This past Saturday, thousands of concertgoers descended upon the Los Angeles State Historic Park for the eighth year of Fuck Yeah Fest. Situated in downtown L.A. just outside of Chinatown, the festival grounds had all the makings of a good day fest, complete with trees for ample shade, woodchips to limit the dust, a nice view of the nearby skyscrapers and over 35 bands on four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-themed stages. But the one factor that couldn’t be controlled was the weather; by quarter past 11am the heat was already scorching and attendees stood dripping in sweat. As if the planned 12-hour schedule wasn’t indication enough, it was going to be a long day.
Fortunately, the many complaints about last year’s lackluster organization (which resulted in unreasonable lines, limited access to water and shade, and general discomfort) seemed to have made a big difference – this year’s attendees were treated to a wide variety of food, drink, and rest areas which made the most of the summer festival. And for the most part the weather was also on our side, as a cooling breeze helped combat the heat throughout the afternoon.
One of the most notable aspects of the festival was the joining of two disparate but equally dedicated groups of fans: the punks and the indie/alternative rock enthusiasts. Performances by older hardcore bands like The Descendents, OFF!, and the reunited Kid Dynamite attracted aging punk fans, many sporting beards, tattoos and Black Flag shirts. On the other hand, modern indie staples like Broken Social Scene and Cold War Kids ushered in the next generation of alternative music with lesser-known names including The Head & The Heart and L.A. locals Tijuana Panthers.
Those who had been standing in line before the festival grounds opened had already been treated to snippets of single “The Dive” during the band’s soundcheck, but the band chose instead to open the set with the title track from their new album Leave No Trace. Guitarist Lewis Pesacov was the first to emerge from backstage, and he immediately dove into a solo before being joined by the rest of the band one instrument at a time. Now playing with a tighter lineup of five members instead of the usual ten-plus musicians, Fool’s Gold is still just as compelling live. Pesacov and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Brad Caulkins complemented each other’s playing with intricate riffs that weaved in and out of Luke Top’s bass lines, creating gorgeous tones to the swinging rhythms provided by drummer Garrett Ray and percussionist Salvador Palencia. Despite the band’s catchy melodies, the early afternoon crowd was surprisingly reluctant to dance, but that didn’t stop Fool’s Gold from showcasing their knack for jamming. Through their six-song set, featuring only tracks from their new album, they used a wide range of instruments including shakers, an African djembe, an electric drum kit, synths, keyboards and a saxophone to achieve the band’s characteristic “tropical pop” sound.
While wandering the park I found myself drawn to the double-stage located near the entrance where SoCal group Tijuana Panthers were playing. The three-piece retro-rock outfit channeled the bubblegum pop of the late ‘60s by way of contemporaries Wavves or The Drums (with more restraint and less Joy Division influence, respectively). Surf guitar riffs led songs like “Red-Headed Girl,” “Girls Gone Wild,” and “Crew Cut,” and the band’s influences became most apparent as every member took turns singing and the drummer’s voice recalled the hit of yesteryear “Yummy Yummy Yummy.” Tijuana Panthers’ simple tunes proved to be crowd-pleasers, prompting fans to skank and do the Twist all throughout their set.
Three guitars, one keyboard, a bass, a drum kit, an oboe, a saxophone, and a rapper in a Darth Vader helmet – what more could you ask for? Led by an enthusiastic 20-year old Avi Zahner-Isenberg, this eclectic ensemble exuded a youthful energy that outshined their occasionally unorganized style. The band ended on a high note with the 7-minute standout “Remember Last Time,” during which Zahner-Isenberg, donning a sombrero and a Tweety-Bird sweatshirt, noodled up and down the fretboard of his crimson-red Telecaster, proving he has that great combination of pop sensibility and technical skill that will make him one to watch out for.
Where Avi Buffalo’s performance may have been an exercise in excess, singer-songwriter Cass McCombs offered an opposite experience with his toned-down folk ballads. Unfortunately this change of pace killed much of the energy that Avi and Co. had built up, making it hard to pay attention to McCombs’ lethargic musings even as the Metro passed by in silence. The set’s best moment came with a jam featuring congas, pedal steel guitar and the ever-so-rare bass solo, but it still wasn’t enough to keep the rest of the show exciting.
Even at age 55 Keith Morris knows how to rock harder than most. The dreadlocked frontman has a long history with punk (see: Black Flag, Circle Jerks, the entire 80’s hardcore movement) and has been one of the most vocal supporters of FYF. With his active involvement in the independent music scene, it’s little surprise that he and OFF! returned to the festival. And the audience was glad to see them – OFF! drew the largest crowd of the day that far, and the plumes of dust emerging from the swirling circle pit near the front of the stage just reaffirmed the band’s appeal. The only time “Uncle Keith” Morris’ age showed was when he went into a brief diatribe against the ambiguous oppressors of punk rock and a progressive mentality, a.k.a. “those people.” “When we say ‘fuck people,’ we don’t mean all people,” he explained. “We mean those jerks who have said no to us in the past, those people who have kept us down, those people who text while driving… don’t be those people, don’t be that fuckin’ idiot,” Morris urged, and with any luck his converts will abide.
Japandroids write songs about girls. They also write about leaving home, feeling lonely, and spending time with friends, but mostly, they write about girls. While their main theme may not be entirely universal, the guitar-and-drum noise-rock duo transcended this limitation with their recklessly compelling live show. Every song was an anthem: brash chords, thunderous drumming, choruses packed with “whoa-oh-ohs” and simple sing-alongs about wanting to “French-kiss some French girls.” The breeze kicked up dust and blew through guitarist Brian King’s hair as he hammered relentlessly on his guitar to the point that he had to retune between every song in their set. It’s hard to think that two people can make so much noise, but Japandroids played one of the loudest sets of the day, making their heavy but accessible garage rock a perfect mix between the punk of the past and the rock of today.
