Fucked Up's frontman, Damien Abraham. Photo: Todd Seelie
The perfect weekend? For some it entails an expensive getaway, some leisurely spandex-draped pursuit or a fair amount of narcotics. I've only had two in my life. One happened last Thanksgiving. Feeling overwhelmed with school and the prospect of rubbing elbows with family members, I copped the middle school sleepover trick (the one where you tell your mom you're staying at your friends, and your friend tells his Mom the same) and stayed in my pajamas for 72 hours. I ate pumpkin pie for every meal (and I mean every meal) and watched Epicly Later'd on Netflix. No interaction. No phone. No deadlines. Just hedonistic relaxation.
The other happened at FYF Fest in Los Angeles. A summer block party of indie rock touchstones from sunup to sundown in the middle of the downtown Historic Park. Multiple stages, monitors, concessions, vendors, comedians, water tents ... the stuff Perry Farrel tried to resurrect with his travelling roadshow in the 2000s, but didn't catch it on. Soaring temperatures and hayfever threatened my good time, but the oversaturation of sight, smell and sound all but kept me rooted in the fact that I was living out the teenage kicks of those folks at Woodstock, Altamont and Roskilde (only up the commercial angle, and nix the whole "people getting stabbed by bouncers" thing).
Psychedelic Clarinets: The Men
Hill St. Stage
My first dose of music came at the hands of gender-neutrally monikered quintet of Brooklyn-ites called The Men. Having my own cultural roots in hardcore, gratuitous psychedelia and indie-pop, I'd been suckered into their brand of sprawling melody since 2010's Immaculada and have prematurely declared this year's Open Your Heart as record of the year. Playing at 2 p.m. on the smaller side stage, I expected crowd responses to be tame, but the searing heat and dusty air didn't impede fellow music scouts from gathering 'round to soak it in. As a dutiful observer, I'd chalk their live aura to a mark somewhere between "tunefully deafening" and "bone-rattingly resonant" as they tore through the hits (including my favorite, "Candy") with gusto, confidence and an appropriate amount of hair-flinging. Considering that the last place I'd seen them, a Louisville dive bar amid a sparse gaggle of slack-jawed over-21s who couldn't give a bigger shit if they'd chugged an ex-lax smoothie, the L.A. crowd response was pretty tops. Courses in eclectic instrumentation (real-deal, free-jazz-type clarinet solos and a slide guitar) and extendo jams (a 10 minute rollick to close the set) gave me a good insight into the mindset of the current rock/pop climate, and I took plenty away from the workshop in both hearing damage and shownotes. All in all, this excercise in psyche-pop set the tone for the rest of FYF, and I knew this would be a productive weekend.
Snotty Scot-Pop: The Vaselines
Hill St. Stage
I've nurtured an unabashed fandom of The Vaselines and their saccharine take on jangly Smiths-isms since the blown-open butthole caucophany of '90s alterna-rock and Señor Cobain's yowling dog version of "Jesus Don't Want Me for a Sunbeam." Coquettish and cute, Frances Mckee's dress, accent and mannerisms were equal parts Enid Blyton and Trainspotting as she wryly commented on the effervescent smog, the intermittent train interuptions (small stage blues) and heat of angel city. More than the brilliant songs, the group's humorous in-band barbs endeared this criminally overlooked '80s pop group to me even more ("This tour is called the 'get Eugene Kelly a shag tour' ... he hasn't got any since 1986," to which Eugene replies "Yeah, that's right. I've tied my dick in a knot at this point, since I never use it."). Mainstays like "Monsterpuss," "Son of a Gun" and "Molly's Lips" had the crowd in full-blown pogo, as did the commentary for "The Day I was a Horse" (once they went to an island and did LSD) and "Jesus Don't Want Me for a Sunbeam" (the messiah actually has a hose 'tween his legs). Pitch perfect and walking the razor-fine line between crowd-baiting and crowd-pleasing, The Vaselines did much to grease my wheels in anticipation for the rest of the evening, and in adamantly reminding me that they're indeed still a band, and they have a new-ish record available in the Sub Pop webstore.
