LIVE REVIEW: FYF Fest 2011 – A Report Card

September 06. 2011 | By Trina Starke

The new school year is in full swing and along with it the LA summer music festival scene is now behind us. FYF Fest in Los Angeles was all the business on Saturday headlining major acts including the Descendents, Explosions in the Sky, and Death From Above 1979 among others. In recent years FYF Fest has earned whopping “Fs” by failing Los Angelenos miserably and lost attendees as a result. This year’s festie didn’t come close to selling out and even up to the very last minute organizers were pushing ticket sales via Twitter. Enter mega-music promoter, Goldenvoice, the godfather of Coachella. Goldenvoice donned its red cape and swooped in to save the day. Or did they? First a report card on the artists’ performances then I’ll discuss FYF’s citizenship marks (Oustanding, Satisfactory, or Needs improvement). How well did they do in terms of taking care of their attendees and is there still a need to make things better?

Purity Ring: C
A side project of Corin Roddick’s (GOBBLE GOBBLE) with vocals provided by frontwoman, Megan James, Purity Ring unfortunately was a yawner way to start the day. Damn shame too because I was amped and thought I’d try something fresh, but ultimately they fell flat, and I gave up before the end of their set. Playing in front of an ’80s bed sheet of orange and teal, their Cold Cave-esque repetitive drone didn’t really appeal and didn’t seem to have a great effect on the audience either. I suppose it could have been the Splinter’s Den tent they were playing in, which was sweltering inside (yo, Goldenvoice, next time lift those tent side panels, air circulation works wonders). They weren’t bad, but they weren’t remarkable either. Next.

The Head & The Heart: A+
After refreshing myself with a couple cold ones, I ventured over to Leonardo’s Stage to take in the succulent 3-part harmonies of Seattle 6-piece, The Head & The Heart. I fell truly, madly, deeeeeply in love with this folk-pop band from the first rattle of their tambourine. This mostly male (token female) crew is slathered in talent which drips from the fingertips that grace pianos, violins, and guitars. They really are a sight to behold; a sound to take in. Something I haven’t felt since seeing Local Natives for the first time at Coachella in 2010. I even found myself giggling as they sang the lyrics to “Sounds Like Hallelujah,” — “For the first time I’m singing hallelujah for the first time” as I felt we bonded in LA for the first time. This set will stick with me.

Smith Westerns: A
There is nothing I don’t love about Smith Westerns. I’ve never seen them live so this set was one of my most anticipated since the lineup was revealed. And thank God they didn’t disappoint. Their summery ’60s garage-pop sound made for the perfect dance track while meeting new friends under the sun. Laughing and dancing, talking and singing… I was in a little Smith Westerns slice of heavenly pie. My only wish is that I had spent less time laughing and more time dancing. But what can I say, their vibe just makes me happy, plain and simple.

Cults: A
After Smith Westerns bid us farewell I made a not-so-subtle dash to the front of the stage to get up close and personal with Cults who informed us that they were just back from London, only two hours before (God I love the dedication of the indie band, absolutely no divas here). These kids played last year, however, for whatever reason (I was probably 343rd in line for water only to find out there was no water, true story) I missed their set so hell would freeze over before I’d let that happen again. Their charm was even more present in person as frontwoman, Madeline Follin, crooned over love and loss in her lacy purple ’60s dress and Brian Oblivion in his white button up and skinny black tie. Third band in a row fostering nothing but mad love, Leonardo’s Stage had its hooks in me.

Cold War Kids: A-
Sure I’ve heard “Hospital Beds” countless times before, but I’ve never been all that familiar with the Orange County band until this year’s Coachella where they set it off. Ever since learning they were on the FYF lineup I’ve been sinking my pearly whites into their latest release Mine Is Yours. Frontman, Nathan Willett, is one man that was born to be on stage. He thrives in front of an audience and his voice permeates my inners. I was still near the front row for this set, but fell back after declaring the western setting sun the winner in our staring contest. And that’s the only problem with a 6pm set time, the sun is unforgivingly brutal right behind these bands making it difficult, if not impossible, to watch. I couldn’t. I gave up, dropped back, caught my breath, and savored another beer.

Broken Social Scene: B
Driving to FYF I excitedly told my husband (Owl partner in crime, photogapher F. Starke) about my experience seeing Broken Social Scene at The Wiltern last winter, “there were like fifteen musicians on stage! Two drum sets, seven guitars, two or three violinists, they’re amazing!” So I was ridiculously crushed when I saw only five (or maybe it was six) members on stage. I’m sure they enlist additional contributors for their big shows and then taper down for these not-as-big gigs, but still seeing that mass group of talent all on one stage, in perfect music synchronicity is one of the things that excited me so much about seing BSS again. I wanted to see a football team and instead a basketball team arrived. Still they were fabulous in their own BSS way. Charming as all get out and exceptional musicians. Also frontman, Kevin Drew, informed us that it was their “last show in a very, very, very long time in Los Angeles” so instead of pouting I snapped out of it and savored the moment. Peace be with you guys, see you upon your return!

