The Best Acts of FPSF 2016

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deadmau5’s set started more than 20 minutes earlier than was originally posted on the reworked schedule after Sunday’s weather delay. People charged over from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes once they heard his heavy bass beats, and his lights and production were in stark contrast from the muddy pit that surrounded the Mars Stage, where the remaining fans were dancing. The seizure-inducing visual show was amazing if you could take your eyes away from the performance interpreters signing “My Pet Coelacanth” for the deaf patrons. Don't ever pass up a chance to catch deadmau5 live.

Joel Zimmerman is a master at trolling; that is a compliment. He has a special talent for getting under people’s skin simply for amusement. His Twitter feuds with the EDM world are well-documented, and he didn't let up in Houston as my man wore an In-N-Out Burger hat deep in Whataburger country. "It's not a set until I say put your hands up! Count 1-2-3. 1-2-3. Now I'm a fucking DJ! Now I’m a pro!” He delivered the lines with sincere gusto, and I definitely know what I’m going to put on my morning waffles after hearing him shout, "Yo, I'm fuckin' sponsored by Land O' Lakes.” JACK GORMAN

deadmau5: TAKE TWO
deadmau5 has an unfortunate connection with the 2010's obnoxious over-abundance of douchey, blase EDM, largely because his instant prog-house classic "Raise Your Weapon" peaked right when the masses were getting turned back on to electronica (that, and the whole novelty of the "giant mouse head" thing). It's regrettable that deadmau5 is associated with that yuppie EDM shit, because quite frankly — he has a lot more to offer than most DJs with less staying power and less talent. His set was superior to every other EDM set all weekend, and quite possibly, the last two years. As EDM's "fashion" begins to wane, the positive is what's left: legitimate headliners that play kick ass music, all killer no filler. deadmau5 was THE headliner of this year's FPSF. Major props to the set design and lighting team — by far the best of the festival. SELENA DIERINGER

Big Gigantic was my discovery of the festival. As the rain was falling for about 20 minutes, I packed up my cameras and ventured over to the Malibu Beach House for a drink. All of a sudden, some dude with a tenor saxophone began to wow the crowd with a killer solo, which led into a set of electro-dance hip-hop fun that was accompanied by a drummer and DJ. Honestly, I had never heard anything like this, and it was so satisfying to watch live. I guess you can call their genre EDM, with all the lights, beats, and drops, but it was mixed with jazz and blues and just extraordinarily entertaining. Maybe it was the Malibu talking, but I could feel the energy and the whole crowd was feeling it. MARCO TORRES

Three songs into Against Me!’s set, a mosh pit began to form. As singer Laura Jane Grace belted out the lyrics to “True Trans Soul Rebel,” an eclectic group of moms, dads, punk kids and dudes in Chaco sandals all rushed the stage. Fittingly, Grace followed the song with a monologue about Against Me!’s efforts to make music for everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual preference or gender. The band’s newer songs, which focus on Grace's gender dysphoria, were the most energetic and the most well received by fans, who showed up in droves to support the Florida-born punk rockers.

Unfortunately, just as they began to perform “Black Me Out,” their sound was cut, and the festival was evacuated. But Grace and crew still received an ovation from the crowd, to whom she blew kisses before reluctantly retreating backstage with her bandmates. Even an abridged Against Me! performance is well worth the price of admission. And at least we got to hear all of "Thrash Unreal" before the party ended. MATTHEW KEEVER

There’s only so much a band can wring out of a late-afternoon side-stage set in a parking lot, but Against Me made the most of it. Laura Jane Grace and her band have a knack for stealing the weekend at any festival they play, and this was no exception. While they drew heavily from their latest record, the fantastic Transgender Dysmorphia Blues, they also reached back to deep cuts like “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” and “Thrash Unreal” to appease the longtime fans. Punk anthems were in short supply this weekend, but Against Me! proved how vital the genre can still be in 2016. Although the set was cut short by the evacuation notice, the band played for nearly 45 minutes, a blistering performance of passionate political songs that felt necessary, especially in an election year as volatile as this. Laura Jane Grace may be one of the last true rock stars, and those who overlook the work she’s doing with Against Me! are missing out. DAVID SACKLLAH

