In the world of informed music fans, bands like TV on the Radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been heralded as the beginning sparks of a second coming of alternative talent for over ten years. These bands are not new in the indie rock world, and have each amassed a massive canon of material in the years since their auspicious beginnings. However, in the world of serious music business, the genre of indie rock has been considered an inaccurate measuring stick of new, bonafide or rising stars. More often than not, the voluminous hype far from equals explosive revenue. Normally, the acclaim never flips into the success predicted, the hype devolving into a trickle of “oh yeah, remember when everyone was excited about?” muttering. If you’re searching for proof, look no further than Bloc Party, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or Fleet Foxes as just a handful of bands that the internet and its associated hype machines trumpeted as new champions of the medium. Usually, the hype is merely just that hype.
All photos by Owen Ela
As with 2012 and 2010, we returned to the L.A. State Historic Park for the 2013 edition of FYF Fest. Along with Fun Fun Fun Fest, FYF Fest more or less represents the end of an ever-more crowded festival season, leaving Los Angeles with a final “bang” before the year speeds to a close. Last year’s festival balanced the best in three eras of hardcore punk against the new crop of balls-out noise rock. This year for day one at least, the new generation of alt rock, combined with the new generation of dance infused bands and a few titans of indie rock.
First up this year was a small opening set of comedy in Samantha’s Tent (yes, this year all the stages are named after Sex and the City characters). Doug Benson earned laughs with gritty but pleasant humor. Brett Gelman (going by the moniker Gelmania) on the other hand, opted for at least half of his set to be a pre-recorded rant of how much he thought playing a daytime set at a music festival was beneath him, progressively making the rant sound more demonic through effects. He then came out to the words “I’m just kidding” and did a short rap that seemed largely improvised.
Eleanor Friedberger—who many of you may know from The Fiery Furnaces—came immediately after and instantly declared herself the opposite of Gelmania’s rants, present to show love for the crowd in attendance. Friedberger was upbeat in a fashion reminiscent of the best of 70s country-laden rock. “I Don’t Want to Bother You” featured Friedberger doubling on guitar and vocals and ended powerfully on the words, “You’re a disgrace.”
Living legend Roky Erickson also had an early slot, busting out upbeat jams with what is now his super raspy vocal delivery. Famous for an extreme falsetto when he was lead singer for 13th Floor Elevators, over many years, his voice has changed to more a low grumble. Erickson alternated between chords and singing while a crack band of young musicians aggressively struck out each number. The biggest shame here, is that for whatever reason Erickson’s vocals were fully drowned in the mix. It was impossible to truly hear the inflections and appreciate the brilliance in his delivery. No matter what the reason, a giant disservice to what this set needed to be.
Over at Charlotte Stage Ty Segall opted to perform entirely seated, mostly acoustic. Segall’s vocals are in a range similar to that of Nathan Williams of Wavves, a nasal but steady shout that feels reverberated even when it isn’t. Segall quipped at one point, “Thanks for putting up with all our new stuff.” For the uninitiated, Segall has recently been flooding the market with new releases over the last three years. At this point, it’s hard to discern what qualifies as new material. Charles Bradley slayed over at the Carrie Stage a short while later. Bradley’s neo-soul is entirely about his stage presence and skill. He’s a consummate showman, singing each note as if he was wrenching a demon from deep inside himself. Each note is painted across his face with expressive color. Near the end Bradley remarked, “Your brain ain’t nothing but a computer. It’s gonna do what you tell it to do.”
With more emphasis on the sonic tapestry, Chaz Bundick’s Toro y Moi played to a large crowd at the Charlotte stage. In the early portion of his career Bundick would play solo, triggering everything via keyboard and laptop. Several years later, his once simplistic sound has grown into a full on slow jam tapestry. What was once bleeps and bloops now sounds like a fluttering array of lush instrumentation.
