Photos by Tod Seelie
The Northern Californian antipathy toward Southern California (and concurrent Southern Californian indifference toward us Northerners) is as cliche as it is preposterous, though, as a NorCal native, I am genetically-bound to resist traveling to Los Angeles unless only the most tempting or compulsory of events beckons. Last weekend’s FYF Fest, with its stacked lineup promising a smorgasbord of indie rock, punk, and electronic acts, was too compelling to pass up, and, thankfully, it did not disappoint.
The central hook for the FYF trek was a chance to see Guided by Voices, who I’d never seen before, and now, I’ll be able to die happy (or happier, anyway). What Faustian bargain and/or magic elixir are Robert Pollard and company privy to that enables them to rock more intensely than bands comprised of kids one-third their ages? On FYF’s main stage the band acted like rock stars and, despite their lo-fi roots, Pollard and company’s songs felt like big-time anthems that had found their rightful home.
I’m equally pleased to report that our local representatives at FYF both delivered stellar sets. Girls appeared as a quintet joined by three backup singers, and Christopher Owens soulfully commanded the stage with heart-on-sleeve. JR White apologized early for any kinks in the band’s set, but the new songs sounded just as good as the older ones. In fact, the band’s rendition of “Vomit” proved to be the set’s stunning peak, eclipsing even “Hellhole Ratrace,” which, following, felt like a well-earned victory lap.
Ty Segall‘s band whipped the crowd into a dust cyclone moshpit, banging out songs from Melted and Goodbye Bread and offering between-song observations and anecdotes that spoke to Segall’s goofy sense of humor. Although his band didn’t play their monster cover of “Paranoid,” he did explain that one song was about “eating weed rice and locking yourself in your room and listening to Black Sabbath all night because you think you’re gonna die.” Despite cheers at the mention of “weed rice,” Segall cautioned that that experience was not, in fact, enjoyable. At least it resulted in a great song.
Even the standard festival problems, delays and sound issues, didn’t stop some thoroughly enjoyable sets. I was disappointed to see that Chromatics weren’t nearly ready to go when I arrived a few minutes after the band’s scheduled start time, but I returned fifteen minutes later to catch a flawless 45 minutes of seductive Italo-inflected electronic pop. Like Purity Ring earlier in the day — who, through a combination of musicianship, showmanship, and craftsmanship, employed some sort of illuminated piping unit and bass drum in the service of a batch of thick, compelling drag tunes — I was impressed by how organic Chromatics felt, with two guitars creating a lot of the melancholic sounds I’d attributed to synthesizers on record.
Death From Above 1979‘s headlining set was plagued by a minor problem: the duo couldn’t hear themselves for most of their hour-long set. Still, they appeared to take it in stride, bashing out songs from their sole full length with a ferocity, and passionately expressing their increasing frustration with the sound between tracks. It appeared that things onstage improved toward the end (was it really that the monitors just weren’t turned out until then?), but I got the band clearly felt disappointed, despite serving up a set of acerbic dance-punk that reached its peak with an unhinged, Sebastien Grainger-crowdsurfing-included take on “Romantic Rights.” I’ve heard disappointment from friends who were DFA1979 superfans, who left feeling like things were too sloppy for a band whose music excels on precision. To my ears — and full disclosure, I hadn’t thought much about this band in the past five years — songs like “Black History Month” sounded good, and I’m thinking that the duo could reach great under better conditions at Treasure Island.
Not everything worked, mind you. Dan Deacon bailed on the idea of starting a dance contest when the packed audience couldn’t make enough room around his setup on the grass. I dig the sentiment of not wanting to embrace the distance that a stage can create, but ten rows of people back, seeing little more than a glowing skull and a few blinking lights made the stage packed with photographers seem like a wasted opportunity. Perversely, it actually made the whole experience feel less intimate.
Similarly, I was a bit mystified by The Descendents, although my knowledge of the band remains limited to Milo Goes to College. I suspect that the quality of one’s experience revisiting a pop-punk band decades later depends on how committed you were to it in the first place, so while The Descendents’ set felt kind of flat, I probably would’ve gone ape if it had been Operation Ivy up there. Seriously, FYF, make that happen and I’ll definitely be back next year. Heck, put on a show as well-run and full of great sets as this year’s, and I’ll plan on making that trek down I-5 for years to come.