‘The Live Music Capital of the World’ played host to the Fun Fun Fun Fest, and QRO was there. Named after the Beach Boys song (the one “’til her daddy takes her T-Bird away”), Fun Fun Fun featured a wide range of acts across four different stages, stretching from local legends to foreign visitors, one-time reunions to touring dynamos, fresh & new acts to veterans, Austin City Limits to Adult Swim – all in Waterloo Park, under the shadow of the state capital.
The bands were arrayed across the indie Stage 1, the new & intimate Stage 2, the punk rock Stage 3, and the electronica/dance Stage 4, but many acts stretched the divides between the stages. The largest two, Stages 1 & 3, were also divided into side-by-side Stages A & B, which reduced the time between acts (and pressure on bands to set up, and then afterwards to get off) by allowing one band to set up while another band played (soundchecks still meant there was a bit of a break). Everything was pretty close together, meaning it was easy to go from one stage to another, to catch as many bands as you could. And it was held over two days, Saturday & Sunday, November 8th & 9th – perfectly timed to celebrate the end of the Bush era in the city in which he once reigned…
(click band’s name or their top photo for all their Fun Fun Fun Fest photos in the QRO Concert Photo Gallery)
Day One: Saturday, November 8th
There was still University of Texas football to think about, but that didn’t diminish the shouts of “Obama!” – though that’s just taking a cue from Randy Marsh in the immediate post-election episode of South Park. And the calendar might have been post-Halloween, post-Daylight Savings ‘fall back’, but it was hot during the afternoon in Austin (if a bit nippy at night). Day One stretched from Yuppies to Milkmen, capped off by an incredible performance from The National:
Yuppie Pricks, Stage 3B, 12:45 PM – 1:15 PM
Fun Fun Fun kicked off in the hot Texas sun with The Yuppie Pricks. Dressed like golfers in colored argyle, they were certainly recognizable (especially as fans, later in the day – they didn’t drop the uniform, or didn’t bring a separate change of clothes). The singer talked too much, but he had his moments, like with his remark, “We’re 33, and the youngest band on this stage…” Also, they featured a quite-convincing Sarah Palin look-a-like – all she was missing was $150,000 worth of Nieman-Marcus…
Experimental Dental School, Stage 1A, 1:00 PM – 1:30 PM
Once an Oakland guitar/keys/drums trio, now a Portland, Oregon guitar & drums duo, Experimental Dental School hit Day One of FFF as part of their tour with Deerhoof (QRO photos), and they were ‘experimental’, but not overwhelmingly so. While this meant that they weren’t as inventive in their arrhythmic stylings as other art-rock groups (like Dirty Projectors – QRO photos), they also weren’t off-puttingly strange as other experimental acts (like… Dirty Projectors). There’s a plethora of guitar-and-drums duos out there right now (like The Dodos – QRO photos – and Helio Sequence – QRO album review), and there’s only so much that they can do.
Grampall Jookabox, Stage 2, 1:00 PM – 1:30 PM
One man on a drum and drum machine, Grampall Jookabox employed a lot of looping (including on bass). Engaging, it was still a little early for the first act all the way over at Stage 2, which featured a relatively circuitous route to it, down a hill, across a brook, up a hill, and around a lot of fencing. Dan Friel (QRO photos) of Parts & Labor was in the crowd – the first of many sightings of members of that band at other people’s performances.
Colourmusic, Stage 1B, 1:35 PM – 2:05 PM
While Colourmusic opened their show with a recording of “Brought to you by the color orange”, only the drummer was dressed that way (though head-to-toe); the rest were in white (again, head-to-toe). The first outright strong band of the day, these Stillwater, Oklahoma natives were fun and wild in a pretty upbeat way. Probably somewhere between their debut full-length, f, monday, orange, february, venus, lunatics, 1 or 13 (QRO review) and their more intensely strange indoor live show, Colourmusic was a little reminiscent of fellow Okies, The Flaming Lips (QRO live review), but without that band’s legendarily stage extravagance (QRO photos). Yet the crowd was definitely getting into it, especially the young ladies, and the group certainly killed it with “Yes!” and “Put In a Little Gas”.
Dengue Fever, Stage 4, 2:00 PM – 2:45 PM
Stage 4 was full of acts that didn’t quite fit anywhere else, and Dengue Fever was one of those. Their mixture of psychedelic rock and Cambodian pop was even stronger than on Venus on Earth (QRO review), as the band was having fun on stage. However, they looked a little less interesting than before, as their hopping bassist was without the shades & mustache that once made him look like a young Isaac Hayes, the singer wasn’t in Khmer pop-princess dress, and they didn’t seem to have the saxophonist who resembled Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. Only their guitarist kept up his look, sort of a Hasidic ZZ Top.
