FYF Fest: Esther Meroño Recap

Posted September 14, 2012 in
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Chromatics. Photo: Todd Seelie

The GPS on my phone tells me we've arrived in Los Angeles long before Dylan Chadwick and I finally park on Sunset Boulevard to pick up our FYF media passes on Friday afternoon. He's sitting in the passenger seat, pointing out various landmarks of interest and playing Tupac's "California Love," but I'm barely listening as I grit my teeth through the never-ending queue of highway traffic, Missing Person's "Walking in L.A." looping over and over in my head. "I could never live here," I say out loud, and that sentiment will echo five days later as we fight our way out of the city, but goddamn, Los Angeles, little do I know you're about to give me five of the most magical days of my existence thus far.

Arriving at Stories Books and Cafe in Echo Park an hour and a half later, we walk into the cluttered book store, past a bunch of hip-looking yuppies all slouched over MacBooks in the cafe area, squeeze between a couple massive security guards (wtf?) and supply our IDs to FYF's friendly staff sitting at tables on the back patio. A couple of "artists" are picking up their wrist bands and getting instructions on parking while a coke-skinny chick in cut-offs whines that she bought a VIP ticket. Her attendant is making stress calls to find out where the fuck-up was made, but we get our media passes within five minutes of arriving and happily make our way back to the car, stopping at the Time Travel Mart next door to laugh at the extremely over-priced retro-gimmicks they have displayed (you can purchase five-year-old donuts there for $8.99).

Our Friday night is packed: Dylan spends a couple of hours blowing his paycheck at Amoeba while I head out on a 30-mile bike ride as part of L.A.'s first-ever Clitoral Mass with the Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade (you can read my article on 'em here). We're happy to find out the first set of bands we want to see aren't schedule until mid-afternoon the following day, 'cause nothing's more exciting than sleeping in at this point in the night. I stick my camera battery charger into a wall outlet before settling into the air mattress our gracious host, Nadia Kent, has set up in her living room in Mara Vista.

Nadia thankfully volunteers to drive to the L.A. Historic Park on Saturday (where, coincidentally, Clitoral Mass rolled out the night before) and after roaming the neighborhood for 10 minutes, we find a parking spot on the curb … a very, very tight spot. Two cars drive by and, no joke, stop and laugh at us trying to parallel park. The ridicule fuels my determination as I step into the driver's seat. I don't care if we miss the entire day of music, Nadia's fucking car is going to fit into this fucking spot and I'm going to fucking make it happen. Five minutes later, we're all standing on the sidewalk, Dylan and Nadia staring up at me in reverence and awe. The car full of jokesters drives by again, in silence this time, and I start walking to the fest with a "Fuck Yeah" grin on my face. Well, that's how I remember it, anyway.

That grin melts away the moment I pull out my camera to take some photos of the (somewhat underwhelming) VIP area and realize my battery is sitting snug and warm inside the charger still plugged into the wall at Nadia's house. No fucking way am I letting that parking miracle go to waste and battling two hours of traffic to retrieve it, so I Charlie Brown my way through the festival for the next couple of hours, following Dylan around camera-less and trying to make up for my fuck-up with incessant posts on SLUG's Twitter account. You can check out classy iPhone photos of (fittingly) Fucked Up over on Twitter.com/SLUGmag, along with all the other bands I saw that day. Dylan's recap can be found here.

The unbearable heat begins to diffuse as the sun sets behind the Spring St. Stage, where the Chromatics are set to play. I'd like to commend the FYF organizers here for trying and, for the most part, succeeding at staying on schedule with the set times. Not once did I miss the beginning of a set or have to wait longer than 10 minutes for it to start when arriving on time to the stage according to the lineup schedule provided. Not only that, but I just read through the whole "FYF Guide" passed out at the door, and it has some damn good interviews in it. My only gripe with the entire festival was that the free watering holes weren't very clearly marked, which I would have shrugged off as my own failure to navigate a map, except I had multiple people approach me after seeing my full water bottle and ask where I'd filled up. Also, it'd be cool if there was a list and map of food vendors/trucks in the guide next year (though I'm not sure how willing I'd be to pay $10 for a small veggie burger again … )––as my experience was definitely positive enough to warrant another visit.