One of the most impressive acts of the day was the reactivated 90s alt group The Breeders. Performing the entirety of their classic album Last Splash and “Fortunately Gone” from their first album Pod, the Deal sisters Kim and Kelley, seemed enthusiastic and lively. “One Divine Hammer” and “Saints” were appropriately charming for a late afternoon set, the latter of which featured Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox as a special guest on back-up vocals.
Devenra Banhart, however, was the polar opposite of their set and supremely boring. Banhart was previously known as one of the pioneers of freak folk movement. Just a few years back he was playing raucous and adventurous sets filled a level of Zappa-esque adventurousness. This, was mid-tempo and lifeless. Whatever unique spirit he exhibited several years back is fully gone.
Deerhunter followed over at the Carrie Stage and did a bit better, but still failed to live up to the band’s acclaim. Bradford Cox now appeared in a full polka dot dress with a large wig of tangled black hair. Like Roky Erickson earlier, Cox’s vocals became lost in the wailing cacophony of the band’s music. It was hard to discern whether the mix was lacking or if he just wasn’t singing loudly enough, but it was still enough to make it hard to follow the band’s already complex sound. They faired better later in the set when the song’s turned into an instrumental crescendo layering in walls of feedback and noise.
TV on the Radio did a great job in a late evening set at the same stage. Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe stated, “We’re working on new music right now. We’re really excited to be working on new music.” The group played a couple of new tracks that demonstrated the band’s trademark ability to combine lush arrangement, hook-y choruses and driving rhythms. Standout numbers included “Repetition,” “Golden Age” and “Wolf Like Me.” The band has had a reputation in the past of being widely hit or miss in terms of their live show. It was great to see them in energized form. In this case, hopefully the time away has helped to significantly recharge their batteries.
Flag is one of two different Black Flag reunions active right now. The band featuring Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Bill Stevenson, Dez Cadena and Stephen Egerton is not to confused with the reunited Black Flag which features founding member Greg Ginn with vocalist Ron Reyes. For those keeping score, neither band features Henry Rollins who is widely associated as the seminal 80s punk band’s most beloved singer and the face and voice of the band. Tonight FYF Fest had the pleasure of Flag’s appearance. The group ripped through numerous classics from Black Flag’s early catalog and allowed both Morris and Cadena to both have a chance to sing cuts. “No Values,” “My War,” “No More,” “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” “Jealous Again” and “Wasted” all appeared with Morris singing before Cadena took the lead on “Amerian Waste,” “Thirsty and Miserable” and “Six Pack.” This was good nostalgic fun, but the only problem is neither singer packed the raw, intimidating power that Rollins’ voice is capable of. Morris seemed out of breath for many numbers.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs proved again (as they did at Coachella just a few months back) how they are a true modern champion of indie music. Playing “Mosquito” and “Sacrilege” from their newest album along with “Heads Will Roll,” “Gold Lion” and their own version of a longing love song, “Maps.” Lead singer Karen O commands the main stage like a queen with the rambunctious energy of a five-year old. She bounds through each number with limitless energy. This is one band where the end product has truly lived up to the hype. By never squandering an opportunity and progressively cranking out great music they have evolved into someone who can enrapture and draw a massive audience.
And finally, Death Grips. Yup, the bad boys of rap were the last band up at the festival. This is significant because the band has recently made headlines by no-showing a slew of gigs including a pair of high-profile shows at Lollapalooza. No one’s entirely sure why the band did it, and the band hasn’t made a single statement as to why. The only indication is that the band meant to no-show those gigs. Betting money had them not arriving for this one either, but they did. Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett, drummer Zach Hill and DJ Andy “Flatlander” Morin showed up, nary made a comment and jumped right into a set of pulverizing, discordant hip-hop. Ride’s lyrics are nearly incomprehensible, but the band is oddly more punk rock than any other group making the rounds in punk right now. This is the kind of band that your parents that grew up in the classic rock era would be terrified off. It’s aggressive, atonal and uncompromising. At least they showed up this time!
All photos by Owen Ela