Parts & Labor, Stage 1A, 2:10 PM – 2:40 PM
There were a few bands that managed to successfully bridge the gap between the two largest stages, the indie rock Stage 1 & the punk rock Stage 3, but none may have done it as well as Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor. Their take on alt-rock is industrial and aggressive, without going overboard. They largely eschewed their last record, the excellent Mapmaker (QRO review), for newer material (and that album’s “The Gold We’re Digging” was a little sub-par), and announced that they had a new record coming out next year.
Like when they played closer to home this summer at the Siren Music Festival on Coney Island (QRO recap), Parts & Labor were too good for this early of a slot – but that did make them, once again, the first can’t-miss band of the day, no matter how many times you’ve seen them (though this didn’t feature singer/bassist B.J. Warshaw throwing his bass into the photo pit like at Siren…). And the new material probably let new guitarist Sarah Lipstate do more. It’s especially refreshing that Parts & Labor conform to, and break, stereotypes: Warshaw is heavily bearded, but skinny as opposed to Santa-size, while Friel is a cross between goofy techno-geek and grunge-industrial; drummer Joe Wong isn’t the toughest guy in the band, and Lipstate is the attractive female member of such a male-sounding band, yet it isn’t some sort of hook (and she’s not the conventional ‘chick bassist’ or ‘chick keyboardist’).
Krum Bums, Stage 3A, 2:30 PM – 3:00 PM
Things were getting crazy at Stage 3, and it was about time! The first full-scale punk rock show featured the mohawked Krum Bums lighting things up. There was not only crowd surfing and stage diving (usually by repeat offenders), but also a ‘circle mosh’, wherein those in the pit run around in a circle, crashing into each other and those on the rim. Lest you think it was entirely Y chromosome, there was at least one square-shouldered girl in there, basically asking circle-moshers to crash into her, so she could deck them:
Bishop Allen, Stage 1A, 3:20 PM – 3:55 PM
Back at Stage 1A, there was another Brooklyn band trying out new material, but the sound from Bishop Allen was totally different. After the welcome Broken String (QRO review), it’s great to hear the next Allen record drops February or March of next year, but their material – especially singer/guitarist Justin Rice’s (QRO interview) more complicated lyrics – do benefit from familiarity. Thankfully, they still hit up great released pieces like “Castanets”, “Same Fire”, “Rain”, and every photographer’s favorite, “Click, Click, Click, Click” (no “Chinatown Bus”, though – perhaps not relatable outside of the Northeast Corridor…).
While the band still revolves around Rice and multi-instrumentalist Christian Rudder, singer/xylophonist/melodica/and more Darbie Notwatka seems well entrenched, which can only be a good thing. It might have been a bit sunny for their bright, indie-friendly sound (featured heavily, along with the band, in the recent Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist), which is more fitting for a springtime, ‘after the rain’, kind of weather. And there was some kid, already plastered before 4:00 PM, bumping into everybody (unmanaged by his less-drunk friends) and waving some plastic axe around. Yet Bishop Allen still shined through it all.
Swingin’ Utters, Stage 3A, 3:40 PM – 4:25 PM
Things weren’t quite as active with Swingin’ Utters as at Krum Bums, but this show did see one security man haul away one over-active fan, upside-down and over the security man’s back, to be dumped on the pavement outside the festival fence. After getting a mohawked skull stage-dived to the face at the F Yeah Tour (QRO live review), one instinctively agrees with security in these types of situations.
More importantly, Swingin’ Utters sounded stronger than Krum Bums or other, earlier punk acts at Stage 3. One of a host of just-mature-enough punk acts on label Fat Wreck (along with NOFX – QRO photos – Dillinger Four – QRO photos – and Dead To Me – QRO album review), they’re more than an attitude.
Black Heart Procession, Stage 1B, 4:00 PM – 4:45 PM
With a lower profile and a lower-key sound, Black Heart Procession almost slipped under the radar. But they had a nice alt-country/folk way about them, with peddle guitar and violins – albeit certainly different than the band they were born out of, Three Mile Pilot. And they’d borrowed the violinist from the even more different-sounding Album Leaf (QRO photos) – who weirdly looks a lot like the late, great, alt-SF writer Philip K. Dick (Bladerunner, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, upcoming bio-pic, Sonic Youth’s Sister).