Back to the Chromatics. I'll totally admit here that the first I ever heard of the Chromatics was when I saw Drive and immediately looked up the soundtrack when I left the theater. Since then, I've been listening to 2007's Night Drive non-stop, which you can check out on Spotify, and their latest, Kill For Love, which you can listen to here for free. The band starts playing with producer Johnny Jewel at the helm, his eyes rimmed in pink with black tear drops drawn under his left eye. I keep looking around, wondering where Ruth Radelet is, and as the instrumental track plays out, she appears in shimmery black shorts and a non-plussed expression that doesn't flicker once during the entire set. They play their brand of subdued synth-pop flawlessly, mostly tracks from their latest, Kill For Love, including the title track, which Radelet prefaces with a monotone "This song is about love." Also in the mix is a Neil Young Cover "Into The Black," and a Kate Bush cover prefaced with a short "Kate Bush wrote this song." I bob in sync with the band members and enjoy Redelet's wispy vocals, a coolness that perfectly complements the setting sun. One of my favorite moments, however, is when Radelet and guitarist Adam Miller swap roles for "These Streets Will Never Look The Same." Miller sings into one of those auto-tune mics and the beats pick up a little more energy. The crowd around me starts dancing, but I keep bobbing with the band––my feet are too achey from standing to do more than shuffle. I wanted to catch Warpaint before Purity Ring, but alas, I can't tear myself away from the Chromatics. Great way to start my conscious FYF coverage!

OK, so I've been listening to Purity Ring's debut album, Shrines, AT LEAST once a day since it was released. Twice in the car on the way to L.A., to Dylan's dismay. They are the band I'm most excited to see at the festival because I missed them at SXSW, so I arrive at the Hill St. Stage a little early to make sure I have a good spot. The stage has been set up with dozens of white cocoon-shaped lights hanging on black poles that weren't there for The Men's set I'd seen earlier that day. It's kind of cool that they're able to modify the stage design for each artist with only a half hour between sets, and I'm excited to see how this artsy setup is going to be used with Purity Ring's "indietronic" synth-pop sound. I'm also incredibly curious as to how they're going to pull off the "post-dubstep" part of their sound in a live setting. Shrines is layered and complicated with a lot of voice manipulation, and though I know it's possible because Mr. Gnome's Nicole Barille and Sam Meister execute their noisy, layered rock n' roll live with grace and talent, I know that, well, it's going to take grace and talent for a duo like Purity Ring to get it right. Unfortunately, I'm disappointed right off the bat. Vocalist Megan James' voice "remixes" seem to be controlled by some backstage entity, 'cause she's definitely not doing anything other than singing somewhat off-key while sauntering awkwardly around the stage and occasionally hitting a big gong stage left. For the record, Nicole Barille does all of her own voice manipulation live, with two mics, a slew of pedals AND plays guitar like a muthafucker. "Instrumentalist" Corin Roddick stands behind a throne of electronic torches that remind me of lawn lanterns. They light up as he hits them in time with the beats and chimes, but I find it hard to believe that any sound is actually emitting from them. The light show is definitely impressive for the first few songs, as the cocoons also light up in time to the music, but it all seems pre-programmed and pre-recorded, and I get bored. James' imperfect vocals clash with the electronic precision of the music in an uncomfortable way. They play through a good portion of Shrines, ending the set with the slow-moving "Shuck," which is cut short by a jarring mix of sounds blasting from the speakers as the stage goes dark and silent. Shit you not, I can almost hear crickets as everyone in the crowd just stares at the stage, jaws unhinged, where figures are dismantling and unplugging gear in the shadows. One of the stage techs, it might have even been Roddick, looks up from coiling some wires, sees us all staring, and waves us off. We all turn almost simultaneously and shuffle to our next destination, and as I listen to the conversations around me, I can hear I'm not the only one who's in disbelief and disappointed at the abrupt goodbye.

I planned on sticking around to see Black Mountain on the Hill St. Stage, but I'm feeling depressed and I need a change of scenery. Walking to the Main St. Stage, where M83 is scheduled to play next, my only hope of salvaging the evening lies in Refused, who go on after this French shoegazey, dream-pop band. What I don't know is that I'm about to see my favorite set of the entire two-day festival. M83 is another band that's a fairly recent addition to my music library. When we received last year's release, Hurry Up We're Dreaming, at the SLUG office, I played through the fairly lengthy album on a weekly basis (Ricky Vigil now hates M83). I missed their Salt Lake show a few months ago, but looking back, I'm kind of glad I did. After seeing their set at FYF, I know M83 is a total stadium band, which I always thought was a bad thing, but in their case, I just don't think anything smaller would do them justice. The first thing I notice is their stage production––incredibly bright and clear, much like the mood their music sets. They take off with "Intro" from Hurry Up…, L.A.-based vocalist/keyboardist Morgan Kibby belting out the lyrics as Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez and his crew back her up. This music should be the soundtrack to the Olympics––everyone around me is smiling and reaching out to hold hands with their friends and significant others, all of us grinning like a bunch of idiots, lifted by the energy and spirit of camaraderie spilling out from the stage. I am immediately pulled out of my funk when the single "Midnight City" reaches its climax, and a sax player walks out to the front of the stage for a solo. I'm usually turned off by saxophones––too reminiscent of '90s sitcom theme songs––but having just come from seeing a band that had seemingly pushed play on a MacBook to produce their sound, to seeing an ensemble of real musicians, I have nothing but respect for that live sax. Another highlight, which I'm pretty sure was used on Travis Rice's epic snowboard film, The Art of Flight (fittingly so), is "We Own The Sky" off 2008's Saturdays = Youth. It's a little more dirty-sounding and electronic than some of the stuff on Hurry Up…, but they transition flawlessly. These guys are pros. The night could have ended there, and I would've gone to bed dreaming about flying in the Olympics, but there was no way I was going to miss the next band, wrapping up the night on the Main St. Stage.

I'd like to say I have the same kind of relationship with Refused that caused their die-hard fans to scramble for tickets to their limited reunion shows a few months back, but alas, I wasn't even in high school when they broke up in 1998. The Shape of Punk to Come was part of my repertoire when I started getting into post-hardcore bands like Thursday in the early '00s, but I didn't latch onto it the way many of my peers did––not emo enough, I guess. Still, it's a damn good album seeped in history and drama, and I'd heard Refused put on a good show. I also have a handful of friends who would beat my ass if I was standing in front of a stage where Refused was about to play, and walked away to eat dinner. So, tummy rumbling in hunger, I inch a little closer as the atmosphere around me starts to shiver in excitement and anticipation. We don't have to wait long as Dennis Lyxzen and his Swedish cohorts explode onto the stage in a flash of white light, all dressed in classy black ensembles, and the crowd goes fucking nuts. I'm happy to find I still know the lyrics to a few of the tracks off Shape of Punk, which comprises most of their setlist. A few songs in, Dennis stops the music to make some jokes and talk about Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk band that's been incarcerated for some of their political activistism, in case you live under a rock and haven't heard about it ("Free Pussy Riot" is scrawled on the front of Refused's bass drum). It's always been a pet peeve of mine when bands sit and talk politics on stage––just play your fucking music, you're a rock star, not a lobbyist. They make up for it by playing my favorite, "Liberation Frequency" soon after, though. Completely satisfied, we walk back to the car, where it sits in absolutely flawless parallel parking glory. Goddamn, today's pretty all right, I think triumphantly.

I'm absolutely ecstatic to find out I get to sleep in on Sunday, and after eating a giant vegan Big Mac at Doomies Home Cooking (yeah, I just said vegan Big Mac), we head to the festival. My stomach drops, partially 'cause of the pound of soy beef I'm now digesting, when I realize that I totally remembered to put the battery in the camera this time––but forgot the fucking camera. What is wrong with my brain?! We arrive at the festival just in time for Against Me! (we took the train this time so no miracle parking job was required of me), but miss out on David Cross. Pretty sure my boyfriend's still mad at me for that one. I'll be honest here and admit that I'm only at this show because 1) SLUG Contributing Editor Ricky Vigil loves Against Me! and 2) former frontman Thomas Gabel is in the process of becoming frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, and I'm interested in seeing how that's going to change the band's sound. I'm not a huge fan of Against Me!'s melodic punk rock, but their set reminds me of my high school years going to Warped Tour, and the crowd is full of die-hard fans singing along. I know I know, you're curious to hear about Thomas/Laura. Though she's dressed in a mini leather skirt with torn-up nylons and is all made-up, nails painted and all, her voice isn't any different. Probably the coolest part of it all, though, is that no one's treating her like some freak show, which is what I was afraid would happen. The fans don't seem fazed by the band's lineup change, and neither do the bandmates. The music's tight, and the bond of this decade-plus group is even tighter.

Walking around between sets, I notice that today's crowd is a bit changed from the hip, Coachella veterans running rampant the day before. Bands like American Nightmare, Converge and Turbonegro are headlining today. Sunday's FYF is brought to you by Converse, DIY hardcore T-shirts and black (like, the color).

