Celebrating its fourth year at the Los Angeles State Historical Park, and ninth year overall, FYF Fest doubled its length this year by adding a second day, bringing in an estimated 25,000 people each day to see the Labor Day Weekend event’s most impressive lineup yet. But, while the festival is beginning to receive more national attention and has now partnered with concert promoting giants Goldenvoice for festival logistics, the heart of the event is still very much rooted in the DIY principles on which it was founded, meaning that the sponsorships remain tasteful (except for the bizarre omnipresence of Chilli Beans sunglasses), the doors honored their tradition of opening late and dust clouds made their annual appearance. Yes, for all of its growth, FYF Fest is still the low-key and affordable day that most attendees have grown to love, with the music never leaving the spotlight and generally delivering on the festival’s repeated promise that this would be “the best weekend of the summer.”
FYF Fest’s opening day offered weather that most of the country would envy, with temperature nearing 90 degrees and a lack of any clouds or humidity. But, of course, those of us who make our home here have no problem complaining about the heat, and the scattered shade on the festival grounds remained a precious commodity throughout the daylight hours. The music scheduled for Saturday was considered by many to be the stronger of the two days, mixing artists of increasing commercial success (M83, Sleigh Bells), up-and-coming critical darlings (Chromatics, Purity Ring), rare appearances (Refused, Quicksand), local favorites (Warpaint, Nite Jewel) and everything in between (John Maus). A couple highlights from early in the day included FIDLAR, who sing with conviction about relatable, crowd-pleasing topics like “getting fucked up” and “going to rehab,” and Sandro Perri, who stuck to his guns and played graceful and subtle beauties of songs that seemed to be booked for the wrong festival.
While not the most polished nor the most original band on Saturday’s bill, The Men offered up what was one of the festival’s most energetic and thrilling sets early in the afternoon. And, instinct tells me that performances like this one are business as usual for the Brooklyn band, which has one of the year’s most acclaimed albums in Open Your Heart. After all, the band takes every opportunity they have in their set to indulge themselves (and the audience) in extended rock-out jams whose earnestness match their intensity. Hell, even the mid-tempo country shuffler “Candy” managed to have space for The Men to insert some added muscle. With three different singers, all possessing the same lack of pretension, the working-class punk of The Men earned plenty of moshers and probably even more new fans, possibly including Paul Tollett, who was rumored to be backstage watching the set.
Cloud Nothings’ breakthrough album, Attack on Memory, has transformed the Ohio band from a blip on the indie radar to, well, a band that actually receives expectations when performing at a music festival like FYF. And, though the album is certainly worthy of attention and praise, their mid-afternoon performance begged the question of whether the live version of Cloud Nothings is ready for a larger spotlight. From the rasp in his voice to his frequent headbanging, frontman Dylan Baldi is convincing in the angst that his songs demand, and it works perfectly on the straight-ahead pop leanings of songs like “Stay Useless” and “Fall In.” But, the band seemed out of their depth when allotting nearly half of their set to sloppy instrumental jams. These moments are present on the album, but in more of an abbreviated and focused form. When the payoff of “Wasted Days” takes what must have neared 15 minutes to arrive, the tension doesn’t last, especially when everyone familiar with the band knows what is coming. Gripes aside, though, Cloud Nothings are young and spirited, clearly taking their performance cues from the great rockstar misfits of the past. Now, they just need the chops to match.
One of the day’s most difficult decisions came when attendees were forced to choose whether to take in rising Portland electronic act Chromatics or beloved local product Warpaint, both of whom were given lovely sunset stage times to cast similar spells of longing, tension and seduction. Really, you couldn’t go wrong. Chromatics, a band few get to see in the light of day, used their chilly mystery to their advantage, intoxicating the audience with the possibilities that come with the growing darkness. It is music that is easy to get lost in, as is Warpaint’s, who played as a featured act on the main stage and acknowledged that the event was a special moment for them. And, they made the most of it, delivering the expected favorites (“Undertow,” “Elephants”) along with three new songs. It’s a shame that none would be able to enjoy both of these standout performances in their entirety, but either way, the transition into night was in capable hands.
The run of Sleigh Bells, M83 and Refused to close the Main St. Stage on Saturday night concluded the day with the type of large scale, fully realized musical moments that FYF Fest had never previously approached, marking a successful transition to the next level of music festival. First was Sleigh Bells, who have carried the swagger festival headliners from their early club appearances for Treats, and it seems like their brand, which could be described as bubble gum pop in a microwave, only gets more potent as the venue size increases. Plus, after just two albums, Sleigh Bells has somehow built a setlist that never sags, making every moment of its 45 minutes seem essential. M83, playing their new home of Los Angeles for what seems the 10th time since the release of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, also have the festival set down to a science. Fans of group were happy to hear their range of tight material, including standout jammer “Steve McQueen,” while more casual music fans watched the impressive light spectacle and calmly waited for the inevitable “Midnight City” crescendo that provided a moment sheer bliss for all involved. And though they didn’t quite attract the size of crowd that M83 had, Refused finished off the evening by offering up selections from their landmark The Shape of Punk to Come that many in attendance had been waiting since the ‘90s to see live. And, it would be hard to imagine any Refused fan being disappointed by the show they received, with singer Dennis Lyxzen tossing his microphone and jumping with such regularity that you begin to think that other bands just don’t try hard enough. In all, it was an undeniably strong end to the day and proof that FYF Fest can balance their ambitious growth while retaining the identity on which the event has been built.