Octopus Project, Stage 4, 4:00 PM – 4:45 PM
One of the most heralded local Austin groups breaking today, Octopus Project is also one of the few instrumental-based post-rock acts out there that’s also exciting to watch (another: New York’s Battles – QRO photos). The city of Austin certainly knew it, as the crowd was overflowing from Stage 4’s natural stage floor and up its amphitheater hill. It’s amazing what some good clothes can do for you…
But Octopus Project are more than just clean-cut youngsters: their grand post-rock has a ton of energy, plus they’ve even started introducing vocals of a few pieces, including one well-received, self-proclaimed ‘experiment’ (though the crowd clearly favored it when Yvonne Lambert went on Theremin – and who wouldn’t?). Yet they marry that intensity with having a good time – and some green or white, box & sheet ‘ghosts’ that introduced the strange stage show that was to dominate Stage 4:
…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Stage 1A, 4:50 PM – 5:35 PM
The Austin act that Octopus Project is ‘the most-heralded since’, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead played to a huge hometown crowd that extended out across Waterloo Park. Their somewhat darker indie-punk sound fit the darkening skies, making their show a mix between outdoor festival and indoor stadium event.
That wasn’t the only Trail mix provided, as they mixed new material and old in their set list. Like Parts & Labor, Trail of Dead also mixed Stages 1 & 3, but in different way: not techno-industrial, but grand rock. And they got up close to the crowd more than maybe any other Stage 1 band, as co-frontman Jason Reece climbed a speaker and dived into the photo pit.
YACHT, Stage 4, 5:00 PM – 5:45 PM
Still, that crowd interaction couldn’t compare to Jona Bechtolt, a.k.a. YACHT. One half of The Blow, Bechtolt-as-YACHT really broke out on his own last year with I Believe In You. Your Magic Is Real (QRO review), but he’s returned to the duo format, as YACHT now formally includes Claire L. Evans. In Austin, Bechtolt and the bleach-blond singer/dancer moved to the beat of their own drum machine, but Bechtolt went solo into the crowd to party.
The young man later remarked, “I know a lot of people give Texas shit, but I love Texas!”, and Texas loved him right back. With even more of that one-of-a-kind energy, Bechtolt & Evans were on fire, right up to the well-spent finisher, “See a Penny (Pick It Up)”.
Rival Schools, Stage 1B, 5:40 PM – 6:25 PM
While most of the reunions were taking place on Stage 3, Stage 1 had its own in Rival Schools. They’ve been selling out on their reunion tour, and one can see why with their really strong indie-punk style, rooted in a loud sound, making yet another Stage 1 act to reach over to Stage 3. And an excited crowd welcomed the band.
After this tour, the New York act will be returning home to record a new album, almost a decade after their first (and only), United by Fate. With strong new songs like “Big Waves”, they still sound great.
Brownout!, Stage 4, 6:00 PM – 6:45 PM
While a number of local acts played Fun Fun Fun, perhaps none was authentically as ‘Austin’ as Brownout!. The reworked alter ego of local legends Grupo Fantasma (see Day Two), there was a real caliente calypso salsa flavor to their sound.
Magnetic Morning, Stage 2, 6:45 PM – 7:30 PM
As the time got later, the crowds got larger, and so it was nice to be able to easily get close to the band over at Stage 2. And Magnetic Morning, formed by members of Swervedriver and Interpol (QRO album review), was more Stage 1 than Stage 2, so it was doubly nice. It all made Stage 2 sort of a ‘hidden gem’ (the place also had great lighting, something outdoor festivals aren’t exactly known for).
Magnetic Morning themselves sounded strong, though perhaps had too many instrumental songs (and the only person you couldn’t see was drummer Sam Fogarino – the one from Interpol…). Those in particular played a little old, but were pepped up by piano.
Dan Deacon, Stage 4, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
The ever-inventive Dan Deacon threw a curveball at Stage 4 by setting up not on stage, but in the photo pit. This put the photographers on stage, looking down at Deacon, as a whole phalanx, something the man joked about numerous times during a long set-up.
This all let the electronica DJ get extra-close to the crowd, who turned it into a full-fledged, arms-up dance party. However, if you weren’t right up next to the man, or at the front of the stage with the photographers, you couldn’t see anything but flashbulbs and a glowing green skull. It was all not that much different from being in a club, albeit an outdoor one.
Tim Fite, Stage 2, 7:45 PM – 8:30 PM
Playing it much better was Tim Fite, over at the far more hospitable Stage 2. His fun show was perfectly suited for the Stage, with his projected backdrop of film or slides, and his odd but engaging & hilarious pieces. It also meant that it was easy for sideman Sexy Leroy to enter into the crowd and really disappear, as Fite ranged from hip-hop to hard rock, all with the same equipment.
