LIVE REVIEW: Fun Fun Fun Fest, Austin 11/4-6/11
If there is any place to feel like an outlaw, it’s Texas. When weekend warriors kicked up a dust storm at Auditorium Shores, festival goers at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest donned a fantastic array of bandannas, making the crowd look like a menacing Jesse James convention (complete with new age knuck tats). It wasn’t a surprising turn of events. If New York festivals bring out the models and California the starlets, then Austin brings out the weird, the wild, and the most fantastical of freaks. If it hasn’t already been declared, FFF Fest proved that Austin is truly the festival capital of the United States. Thus, in honor of Austin’s most fun (fun fun) event, The Owl Mag brings to you “the weird,” “the wild” and “the most” fantastic aspects of Fun Fun Fun Fest.
The choices regarding facial protection:
Let’s just get this one out of the way first, shall we? Weird things don’t always have to have a negative connotation, but when it comes to Danzig‘s Friday night headlining performance it’s hard not to go down such a path. Of course, perhaps “weird” isn’t really an appropriate title for a man who’s built his life around bands like The Misfits, Samhain, and Danzig. But what was strange were the rumors (and later revealed truths) as to why Glenn Danzig would not perform. In order they are: he felt sick (true, although when they called in a doctor, the reports are he checked out as fine), it was too cold (true, at 50 degrees he had production halted so the stagehands could put in space heaters and tarp the sides of the stage), he wanted them to chop down a tree behind the stage (unconfirmed), he was unhappy with the stage (true, he wanted to play on the slightly bigger Orange stage where Slayer would play on Sunday), he was dead (false), he was taken into police custody for some reason (false), he was being a big ol’ crybaby (the facts speak for themselves).
It should be noted that the FFF Fest guide book was a stellar festival contribution, one that included not only the standard artist bios (although these were better than usual summaries), grounds maps, and set times, but also a Misprint Magazine drawing contest, a “How to Book Fun Fun Fun Fest Guide” and a memo from Slayer on their rider requests. However, weary and tired on the last day of the festival, a quick flip through the guide brought to attention the words “unforgiving stooges-style rock ‘n roll. Fans of: The Reatards.” It was an easy sell for the band OBN III. Of course, it also wasn’t a random comparison. While musically the two hold similar stylings, OBN III‘s lead singer Orville Bateman Neeley also replaced Jay Reatard on recordings for another great Austin band, The Strange Boys.
The moment Neville kicked off the 1-2 count, he embodied the proto-punk, snotty, pissed-off aesthetic. He roamed around the stage, eyes rolled behind his head, kicking and screaming. He got down into the pit and put the mic down his pants, he took glasses off audience members, hit himself with his shoe and finally collapsed on the floor all while spitting out catchy, dirty rock. (While you won’t get the live experience, although you should make a viewing a priority, check out their single “That’s No Way to Rock ‘N Roll.”)
For a moment, the most whispered sentence on the dusty grounds was: “Did you see him? Did you see Ryan Gosling?” And while we did catch a glimpse of the blonde heartthrob, that wasn’t the weirdest thing. What was was that the people of Austin didn’t really seem to give a hoot. Yes, of course media outlets ran with the story and the moment of wide-eyed fascination was there, but in line with what seems to be the growing trend of all-around badassery, the Fun Fest goers were more interested in music than movie star sightings. Huh, what a concept.
The Picture Pretty Much Says it.
That being said, NoBunny is delightfully weird and woefully catchy. Just try, “It’s True” or “I Am a Girlfriend.”
Despite the sun highly peaked in the sky, that didn’t stop cosmic misfits Yacht from giving a strong and, as always, slighty strange performance. The set started with a yoga session led by Jona Bechtolt. This apparently loosened all the muscles needed so that Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans could contort, flail, and flip about the stage to their euporhic dance beats and twisted bass lines. At times, Evans resorted to a pandering technique most commonly associated with Gaga (although surely she is not the first), occasionally referring to the audience as “her creatures” or some sort of nonsense. Aside from this however, the set went off without a hitch, and perhaps in the moments of sun-soaked disco the audience really did feel like they were creatures of electro-pop.
With the ill-fated Danzig banner lowered right before his set, Ty Segall approached the mic with a slight grin, “Hi, we’re Danzig. We’re gonna play you some tunes.” If FFF Fest had one act to root for it would be California virtuoso Segall. Having transfixed much of the left coast for years in bands like The Traditional Fools, Sic Alps, Party Fowl, The Perverts, and Epsilons, Segall is a man who apparently dislikes free time. While Segall is often categorized as garage rock, it isn’t a fitting title. His songs are more corrupt, psychedelic, terrifying, and yet lustful. Segall isn’t afraid to break strings or go far off the metronome count. He’s what happens when kids leave their parents basement and step out into a world that is frightening, yet electrifying.
