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Day two of FYF Fest 2013 faired far better than day one did. Much like an NBA team, one star player can be enough to make the whole team win. And today, there were two. Was it the overwhelming wall of sound of the reclusive My Bloody Valentine delivered? Was it the crowd-favorite hits of MGMT? Was the dance party vibe of returning heavyweights !!! or young guns Poolside? No. It was the intelligent, inspiring and fearless hard rock renderings of Baroness and the now thirty years running grunge originators The Melvins. Yes folks, the best music in a festival overrun with popular and hip bands were a pair of bands determined to reinvent the world’s endless whipping boy for an uncool genre, heavy metal.
All photos by Owen Ela
Baroness have had a bit of a wild ride this last year. For those of you unaware, the band suffered what could have been a life-ending accident in England while on tour. It was a bus crash which came mere months after their most heralded album thus far in their career had been released, Yellow & Green. In the aftermath and following the hospital recovery, bassist Matt Maggioni and drummer Allen Blickle left the band while John Baizley and Peter Adams soldiered on. The band was at the time, scheduled to play FYF Fest 2012. Needless to say, that date and all of their dates were canceled. Even after all hardships encountered, the four-piece has lost no momentum. Like recently re-retired punk giants Refused, Baroness excel by making each instrument actually matter to the mix. There are no filler drums, aimlessly plodding bass or generic guitar chords here. Everyone has a part to play, and every player gets a chance to shine. The group also re-imagines heavy music pulling in every trick possible to build tension, provide color and eschew cookie-cutter, palm-muted riff chugging. It’s hard to put it any other way, Baroness is the new band that has a fighting chance to be the next titan of heavy metal.
Later, The Melvins effortlessly demonstrated to a largely new audience what their diehard fans have known for the better part of thirty years. There is no more exciting, rewarding or inventive band in hard rock music. The four-piece exhibits an enigmatic sense of how to re-composite their sound, sometimes taking sludge-y doom to operatic heights, other times making fast songs explode with technical delight and occasionally even manage to drop in a hint of self-aware silliness. They opened with utterly menacing “Hag Me.” This followed with the technical onslaught of recent cut “We Are Doomed.” They reached back to their Stoner Witch album for the brief, yet monstrous “Sweet Willy Rollbar.” The softer “Let it All Be” from their underrated classic The Bootlicker came next along with “Your Blessened.” The group’s two drummers Dale Crover and Coady Willis have an innate chemistry that has to be seen to be believed. Crover lays out intricate rhythms staring at Willis like he hopes to catch him off guard and unprepared. Willis never is though, answering, mirroring or supplementing each pattern with daunting force. The two get to show off their marching band chops on the call-and-response fun of “The Water Glass.” The band ends on a cover of Pop-O-Pies “Fascists Eat Donuts” which features the hysterical chant, “Make those donuts with extra grease / this batch is for the chief of police.” Seriously, this was about three times as good as any other band on the bill this weekend. Every band in every genre could learn from The Melvins stellar commitment to their craft.
Venerable indie rock heroes Yo La Tengo deserve extra credit for being able to capture an audience’s attention with a set list largely centered on quiet, peaceful numbers. The trio of Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan and James McNew are unappreciated masters of the indie rock sphere. Unappreciated, not by the press, but by the larger field of mainstream fans. This, like The Flaming Lips, is a band that deserves to be headliner level in popularity, far more so than the crowd-drawing bands that litter American festivals nowadays.
Newcomer Chelsea Wolfe did a great job of performing to a mid-afternoon sun-baked crowd, especially considering her music leans heavily towards a style of siren-like drone rock in the vein of Jarboe or Swans. Accompanied by keyboards, drums and bass players, Wolfe creates intoxicating, haunting melodies on the far opposite side of the playful twang of mxdwn fave St. Vincent. She plays with patience, more determined to build the sonic environment than to make a simplistic, catchy tune.
Solange, !!! and Poolside all got the crowd dancing gleefully each through their own playful efforts: Solange through nimble histrionics, Poolside through a soothing cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”
How to Dress Well used violin and keyboards to create a colorful, well-received and perhaps a bit heavy-handed take on modern R&B (think: The Weeknd).
My Bloody Valentine, did what they do best in their festival closing, headlining slot: delivered an onslaught of noise so overwhelming that it was nearly impossible to tell one song from the next.
On the negative side, MGMT made their own argument for why they’re washed up and have no business high up on any festival’s lineup. Thankfully, the band played many of their most beloved songs (“Weekend Wars,” “Time To Pretend,” “Electric Feel”) but the problem here really comes down to their own energy behind the performance. You can hear it in Andrew VanWyngarden’s voice. His heart just is not in this band anymore. Whatever jubilant spirit that they had originally that made them a firecracker success is long gone. But did they play their mega hit, “Kids”? Who cares?
All photos by Owen Ela