My Penis ... It Works: Fucked Up
Main St. Stage
I'll admit, I was a touch apprehensive to see these Canadian vets on the main stage while it was still light out. To date, my experience with them has been a strict diet of small club shows, mixtapes and fanzine fodder. And yes, my mind's still blown over the fact that a band with a name like Fucked Up has been able to achieve such commercial success, but this is 2012, right? We're gonna colonize Mars. Anyway, the awkward stage setup didn't dissuade frontman Damien Abraham from clambering off it to push his jiggling gait right up against the barrier, and it was slightly comical to see the band (replete with three [!] guitarists) flanking him from above. Push-moshing reached Lollapalooza levels, as did crowd surfing and a booger-blackening mist of kicked-up dust and field debris. Newb hits like "David Comes to Life," "The Other Shoe" and "Turn the Season" came to riotous approval, as did the fat kid anthem "I Hate Summer." Abraham's moobs glistening in the afternoon sun lent a salty garnish for his patent issue of brash onstage commentary ranging from the state of political affairs (yawn), weed in California ("Yeah, I'm a straight edge sellout, but I follow in the footsteps of ex-Project X member, Walter Schriefels!") and his two kids ("My penis ... It works!"). More seasoned than a Ruth's Chris strip steak, the band is the most tight and cohesive it's been, and the new-ish addition, Ben Cook on backing vocals/guitar, adds a heavenly touch to the frenetic hardcore tumult. Finishing the set with the moldie-oldie "Police" and "Son, the Father" brought an orgasmic rush of joy to my heart, but the absence of "Generation" dampened it just a titch. Regardless, Abraham's finishing move of wading out into the mob of spectators, a miniature, perspiring Buddha covered in hair, to let awestruck concert-goers rub his bald head and belly, was a sight I shan’t soon forget. Easily one of the most definitive bands of this post millenial era, the set was a treat and surely a sonic baptism to the less initiated.
Tighter than a Duck's Butt: Quicksand
Spring St. Stage
Admittedly, one of the biggest draws of the event was this post-hardcore quartet, who'd already been making some waves via a spate of "reunion" shows in New York City. While the build up to the set was tense and anxious (and the pot-smoke thick n' spicy), I got the distinct feeling that many in the crowd weren't exactly familiar with what was coming. Call it pre-Internet elitism, but flurries of "Whoa, who the fuck's quicksilver?" and "Man, wasn't this band on Beavis and Butt-head?" ruffled a few of my snobby feathers, and I tried to quell my dissatisfaction by watching Sergio Vega practice basslines behind one of the cabinets. I needn't have fretted though, as the set-starter "Omission" brought all those in the know scrambling for a spot to the front of the stage and the non-fans craning for real estate in the back. To be blunt, Quicksand is one of the tightest bands I've ever seen. Ripsnorting lock groove aside, the artistic partnership shared between Alan Cage, Walter Shriefels, Tom Capone and Sergio Vega (who's done some time in the Deftones recently) is one of the brightest and most dynamic in the post-hardcore glut of groove and reverb, and the visible elation that members felt to be playing together shook me with nothing short of religious fervor. Classic cuts and choruses were drawn into breathy codas as the masterful manipulators bent, molded and hammered out alternate versions of their beloved classics. "Delusional," "Brown Gargantuan," "Thorn in My Side" and "Unfulfilled" all hopped and resonated, injected with an electric soul and personability that's sometimes neutered in the recorded production (Manic Compression anyone?). I spied a handful of folks on the stage, notably Jordan Cooper (of Revelation Records fame) and a flock of kids freely moving in rhythm to the music. The tot-mosh was a subtle reminder that these musicians, once pioneers in a youth movement, are now parents themselves. I looked out in the crowd to realize that a good amount of those in attendance had receding hairlines and a look of “I can't believe this is happening again” plastered across their mugs, and I felt glad to be in such good company. A taunting audience member asked for some Gorilla Biscuits tunes, to which Schriefels dismissed with a chuckle and set closer "Landmine Spring" moved me close to the edge of tears in its bombastic urgency. A stunning testament to the vitality and timelessness of well crafted rock, I tried to absorb everything I could, knowing I'd just seen one of the best hunks of recorded music in my life. Those at the M83 stage will just never know.
