The Best Acts of FPSF 2015

Samuel T. Herring is unconventionally charismatic, which is a fancy way of saying that I can't think of a better way to explain just how captivating he is to watch onstage. There is something about him that is simply magnetic. That the songs his band plays are good just makes things all the more better. They're a band that feel like they should have been on a bigger stage later in the day; even those who don't know them would probably get pulled in by what they're doing. (CORY GARCIA)

I first saw Future Islands at Mango's (RIP) in 2010. Since then, their unique blend of synth-pop and indie rock has propelled them to great heights. It was fun watching them command the Neptune Stage as hundreds of onlookers sang along to Samuel Herring's distinctive vocals. Herring's peculiar way of dancing brought a smile to my face too. (MATTHEW KEEVER)

Just as expected, Future Islands killed it on Sunday afternoon. Samuel T. Herring is simply a ball of anxious energy that seems to be saved up until it explodes and needs to regroup. HIs dance moves were top-notch, ask anyone that witnessed the man’s unorthodox moves while singing “Tin Man” and “Spirit.” The crowd favorite was “Balance,” a song could be a ’70s Rod Stewart hit. Singing mixed in with the guttural shouts seemed confusing for some of those in attendance but they soon caught on and couldn’t get enough of the wild man onstage. There is no doubt that Herring will always be in the spotlight of the group, but bassist William Cashion is the conduit that keeps the show flowing. (JACK GORMAN)
Mr. Instant Party Time should be Gio Chamba's official nickname. Whether opening up the Mercury Stage on Saturday afternoon or providing the inspiration for an impromptu Houston Dynamo pep rally in the street between the Mars Stage and the Fancy Pants tent on Sunday, Chamba's energy was spellbinding and contagious. Along with percussionist Coffee Guzman and dancer/muse Diana Tica, Chamba’s set was a Latin electro-cumbia rave that shook the hips and hearts of all within earshot. Always with a smile on his face and willing to jump onto a speaker or into the crowd in order to turn up the crowd, he was what's right about Free Press Summer Fest, which is good music, fun times, y la pura vida! Click here for a video. (MARCO TORRES)
The biggest FPSF throwback act was one of the best of the weekend. Tears for Fears played as the sun was starting to set and that gave fans some relief from the sweltering heat. They surprisingly opened with with one of their biggest hits "Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and continued on with many other hits like, “Head Over Heels,” “Mad World” and ending with “Shout.”  Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal sounded great playing their tunes and also when they mixed in a few covers from artists like Radiohead and Arcade Fire. (JACK GORMAN)

Flogging Molly enticed the palest, most ginger crowd of this year's FPSF, tossing Guinness dry stouts into the crowd despite the heat. For nearly an hour, Dave King and his merry band of Irish-rock gents managed to get our feet tapping and even incited a few small mosh pits. King also commended Houston's resilience following the recent flooding and subsequent heat we're experiencing. Even the unforgiving heat emanating from the pavement below our feet couldn't keep fans from jumping around and enjoying the tunes. (MATTHEW KEEVER)
Gary Clark Jr. is awesome pretty much any day, but he was the very best of FPSF Saturday, when he provided this chill oasis in the middle of a total teenage dudebro desert. Seriously, there ain't nothin' like hearing those smooth-as-silk vocals rise over the calls of inebriated men-children. It was like a siren's call beckoning us to the Mars stage, where — upon arrival — all those Gary Clark Jr. fans were splayed out on one of the only dirt lots, all relaxed and willy-nilly, while listening to some of the best music on the festival's schedule. Clark rejuvenated our entire soul that day, he sure did. We even found a bit of shade, and didn't have to throw one bow to get it. (ANGELICA LEICHT)
On Saturday, I wanted to get a good spot for Mastodon, one of my favorite bands. So I camped out on the railing at Neptune stage, and from there, I watched most of St. Vincent's performance on the big screens next door on the Saturn stage. I liked what I could hear, and wiith every icy, robotic dance move and stage-rolling guitar solo, I considered heading over to get a closer look. I never did. I had a terrific spot for Mastodon, and snapped some cool photos. But I went home that night thinking about what I might have missed in St. Vincent. (NATHAN SMITH)

The clear highlight of Day 1, St. Vincent gave Houston an inspired powerhouse of a set. Watching her performance made me seriously wish that I had made different life choices and could play any single instrument half as well as she can play many. Undoubtedly, St. Vincent stands apart from many other rock acts of the day. Despite constantly getting pigeon-holed as "art rock" and minimized by a focus on her "interesting" look and sense of movement, St. Vincent is much more than a persona. Not enough can be said of her guitar skills, which were thankfully caught on close-ups several times and broadcast via screens for the entire audience to witness. Seemingly offering a little something for everyone, her stage show cultivated a whole new crop of fans. (SELENA DIERINGER)