If that isn’t enough, Segall closed his set with something personally witnessed only once before. He gave away his guitar. “Here, I don’t want this. Take this and don’t give it back.”
Thee Oh Sees
Tune-Yards is perhaps one of the most solid acts debuted within the past 5 years. Merril Garbus seems incapable of a bad performance. Of course, no one is complaining, least of all the FFF Fest Audience who provided the first packed crowd of Saturday afternoon for her Orange Stage show. “Gangsta.”
The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. Although he wasn’t performing, Coyne proved that he may spend more hours greeting people and shaking hands than he does sleep.
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
While quite a bit of shade was thrown at the Legacy over the weekend, no one did it better than Ted Leo. Never afraid of expressing his opinions, Leo donned a black wig and came out on stage belting out The Misfits covers that “you all missed” and apologizing profusely for his bad behavior. Well done.
“Holy shit, holy shit,” a young man muttered as he clutched the lip of the stage. His eyes were the only thing seen through his black bandanna, big blue orbs that kept darting to his illuminated cellphone anxiously awaiting it to strike 8:15. While the crowd had rushed forward as soon as the stagehands began to set up, there was a strange silence as if a communal vow had been made to inhale and never let go. With a crowd that had faced Danzig, The Damned, Slayer, and a whole stage devoted to a weekend of metal and doom, it should have been a sign when these same people started tugging nervously at their sleeves. Nervous energy simmered into chants: “TRASH TALK! TRASH TALK!”
With the Odd Future gang watching from the wings, and the yelps growing louder, Lee Spielman finally arrived on stage. What happened next was something that can hardly be explained; it must be seen. It was like watching Darwinism happen while pressing a fast forward button.
What Trash Talk does isn’t anything new and the ire it provokes has been witnessed for decades by angry youth. But inside a dusty, enclosed tent it felt like its own apocalypse. Spielman didn’t discourage violence, he championed it. “See those people against the wall? Pull them, take them with you, I don’t give a fuck.” But here’s the strangest part. Despite fearing from your safety, your health, and your bodily functions, there’s something addictive about watching chaos and seeing the world burn. But if you listen to Trash Talk, you already knew that.
On a separate stage, Odd Future followed Trash Talk, a juxtaposition that made them seem almost tame in comparison. That was until an audience member threw a water bottle at Tyler’s face at which point he jumped into the crowd, much of the OFWGKTA crew following. A few moments later, who rushed in to help Tyler by supermanning into the audience like a dark knight of the apocalypse? Why Lee Spielman of Trash Talk. No one was surprised.
The Media Tent
Let’s just go ahead and call it: best media tent ever.
Living legend is a title too easily bestowed (or perhaps too widely defined?), but Henry Rollins would easily be one of its most deserving candidates (although, to be fair, he would likely scoff at the notion). Given the current confines, it would be impossible to summarize all that he is done (although we can add officiate a wedding as he did it earlier in the day for a FFF Fest couple) or even all he talked about on that late Sunday night. But here are some of the topics he broached: travelings, North Korea, Blue Velvet, scaring the bejesus out of Dennis Hopper, John McCain, drugs, politics, life, longing, and “Life is short. You’ve got to get as many of these stories as you can under your cap.” In his parting words to the audience, where he enthused the importance of the contributions from each generation, he also imagined a world of “24-7 p-funk, Ramones block party.” The man is a genius.
Spoon played an exciting and electrifying set to a crowd who calls them hometown heroes. But this quiet moment of the band practicing in their trailer seemed to speak to their never shy, but always graceful and grounded nature.
In a weekend marked by much thrashing, smashing and metal, there was nothing that stood in such contradiction, nor as so devastatingly beautiful, as the Girls set late Saturday night. An entire crowd swayed with the band back-lit by the Austin skyline, a setting that betrayed itself as despite its openness, it failed to feel anything but personal and intimate. The fragility of such a moment not lost on many with the audience falling into a hush during the softer minutes of songs like “My Ma” and “Love Like a River.” There are few bands that truly make an impact, who you feel will make a difference when the stage lights go out, the writers go home, the photographers turn in their gear. But the band whose songs were heard hummed the most while walking home across the South Congress bridge? Well, that’d be Slayer. But let’s just assume that’s because they were playing at the time.