The Best Music of Free Press Summer Fest 2014

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ABOVE & BEYOND Sunday, Saturn Stage

No group in electronic music knows how to play to a listener's emotional core than Above & Beyond. It was almost jarring how beautiful their set sounded after two days of heat and rain and evacuations and mud and lack of sleep and the other crazy things one deals with at a music festival.

Still, there's no group of producers that I'd trust my ears to more than these guys. Walking to the car listening to their sounds bouncing off the buildings of downtown was pretty sweet too. CORY GARCIA

BLSHS Saturday, Mercury Stage

Like I said before the fest, this group was going to have a good weekend. Their pre-rain set on Saturday afternoon had all the right things going for it including one of the bigger crowds at the Mercury stage throughout the entire weekend. They are playing the right type of music for the right moment in time, which was clear as they matched the style and sound of some of the more popular acts on the main stages like Chvrches, The Naked & Famous and Chain Gang of 1974. Good job, guys (and lady)! JIM BRICKER

BORN LIARS Sunday, Venus stage

Born Liars are an improvement to any music festival that will have them. The Houston mainstays' early-afternoon set Sunday amounted to a 40-minute throttling with undisguised garage-punk sarcasm. "This one's called tuning up," guitarist Bill Fool said early on in a program that included sneering nuggets like "Contact High," "Exit Smiling" and a brilliant cover of the Replacements' "God Damn Job." ("Since the Replacements couldn't be here, we thought we'd do it for 'em," Fool quipped.) He announced the Liars as from a different city after almost every song -- Montrose, London, Stockholm, San Francisco. What do all those places have in common? They all appreciate badass rock and roll. CHRIS GRAY

CAGE THE ELEPHANT Sunday, Neptune stage

These guys just get better and better every time I see them. Barely a month since their performance at House of Blues, Cage the Elephant returned to Houston for FPSF Sunday afternoon. "Personally, I enjoy the heat," said vocalist Matthew Shultz, wiping sweat from his brow as light beamed off the silhouette of Houston behind him. "It's a challenge."

Crowd-surfing, standing atop fans' hands and all but losing his voice by the end of the band's set, Shultz was completely spent by the end of his set. And like a good bout of sex, CTE left the crowd sweaty, breathless but still wanting more. MATTHEW KEEVER

CHILDISH GAMBINO Saturday, Mars Stage

"Why does every black actor gotta rap some? I don't know, all I know is I'm the best one," is a rhyme from Childish Gambino's "Bonfire." His rhymes are so strong and his cadence is so good, it's sometimes easy to forget he's another character being played by Donald Glover. Seeing him live reminds one what a good actor he is. He's like a musical version of those John Leguizamo specials where one guy plays an entire cast of characters.

For "3005," he turned on the charm and had the ladies in the massive crowd swooning. During "Bonfire," he ran and raged with crazy-eyed intensity. For "Freaks and Geeks," he played up Gambino's well-known egomaniac. No matter which character he slipped into, the crowd loved it and believed it. Of course, I could be wrong about it all. Maybe he really is the narcissist his rhymes portray. But, the wisdom goes, "it's not bragging if you can back it up." Gambino made a strong case in support of those boasts on Saturday evening. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

CHVRCHES Saturday, Neptune stage

After the evacuation Saturday afternoon, the crowd at Summer Fest 2014 was in need of a pick-me-up. They quickly received one in the form of the Scottish trio CHVRCHES, who lifted the crowd's collective spirit with an hour of energetic synth-pop.

Her small stature notwithstanding, Lauren Mayberry showcased soaring, emotive vocals and infectious vigor, while Iain Cook and Martin Doherty kept fans dancing. Unfortunately, I wasn't as well-acquainted with their music as the rest of the crowd, but their performance Saturday convinced me to keep this group on my must-watch list. MATTHEW KEEVER

DEFTONES Saturday, Neptune stage

I admire that, even at a festival, Deftones do things the way they always do. They play their big songs, some of their more recent deep cuts, and then bring it all home with their earliest material, which still has the same energy it had two decades ago. It's about pleasing the crowd, but doing so in a way that is satisfying and interesting for the band.

If there's one thing I remember from this year's festival, it'll be watching these guys playing "Diamond Eyes" while big drops of water fell from the sky and were illuminated by the stage lights. For one shining moment, the music and the weather were finally on the same page. CORY GARCIA

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ROBERT DELONG Sunday, Jupiter stage

Tired of waiting for Wu-Tang to appear and lacking the energy to fight my way through the crowd at Adventure Club, I was ready to call it a day when I happened past Robert DeLong and was floored with the best set I caught all weekend. DeLong is like a mad scientist on stage; there are drums and video-game controllers and who knows what else, and the end result is the danciest form of controlled chaos I've heard in ages.