With Saturday good and over, my hair caked in chalky dust and my ankles reduced to flimsy gristle, I felt wholly unprepared for the sabbath day onslaught happening in just a few more hours, but after a few hours of sleep on a fold-out futon, I got my bearings and, having built a solid base tan (burn), waded through the festival with the swinging gait of a 'nam vet.
I spent most of the early afternoon poking around, copping dollar 7"s at the RevHQ tent and trying to stay hydrated and shaded like a jaded nocturnal night-journo. Still, when party time commenced, I kept hold of my pen and notepad with all the fervor of a chimp snagging a circus peanut.
Riff Gods and Video Pricks: Dinosaur Jr
Main St. Stage
With the sun gently nestling behind the acrid mist of the Los Angeles smog-line, an amber glow rested on the main stage as J Mascis strummed an open E on his Fender Jaguar. The resulting clamor, an oil-tanker full of church bells beaching a lead iceberg, brought the rest of the proceedings, and a chattering crowd abuzz with anticipation, to order. His silvery mane fluttered gently in an odd Labor Day breeze and, backed by the careful engineering of nine or 10 marshall stacks, the bawling warmups seemed to rattle over the entire city. A barefoot Lou Barlow took the mic, said some hellos, and the legendary indie trio hurled themselves into "The Lung." Mascis' guitar squalled in the expected monolithic tones, but the bouncy warmth of Barlow's bass playing was the real MVP here. "Sludgefeast," "Kracked" and "Freak Scene" made the list, as did "Watch the Corners," a new cut. My joy came mostly from the positive response to post-Barlow numbers like "Out There" and "Feel the Pain," which, given the sunny backdrop, seemed all the more mighty, discordant and defiant. Nary a word from the famously laconic Mascis, Barlow did most of the talking, including pointing out the absurdity of the fest's name "Fuck Yeah Fest Fest" (like "ATM Machine"), and thanking us all earnestly. Set treats came in the form of covers, including a raucous version of Deep Wound's (the duo's pre-Dinosaur hardcore/grindcore outfit) "Video Prick" and the Cure's "Just Like Heaven." Barlow grinned and acknowledged the band's aging hipster status, saying, "We can't play fast songs ... and The Cure was what we were really listening to in the '80s." In a weird twist of "celebrity sighting," I spotted Mr. Henry Rollins himself tucked behind a speaker, grooving to the tunes and making weird facial expressions. The caustic mixture of grey-haired seen-it-alls and dewey-eyed young bucks served as evidence to the band's wide ranging, genre immune appeal and longevity. Serving only to bolster my adolescent mystique, J's supersonic volume and perma-sloth demeanor, and Barlow's seeming nonchalance cemented the band as an all time favorite and push-pin memory on my mental concert roadmap ... an experience I can only describe as ear bleeding and childhood fulfilling.
Reap What You Sow: Converge
Hill St. Stage
With all the ho-hum melody behind me, the blackened portion of my soul was barking and fiending for a taste of something a little darker ... something I knew I'd find in a Converge set. It's been a hot minute since I've seen 'em (to a pretty weak crowd in '09), so a collection of fresh faces all straining for a better spot than they already had, stretching all the way back from the stage to the far tree line, kept me hopeful ... as did Kurt Ballou's ungodly guitar tone. Some of the most accomplished and genre-pushing musicians in the biz, Converge's intensity never let up. Tearing through "The Broken Vow," "Concubine," "Conduit" and "Reap What You Sow" had me itching at the bit to hear what they're planning for future endeavors, as did Ben Koller's octopus-armed command of percussion duties. Jacob Bannon is a masterful frontman, saw-blade gargling and explosive, a slobbering, sweaty mess, enslaved to the rapture of the band's chaotic whirlwind of hardcore, metal and punk. My ears had taken a beating through the festival, and the bottom-heavy suckerpunch of "Dark Horse" only worsened it, but I maintained steady vigil at the front of the stage. No stage dives to witness, (a barrier prevented it) but armies of foolhardy fans pushing their way to the front amid the roiling sea of flailing arms, legs and teeth kept me humble and reverent to the sonic power of riff and vomitous soul. Still, despite the firework hubbub, the churning anticipation for the next band had overtaken my resolve, and I could hardly stand still anymore as the band began quietly packing up their things.
