FFF6 Post Mortem

I was kidding myself thinking I could come home from a week in Austin and find the time to write a detailed review of Fun Fun Fun this year.  I am buried in lists, work, e-mails and filthy laundry.  But somehow I keep finding myself on youtube, reliving my favorite moments of the weekend.  That Lykke Li set really was epic — with the wind and fog and megaphone!  M83 with a full band blew my mind!  Death Grips were so intense that just watching a shitty video makes me want to start a pit in my office!  Big Freedia makes me wish I had an ass to shake, and Odd Future reminds me of the carefree years when nothing really mattered.  I can still hear Slayer, Eyehategod and Cannibal Corpse riffs through the ringing in my ears.  Even as the jokes wear thin, Danzig still makes me laugh.  But as I sit here in my office, it’s the voice of Henry Rollins that is the hardest to block out — telling me to go back to the airport and get on a plane to somewhere, anywhere, as long as it’s foreign and dangerous!

People ask me questions like ‘what was the best set at FFF?‘ ‘who was your favorite band?‘ ‘were there a lot of hot chicks there?‘ ‘how was the weather?‘  And my answer is different every time, because my mind is always in a different place.  Slayer rocked, but Lykke Li made me fall in love.  The weather was great, except when it wasn’t.  My favorite band was Okkervil River, unless you count The Joy Formidable and Deafheaven and Grimes and and and and…

There is only one answer that does not change concerning this contrived contest — the two big winners are the city of Austin and the people who work so hard to make the Fun Fun Fun fest what it is every November.  They are the reason I buy tickets every year before I even see the line-up.  Fun Fun Fun is not just a brand name, it is a guarantee.

That being said, I wanted to recap the most memorable moments from FFF6.

The addition of Nites this year was key.  Not only did it allow for more acts to participate, but it also allowed for a true Austin experience for those coming from out of town.  In the past, FFF has been small enough as to not cause a ripple in the normal foot traffic on 6th and Red River, but with bands performing at venues such as the Mohawk, Red 7, Beauty Bar and Empire Automotive, the streets of Austin served as a late night outlet of fun.  Some of the best sets of the week could be found at these venues, sets from Toxic Holocaust, Death Grips, B L A C K I E and Deafheaven, just to name a few.  On Saturday we even received a special gift in the form of an extra hour, thanks to daylight savings, allowing Dead Horse to perform an after-hours set following Russian Circles.

The white dancers at Big Freedia were a sight to be seen!  There is just something about a girl holding onto a chain link fence while some dude with a Skoal ring grinds on her from behind, all while shaking his ass to a beat that was only in his head.  Sure, there was Azz Everywhere! onstage and they were 100% true New Orleans bounce pro-fessionals, but it was the amateurs in the crowd that made this a set worth seeing.

Shooting a lot of photos of Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara without actually seeing them was a little surreal.  I heard stories that the Driver had been seen with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, flanked by the man who still owes me the hours of my life I wasted watching The Tree Of Life, but I never ran into them and their film crew.  However, every night when I came back to the hotel and looked through my photos, there they were — next to Pictureplane’s masked dancers, having their eardrums blown out by Boris, shaking hands with Thee Oh Sees or checking out an Orange Stage set from Mates of State.  These people were everywhere. 

Danzig’s diva display and the aftermath that followed proved to be more entertaining that any Danzig show I have ever been to.  Not to take anything away from those who paid good money to see Misfits. I stood among you, for over an hour, to see Danzig and Doyle do their thing.  I stood there listening to some chick yell ‘Mother!’ over and over and over again.  I stood there listening to some dude yell “Gleeeeen, git yer shit together’ almost as many times.  I stood there trying to determine which one to kill first.  I watched them tarp off the stage and install heaters while Glenn was in the back eating French Onion soup and threatening people.  And I was there when he finally took the stage, sounding like shit.  I did leave for awhile, to catch some of Public Enemy before coming back to catch the Samhain set, which actually sounded quite a bit better than what came before.  I was also there for the Misfits aborted set.  When Danzig asked about riots, I left.  The stories of his demands, his deathbug, his sniffles and his ego were still unknown, but I knew better than to blame the festival.  Danzig was given a 90-min set.  That set was to start at 8:15pm.  The city curfew (as he well knew) was 10:00pm.  He didn’t have time to finish his set because he came on late…that is all there is to be said.  Danzig thinks he is the biggest name wherever he goes, and this time he was right.  No other name was heard more than that of Glenn Danzig over the next few days — just maybe not in the context he would have liked.  This truly was Daznig’s Legacy — Danzig, Samhain, Misfits and Bullshit.