In fact, Fite seemed to really step up his game, whether doing two renditions of his guided tour of your body, “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” (the first mixed up as “Toes, Shoulders, Knees, and Head”), an extra-fine slide show segue in “Let’s Stab a Motherfucker”, or the incendiary “Burn It Down!”. There was the mysterious man with an antlered deer skull mask (and curiously itchy legs…) who’d occasionally sneak up from behind. And Sexy Leroy capped it all off by climbing the house-left speakers, turning around, putting his bottle of water between his legs and squeezing, raining down upon the crowd…
Dead Milkmen, Stage 3B, 8:45 PM – 9:45 PM
Possibly the biggest event of the entire festival was the one-off reunion by the one-and-only Dead Milkmen. Only their second show since breaking up over a decade ago, there were no follow-ups planned, so that made Fun Fun Fun Fest ground zero. Not only did the massive crowd reflect that fact, but also did the stage – they were at full capacity up there with photographers and gawkers (no photo pit at Stage 3 will do that…).
Going against expectations, the band opened with their biggest & most memorable number, “Punk Rock Girl” (with the lyrics changed a bit, to add in Killdozer – though stores without Mojo Nixon still need some fixin’…). But the band had a wide assortment of songs, which the crowd knew by heart.
The National, Stage 1A, 8:40 PM – 9:40 PM
The biggest dilemma of Fun Fun Fun Fest was Dead Milkmen vs. The National. But all the attention and energy devoted to Stage 3B meant that all of the security was over there as well – which made it quite easy to, say, climb the back of Stage 1A and watch The National from behind drummer Bryan Devendorf…
But even if you weren’t wrapped around a supporting pipe, balanced by one butt cheek resting on the top corner of a Port-a-Potty (rattling every time someone opened the door), seeing singer Matt Berninger’s numerous turns back towards the drums (and getting a drumstick when everything was over), it was still an amazing show from an amazing live band. There was a curfew of 10:00 PM, but the band played right up to it, speeding through some songs and skipping others (like “Ada”), as well as any encore break. However, they still hit up the great ones, in a set list (QRO photo) derived entirely from their two most recent full-lengths, Alligator and Boxer (QRO review), including “Squalor Victoria”, “Abel”, “Mistaken For Strangers”, “Apartment Story”, “Fake Empire”, and “Start a War”, before closing with an absolutely blistering version of the always-blistering (and never more appropriate) “Mr. November”.
While the band seemed to talk like this was some sub-par performance (jokingly blaming it all on the fact that it was bassist Scott Devendorf’s birthday), the show was anything but. The National’s energy and intensity translates equally well to softer, quieter pieces like opener “Brainy” or “Start a War” as it does crashing, smashing numbers like “Abel” (which is really a revelation, live) and “Mr. November”. The many-membered group (including not one, but two pairs of brothers) all worked in synch and bounced off each other.
The National announced that this would be their last show in a while (and Berninger was certainly drinking like he didn’t have anything he need to do tomorrow…), a real disappointment (especially to those who’ve seen A Skin, A Night – the ‘making-of Boxer’ documentary that accompanies the recent Virginia EP (QRO review) – and know how long, and how much, that process took). But they went into their break on the highest of notes…
The National playing “Apartment Story” live at Fun Fun Fun Fest:
What was missed:
-Pre-festival parties on Friday night, including Austinist’s ‘Local Music Is Sexy’ with Lovely Sparrows at Mohawk, Brian Birdwell (QRO album review) at Flipnotics, and ‘After the Jump’ Panel with bloggers, including Brooklyn Vegan’s photo editor, Kyle Dean Reinford.
-Killdozer, Stage 3B, 4:30 PM – 5:15 PM. A band recommended by Parts & Labor in their set (“We’re gonna be selling record for the next hour, but after that, we won’t be, ‘cause we wanna see Killdozer…”), and by many others.
-Municipal Waste’s last ‘Wall of Death’, Stage 3A, 5:20 PM – 6:05 PM. Apparently lesser bands like Atreyo & Yellowcard are now encouraging their fans to make two lines and crash into each other like Municipal Waste invented, so the originators said this would be their last.
-Integrity, Stage 3B, 6:10 PM – 6:55 PM. Some drunken old guy jumped the fence and made his way to the mosh pit during Integrity, where he poured a beer over one punk’s head, sparking a near-beatdown before security intervened. At least it created the funniest message board thread since Kanye West sat at his MacBook Air…
-Deerhoof, Stage 1A, 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM. One of those love/hate bands with a female Asian singer – fall into the latter…
-Neil Hamburger, Stage 2, 8:45 PM – 9:45 PM. The National & Dead Milkmen meant missing “The World’s Worst Stand-Up Comedian”.