While the second day of FYF Fest undoubtably had plenty to enjoy, the lineup lacked a little bit of the star power that the previous day’s had, resulting in less of a sense of urgency to see particular bands and more of an opportunity to bounce around and see the festival as a whole. That being said, the day still offered a couple of rare performances from American Nightmare and Desaparecidos, as well as headlining sets from Beirut, The Faint and Yeasayer. As the day went on, dust once again became a nagging element to the festival, but it wasn’t enough to hinder swarms of fans from witnessing solid sets across the board. Kishi Bashi saw strong support despite his early start time, with a surprising number of fans displaying their familiarity with his brand of whimsical, violin-driven tunes. Father John Misty sounded great, but remains as memorable for the comedy that he delivers between songs, creating a complete experience that is more like performance art than a traditional band. And, the 1-2 punch of Against Me! and Dinosaur Jr. on the main stage showcased two separate generations of rock musician dedicated to the fundamental principles of playing hard and playing loud. They were two of the least complicated sets I would take in all weekend, but easily two of the most gratifying.
The name Daughn Gibson has recently been receiving increased press, both for his support on the current Yeasayer tour and his recent signing to Sub Pop, and the 30-minute mid-afternoon set that he delivered in the dance tent on Sunday provided answers to why this guy’s star is rising so quickly. Gibson sings to an accompanying pianist and electronic beats that he manages, crooning in a cartoonishly masculine baritone akin to Nick Cave, but with an onstage persona and aesthetic that is cinematic in a way similar to what Dirty Beaches is currently experimenting in. While singing, Gibson’s face tics with all sorts of exaggerated grimaces, as if he is fighting with himself to get the words out or, as a friend eloquently stated, seeming like a malfunctioning robot. Of course, it is difficult to extract the entirety to his lyrical weight through one live performance, but the gamut was run from mid-song spoken word poetry to a song that ended with his declaration that his favorite movie is The Legend of Bagger Vance. Oh, and another song was introduced as being about “boning.” Still, it was all a welcome trip into someone’s unique artistic vision, and not something one usually first experiences in the environment of a music festival.
Though relatively early in the day, the walk over to see Wild Nothing at the Hill St. Stage felt like you were going to Woodstock as swarms of attendees descended upon the smallest of the outdoor stages to watch Jack Tatum turn his bedroom project into a rock show. And, as we learned when we spoke with him recently, the material from his new album, Nocturne, is much better suited for full band performances than his debut and was written with the idea of playing live taken into account. This was apparent as selections from the new album were faithful in their sound, jazzed up a bit with mild-mannered sways and dips from the band members. However, Gemini tracks like “Confirmation” and “Summer Holiday,” though still a pleasure to hear live, just can’t quite match the nuances of the recorded versions and leave a slight disappointment. Luckily, Wild Nothing has plenty of strong material on their new album and with that as the focus, their live experience is noticeably improving and likely to get even better as the band continues.
As a band with just a single full-length release and a few smaller offerings, Desaparecidos apparently left quite the impression in the early 2000s, as the reception of fans singing along to the decade-old-songs that I don’t recall being particularly popular at the time was staggering. And, while Conor Oberst has been steadily releasing music under both his own name and the Bright Eyes moniker since Desaparecidos disbanded in 2002, it would have been easy to forget about this short-lived project. But, in seeing the power that Oberst brings to the project, with an even more desperate and emotional delivery than his typical Bright Eyes singing, Desaparecidos is clearly music that leaves a mark. And whether it is through new protest songs about Arizona and Bradley Manning, old songs delivered with band members moving feverishly around the stage, or a faithful cover of one of Oberst’s “favorite bands” in the form of The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs,” Desaparecidos continued to produce music memories on Sunday night, picking up right where their album left off.
The jump that Yeasayer is making at the moment in conjunction with the recent release of their third full-length album, Fragrant World, seems to be from the perspective of a band that is certain that they are going to succeed and continue to increase in popularity. Already the band is playing bigger venues, buying new lighting and stage equipment, and earning a spot as one of the main acts at a music festival. And the Yeasayer that emerged on Sunday night flexed this same confidence in the new material, opening with the slow-brooding “Henrietta” and then punctuating it with their beloved breakthrough “2080.” And the rest of the set followed suit, highlighting the new material and inserting fan favorites, concluding with climactic rendition of “Ambling Alp.” Yeasayer rose to the challenge of being a music festival focal point, and chances are this will only be the beginning of many similar opportunities.