I’ve been on the Built to Spill wagon for the better part of 20 years, but during that time, I’d never really had the chance to catch them live. That ended Saturday, as the Boise-bred quintet jammed through a 50-minute afternoon set on the Saturday stage. If you don’t hear Dinosaur Jr. in a Built to Spill set, you’re not listening; hell, the band itself has cited Dinosaur Jr. as an influence. The downside of hearing a band of which you’ve been a fan for 20 years, but one which you’ve never seen live, is the potential for a letdown. That wasn’t the case with Built to Spill, who ripped through a set before a surprisingly lively crowd that weathered the rain to catch an old-school act that proved it can still deliver. CLINT HALE

Following a successful West Coast tour, Houston music-scene staple Another Run returned to the Bayou City with an enthusiastic set to get things started Sunday morning. The crowd was light, as early crowds are wont to be, but that didn't keep the local quintet from bouncing off the walls and delivering an energetic, frenzied and comprehensive performance that extended from their 2010 debut to their latest single, “700 Days,” which was released last month. Also, despite the ominous clouds in the distance, guitarist Zak Weathers's enthusiasm couldn't be subdued, as he declared to the crowd, "It's raining but we ain't dead.” Damn right. MATTHEW KEEVER

I’m not going to lie and pretend I knew Anderson East as anything more than Miranda Lambert’s boyfriend. That said, while walking to grab a beer on Saturday, I heard something I never thought I would hear – a rock band covering Mariah Carey’s classic “Always Be My Baby.” So, yeah, I stopped down for a while after that, and was damn impressed with what East brought to the table. With a raspy voice and Southern drawl, East had the crowd in the palm of his hand during his afternoon set on the Neptune stage. Also, “Keep the Fire Burning” is one badass track. CLINT HALE

Thank you a million times, FPSF, for reorganizing the lineup after the evacuation so Houston didn't have to miss Big Grams. It was by far the best show of the weekend, and every single element worked. Big Boi is a fucking classic: His flow, smooth but tough, simply holds more currency than other MCs'. Mixed with Phantogram's perfect blend of half-ethereal, half-exacting vocals and deliciously curated beats, Big Grams is a mismatch made in heaven. The set was fresh and dirty and poppy and dance-y and strange and hard and perfect. The crowd ate up every morsel they were tossed — this was by far one of the most danced sets of the fest. Big Grams played two Outkast/Phantogram mash-ups, but thankfully focused on their collaborative work, which was the real star of their show. Their performance easily could have lasted two hours. Advice? See this band. See them anywhere. Just go do it. SELENA DIERINGER

DJ/rapper/producer Jose Gorbea, aka iLL Faded, performed an early-morning opening set Sunday on the Mercury Stage for about 50 people, and showed more heart, talent and love than most of the other FPSF acts combined. Jose is no stranger to the stage, having performed with Fat Tony for many years, including on a few recent trips down to Mexico City. On the last trip, they were inspired to create the new track "En La Cocina,” which means "In The Kitchen.” Jose was definitely cooking, and is on track to bigger and better shows both in and outside of Houston.

It seems that every club gig, pop-up and show that he's involved in becomes an instant sweat-filled, high-octane house party. He spent more time in the crowd than onstage, posing for snaps while rapping and interacting with his fans, old and new. The sweetest moment was when he introduced his parents onstage, and his mom sported a smile about a mile wide. He ended with a track called "Drama," which featured his buddy Guilla, another young H-Town heavy-hitter. Houston is in good hands, y’all! MARCO TORRES

Between the weather and evacuations, the fact that The National’s set even took place felt like a small miracle. Although the band drew a fairly meager crowd compared to the EDM-focused headliners, they delivered a truly magnetic performance to the devoted fans in attendance. The thing about the crowd at a National show, even at a festival, is that they’re there to see The National. Rather than many simply biding their time to hear a hit single or just jamming along indiscriminantly, the audience genuinely got excited for each song, and that energy was infectious.

