Yesterday Kanye West headlined day 1 at FYF Fest, peppered with a handful of quality acts. Day two more than made up for the lackluster quality of day one. Here, the undercard showed more genius potential than the headliners. In particular, three acts from wildly disparate disciplines wowed us with their professionalism and verve. Laura Marling, HEALTH and Battles could not possibly be more different from one another, but there is a similarity that makes each jump head and shoulders higher than the competition. Rather than merely filling out a genre they once heard and wanted to help populate with more content, these three acts genuinely craft their own art. Each has their own distinct sonic palette they focus on, but in all cases, it’s clear there is brilliance at work.
Laura Marling is a true folk singer in a generation bereft with singer/songwriters without any real point or poignancy of their own. Like Mark Lanegan, she does little in the way of stage presence. There is seldom an effort to interact with the crowd, but what she lacks in audience engagement charisma she more than makes up for in a holy crap dimension of songwriting, chops and illuminating vocals. She sings like someone from a time gone by, or better yet, a time and place we haven’t experienced, as if she’s some bizarre wood elf out of a fantasy story and she’s dropped in to sing us songs from her whimsical wood elf world. She opens with the four-song suite from her previous album Once I Was An Eagle including “Take the Night Off,” “I Was an Eagle,” “You Know” and “Breathe.” A casual listener would mistake these for being one long song, when in fact, they are four separate tracks that interlock immaculately to create a larger ebb and tide. Just like the Once I Was An Eagle album she follows it up immediately with “Master Hunter,” a rumination on an unwillingness to be a man’s possession. Other standouts she skillfully doles out are “Devil’s Spoke,” “Flicker and Fail” and “Once.” For “Sophia” she takes it up even a step higher, articulately rendering both nimble chords and a soothing falsetto. Perhaps burnt out by the promotion of her latest album Short Movie, this set contained no songs from it.
Elsewhere, the trio Battles took post-rock to its logical extreme with a set hell bent on sonic exploration. The group’s three members, Ian Williams, Dave Konopka and John Stanier, are locked in each song in what can only be called an intimate fluid musical conversation, one that requires intense focus and trust. Close examination shows how no one member truly leads the group, that each member drives certain segments of each song and then gives a timing nod to another member when it’s his turn to leave. Williams and Konopka alternate between guitars and effects flanking drummer Stanier. Mike Patton dorks will know Stanier well from his time ages ago in Helmet and more recently his pristine work in Tomahawk. In Battles he demonstrates the full range of his skill. No one hits ‘em quite like Stanier. Like a wide receiver waiting for the snap, Stanier anticipates each new rhythm like he can’t wait to get started, as if fortunes untold await him at the end of each song. Each song mutates from offbeat melodic tricks or syncopation into monstrous enveloping journeys that defy classification, yet manage to be danceable and thought-provoking simultaneously. Since there are no vocals, a casual fan would have trouble knowing what song is which. They did play new track “Summer Simmer” and Mirrored cut “Atlas,” an early fan-favorite from the beginning of the band’s career.
Los Angeles vets HEALTH have been redefining the formulation of experimental music for many years now. Their third album Death Magic just released this August is a tour-de-force reimagining of their sound. Much like Liars, another incredible LA-formed experimental band, the band has evolved without fully trading in their identities. They still fill their songs with explosive blasts of artful dissonance, but now have a tuneful and dreamlike catchiness throughout. New song “Stonefist” is a perfect example of this, alternating between distorted keyboard stabs and Jake Duzsik’s almost angelic singing of, “And we both know / love’s not in our hearts.” “Men Today” adds pummeling percussion. “Dark Enough” creeps and blips with a serene pitter patter, awake in a dreamlike fog. Many will scarcely ever delve into true experimental music. Many fearfully avoid the trappings of the movement, wanting more immediate satisfaction than normally is available. If you have even a cursory interest in what music outside the fold of mainstream pop and rock constantly market to us, this just might be the best place to start.
Much later in the evening the festival featured the triumphant return of avant R&B artist D’Angelo. He performed here with his new band calling themselves D’Angelo and the Vanguard. This being his first full tour following a 12-year hiatus, fans hotly anticipated his arrival. Thankfully, the hype built up during his long sabbatical was well-earned. D’Angelo played guitar, keyboards, danced and sang like a man possessed. Nearly every moment was spent enrapturing the crowd with some element at his disposal.
Morrissey headlined this day of the festival. His set made numerous intentional nods to his Latino fan base; Mozzer sometimes singing choice lyrics in Spanish and often displaying vintage photographs on the big screen behind him from times long forgotten of Latino immigration into Los Angeles. “Ganglord” was accompanied by a montage of American police brutality footage, fitting considering the escalating rash of police violence happening. No Morrissey show would be complete without some catty behavior of course, as he audibly complained about the multitude of security in the photo pit. “Why so much security? Did somebody sneeze? What’s going to happen? Can’t at least 50 of you leave?” he complained before returning to the set.
FKA twigs ended off the night with her futuristic PBR&B and her graceful, swan-like dance ability.
Early on in the day, Texas electro band Neon Indian played their first USA show in three years, opting to play almost all new material. Sadly, it lacked the mysterious, textured charm of their earlier material.
Flume had the sundown set time. Melding a mix of his own material and popular tracks he had a large crowd dancing happily.
Belle and Sebastian did a solid job at the main stage later on. With a large crew of extras on stage merely to dance along, lead singer Stuart Murdoch deftly led the band through choice cuts such as “Stars of Track and Field,” “Nobody’s Empire” and “I’m a Cuckoo.”
Nothing really to say here about Tobias Jesso Jr. Boring and terrible set from an overhyped artist who could barely sing in key.