[See also Timothy Norris' slideshow “FYF Fest 2010 with The Rapture, Dead Man's Bones, Panda Bear and More”.]
All festival gripes amount to the same thing: too many people in one place desperately seeking comfort in things–water, shade, room, air, attention, privacy, soap, alcohol, food, and at some point, music.
We have chosen to assemble in a place where people would normally exodus from: A dirt field covered in litter, dust swirling the air, lines full of people waiting and waiting and waiting. So why do we come? Music and empathy–the small moments throughout the day that cancel out the filth and fatigue. A good song played well, a kind gesture–these things can happen too. Were there enough of them last Saturday at FYF Fest to make it all worthwhile? Maybe.
The centermost Redwood Stage seemed to benefit most from whatever gods dole out the good vibes. By 3pm, the still amiable masses gathered around rising locals Warpaint whose darkly lit mood-pieces–on both last year's EP Exquisite Corpse and this year's forthcoming LP The Fool–took on a decidedly looser, jam-band flavor when exposed to direct sunlight.
Small purple LED-lit towers flickered uselessly behind the quartet, whose rhythm section (Jenny Lee Lindberg, bass; Stella Mozgawa, drums) held things admirably in place like a rock on a stack of paper in wind, as amp problems and vocal feedback threatened to undo their carefully assembled mini-suites.
As with most early performances on festival bills, the band seemed to just be hitting their stride as the minute hand approached the end of their allotted too-short half-hour. Things began to fall into a groove by “Undertow,” an already fan-favored live staple from their upcoming album. The crowd reacted jubilantly as a borrowed Marshall stack was rolled in behind guitarist Theresa Wayman and the first, clear undistorted notes chimed to signal the start of “Elephants,” with many up front singing aloud the opening stanzas to accompany a smiling Emily Kokal.
The song fell open like a flower bud after Lindberg mimed a tap to her watch to someone offstage, seeking permission for the seemingly impromptu mid-song meandering. The bassist march-stepped toward the drums in high boots and a long dress flipping her hair out of her eyes and swinging her white Rickenbacker like a dance partner. The song found its way back and collapsed to an end, Warpaint's set over, a young fan bellowing “One more! Please! I just got here!” perhaps lamenting being stuck in the lines still stretching long and far down North Spring Street.
The cool effectiveness of dignified indifference was displayed as A.A. Bondy took the stage in off-white trousers, blue short-sleeved Oxford, black boots, and a black-and-caramel f-holed Gretsch.
His insouciance was genuine, as he appeared entirely unaware of the almost emptied field that cleared with the departure of Warpaint. He would play his songs for the benefit of himself and his trio–if you wanted to join in his road-weary balladry, it was entirely up to you. And they came. As Bondy opened things slowly with the countrified “Mightiest of Guns,” one black-haired, breathless girl rushed into the scene from afar, asking a neighbor, “Who is this?” When given the answer, she clapped and bellowed, “Yay! I love him!” and disappeared toward the front.
The former front man of underappreciated '90s rock trio Verbena has refashioned himself as a singer-songwriter of note. With two strong solo efforts on Fat Possum records providing plenty of slow-cooked Americana that befit the dustbowl environs better than almost any other act that afternoon. Who else can claim the kismet of singing a line like “Marching in a slow parade/There are ashes where you laid” as a won-over couple literally meanders over in tandem steps to collapse on a lawn littered with cigarette butts? Or when Bondy closed out his set with “I Killed Myself When I Was Young,” singing of a “heavy load” and letting the “train whistle cry for you” as an orange fork lift emerged atop a hill and the Gold Line trains screeched by behind him?
It was a homecoming of sorts for the Silver Lake-based quintet Local Natives whose mustachioed Taylor Rice repeatedly gave thanks to finally touching down in Los Angeles after a long summer away. The band's performance was well-attended, the throng dispersed out into a gleeful melee as far as the eye could see. Handclaps and hopping and overall good cheer were in order, the throng roused out of a hot slumber by opener “Camera Talk” from their FrenchKiss debut Gorilla Manor. Songs like “Wide Eyes” and “Shape Shifter” were met with cheers of recognition barely two notes in. Nothing but good times shared and had, but with this band everything is so multi–multi-culture, multi-rhythmic, multi-harmony–that aural fatigue can set in even during a short set.
The same thing must always happen at a Dead Man's Bones show: the Ryan Gosling taunts (“Hey! It's that dude from The Notebook!) eventually give way to real appreciation for the performance. One festivalgoer drifted away before set's end remarking to a friend, “It's a great idea, though.” And Dead Man's Bones is a great idea. Who doesn't want to indulge in the pure innocent joy of a children's chorus bedecked in costumes depicting deceased historical figures conducted with energetic flourish by a woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter?
Wearing a dress shirt, tan slacks, and gleaming shoes so white, Gosling appeared to be leaking milk down the inside of his pant legs. The actor-musician was as much spectator/babysitter as performer, often turning his back to the crowd to tend to his own spectacle. The whole thing seemed designed to collapse, the rickety, simple, yet tuneful songs barely a solid enough foundation to support the whole notion itself. But in the end, when a two-foot tall boy barely out of toddlerhood dressed in cowboy garb failed repeatedly to smash an acoustic guitar, there wasn't a frown left in the field.
By 8pm, the Sequoia Stage on the far side of the VIP knoll became a kind of retreat for the drug-weary and dehydrated, where shilling out a fiver for a tiny can of sugar-free Red Bull became a logical transaction. Spent youths splayed themselves out on the darkened lawn enduring a late-start and overlong set by Cold Cave who spent most of their time attending to technical mishaps (like a projector failing to light up the stage with a film of slow-moving jellyfish) and trying very hard not to sound like the soundtrack to a cell-phone advertisement. Seeing an overweight man atop the lighting rig jostling hazardously with equipment that high up only to realize he was trying to activate “visuals,” made the whole affair seem even more absurd.
As people gaped and dropped glowsticks like spent weapons, School of Seven Bells manically tried to make up for the lost time, Benjamin Curtis pacing the stage like a blur, making sure everything was in its proper place so that his band's complex brand of guitar-based atmospherics could go off without a hitch.
It took a few songs before the levels got right, Curtis gesturing thumbs up or down to a soundman off to the side of the stage while performing the first few songs. Bookended by the alarmingly beautiful twins Claudia and Alejandra Deheza whose vocal harmonies pierced through the morass in time for Curtis to fully let go and attack his guitar for singles (new) “Windstorm” and (old) “My Cabal,” ending with “Sempiternal/Amaranth,” the 10-plus minute psych-saga that certainly didn't need a fucking jellyfish movie (or a fat man to fix it) to generate gooseflesh.
So, is it the Romans we have to thank for these gatherings? The bacchanalia, the fete that knows no end (until it ends), the fenced-in celebratory love of all noise? Festivals keep blooming, expanding, cropping up in unexpected places. FYF Fest has something here–a fine spot near downtown, and a good group of real music fans behind the curtain setting it all into motion.
It's difficult to predict whether a real headliner besides the limp Rapture would make things better or worse. FYF is like a scruffy lapdog of a fest: it likes it if you scratch it behind the ears, it comes when you call it, it's fun, it's fine. Who knows why any of us choose to dive headlong into these things, but as long as we do, they'll be here to make us wait in a line and take our fistfuls of cash when we reach the front. Fucking Barnum knew this back in the 1830s. And still we march.