Screaming Gets You Nothing: American Nightmare
Hill St. Stage
This was the crown jewel of the festivities for me. A missed opportunity I've mourned since being a zitty-faced beb (that's Bostonian for “young-un”) with a Champion hoodie and an insatiable hunger for heartbreak music and hardcore tempos. Yeah, the chance to see 'em in Boston was kiboshed by dorks with Tumblrs, but this was a night of redemption. A dull wave of excitement and lust washed over me and other crowdgoers as a tattered American flag was raised to the stage and a familiar (albeit skinnier) group of musicians began setting up. The calling cards I'd come to associate with the band were all intact, Brian Masek's "Viva Love" guitar being the most prominent, and disbelief of seeing this cornerstone chunk of hardcore history started to take hold, somewhere in my ballsack. Frontman Wes Eisold strode onto the stage, his face devoid of emotion and his thousand-year eyes dead-set on nothing, and a baited crowd pulled back like a coiled spring, ready to release at the hairpin touch of a wayward finger. No introduction, no explanation, just the plaintive chords of "It's Sometimes Like it Never Started" (yeah, they played We're Down... songs) into the frenetic orgasm of "Love American." I'd already screamed myself hoarse two bars in, and the iron retainer keeping us back started to sway. Incisive versions of "Hearts," "There's a Black Hole in the Shadow of the Pru," "Protest Song 00" and "Shoplifting in a Ghost Town" brought on full-fledged Beatlemania in me, and I missed nary a word. I'd comment on the insanity of the crowd, but I wasn't watching ... My sight was affixed the stage, afraid I'd miss a small moment of it. "Please Die!" got my best goat for having one of the best sing-alongs in the history of this music, and the band's austere and lean rendition of these adolescent favorites did little to stifle the warbling nostalgia welling up in my fists. Movement, crowd reaction and teenage fulfillment all adding up in the equation, the night had long since surpassed perfection from a musical standpoint, and the band that had eluded my grasp for so long had finally just ripped through a set before my jaded eyes. Call me a dreamer, but I'd like to think some cosmic justice permeated the night air as me and many others finally got to roll a capstone over an open void we'd carried since the band's untimely demise in 2004.
I Get Erection: Turbonegro
Hill St. Stage
Finally, fat and happy from ticking so many "must sees" off my mind list, I'd planned to sit back and enjoy the slapstick rock n' roll from Norway's greatest import since Darkthrone. I'd heard somewhere in Internetland that with the inclusion of new singer, Tony Sylvester (AKA Duke of Nothing), they'd no longer play any cuts from Apocalypse Dudes, which sank my spirits. Still, the sight of so many Turbojugend denim jackets and sailor hats in the crowd buoyed me into thinking that maybe, just maybe, someone on the Internet was wrong for a change. Glittering and full of vigor, the band played their share of new tracks, and I couldn't help but notice how well Sylvester had integrated into the group. Crowd response was wild and the theatrics—the bastard visual offpsring of The Village People and Alice Cooper—made me feel like the ’70s child my folks have raised me to be. It wasn't until Sylvester, having been officially crowned the "prince of death punk" with an inaguration ceremony that involved removing his shirt and draping him in a Union Jack, made the comment about "real good pizza" that my ears peaked and a knowing shudder rippled through me. Before I could mutter a single "motherfucker" they burst into "The Age of Pamparius!" to nuclear meltdown-level applause. What a banger! Apocalypse Dudes for all! Throaty bits of "Back to Dungaree High" and "I Get Erection" whet my appetite for destruction and capped off the night in fine fashion. Referencing the crowd as a slew of "failed script writers and aging porn stars with no teeth" won 'em over in my book, and I couldn't shake the desire to send off my own hard-earned cashiola for a Turbojugend fan club patch, so I could get in on the hedonism and festivities.
Best weekend of the summer? You bet your ass it was. Anyone know a good pie joint in Hollywood? Check out more FYF coverage by Esther Meroño here, and more photos here.