A half naked B L A C K I E coming out of nowhere and slamming into me in the garage that is Empire Automotive is something I will never forget.  There were only a handful of us in the garage when I glimpsed a dude in nothing but boxers walk past the amplifiers onstage.  Before I could question this random sight, my ears were being assaulted by extremely loud feedback and bass.  As I was trying to get my bearing, the half naked dude (he had a hoodie to go along with the boxers and boots now) launched off the stage and slammed into me.  Screaming into a mic, he proceeded to slam into everyone else in the growing crowd, creating a circle pit of one.  Think Sleigh Bells meets Atari Teenage Riot meets GG Allin as a one-man show.  It seemed like he was trying to get someone to kick his ass.  It was hysterical and frightening on so many levels. This ‘act’ went on for about 20 mins.  It wasn’t until the next day, when I caught the beginning of his daytime set on the Black Stage, that I understood a word out of B L A C K I E’s mouth.  Evidently his name is ‘B L A C K I E all caps with spaces’, he is not selling anything, he doesn’t give a fuck, and he wants to burn all the pyramids in Austin.  On a stage, in the light of day, minus the shock factor of not knowing what was coming, I can’t say I enjoyed his set.  But that night, in that garage, there was a little bit of genius buried in the psychosis.

Getting my ass kicked and losing my favorite hat at Death Grips might sound like a bad thing, but it wasn’t — it was awe-some!  Of all the metal, hardcore and punk shows I’ve been to in my time, few have incited the kind of controlled violence that MC Ride, Flatliner and Zach Hill did at Empire Automotive.  Death Grips were among the top acts I wanted to catch at FFF this year, and I couldn’t think of a better place to see them than from the front row in a packed garage in the middle of the night.  MC Ride is a scary looking motherfucker, especially when he is screaming in your face.  There were times, when bodies came flying onto the stage around him, that I thought he might actually lash out and start beating people in the crowd.  The set wasn’t without its sound issues, completely losing vocal during a section of Lord of the Game, but overall it was an amazing performance that covered all the highlights from Exmilitary.  I might have lost my hat to a crowd surfer, but MC Ride almost lost his teeth.  I might have been kicked in the head a couple times, but his mouth was bloody.  If he’s not complaining, either am I.  Death Grips killed it that night, and from what I’ve heard, their daytime set on Saturday showcased the same hostile energy.

Lykke Li, Girls, M83 and The Joy Formidable smashed my modest expectations.  For a few hours on Saturday, the Orange Stage ruled them all.  It started with The Joy Formidable’s amazing afternoon set.  The Welsh band, fronted by the charismatic firecracker Ritzy Bryan, was the first daytime set to hold my complete, undivided attention.  They were the perfect example of a band expanding their performance to fill a large stage.  M83 is the new hot ticket, and they proved why with a full set with a full band.  I really expected an electronic show from the French producer, but this stage was packed side-to-side.  It really should have been dark for this material, but this set made me much more excited for the Seattle show I’m going to catch on Sunday.  We only caught the ending of Girls set, but a full entourage featuring female backup singers added an element to them that was lacking when I saw them a couple years back.   And then there was Lykke Li, playing with wind like it was a childhood friend.  I had doubts she could fill the big stage, but her sound was HUGE!  The production was HUGE!  And she sounded amazing.  I heart Lykke Li and can’t wait to bring my wife to see her this weekend.

Dan Deacon’s chaotic, shitty sounding, dust-storm dance-off was exactly what you’d expect from the electronic sound magician.  Setup in the middle of the crowd, we never got a good view of the man himself, but his instructions were loud and clear — dance!  And from the tornado of dust raising from the pit he was in, the crowd obliged.  Deacon’s set was plagued with sound problems, making it almost unbearable, but as with any Dan Deacon show, the music is only a small part of what’s happening.

The dust.  Texas is experiencing a major drought, which led to a dusty, dirty festival experience.  From what I hear, Auditorium Shore usually has some grass here and there, but this November it was nothing but the brown stuff.  The windy conditions made Saturday the worst day, but bandannas and masks were more than a fashion statement for most of the weekend.