It helped that the band brought their A-game, with a set list composed of highlights from each of their albums, highlighting the particularly aggressive entries in their catalog. Vocalist Matt Berninger set the tone with his unhinged performance, his commanding baritone devolving into a deranged howl as the band followed suit. Whether it was the rain, the shortened set time or the fact that deadmau5’s stage volume was obtrusive, The National played a frenzied set that easily stood out as one of the strongest headlining sets in FPSF history. DAVID SACKLLAH

Since the lineup was released a few months ago, Jamie xx was the artist I was most looking forward to seeing, and his set definitely exceeded expectations. Armed with dual turntables, he spun the vinyl records flawlessly for the large crowd, gathered at one of the smallest stages on the festival grounds. The minimalist stage setting provided for some very bright lights as a single very large disco ball turned behind him, reflecting colored light into the cloud-covered sky. This was the first set of the evening in which people could really appreciate the festival’s lighting and production. Mr. xx seamlessly played cuts from his amazing LP In Colour, and transitioned those tracks to the songs that they were originally sampled from. Highlights of his set were "Loud Places" and the tropical house rework of "You've Got the Love" by Florence + the Machine. JACK GORMAN

There were many fair criticisms of Jamie xx’s 2015 album In Colour saying that the record was house music for audiences who don’t normally listen to house music, but in a major festival setting like FPSF, it worked. Playing as the sun went down, Jamie xx took the audience on a 70-minute whirlwind of a DJ set, alternating between vintage soul and forward-thinking techno with a deft hand. He played with expectations nicely, teasing the audience with snippets of his bigger songs like “Gosh” or “Good Times” before dropping them in at precisely the right moments. It was a bit of a history lesson as well, as he would play the original samples of recognizable songs like “Take Care” or “One Dance,” building a connection between the UK club scene and current U.S pop. The set was infectious and euphoric, feeling more like something that would be in the warehouse stage at Day For Night rather than FPSF, but worked wonderfully in the surprisingly cool evening air. DAVID SACKLLAH

"Who's the bad-ass bitch that nobody heard that everybody heard of?" Those are the lyrics to "Bitch" by Lolawolf. The artist in question is none other than Zoe Kravitz, who performed with her band on Day Two. Wearing an oversize Chanel tee and sporting her trademark dreads and sunglasses, Kravitz provided a chilled-out, moody and synth/bass-heavy set that mixed electronic beats with her smooth and sexy vocals. It was almost too perfect for the hot and steamy, rainy afternoon in Houston. Her combined beauty and talent as an actress and musician are natural and mischievous, but also edgy as fuck. Whether holding a drink, a mike or a drumstick in her hand, she certainly knew the perfect time to utilize each instrument to provide the best experience possible. MARCO TORRES

Even after legendary Swedish hardcore band Refused reunited in 2012 after a dozen years dormant, it was nowhere close to a given that they'd ever be seen in Houston, Texas. Finally luring them here, dragging them inside the Loop and shoving them out into the rain was one of the biggest coups that FPSF has ever pulled off, in my book. I expected Refused to be good, but still I was stunned by their performance. The band was tight and heavy, the sound mix was incredible and front man Dennis Lyxzén (repeatedly!) kicked higher than I think I’ve ever seen a 43-year-old guy kick. Shit, he kicked my ass — they all did. The new songs sounded great, and they were a lot of fun to spastically headbang to. I can cross Refused off my bucket list, finally, but I’m going to need them to come back someday. NATHAN SMITH

The beauty of music festivals is the sheer opportunity for variety: people you love, people you like but wouldn't necessarily see alone, people who you never thought you'd see again, and people you've just discovered. Refused's initial crowd was split right down the middle between diehard Houston fans and people who had never even heard of them. What was clear is that by the end of the set, Texas housed a hell of a lot more Swedish hardcore fans. Lead singer Dennis Lyxzén is the sinister love child of David Bowie and Mick Jagger, striking the crowd with his vocals like a possessed cobra. Guitarist Kristofer Steen kept pace for the show, for which he chose 90 miles per hour. Despite a huge torrential downpour smack in the middle of the band's set, the crowd continued to grow until the last song was over, Lyxzén down on his knees screaming in the most disturbingly beautiful manner. Bonus: a strong "try to be better at being a person" message throughout. Coincidence that a rainbow arched across the heads of the crowd at the exact moment they were instructed to not vote Trump? SELENA DIERINGER

Festivalgoers who arrived early Sunday were treated to an amazing performance from Aubrie Sellers, whose vocal abilities seemed to channel a young Dolly Parton one minute and a fiery Shania Twain the next. Her set included slower, softer ballads that were underwritten by steel guitar, followed by aggressive cuts like "Paper Doll,” on which she bemoaned the kind of women whose only concern is makeup and high heels. Her debut album, which she refers to as "garage country," was released in January and includes a cover of the Beach Boys' "In My Room.” MATTHEW KEEVER

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