Headed to the Broadway St. Tent, it's filled with a whole new animal for Glass Candy. I'm here on recommendation from SLUG Editor, Angela H. Brown, who even handed me a $20 before I left in case Glass Candy had some merch (sadly, they did not). They don't disappoint. Having listened to some of their recorded stuff, I'm a little apprehensive because it's too "discotheque" for my taste, but everyone says that until they walk into an actual discotheque, right? Johnny Jewel is back, wearing the exact same outfit and face paint as he was with the Chromatics, but his somber demeanor has changed significantly, and no longer is he simply bobbing to his beats––he's straight up jumping up and down. I mean, he's gotta to compete with Ida No's dance moves. Glass Candy's vocalist is wearing a beautiful, red silk gown, her long dark hair in braids and a playful smirk on her face that immediately brings to mind Salt Lake's own dancing beauty, Trisha McBride. The textured, no wave/synth-pop beats Johnny Jewel's producing are complemented by Ida No's talky vocals and occasional shrieks. She's dancing all over the large stage, waving her arms around, jumping up and down and even doing these little karate kicks that show off a tattoo on her thigh. Absolutely no one in that tent is standing still––even the photographers around me in the photo pit are shaking their booties. As Ida speaks nonsense and gushes about how much she loves each and every one of us, it's clear the crowd's falling in love, and someone hands her a bouquet of roses. You can guarantee Glass Candy's on the playlist for my next dance party.

By the time Desaparecidos start their set at the Main St. Stage, the California sun is long gone. Can you believe I didn't even know Conor Oberst had a post-hardcore band until a couple months ago? If I had any inkling of this project in my teens, I would be salivating along with all the people standing front and center … except where the fuck is Conor?! Standing in the photo pit, I'm looking up at the musicians onstage, and it isn't until Oberst starts screaming into his mic that I realize the homeless-looking dude hiding behind his hair on stage right is the beloved frontman of Bright Eyes fame. I'm sure they hate hearing this, but Desaparecidos is the ugly step-child of Bright Eyes. They sub the fiddle and folk elements of BE for more aggressive drums and electric guitar. Oberst's shaky vocals are hoarse and off-key as he screams rather than talks, but his voice will always be easily identified, and it will always be the voice of Bright Eyes. They play some new tracks, and some stuff off 2002's Read Music/Speak Spanish, their only full-length release, and Oberst thanks the audience profusely for being in attendance. I want to like them, I really do, but when Oberst stops the music to give a speech on political activism, and how shitty Arizona's immigration laws are, and how we need to change things so that his friends there can stop living in fear, I can't help but roll my eyes. Like I said before, if you're a rock star, stick to music. And Conor Oberst has illegal Mexican friends who live in Arizona? Sure he does … he probably can't even pronounce "Desaparecidos." Whatever. The music is all right, and I'm still a fan. I mean, Oberst and I apparently ate from the same food cart (Union Street Eats) on the same day last year when Bright Eyes played Twilight. We're practically family.

I stay put on the Main St. Stage as Yeasayer prepare to wrap up my night. This band is all over the place, which is one of the reasons why my friend Nadia loves them so much. They're complicated, and you can't really force them into any one genre. They have a lot of jazz elements in their music, which is always a sure sign you're in the presence of talented musicians, 'cause jazz is fucking hard to play––though it's not really my cup of tea. Their stage production completely rivals M83's. It's darker, with a lot of green and blue lights, and lasers shooting out from a diamond-like backdrop. I feel like I'm about to be abducted by aliens, and vocalist Chris Keating's ethereal arm movements promote the extraterrestrial feeling further. The stage is really set up like cockpit of a spaceship, the drummer standing behind his eccentric, upright drum set, reminding me of the Starship Enterprise. This music's a lot more dancey than I remember from the record, thinking back on their recently released Fragrant World, which I listened to a few times when Spotify previewed it. They seem to be playing their more accessible tracks, though, because I'm actually enjoying it (some of their stuff is a little too … weird for me, in a bad way). Guaranteed you know the track "Madder Red" from 2010's Odd Blood, though I might only think that because Keating sounds a little like Davey Havok in the vocals. The performance isn't something I'm salivating over, but it's fun and I'm happy I stuck around to see them before I swing over to take some photos of American Nightmare at the Hill St. Stage.

I took a bunch of photos of other bands I didn't write about that day, which you can check out here, and don't forget to read about Dylan's experience here.

I leave the festival feeling happy and exhausted, having just partaken in a two-day musical feast. If you can only attend one music fest next year, and the lineup's this good again, go to FYF Fest. L.A.'s not that far away, and an hour in traffic will help you appreciate the fact it only takes 15 minutes to drive across your hometown. Fuck yeah!

Don't forget to check out Dylan Chadwick's experience here, and my photo gallery here.

Chromatics. Photo: Todd Seelie Purity Ring's Megan James. Photo: Todd Seelie Against Me!'s frontwoman Laura Jane Grace. Photo: Esther Meroño Glass Candy. Photo: Esther Meroño Desaparecidos' Conor Oberst. Photo: Esther Meroño Yeasayer. Photo: Esther Meroño