Turquoise Jeep’s burning question, fried or fertilized?, might not be the best song we heard all weekend, but it definitely stuck.  ‘The way you move your hips, girl, make me hypnotized. How you like your eggs, fried or fertilized?‘  The comedic r&b/hip-hop collective were onstage when we wandered into the Yellow tent for the first time, and to be honest, if their lyrics weren’t so ridiculous, I would have expected they were serious.  These guys have a flow that could be mistaken for any of the ‘established’ r&b acts out there today.  Can He Move It Like This, Lemme Smang It and Fried or Fertilized all provided great mid-afternoon comic relief.

Fun Fun Fun fest growth rate can be measured in quite a few ways.  First, there is the number of attendees.  Evidently this number grew by 30% this year.  This is the statistic I was afraid of. FFF has always been great because there was room to breathe.  Back at Waterloo Park there was never a line to get in, for bathrooms, for drinks or for food.  The bands drew big enough crowds to make it exciting, but small enough that you could position yourself up front without much effort.  There was a risk of this changing as the festival gained in popularity every year, but the people in charge weren’t about to lose this unique advantage over the larger festivals.  So how do you deal with a 30% population growth rate?  You provide 100% more square footage.  The Shores provided so much more room that it actually seemed like you had more room to breathe (dust) than you did at Waterloo.  You didn’t need to have PIP passes to find a space of your own, whether it be under a tree, along the stone wall or chillin’ in a Pinto at the El Camino Lounge.  The other way you can gauge growth is by the headlining acts, and seeing Slayer close out Sunday night proved that FFF has a level of clout they didn’t have just a few years ago (unless you think Danzig is at the same level as Slayer, and if think that, then you probably are Danzig).  FFF might be all growns up, but it still looks like that little kid you met years ago.

Getting into Red 7 just in time for Deafheaven was such a relief.  Standing in line for the first time at any FFF event, we were counting the minutes until Deafheaven’s set time while standing among the masses on East 7th St..  Frantically texting Kerry to see if he could get us in, the line finally starting moving just minutes before they took the stage.  We had missed Boris, but the Boris crowd leaving got the rest of us in.  Deafheaven destroyed the inside stage, playing off the intense energy of the crowd.  One of the few bands I have seen that transports their audience into the same zone they are in.  For 25 minutes there was nothing else happening in the world. George, who started out rocking back and forth with a dead pan stare, found himself literally floating on the arms of his fans at the end.   The set ended with Unrequited — and an amazing set it was!  Talking to a double-fisted, admittedly drunk Kerry after the show, he had a lot to say about the Danzig debacle, how incredible Russian Circles are, how stoked he was to see Slayer for the first time and how cool it was to have beers backstage!  

Trying to keep my eyes on Grimes and block out her awful dancer was one of the hardest tasks of the festival, even harder than getting up every morning after 10+ hours of music and drinking the day before.  Grimes is Claire Boucher and she is cute as hell.  Curly blonde hair, black sunglasses, bubbly personality — she looks and sounds nothing like I expected.  Based on the material I have heard, I didn’t expect this to be upbeat, danceable stuff.  Based on photos I had seen, I expected her to be a serious ‘artist’ type. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Her danceable beats and unique style of singing in foreign tongues(?) made for one of the most surprising and engaging sets of the weekend.  All of this was happening on one side of the stage. The other side of the stage was another story — some guy, with scarves and other crap, doing (awful) interpretative dances that had nothing to do with the music.  The only advantage of him coming out into the crowd to dance in his own dust circle was that I could ignore him and pay attention to what was happening behind the keyboards. 

Ted Leo’s Misfits set took the Danzig joke to a hilarious level.  After a set that had me questioning why I don’t listen to this band more often, Leo announced that ‘it’s too fucking cold‘ before applying a black wig and sleeveless shirt and taking on a Danzig persona.  After claiming to have checked his Facebook account, he apologized for the short set and then performed no less than four Misfits songs, including the much missed Skulls.  I had my fingers crossed for Last Caress myself, but couldn’t complain that it was left out.  Ted Leo and the Pharmacists sounded great, with their own material as well as the Misfits covers. 

Parents with young kids at Cannibal Corpse and Eyehategod.  Not much else to say here.  I get that the kids have no clue what these bands are saying, but seeing a suburban-looking father high-fiving his 3 year old son after The Wretched Spawn is just something that sticks with a person.