If you don't like yourself some Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, you should start right now, because she is awesome shit. One of Saturday’s earlier headliners, Clark and company — including badass bassist Toko Yasuda — are not only brilliant musically, but also put on one of the best shows around. They shifted and timed out every single move onstage, making it impossible to turn away. I had planned to just go find myself a purple-drank margarita prior to R. Kelly's set (seriously, a thing; itself one of the best acts of FPSF), but upon arrival at said tent, I found it nearly impossible to turn away from St. Vincent. As a bonus, it was dark enough to watch Clark and her band from the fringes, away from the crushing throngs of people, while sipping on that fake sizzurp. True love. (ANGELICA LEICHT)
There is no other band whose harmonies steal your heart quite like Band of Horses, who clearly come onstage to have a good time. Their energy is infectious and looking around the crowd, everyone is all smiles. The guitar-heavy, echoing vocals illustrate rock romanticism at its finest. Although they drew a large crowd, their set still managed to feel intimate and personal, especially when singing their hits like "Funeral" and "The First Song.” (KANDACE LYTLE)

Odds are that, at some point in time or another, John Darnielle has written a bad song. It's the law of averages; no one is great all the time. But for an afternoon at FPSF, The Mountain Goats were great and Darnielle was somehow even better when he was onstage by himself. It's a brave thing to be, a man and his acoustic guitar, singing his songs in the face of the big sounds coming from Flume, but to be honest I'm not sure anyone noticed anything else; when Darnielle starts singing his stories, there's nothing else worth listening to. (CORY GARCIA)
Brandi Carlile unleashed the twins (no not like Tove Lo’s twins) and rocked the mid-afternoon sets to a crowd that was very receptive to hearing some singer-songwriter rock music.  Twin brothers, Tim and Phil Hanseroth play bass and guitar and stand by Carlile’s flank and almost match her intensity.  Carlile’s raspy voice combined with her enthusiasm and solid band play made her one of the weekend’s best acts.  She started softly with "Firewatcher’s Daughter” and then escalated to rock fury with her most popular song "The Story.”  They maintained the pace until finishing up the set with a powerful cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” that left the crowd exhausted from the music and the heat. (JACK GORMAN)

I would listen to Colin Meloy sing me the phone book if that's what he wanted to do with his time on stage. His voice is just magic. If you've ever watched Parks and Recreation, you know The Decemberists, weird though they may be, are a great festival band. They played the right songs from their new album, some classics from the Decemberists canon and, most weirdly, a mini-set of songs from The Hazards of Love, which was great and slightly baffling at the same time. Always good to see a band willing to lead a crowd in a singalong about killing your children. (CORY GARCIA)
It was great to see Welcome to Houston perform with a live band in the Suffers. One of the best moments of the fest was when the heavy synth bass kicked in on Lil' Flip's "This is the Way We Ball," laying down the hardest, deepest groove of the set and blowing the doors off of any prior renditions of the song. We were bouncing from the front of the stage all the way to NRG Stadium. The Suffers helped make Lil' Flip one of the coolest damn things about FPSF this year. I think we can safely say they're on fire. (NATHAN SMITH)

"Baila Esta Cumbia" - Selena cover by The Suffers from MarcoFromHouston on Vimeo.

The Suffers covering Selena's "Baila Esta Cumbia" at the Fancy Pants Stage on Sunday (above). (MARCO TORRES)

If anyone doubted Weezer's relevancy or ability to serve as a Sunday night headliner, the band’s night-closing set Sunday undoubtedly proved any haters wrong. The crowd belted out their lyrics in unison and Weezer had a few unexpected tricks, like playing one drum set together at the end of the set. Fans from 20 years ago were wishing for classic hits like "The Sweater Song," "Say it Ain't So," "Hash Pipe" and "Buddy Holly" and Weezer delivered. (KANDACE LYTLE)

Putting all concerns to bed and showing why they can still sell out arenas, Weezer was the clear winner in the "best acts" category this year. Marrying great music and a great performance, they simply got it all right, crafting a set that pleased not only die hard fans or flippant listeners but absolutely everyone. Initially it seemed that a lot of the audience were kids who opted to see Weezer over Skrillex almost as the "classic rock" option, and did not seem to get incredibly into the show. This all changed within minutes, as song after song, increasing in momentum, pulled in the entire audience. 

Key highlights: "Islands in the Sun" was stellar; ”Say It Ain't So,” above all other songs, got the audience to straight-up go berserk and fed directly into an epic version of "Tired of Sex." The band also played the only encore I witnessed this year, comprised of "Undone — The Sweater Song" and "Buddy Holly," both sounding even better than the audience remembered.

**Shame on me for selfishly wanting the group to focus solely on two albums' work. While I still don't personally love the song "Beverly Hills," I have more respect for it now than before. This song was just oddly before its time. The kids today have a never-ending barrage of Beverly Hills imagery bullshit in their homes and heads, comparatively to when the song was released. The song is more relevant now than it was when it came out. (SELENA DIERINGER)
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