Every artist needs a song like "Global Concepts." Yes, he plays his songs too loud, but he also makes the people fucking dance. Also, after the show I watched him take photos with a whole bunch of fans, and that was pretty cool too. CORY GARCIA

DIE ANTWOORD Sunday, Saturn stage

Die Antwoord might look frightening at first, but then then they make you love them. It's some of the most fun you could ever have during a live show, and that's just the beats their DJ, Hi-Tek, provides throughout. Mixing their own brand of South African hip-hop with a huge helping of electronic beats you might have found in Zedd's set the night before, Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser brought everything they could and a whole bunch of air-humping and middle fingers to boot.

The duo are a sight to be seen. Oddly matching each other perfectly, the twee Visser was a force to be reckoned with and was the only thing the entire weekend that drew more attention than her counterpart Ninja. JIM BRICKER

Second Opinion Foolishly, I believed Die Antwoord might be gypped of a worthy audience. A half-hour before their show started, most of the grass/mud dancefloor out front of the Saturn stage was void of people. I posted up and anxiously hoped for the crowds to come. By the time the band opened with "Fok Julle Naaiers," the grounds were packed with the Die Antwoord faithful. There was even a Yolandi Visser doppelganger, adorned in full tribal paint, in the crowd.

The crowd is important at a show like this one. Ninja, Yolandi and DJ Hi-Tek are the grown-ass versions of Simon Says. When they tell you to put your hands in the air, you do it. Not because you have to, but yeah, because you have to. When they say, "Jump, motherfucker, jump," you don't even ponder whether you're a motherfucker. You just start jumping.

They played everything I wanted to hear -- "Fatty Boom Boom;" "Baby's On Fire," which bled into "I Fink U Freeky;" "Cookie Thumper;" show closer, "Enter the Ninja." By the time that song ended, that crowd I'd wondered about had shown its full appreciation for a band leaving it all on the stage for us. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS Sunday, Saturn stage

At their first Houston show in four and a half years, Drive-By Truckers stepped off a 15-hour flight from Spain to a FPSF crowd wilting in the high afternoon heat. "Wake up, motherfuckers," prodded singer/guitarist Patterson Hood, and so we did. The triple-guitar Dixie rockers put on an Alabama ass-whuppin' from the get-go with growlers "Marry Me," "Lookout Mountain," "Hell No, I Ain't Happy," and a sampling of tracks from their new album, English Oceans.

Among them was the brooding "Pauline Hawkins," based on musician/author Willy Vlautin's fugue-like novel The Free. One thing that makes the Truckers so dangerous is their ingrained knowledge of Southern R&B and soul, on full display on slow-cooking closer "Grand Canyon." Another is that they actually read books. CHRIS GRAY

GRAND OLD GRIZZLY Sunday, Saturn stage

It was damn good to see a band with cowboy boots at FPSF. Locals Grand Old Grizzly did, and they also sang lines like "say something nasty if you're trying to make me smile" and "she looked like something I could love out of spite" in tones of wistful roots-rock and hard swing. Sold. CHRIS GRAY

MS. LAURYN HILL Sunday, Mars stage

Its may be true that she's a little weird, and sometimes crazy, but dammit can L-Boogie still rock the crowd with her lyrics, attitude and beauty. With a combination of tracks from her Fugees days, as well as from her Miseducation masterpiece, Ms. Hill rocked the crowd with a full backup band in support.

Most of the tracks were rearrangements of her classics, which to some is unbearable, but to me it added to her mystery. My favorite song of the day was "To Zion", an uplifting prayer for her son and love as a whole. It may not have been Woodstock, but for a 45-minute span, it certainly was Free Press Love Fest at the Mars Stage. MARCO TORRES

Second Opinion I can't recall when the last time was that I heard some good news about the former Fugee, so I tried to prepare for a potentially disjointed, disinterested performance. I was relieved to receive a warm and gracious set instead, highlighted by a tight band and some terrific backup singers. Most importantly, she delivered the hits, sounding as fresh as they could. Seems as though the most memorable artist at FPSF is always the one that pleasantly surprises you. NATHAN SMITH

LOS SKARNALES Sunday, Jupiter stage

If there was a tree or freeway or tent to stand under, that's where you could find me throughout most of this and any other music festival. But for Los Skarnales, I began my day by dancing, jumping, singing, and yes, sweating underneath the blazing sun in front of the Jupiter Stage. The band seemed extra-pumped, probably fueled by the view of the gorgeous Houston skyline looming above and the multitude of faithful fans who were skanking to the sonidos of the hometown homies. Next month Skarnales celebrate their 20-year anniversary, and continue to leave every show attendee smiling and fascinated, una y otra vez! MARCO TORRES

THE ORWELLS Saturday, Venus stage

For some reason going into the fest, with little to base my opinion on, I knew it would be one of the best. And they easily were. The front dude stalked his way around stage with a sly smile that made you both love him and question the motive behind said smile in one fell swoop. Past that, they were one of the most rock and roll rock and roll acts I've seen in a long damn time. So refreshing. Come back soon, Orwells. JIM BRICKER

List continues on the next page.

TUNE-YARDS Sunday, Neptune stage

When The tUnE-yArDs started their Sunday afternoon set, I thought to myself, "What is this?" Reggae? Pop? Indie-rock? This is the moment I was suddenly completely refreshed -- this performance reinstated my belief that truly unique music still exists in the universe. It hasn't all been done!

tUnE-yArDs seem like if The Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, Robyn and Bananarama all had a love child together. There's soulful singing, crazy outfits, eclectic instrument timing and backup dancers all working together to create a solitary sound experience for the listener. Their incomparable show makes me extremely excited to start following this group more closely. SELENA DIERINGER

WELCOME TO HOUSTON Saturday, Neptune stage

Nostalgia at a festival just works, like getting asked for a ton of drugs you don't have or sweating out in a basketball jersey dating back to the '80s. As often as we hear about Houston's new acts, the guys busting their ass to trade links over the Internet can't really top the zenith period before them. The Glory Houston Rap Year of Our Lord was on hand as Bun B anchored an all-Houston rap set on the Neptune Stage. There, with the skyline draped behind him and about 10,000 people smack-dab in the middle of Allen Parkway, he led a "Houston" chant to remind us that they'd never leave.

Mike Jones, above anyone else, seemed like he was warped straight from that era when he appeared onstage in an icy-white T-shirt, black Versace frames and white doo-rag. FPSF managed to do what no Swishahouse reunion before it could -- get all three "Still Tippin" rappers, including Paul Wall and Slim Thug, in the same vicinity.

True, there were a few minor gaffes like everyone looking directly at Z-Ro to handle his hook to "Get Throwed," but to get something you normally see in fractions all together was worth it. Headliner or not, the Texas Boys won. BRANDO

Second Opinion It's always hard to pick the best act you saw at a festival with so many of them, but I remember being impressed the most by the "Welcome to Houston" team-up of lots and lots of local money-making rappers.

One of my favorite parts of FPSF has always been seeing the H-town all-stars of hip-hop rock huge crowds, but I don't remember any of assembled characters ever playing to an audience as large and loose as the one at the Neptune Stage on Saturday evening. I was partial to Devin the Dude's performance, as I always am, but all of the Houston rappers arrived on point and ready to blow. It was a great set. NATHAN SMITH

JACK WHITE Sunday, Mars stage

Quite possibly the most important musical moment in the history of Free Press Summer Festival came at the very end of this year's edition. Within moments of the familiar drum-and-bass riff of "Seven Nation Army" pumping through the humid night air, overlooked by the engulfing Houston skyline, Jack White proved his standing at the peak of the marquee.

He was the one true headliner, and easily lived up to that name. Mixing together his entire catalog, from the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and his most recent solo material, White failed to disappoint the largest crowd of the weekend. JIM BRICKER

WU-TANG CLAN Sunday, Neptune stage

Despite missing possibly their best-known member, Method Man, the entire rest of the Wu-Tang Clan got together on Allen Parkway for an old-school East coast hip-hop soirée. Easily the most influential act of the weekend, save for maybe Dwight Yoakum (a big maybe), Wu-Tang were on their game for this performance. And while Meth's signature sound was well-missed, it didn't dent classics like "C.R.E.A.M." and "Bring Da Ruckus." JIM BRICKER

VAMPIRE WEEKEND Saturday, Mars stage

After fighting the mud and eventually settling into a spot, I soon became affixed to what Vampire Weekend were bringing to the stage. I've seen them a bunch in the past few years, but never had the chance to catch a whole set. I'm glad I finally did.

They have an effortless vibe to their shows, despite sounding like a crack band of professionals. For a bunch of guys who decided Columbia wasn't going to bring them the career they wanted, they certainly chose the right path when deciding to form a band. This set proved why they were No. 2 on the poster list. JIM BRICKER

Second Opinion The acts I saw Saturday were heavy on turntables and mikes; so, it was not only a joy, but felt essential to catch Vampire Weekend playing old-fashioned instruments like drums and guitars. To borrow from the band, baby, baby, baby, baby they were right on time.

The play those instruments exceedingly well and use them to concoct catchy rock and roll songs. Few might consider what they do bombastic (save that for Jack White), but their set was fused with smart bombs like "Unbelievers," "Cousins," "Diane Young," "Horchata" and "Holiday." Perennial favorite "A-Punk" sent a shockwave out over all of us standing in the muddy, mucky, celebratory proximity of ground zero. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.


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