Seeing Okkervil River’s Will Sheff come out like he was on crack was strange to say the least.  The first time I saw Okkervil was at the tiny Independent in San Francisco over 5 years ago.  He was a quirky dude with a guitar and dark stories.  On Friday night, he had something to prove to the hometown crowd.  The set started strong with Wake and Be Fine, with Sheff literally throwing his guitar around and running into band members before taking us back with Real.  With six people onstage, the sound was huge!  Running through songs new and old as fast as we was running across the stage, he really did seem like he was coked out of his head.  It didn’t take anything away from the sound though, even when one of his mics wasn’t working, he just shared another — nothing was going to stop this set, not even the time limit!  Going over by about 5 minutes with Unless It Kicks, Sheff was not going to leave until everyone was having as much fun as him.  ‘Put your hands in the air!!!‘  The crowd couldn’t help but do as he said.  His condition was contagious!

Henry Rollins inspired me to started traveling again when he started talking about Africa and India and Iran and North Korea.  At first I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for a spoken word performance, but Rollins has a way of hooking you in.  The set started with him asking the crowd to keep an open mind and not take offense to anything he said about Texas, and then he brought us around the world and back as he painted portraits of his adventures, with Nat Geo as well as solo, to some of the world’s most dangerous places.  Rollins has a way of talking about his amazing life without ever sounding like he’s bragging.  He is confident in his beliefs, and he is very political, but he never gets preachy — you never feel like he is trying to make you believe something.  His reenactment of scaring the shit out of Dennis Hopper by screaming lines from Blue Velvet at him was probably the funniest moment in a performance worthy of a larger stage.  He ended his set with a humorous story about visiting North Korea with the line ‘and that’s why I have a passport‘, reminding me that I also have one and that it’s been almost a year since I’ve used it.

Being conflicted at OFWGKTA’s set made me feel old.  A part of me wanted to hate them.  Everything I’ve read and heard from this group of skateboarding, hip-hop punks had me questioning the tastes of today’s youth.  Sure, I listened to shit my parents hated when I was young, but that stuff seemed original.  Too $hort, N.W.A. and 2 Live Crew were all saying shocking things, but they were also the first to say this stuff!  Odd Future say shocking things, but I felt like it’s all been done before.  Seeing them live, I wanted to have my opinions confirmed, and they were.  They sounded like crap.  Everyone fighting for the spotlight, talking and rapping all over each other — it was a mess.  But I couldn’t leave.  There was something more than the music, there was an electricity in air.   To their fans, these kids are bonafide rock stars. I haven’t seen this type of reaction since I was a teenager myself.  Tyler, The Creator is the obvious star of the group — being the best rapper of them all, he really does carry the rest of them, but like the Wu-Tang Clan before them, there is strength in numbers and each character has his/her own role.  I couldn’t tell you what songs they played or who was who up there on stage (besides Tyler and Hodgy), but what I can say is these kids have a punk rock attitude — they are in your face and truly don’t give a fuck.  Sure, they piss people off, but isn’t that what this music is supposed to do?  I can’t say I love these guys, there are literally hundreds of rappers better than them, but they are the anti- act right now and I’m glad they exist.  It might be a little frightening to see a mass of kids, skateboards in air, screaming “Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School!”, but do you remember how scared the parents were when the kids were singing Slayer’s Angel of Death?  Well, now the parents are the ones listening to Slayer, so let the kids have their own.  OFWGKTA will never be my favorite group, but seeing them live was pretty fucking radical.

Meeting Kerry King at the airport when I just happened to have a numbered Black Stage poster in my hand seemed too good to be true, but there he was, just a few people in front of me in line for security.  I knew it was him because the face tattooed on his bald skull was staring back at me.  As he walked through the airport, people yelling SLAYER!, I wondered if I’d have the nerve to ask him for an autograph.  When he disappeared into the United Club, I figured I had missed my chance.  But when he walked past me later on, I couldn’t help myself.  I had a poster, he had a sharpie and we were a go.  Real nice guy too, didn’t try to murder me or anything.  Oh yeah, their closing set on Sunday night slayed as well!  SLAYER!!!

Austin.  The people.  The weather in early November.  The parks, the venues, the bars, the food.  Austin really is the star when it comes to Fun Fun Fun fest.

Predicted Top 10 (abc order):
Danzig Legacy
Death Grips
Future Islands
Kool Keith
Reggie Watts

Actual Favorite 10 (abc order):
B L A C K I E (nite set)
Deafheaven (nite set)
Death Grips (nite set)
Henry Rollins
The Joy Formidable
Lykke Li
Okkervil River

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday