Fuck Yeah Fifes — FYF Fest grows up
by Josh Steichmann
This is the year they finally did it right.
After a couple of successive debacles, where great line-ups were marred by long lines, dehydration and bad layout, FYF Fest teamed up with Goldenvoice, the promoters best known for Coachella, and pulled off a festival that was both relaxing and exciting, a punk rock fest that finally stopped fucking up its own success and reconciled growing up with selling out.
From the very giddyup, FYF Fest ("You goin' to fife?" "What's it about?" "Minutemen and marching, I think.") cut out the bottlenecks of last year, with VIP and will-calls available for days before the fest, the entirety of Spring St. closed, and Metro service extended (no driving means extra drinking).
The hassles getting in were mostly of the city-promulgated variety — after the teen boiled her brains at the Electric Daisy rave, event permitting has included draconian security theater, including banning empty water bottles ("They could be coated with some kind of drugs you add water to," a very earnest guard told me) and backpacks, perhaps because you could fill them with glue and huff in them.
But after last year's hour-long line, five minutes from Metro through security was a dream. And likewise, having an ID check station cut the beer garden lines to a quick flash of the wristband and transfer of cash. Even the fencing was better laid out, making a better lane across the park and keeping the hills out of the way.
The music was as carefully curated as the logistics, with a punk for the whole family vibe with headliners like the Descendents barking out a respectably earnest "I Don't Wanna Grow Up," and the Dead Milkmen rambling through a surprisingly entertaining Marcus Bachmann intro to "Bitchin' Camero" ("Marcus told me that I wasn't born short, it's a lifestyle choice!" mugged lead singer Rodney), all while kids conceived to Green Day pogoed in their brand new patched jackets.
While the Descendents were more a confirmation ("Huh, that's what Milo looks like now") than a revelation, and the Milkmen's novelty vamping is like rewatching Repo Man (still funny, even if you know what's coming), the classic '93-'96 Guided By Voices started slow and, after one false start, tore up the stage. They've always got the secret soul of Cheap Trick inside of them, and Bob Pollard took them through the Bee Thousand- and Alien Lanes-heavy set with a relaxed, confident swagger that turned even bummers like "Tractor Rape Chain" into chugging rockers, and electrified pop nuggets like "Kicker of Elves." Not every legacy band did as well — Olivia Tremor Control played a bland, mid-tempo set, disappointing us Elephant 6 fans in the audience.
Olivia Tremor Control's lackluster performance was made more apparent by their immediate predecessors, Canadian psych rockers Pink Mountaintops. The Mountaintops, this time playing as a duo of Stephen McBean (guitars and vox, looking like a haggard Jeff Daniels) and Jeremy Schmidt (keys), played an epic set of slowed down, opened up riffs, hitting the perfect balance between the fuzzy wash of Spacemen 3 and the dancey Motorik vibe of Moroder in Munich.
Stuck at the end of the "Splinter's Den" shows, Chromatics' cool Italo was helped by the claustrophobic tent — Singer Ruth Radelet came across as impeccably disinterested and reserved, and the round synths and reverb made more sense inside in the dark than they would have outside in the sun. But where antecedent bands like Adult. keep their nihilism to car crashes and drowning deaths, Radelet's distanced laments come across like longings she can barely articulate without being overwhelmed, especially on their signature cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill." Keyboardist Johnny Jewel played later that night with his other Italo band, Glass Candy, who opted for a dancier set, but the bigger stage did them no favors and the sound lost a lot of its richness, and Glass Candy singer Ida No was buried in the mix, unable to project over it.
That thin mix on the bigger stages — a regular complaint of mine at outdoor shows across the board — hurt the prettier bands more than the rough ones; earnest Jonestown kids Cults lost their harmonies and enunciation, but still turned in a credible performance, while Broken Social Scene made up in numbers what their indie Springsteen anthems lacked in personality by packing the stage with their coterie of members. Only relative newcomers The Head and The Heart, who hit harmonies somewhere between Beta Band's shambolic multi-instrumentalism and Simon and Garfunkel's earnest folk, managed to sound great without embracing the uglier side of feedback and distortion.
Luckily, the uglier bands did just fine, with The Strange Boys pulling off a howling set of their blues-flecked punk, hitting all the right Gun Club and Screamin' Jay marks. Likewise, Ty Segall, of shitgazers Sic Alps and a handful of other Siltbreeze, Woodsist and Goner bands, pulled off a confident, careening set that whipsawed between The Who's power pop and The Stooges' raw power. That Segall wants his new album to sound Stooges-meets-Sabbath came through, and it really is a shame that five thousand shitty poodle-haired bar bands and earnest Melloncamp strummers have stolen the name "rock and roll" from its rightful inheritors, like Segall — he hit riffs with ease, windmilled and jump-kicked, all while churning out a blistering set of three-chord masterpieces. Segall's set was easily one of the highlights of the festival.
Unfortunately, like all multi-stage affairs, there's plenty that we didn't get to see: No Age is always a tight ride, and Japandroids are more fun than they have any right to be with songs like "River Phoenix." My friend, who broke away from us to go see Explosions in the Sky, said they were amazing; I tend to find them a bit plodding, but different strokes, I guess. The Weakerthans are always reliable for a stolid set of standard indie rock, and Four Tet has been one of the most consistently surprising electronic musicians over the last decade. And other friends came back raving about the Future Islands set that we missed in favor of the (aforementioned) regrettable OTC.
In the end, even the crowds seemed happier and more helpful than in years past, despite being 20000 strong — a chunk of us got drafted to push the solar food truck Green Machine up a hill (the irony was not lost), and got free burgers. People were sharing food and drinks, and even the kid flying the California flag from the middle of the mosh pit felt like a hopeful standard bearer at the glorious revolution's celebration. This is what a local festival looks like when done right.
(NOTE: I wrote this for Rock and Roll Confidential, but they're having technical difficulties, so I wanted to get it up before everyone's forgotten about it.