And the award for most dedicated crowd goes to the audience for the Weakerthans, who cheered anxiously after recognizing the first few notes of every song. While the band has earned enough of a following over the years to warrant giving them a spot on a bigger stage, the smaller Raphael’s Stage allowed for a more intimate performance that was better-suited to the humble and personal lyrics of lead singer John K. Samson. But the man had a sense of humor, as well. “It’s early September, so you know what that means,” Winnepeg, Manitoba resident Samson prompted. “It’s almost curling season!” Drawing from all four of their full-lengths, The Weakerthans exhibited tremendous variety in their forty five-minute set, from the solo acoustic ballad “One Great City!” to fan-favorite full-band rocker “Aside” and the defiant “(Manifest),” complete with trumpet solo. The band looked like they were having fun just being able to play with one another, and this joy was easily transferred to the crowd.
“Sun In An Empty Room”
“Tournament Of Hearts”
“One Great City!”
“Plea From A Cat Named Virtute”
“Left And Leaving”
“Confessions Of A Futon Revolutionist”
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE:
Sundown at festival shows is a time of change. For one, the crowds tend to settle down, as concertgoers often grab food and sit for a brief respite before the night’s activities. Next, the musicians no longer get blinded by the sun or burned by the heat, and are often able to make it offstage before it gets too cold. Finally, it allows a band to take advantage of a light show and the screen projectors that surround each stage. These all played to Broken Social Scene’s advantage, though they hardly needed the help – with years of experience, multiple critically-acclaimed albums to their name, and practically more talented musicians than can fit on a single stage, the collective is already known as one of the best live bands around. Classics like “7/4 Shoreline” were brought to life beautifully by the 9-person ensemble, whose large membership didn’t bog down their sound but rather added layer upon layer of lush tones and harmonies. An early highlight was their cover of Modest Mouse’s “The World At Large,” which they had previously prepared for The Voice Project and echoed perfectly off the nearby hill.
“Cause = Time”
“Water In Hell”
“The World At Large (Modest Mouse cover)”
“This is a new setup for us,” announced Girls bassist Chet “JR” White to an eager crowd of thousands. He was referring to the most recent addition to the mope-rock group: three soulful backup singers. While unexpected, this move may be one of the best decisions lead singer Christopher Owens and White could have made. When Girls first picked up steam with the release of their debut album in 2009, early reviews dismissed their live performances as “frustratingly inert” and it seemed Owens had a hard time translating his intensely personal songs to the stage. But the inclusion of these new members and some well-planned psychedelic lighting has made Girls into a formidable live band that can fill a large space and finally do their songs justice. Owens still gets by on pained, airy vocals, but his backup band rounded out the sound nicely, especially on new tracks “Love Like A River,” which swings like a classic doo-wop song, and single “Vomit,” which explodes into a crushingly desperate portrait of a distressed lover.
“Lust For Life”
“Love Like A River”
For those who weren’t interested in the powerhouse riffs of ragged rockers Guided By Voices, Nosaj Thing offered a uniquely engaging audio/visual experience at the festival’s smallest stage. Electronic experimentalist Jason Chung himself doesn’t have a particularly commanding stage presence, but it’s interesting to see the man at work behind the machine. As he turns knobs and hits buttons in combinations that only he seems to understand, you can practically see the cogs spinning inside his head if you stand close enough. A majority of the crowd, however, didn’t even notice, as they were too entranced by the glitchy breakbeats and black-and-white images of shapes melding into one another as projected onto the screen behind Nosaj. The warped visuals synced up perfectly with the heavy bass and rapid, skittering beats, making for the most cohesive set of the festival with songs that seemed to have no real beginning or ending.
The last of the aging punk acts to hit the stage that night, Descendents took hold of their hometown crowd and didn’t let go until the end of their hour-long set. After playing through a barrage of hits including “Hope,” “Coffee Mug,” and “I Wanna Be A Bear,” the figurative passing-of-the-torch took a turn for the literal as Milo Aukerman ushered a group of youngsters to the stage to “indoctrinate them” in the ways of the punk, asking them to read from a tablet he had procured. “Thou shalt not commit adulthood,” recited an excitable first-grader; “Thou shalt not practice hygiene!” shouted another. The band tore through dozens of songs, banging furiously away as Aukerman lent his iconic snot-nosed snarl to tracks like “Myage” and “Suburban Home.” It was only during the last few songs of the night that Aukerman’s vocals began to give out on him, for which he immediately apologized, hoping to avoid a disastrous scene like that in London this past April. But the Descendents emerged unscathed, and Aukerman won the audience over once more by hopping in the crowd and turning closer “I’m Not A Loser” into a sing-along.
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979:
The reason that Death From Above 1979 works on album is because of their fast, caustic, in-your-face dance punk that sounds chaotic but controlled at the same time. But at FYF, the line became blurred as these exact same elements prevented the duo from sounding good. Technical difficulties apparently kept bassist Jesse F. Keeler from hearing his own instrument in his monitors, and even from the crowd the bass sounded muddled, notes running together into some incoherent, fuzzed-out wall of noise. Without a solid melody to back him up, drummer Sebastien Grainger’s high-pitched howls were more abrasive than ever, and the booming sound system spewed garbled noise that was only decipherable to those already well-enough acquainted with every DFA1979 track to distinguish one speedy blast of bass and drums from another. Still, that didn’t stop the band from having fun onstage, as Grainger stood on the railing and fell into the crowd during their last song. It’s just a disappointment that the people who were having the best time were those in the mosh pit who probably couldn’t hear the band that well anyway.