If there's anything that Aftermath truly loves about music (outside of watching talented people create outstanding art), it's the innate propensity the medium possesses to bring people together. There is something so idealistically communal about watching a show with five, twenty, one hundred, or five hundred of your friends (some new, some old) and knowing that you're sharing a very special experience. The founders and curators of Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest, now in its fourth year of existence, have an innate understanding of this feeling and actively seek to propagate the familiar nature of good music in all that they do. Four stages and two days of punk, metal, indie, hip-hop, and comedy acts, along with local Austin food, beverage and clothing providers, gather into Waterloo Park to celebrate great music. It's a magical sort of event where genres are left at the door (mostly) so that neon-and-feather bedecked hipsters can stand alongside old-school punk rockers in their tattoos and patch-laden denim and geek out to the Jesus Lizard together. What follows is a rundown of the best performances we saw all weekend long, presented in alphabetical order.
Aftermath came a bit late in life to the genres of punk and hardcore, but we try not to let that stop us from enjoying the gloriously brutal sounds of bands like Coalesce. Amidst at times what was a driving rainstorm on Day 2, this quartet brought it hard and often, led by the powerful, throat-shredding vocals of Sean Ingram. The assembled diehards apparently didn't care about the precipitation or the growing mud pit at their feet - they preferred to tear it up in the mosh pit and climb onto the front of the stage to bellow into Ingram's microphone with him. This was a heavy-duty roller coaster of fury that assaulted our ears, but it was one we greatly enjoyed. Even though the band started its set 15 minutes late, it was difficult to quell the crowd's anticipation for Death in the early evening of Day 1. This once relatively unknown punk trio from Detroit recorded seven songs back in 1975 before passing into punk rock lore; however, Drag City Records re-released the group's music earlier in 2009 under the title ...For The Whole World To See. It was instantly clear that these gentlemen were just as excited to be playing as the crowd was to see them play: it was impossible to wipe the sincere and infectious smile off the face of bassist/singer Bobby Hackney while the group blazed through their brief, but intense catalog. When the set ended with a rousing rendition of "Politicians In My Mind," the crowd fully realized it had just witnessed a minor musical miracle. What do you get when you remove any sort of pretense and affectation from rock music? You end up with the sort of balls-to-the-wall fury generated by Face To Face, and this paragon of second-wave Southern California punk had the crowd singing along with them immediately and throughout the set. Trever Keith was in fine form all night, romping around the stage and bantering easily with everyone he could, as his bandmates unleashed a barrage of furious double-time tunes. At one point, Keith humorously acknowledged the relative age of the people singing and moshing in front of him, and then announced, "I've been shotgunning beers since 11 a.m.!" much to the delight of the crowd. It was difficult to tell who was having more fun - the band as it relived its glory days or the crowd who got to experience it all.
Aftermath closed out Day 1 at the feet of David Yow and the Jesus Lizard, as the aggressive alternative-rock demi-gods assaulted our willing ears for 90 straight minutes. It was as if the break-up of the last decade had never happened. David Wm. Sims, Duane Denison, and Mac McNeilly were musically on-point as ever - nasty, angry, brutish, and pummeling - seemingly daring you to question its methods, much less ask for the volume to be turned down even the slightest notch. Nevertheless, it was Yow that held everyone's attention: as the set began with "Puss," he was surfing atop the crowd (and then returning there for several other songs), and then bringing to bear the massive, full-bore intensity for which he's been critically lauded his entire career. It was a bit intimidating and challenging for us to view at times, as it's difficult for us to relate to this insane degree of abandon: we desire it from the artists we love, but we occasionally fail to operate with this sort of unbridled dedication in our own lives. Existential quandaries aside, we were constantly in awe at the insane energy and volume created by iconic band. The entire crowd was enraptured - screaming, singing, and bellowing along with the undeniable appeal of the brazenly muscular music of tracks like "Gladiator," "Seasick," and "Nub". The Jesus Lizard's set kicked so much ass, and it was made even better by sharing it with so many other music lovers of all ages.
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And speaking of powerful musicians being able to effectively bridge the gap between generations, Mission of Burma rocked the Orange Stage for almost an hour. This seminal outfit displayed all of the old-school post-punk furor that influenced so many alternative rock bands in the '80s and '90s. Like many of the older acts taking the stage this weekend, the trio seemed both excited to play for what was an adoring crowd and eager to show that it was more than capable of keeping pace with the younger acts on the weekend's bill. Songs from all four of the band's records, from Vs. to this year's The Sound The Speed The Light, were worked up with rollicking intensity as the guys comfortably joked with each other and the crowd. Rock and roll certainly isn't solely the domain of the young, and we are all the better for it. Forget the ethereal tones of post-rock outfits like Explosions In The Sky: we want more acts like Russian Circles, who eagerly bring to bear its glowering brand of instrumental metal upon the welcoming throng. At one point, it seemed that the entire crowd was one massive banging head, as we all moved together in sync to the trio's menacing, elegiac march tempos. Despite a small technical difficulty at the halfway point with the guitarist's pedal board, Aftermath quickly fell in love with how this act deftly merged together key aspects of rock, metal and prog, yet left behind the over-the-top theatrical antics that can plague those styles. We also took time to see a band who recently rocked the Free Press Houston Summer Fest back in August - The Sword. From the outset, J. D. Cronise declared that this set would feature a host of new songs from the group's upcoming 2010 release. As anyone who's heard this quartet's searing brand of neo-classical metal before, it's evident that these guys are keen Black Sabbath acolytes, from the thundering riffs, galloping bass, and pounding drums to Cronise's soaring tenor vocals. More head banging and fist-pumping was the order of the day, as The Sword's insanely high talent level and working-class sensibilities absolutely transfixed the crowd. Our palettes were pleased by the gritty, fuzzed-out, indie-punk sounds of Times New Viking, as the band played primarily tunes from its two most recent records - Born Again Revisited and Rip It Off. At one point, drummer/singer Adam Elliot declared, "This song isn't about drugs. It's about doing drugs and then blogging about it," and followed up with, "This next song is also not about drugs. It goes out to the city of Detroit." This Columbus, Ohio-based trio offered up a propulsive, driving, almost break-free barrage of tunes that sounded like early No Wave post-punk married to '70s garage rock.
While Aftermath has admittedly never been into the recorded version of WHY?'s music, we've only heard great things about how the band's energetic live set. In what amounted to be an entertaining combination of white-boy hip-hop (a la early Beck), Sufjan Stevens-esque indie-pop, and light jam-band elements, this quintet was most assuredly a fun-loving bunch. Maybe it was the upbeat arrangements, complete with an exemplary feel for dynamics and part construction, or the fact that the lead singer sounds a bit like John Darnielle's hyperactive baby brother, complete with a delivery reminiscent of the guys in Houston's own Ghost Mountain, but we found the sounds of WHY? to be unbelievably accessible and infectious. Sure, there were a great many other bands we saw over the weekend - some were quite good (GZA, No Age, Fuck Buttons), while others left something to be desired (Crystal Antlers). But on the whole, despite the rain that almost consumed Day 2, Fun Fun Fun Fest has definitely found a new fan and advocate in Aftermath.