing every time they come to town. Only at Fun Fun Fun Fest is it possible to wander from sensitive alt-rock (Neutral Milk Hotel), to classic hardcore (Murder City Devils), to white hot hip-hop (Wiz Khalifa), all in less than an hour? Not to mention all of the afterparties - free with FFF wristband - which tore up Austin til the wee hours.
Friday, Nov. 4
Pallbearer - Long droning, doom from Little Rock, with occasionally soaring lyrics.
Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine - The last time I saw Jello was, coincidentally, at SXSW in 2001 when he hosted a wild Alternative Tentacles showcase that featured Wesley Willis, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, and others. In the intervening 13 years, Jello's gone fat and balding, but his voice - and rage - is as clear and potent as ever. (Jello spent most of his set wearing a t-shirt that read "FUCK THE TEA PARTY") And the crowd - most of whom were in diapers when Jello was lead singer of punk legends the Dead Kennedys - went bonkers, especially for DK classics like "Holiday in Cambodia" and "California Über Alles."
John Waters - It's not enough that John Waters has already established himself as the greatest cult film director of all time, Now he wants to do standup? I was skeptical, but holy crap, Waters was hilarious. And super sharp. And raunchy as all get-out. Telling stories about his various films and his amazing new hitchhiker's guide Carsick, he's like the dirty old uncle we all wish we had when we were young. You know, the one who'd give us butt plugs for our birthdays. Sun Kil Moon - Honest, earnest set by SF singer songwriter Mark Kozelek, who's acquired a reputation for combativeness with other bands. “I say this sometimes and don’t mean it,” Kozelek told us, “but this time I mean it: I fucking love Austin.” He went on to talk about how he fell in love with a local girl when he lived in town in the 90's, but screwed it up after a threesome with a Kerby Lane waitress.
Dinosaur Jr. - Hate to say it, but this show by the indie vets was shockingly bad. No-one in the crowd was moving. Hardly anyone even seemed to know who they were. The sound was shit, the projection screens were on the fritz, and the band seemed to forget they were playing in front of an audience. On the basis of this show, at least, their legend seems to have eclipsed the reality.
Majical Cloudz - Redemption came in the form of this Montreal duo in the Yellow Tent, with Devon Welsh singing earnestly and plaintively over Matthew Otto's synth and electronics. "Were going to try to drown everyone else out with our incredibly quiet music," Welsh told us before hopping off the stage and singing the bulk of the set from the center of the adoring crowd. Celebrating "the joy in sadness," Welsh reminded me of Daniel Johnston in his naked emotion, along with Dan Deacon's Pied Piper charisma. Heartbreaking and tender. Beautiful and real.
Alt-J - I've loved these guys from the moment I first saw them at Bonnarooo last year (then again at Summerstage.) Led by Joe Newman's distinctive vocals, their intoxicating blend of folk-rock and electronics is fresh and exciting, like Radiohead croseed with Mumford and Sons. So good. Deafheaven An infectious blend of shoegaze and black metal that would have gone over a lot better were it not for the distractingly vain antics of lead singer George Clarke. Newsflash: air conducting just isn't cool, even if the kids in the front row seem to be enjoying it.
Saturday, Nov. 8
The Presets - The Sydney duo displayed an appealing 90's sound (think: Erasure), with electronics and strong vocals courtesy of Julian Hamilton.
The New Pornographers - The Canadian vets delivered the goods, just like when I first saw them at the 2nd Fun Fun Fun Fest way back in 2007. Good, solid set from Neko Case, AC Newman, Dan Bejar and the rest of the crew, if not all that exciting.
Tinariwen - I don't know how many of the kids I saw here have ever been to Mali, or even know where it is on a map. But, they sure do love the trippy desert blues these guitar-wielding West Africans play, wearing full-on desert garb. Might have had something to do with a certain pungent odor wafting around the Yellow Tent.
Modest Mouse - Even though the Seattle vets haven't released a new album in five years, Isaac Brock and his cohorts still had plenty of excellent material to draw on during their hour-long set. Which is kinda what FFF has been about from the very beginning. Brock says a new album is coming out soon via his label, Glacial Pace. Really. Promise.
The Briefs - Part punk, part 90's Brit band (i.e. Pulp), the Seattle vets reunited for this one-off gig out on the patio at Red 7, opening for Rocket From the Crypt. Fun show, though not exactly mosh pit-inducing.
Sunday, Nov. 9
Iron Reagan - Hands down, the most fun show of the weekend, the Richmond, VA thrash-punks - dubbed "the reigning clown princes of metal" by the Austin Chronicle - kicked up a maelstrom on the Black Stage. With most of their songs lasting less than a minute (i.e., "You're Kid's An Asshole"), there was barely time to catch your breath in between songs. Lead singer Tony Foresta managed to be simultaneously fearsome and hilarious while egging on the crowd to keep the circle pit going, flying trash cans and all.
Har Mar Superstar - Is this guy, with his gimmicky, bubblegum pop, for real? Sean Tillman's band looked like they'd rather be somewhere - anywhere - else.
Foxygen - Looking way better than Har Mar without his shirt on, lanky lead singer Sam France had a Mick Jagger-like swagger, perfect for their classic/psychedelic rock.
Dum Dum Girls - Dee Dee Penny's music is a bit dull, but who cares when your band looks like this? These girls ain't no dummies when it comes to their image.
Rocket From the Crypt - The San Diego vets brought their high energy pop punk to the Black Stage, mixing guitars with brass, playing one song right after the next. Why don't more bands do that?
Flying Lotus - L.A.'s Steven Ellison conjures a unique mix of hip hop and EDM, with a healthy dose of hard bop. Which makes sense, given he's the nephew of John and Alice Coltrane. (Herbie Hancock contributes his crossover genius to "Tesla" on Ellison's latest release, You're Dead.) Ellison spent most of his set behind a trance-inducing projection screen, which the kids seemed to love.
Neutral Milk Hotel - This was the anti-show: no smoke machines, plain white stage lights, a message requesting no photos. (I snuck the one above from a distance.) All the more reason to focus on Jeff Mangum's mysterious, tender lyrics, sung in his pining, distinctive voice. Add to that guitars, accordion, a musical saw and a brass section, and I was transfixed. Among the highlights, "Ghost" hit home, talking about a girl in NYC, while "Untitled" was an instrumental dance of death, joyful and disturbed. Mangum closed with "Two Headed Boy" on solo acoustic, sending a sea of lighters into air. In between, you could occasionally hear the roar of guitars from the Murder City Devils playing next door. But, they didn't come close to drowning out what was right in front of us. A powerful experience, and a perfect way to end this year's Fun Fun Fun Fest.
Until next year...