Girls: A
A pleasant surprise. A soulful pleasant surprise complete with three soul-sister backup singers to be exact. I first saw San Francisco’s Girls at Coachella in 2010 and although I liked them, seeing them for a second time at FYF I’d swear they were an entirely different band. New energy, new confidence, all for a new album Father, Son, Holy Ghost. Girls turned up the heat after the sun went down. They wowed me good and kept me warm.

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Glass Candy: D
In my most obnoxious female nasally voice I declare, haaaated it. And good Lord I tried so very hard. Finally three-quarters into their set I bailed with my fingers in my ears running with all my might. Okay not really. I like electro-pop a lot but bands, if you ain’t got vocals you ain’t got nothin’. This Amy Winehouse beehive wearing howling wish-I-knew-how-to-dance-but-I-don’t-so-instead-I’ll-vogue-the-shit-out-of-this-stage “singer” killed my every inner ear hair cell. Also the three boys beside me that kept elbowing me and pushing me out of their way fully pissed me off. I don’t care if you’re totally butt happy for a band or not, be respectful of others around you. We’re all in this together, don’t be a douche. The only reason Glass Candy didn’t earn an F is because I dug producer Johnny Jewel’s electro-beats. Now if only he could replace that whack girl with the ferociously bad voice.

Descendents: A+
1980’s punk-rock band the Descendents earned a whopping fat A+ for shear old-man kick-assery! These guys may be 20 plus years older and a few pounds heavier, but good God they can stir uncharted energy in both themselves and their audience like it was yesterday. Screaming anthems like “Everything Sux” and “Sour Grapes,” the band hasn’t lost an angst-ridden beat in all those years. Crazy good!

Explosions In The Sky: A
Explosions In The Sky and I have developed a very interesting relationship. I, like most, find their music emotionally powerful yet I become impatient and bored with them easily. I suppose that’s because I enjoy singing to music or getting wrapped in the lyrical content of a song and since their music lacks both of those elements I can only really appreciate them in small doses. Having said that in the four songs in which I was present, I was moved to tears and probably would have copped a squat to take in more but the manure infused bark (read further) prevented me from doing so. I have a good feeling they’ll be at Coachella next year, perhaps then Explosions and I will bond.

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Death From Above 1979: B
In one word: fierce. In more than one word: fierce with too many obnoxious technical issues while fighting with their sound guys, “mature guys, real mature.” Even though the duo out of Toronto struggled in the cat and mouse, Sebastien Grainger kept the audience entertained with his dry sense of humor. When their gear seemed to be fixed after an awkward intermission all hell broke loose in a good way (if you’re into that sort of thing). I’m not a fan of DFA 1979, but I can appreciate a stellar show and the raw sound and energy force that is created by only two men is incredible. Really amazing if hardcore rock is your thing.

FYF Fest – Citzenship Marks
Overall Comfort: O
The moment we entered the pearly gates the experience was in stark contrast to recent years. The wait in line was non-existent (no joke, walked right in!) compared to two-plus hours in 2010. From what I could tell lines for food and water were a fraction of the length that they were last year. Food choices were plenty and water sales available everywhere I turned. Prices were still a bit on the high side, but that’s to be expected. Two large tents were also raised with dozens of picnic tables underneath to rest tired piggies and get a break from the blazing LA sun. Last year I was furious with heat exhaustion and dehydration, but this year I was as a comfortable little clam. Outstanding.

Location: N
Los Angeles State Historical Park is straight up ass-crack gross. Half of it is dead grass where the other half is some sort of a bark/manure/dirt mixture that reeks and makes for a God-awful stinky dust-fest. By the end of the day I needed a lung transplant and in fact my husband and fellow Owls suffered with allergies all the following day. There has to be other, better options. FYF, please figure this one out. Needs improvement.

Layout: N
Other than the location my other biggest complaint for this year’s fest was the layout of the stages. The two far right stages (Donatello & Michelangelo) could have – or rather should have – been one large stage. The only thing separating the two was a video screen meaning no two bands could play at one time. While one band performed on one stage, crews were busy setting up the opposite stage for the following band. I found myself being distracted and getting frustrated by the lights and movement from the opposite stage. Needs improvement.

Explosions in the Sky on right. See what I mean? Needs improvement.

Sound/Lighting: S
For the most part sound and lighting were fabulous for all sets that I attended. The video screens should have been hung at the beginning of the day instead of being raised then lowered in the middle of a bands’ set (poor Smith Westerns). That and the aforementioned technical problems experienced by DFA 1979 were the only issues that I witnessed. Satisfactory.

Parking: N
The FYF Fest site boasts that there are “plenty of affordable parking lots located all over” which just isn’t the case. Parking’s a bitch in LA and it’s usually $20 a pop – not affordable. Maybe if a better location can be chosen and along with it a better parking situation would follow. Ah, one can dream right? I don’t really blame FYF Fest organizers for this, but don’t preach something that just doesn’t exist. Needs improvement.

Overall Execution: S
Nothing is ever perfect, but compared to FYF of recent years, 2011 will go down as the year of the recovery. Attendees everywhere that I spoke to were thrilled with the changes and I for one was one of them. Will I attend again next year? Probably so. Satisfactory.

Click HERE for more badass photos of FYF Fest!

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