Still Fun Fun Fun, Festival Is On The Cusp Of Change
Photos by Marc Brubaker
Miss the bands in Austin this weekend? See as many as we could squeeze into our handy slideshow.
Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin is on the cusp of change. A renovation to its home base, Waterloo Park, is due within the next year, so come next November the festival more than likely won't be setting up shop there for the first time in its four-year history.
Each year FFFF has been growing by leaps and bounds, pulling in bigger and bigger acts while also remaining the "cool" fest in a city that not only hosts SXSW and ACL, but fosters a healthy musical climate year-round. FFFF simply has no rivals in Texas when it comes to go-to festivals for punks, indie-rockers, and metalheads.
FFFF may start changing, but organizers Transmission Entertainment and the Austinist will undoubtedly do it in their own way. The weekend could move to Auditorium Shores across town, or grab the next rung on the ladder and jump over to ACL home base Zilker Park.
Personally, Rocks Off would prefer the former. As long as the festival can still command reunion shows from a myriad of artists, bring in cutting-edge acts, book the reliable crowd rumblers and keep its grizzly vibe, everyone will follow.
During their closing set on Sunday, the briefly reunited Descendents seemed to echo the sentiments of the festival itself this year. The influential pop-punk band's message of terminal youth and disgust with the grown world perfectly coalesced with the state of the festival. ACL is the mature party in town, SXSW is exclusive, while FFFF is underground populist.
This edition of FFFF seemed to put one foot forward into the future and one rooted in the past. Bands like garage legends the Gories, Brazilian monoliths Os Mutantes, hardcore band Snapcase and Cap'n Jazz were just a few of the groups returning to the stage after sometimes years-long layoffs.
This was also reportedly Jazz's last show ever, according to lead singer Tim Kinsella, who said his heavily adored Chicago emo band is going back into storage after this weekend.
New musical blood around the park included Houston's own Black Congress, who opened up the fest on Saturday afternoon with a generator-busting set. The band had a decent enough showing for their slot, with most every Houstonian in town front and center, plus curious people drawn in from other parts of the park.
A standout for us this past weekend included Man Man on Saturday night, with their Tom Waits- and Modest Mouse-inflected pirate jazz. Following Black Congress, Jeff The Brotherhood was solid, reminding us of Death From Above 1979 and anything Josh Homme has ever touched.
A lot of the weekend's most-hyped bands - Best Coast and Wavves, to name two - fell flat for us, wielding more style than substance. Best Coast is hella catchy, but grows predictable over an entire hour; the cuteness wears off considerably, like an EP or single project taken way too far. We still like "Boyfriend," but not ten variations of it.
We get it, Monotonix. You don't like playing on stages, but we haven't heard a real live song from you in two years. Bands like Lightning Bolt play on the floor, too, and we can still pick out one of their tunes if we had to. They were as rote and predictable as the band in the next paragraph was boring.
And that would be... MGMT. Their set on Saturday night proved yet again that this is no live band by any means. On record, tolerable and catchy. Hooks galore, but no action on stage. We said this in June are saying it again. Someone please show these guys the joys of Adderall, or at least a Red Bull IV drip.
As for GWAR, well, if anyone was going to rip off the tits of our beloved Lady Gaga, we are glad it was them and not someone else. Also, we will gladly quit this job to tour with GWAR for as long as possible.
With the Descendents late fill-in job for the ailing Devo, classic punk rock and thrash was the order of the weekend. Suicidal Tendencies, Dwarves and Bad Religion all brought in lusty crowds on the Black stage. Keith Morris' new band with Steve McDonald, OFF!, was a far cry from the laughing fire of the Circle Jerks or Redd Kross, but it's good to see and hear Morris' iconic punk howl and stage persona put to good use.
Devin the Dude
The Blue stage in the northern part of the park yielded abundant electro and hip-hop treasures like Houston's own Devin The Dude opening for Slick Rick on Saturday, and the punch of P.O.S. early Sunday night. The French-pixie dream-pop of Yelle was for the lovers, and Washed Out was Neon Indian for the leather-set.
The hardest working band of Sunday was obviously The Bronx and their other incarnation, Mariachi El Bronx. It's not easy to pick our favorite version of the band: The rock and roll sludge of the former, with songs like "Rape Zombie" and "Heart Attack American," or the drug-ballad and mariachi stomp of the latter. We love both unabashedly.
Leave it to the Hold Steady to go down like a icy mug of home-brew Sunday night. Melding Thin Lizzy riffs with drunken bar ramblings, this is one of the most underrated bands going right now. Live, lead singer Craig Finn is like Ian Dury without the leg braces. "The Swish" came on like a coughing "Born To Run" for the hoodie generation.
The festival ended Sunday night with Mastodon and the Descendents going head to head on opposite sides of the park. It was as if FFFF was drawing a line in the sand for Waterloo's punks and metalheads to make a choice.
Mastodon was plagued with sound troubles for most of its set, dealing with muddy everything and a cramped stage. This is a band that needs air to breathe, and the small Black stage was no place for the band to adequately unfurl 2009's Crack The Skye. Mastodon, and their mullets, have been touring behind the album for a while, playing it its entirety every night. They seemed weary at every turn.
Get some rest, boys. We'll still be here.
Eyes lit up right before 9 p.m. with the return of the Descendents from a nine-year performing lay-off. Starting with "Descendents," Milo and the band reeled off everything you would have wanted to hear, including "I'm The One," "Myage," "I Like Food" and the rest of their canon.
For many, it was an almost tear-inducing moment. We were just happy to hear those songs live for the first time ever in our lives after decades of having them in our musical vocabulary. A lot of people were reliving their formative years, and we empathized. With each song the debt that is owed to them for creating that pop-punk sound became massively evident.
Maybe it was perfect cosmic alignment that Devo canceled out and these guys were brought in to telegraph the growing that FFFF is about to undergo in the next few years. You can get older, earn respect, and maybe even gather corporate clout, but that doesn't mean you have to "grow up" in any way.
That's the best lesson we could have learned this weekend.
Something like Big Freedia: Just watch.
Personal Bias: This is the only festival you can see the blood-and-pus revelry of GWAR and something like Big Freedia* hours apart.
The Crowd: If you have a neck tattoo, we can use you. If you are a twentysomething in sparkly leggings, that goes double.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Your nails are so pretty!" exclaimed the manicurist who put on a coat of gunmetal-gray nail polish on Aftermath's fingers after she gave us a manicure.
Random Notebook Dump: Why does every guy here dress like he's a toddler or Jarvis Cocker?
*About Big Freedia: The New Orleans transvestite rapper put a gang of booty-popping girls to work on Saturday afternoon on Fun Fun Fun Fest's oddball Blue Stage.
It was a career-defining moment for Rocks Off's photographer Marc Brubaker, as he filmed the female anatomy lesson and took pictures of the scene. We are pretty sure he watched this clip at least six times after he took it on his iPhone. After the festival, he was stopping strangers on Sixth Street to show them, like a proud new poppa.
With this clip, and the work Brubaker did at that last Juggalo Gathering in June at Walter's On Washington, we can safely say that the man is Rocks Off's resident quasi-soft pornographer.