Live Review: FYF Fest – Day One

Refused close out FYF 2012′ s first day. Photo by Jordan Schwartz for the Los Angeles Beat.

Now in its second year of partnership with Goldenvoice, the FYF Fest seems to have worked out most of the logistical bugs that plagued its early attempts to grow too much too soon. Set times ran like clockwork, the dust storms that plagued previous FYFs weren’t nearly as bad and sometimes made the bands appear to be performing inside a giant bong, I didn’t have to wait in line for a porta-john or a drink all day, and advance ticket pickup meant an orderly scene at the gate by the time I arrived a few hours after start time. It was unfortunate I’d had to skip some of the early sets that I’d been excited  about – Fidlar, Doldrums, The Men and the reactivated Redd Kross among them – but eight hours of rock is still a good amount, especially with half that time spent baking in the sun.

Making my way through the four-block area that housed the four stages, I settled for a few minutes in front of the Cloud Nothings, who I seem to have mis-identified in my preview the other day. This was a young, noisy bolt of energy that nevertheless felt a little tuneless. After a few songs, I wandered back to the other side, already feeling the effects of the heat.

Fortunately the Hill Street Stage had some shaded areas, and I settled under a tree to watch the Vaselines. This Scottish band from the late eighties never was well known in the States when they first existed, but came to the attention of the alt rock world via Nirvana’s covers of “Molly’s Lips” and “Son Of A Gun.” (And earlier, to a much lesser extent, by the Pooh Sticks’ version of “I’m Hanging On.”)  Those three tracks were the highlights of their set, perfect pop moments in a genuinely lovely setting. It’s nice to see that after twenty-odd years, the awareness of their signature sound – fragile male/ female vocals over sturdy hooks – has organically grown to the point where they can tour the US to an adoring crowd.

From there, I traversed the festival grounds for the third time, hoping to catch the end of Fucked Up’s set. This band had been one of the highlights of the last FYF I attended at the Echoplex a few years back, and were in similarly outrageous form for this one. Though they too were battered by the extreme temperatures – “this ain’t fat-guy-outdoors kind of weather!” – they proved themselves to be one of the finest living suppliers of old-school hardcore punk, with shouty fist-raising choruses, crushing minor-key riffs, and the whole package.

After their show, I ended up in the one irritatingly long line of the day, for Chinese food truck chow, which was at least excellent and reasonably priced once I finally got my hands on it. I was within earshot of the Chromatics for most of the wait but wasn’t especially drawn in by their synth- poppy sounds. Maybe I should have found a truck within earshot of Warpaint instead, I was curious to check them out but ran out of time.

Fortunately I got my food just in time to run to the other side of the festival grounds yet again, and make it for the beginning of Hot Snakes’ set. The newest project from former Drive Like Jehu partners John Reis and Rick Froberg, it’s got all of their former band’s most memorable qualities, though their method of delivery has become ever more complex. Their most interesting attribute is the balance struck between Froberg’s twisted excursions into weirdness with Rocket From The Crypt mastermind Reis’ more stripped down, riff-heavy approach. They work really well together to keep the proceedings from becoming either too smart or too dumb, and both are explosive performers.

Sleigh Bells are the darlings of the moment, they get to make dinner with Anthony Bourdain, but I can’t say I got much out of the few songs I watched from the hillside. There were a few good riffs and they look good jumping around on stage, but I didn’t hear much in the way of songs, maybe they got around to playing some after I left. I remember thinking they were OK on SNL, maybe the moment just wasn’t there, or maybe if I’d been in the mood to push to the front and jump around I might have gotten it.

Purity Rings turned out to be much more appropriate for the sunset hour as I was more in the mood to sit on the grass, rest my aching feet and let the heat drain out of my body. Their songs just kind of float out there, as the singer wanders a dimly lit stage, the other one hits some percussion instruments that light up, while a series of giant orbs suspended over their heads throbs along to the beat in different colors. Ethereal and haunting, this is a band that should play Hollywood Forever Cemetary.

Black Mountain were out next and proved themselves to be worthy torch-carriers for a different era of outdoor festival music. This band would have gone over a riot at Cal Jam ‘74,  I’m sure of it. They have that deep, heady, fudge-like quality that marks the highest-grade stoner rock, and a genuinely thrilling vocalist in Amber Webber, whose seductive alto makes them one of the most authentic buzzes that can be purchased over the counter.

With my energy levels starting to rise again, I made the trek to the disco tent to check out the Suicide Of Western Culture, an EDM team from Barcelona making their American debut. Impressive stuff, truly psychedelic and bugged-out. I may not know much about EDM – or as my people still call it, “techno” – but it’s pretty easy to like anything with tunes this sinuous and beats this imaginative.

With that, there was nothing left to do but wait for M83 to finish their set of New Order-ish dance anthems at the Main St. Stage and stake out a prime position to watch Refused. This was a show I’d been waiting to see for fourteen years, ever since an Epitaph employee pressed an advance copy of The Shape Of Punk To Come into my hands and said “you have to hear this.” Even though few were listening at the time, they laid the groundwork for a new kind of aggressive music that was artful, image-conscious, blisteringly intense musically and righteous lyrically.

That righteousness naturally set them up for criticism when they announced that, like every crusty old hippie before them, they were going to do a big reunion tour for, most people assume, the money. But while I’m sure they’re not doing any basement gigs on this tour – the last one  having broken up the band – the story of Refused is a little different from acts that split up either in decline or at the height of their popularity. This band shattered before virtually anyone in the US had a chance to see them, only becoming popular and influential in death. While they had hit Corona back in ’96 at the bottom of a five-band bill and a desperately sold out last-minute show in Pomona earlier this year, FYF marked their first appearance ever in Los Angeles proper.

Los Angeles was sure ready for them – “Worms Of The Senses” kicked things off as the field around me turned into a giant blender. The audience frenzy was nothing, however, compared to the riot erupting out of the speakers. I’d heard they were good live. BOY are they good live.

They still look exactly like the “New Noise” video, hurling themselves around the stage like a whole band of Pete Townshends. Lead singer Dennis Lyxzen was the jumpiest of them all, at one point stacking his monitors on end to form a four-foot perch, all the better to leap off of. They’ve got to be the coolest-looking band since the Clash; as rock critic Melissa Fossum of the Phoenix New Times ponted out, most of them “look like Bond villains.”

And they’ve not lost an inch musically, still as tight and hard an outfit as you’ll find, one capable of putting over spiky compositions of King Crimson-like density with clobbering force. And drummer David Lindstrom is one of hardcore’s greatest drummers, a master at creating unbearable rhythmic tension only to release it with a kick to the head.

The cynics can dismiss this as a cash grab all they want; I got to see one of the most truly awesome performances I’ve ever experienced. Why should these guys be denied a second wind just because they wrote songs about the requirement for new noise? Those songs are still true; the problems they address haven’t been solved, are in fact as old as civilization itself. It was not just riveting, it was uplifting. As dark as their songs get, they’re ultimately more about hope than desperation – even a deep-seated howl of protest like “Rather be Dead” evolves its position, as the song hits its midpoint, when Lyxzen changes the chant to “rather be alive!” It was thrilling to be in the midst of a field full of people, I’m guessing around ten thousand, surging toward the stage screaming those lyrics back at the band. Beyond the audience’s joy at finally getting to hear their favorite songs performed, the band itself appeared genuinely happy, finally getting to play these songs for their audience, which they’d never before had the chance to meet. A great show is a great show, and I find it hard to be cynical about that.


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