-In line for media credentials, who was in front? None other than the elusive Dave of Brooklyn Vegan (see if you can find him in the background of one of the Fun Fun Fun Fest photos)! No matter how far one roams, can’t get away from NYC indie rock media…
-The dust & dirt – oh, the dust and dirt! The hot day and numerous feet pounding the well-trodden Waterloo Park all kicked up the dirt into the air, in massive, billowing clouds that would sweep down upon you, whether walking from one show to another or just standing there and watching an act. Was coughing all that night.
-While there was no photo pit at Stages 2 & 3, and only a limited one at Stage 4, there was at least one at Stage 1 – only, by The National, it was filled up with mostly non-photographers.
-No free booze for press. But, considering the free booze-inspired situations a few weeks earlier during CMJ (QRO recap), maybe that was a good thing. This was Texas, still – fans had beers right from the noontime get-go, and had even brought their own beer cozies to keep ‘em cool…
Day Two: Sunday, November 9th
While Day Two couldn’t quite live up to Day One, Sunday featured a more varied array of acts that stretched across genres & years, from big band to Spirit of ’77, math-rock to sixties pop, on-stage dance parties to on-stage comedy, and more:
Altercation Punk Rock Comedy Tour, Stage 2, 1:35 PM – 2:05 PM
Along with bringing the funny, no stage straddled as many of the other stages as the new Stage 2, just more up-close. And Stage 2 humor met Stage 3 punk in the Altercation Punk Rock Comedy Tour. A combination of three comics, the first/MC, JT Habersaat, was clearly the best, as he riffed on his previous work, as part of the Vans Warped Tour, and his disgust with emo bands like Saves the Day and Cute Is What We Aim For (“Who decides they want to be in a band called ‘Cute Is What We Aim For’?” “Only a Norwegian death-metal band can get away with that name…”). It did make you wonder what his act was when he was on the Warped Tour…
Ruby Collins, an Austin native, wasn’t as strong with her riffs on rehab and even the n-word, but New York’s Chris Cubas had some choice stuff, and not just about weed and hip-hop (and necrophilia, abortions…) like you might expect. He even went political, talking about how, every year, 9/11 is just a little bit less meaningful – and soon it will be the equivalent of President’s Day, with sales promoting a “Jihad on Prices!” and those car dealership blowing windsocks of the Twin Towers, just crashing over & over again (also, “[VP Dick] Cheney is just a handlebar mustache away from tying a girl to train tracks”).
Habersaat returned to the stage to finish things out with jokes on being in 8th grade and doing the most subversive thing you could, Dungeons & Dragons, some not as fine material on ‘in memoriam’ dead baby tattoos, before closing on an excellent faux-ad for a punk-rock school to turn wussie emo kids hardcore. Stand-up comedy at a music festival is always hit-or-miss (see The Daily Show’s John Oliver – QRO photos – at East Village Radio Music Festival – QRO recap), but Altercation was well-tailored to the crowd, and well-timed – and near first thing of the day, so that it wasn’t a strange break between music acts (or had to be heard over them), and put you in the right mood for the day ahead.
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, Stage 1A, 2:10 PM – 2:40 PM
Austenite Brian Birdwell (QRO photos) recommended local Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, and he wasn’t wrong. Their big blues good times, with horns and dancing, was really nice in the sun. It didn’t take a lot to have fun with their sound, but the Star Trek shirts didn’t hurt…
Frightened Rabbit, Stage 1B, 2:45 PM – 3:15 PM
One of the best surprises of Fun Fun Fun was Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit. Hailing from the same land & label as the sad post-rock of friends The Twilight Sad (QRO live review), Frightened Rabbit were a little more straight indie-rock, more ‘clean’, i.e., undistorted, but had the same ability to delivery their emotion (and didn’t have quite as thick a Scottish brogue…). And live, you get to see the exuberant faces of drummer Grant Hutchison.
While they did sound different than on their live and acoustic Liver! Lung! FR! (QRO review), it was the right time of day for them, if a touch too hot. Singer/guitarist (and Grant’s brother) Scott Hutchison did joke about the weather, saying, “So this is winter in Austin – shit…”. They might just have been wishing this wasn’t the last day of their U.S. tour, before heading back to the wind-swept highlands.
Revival Tour, Stage 2, 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
While, for most of the rest of Day Two, Stage 2 was dominated by comedy, for a solid three-hour chunk in the middle, Stage 3 punks picked up acoustic guitars and went old school in the ‘Revival Tour’. Hot Water Music’s Chuck Ragan, Avail’s Tim Barry, and Lucero’s Ben Nichols – joined, this time, by Against Me!’s Tom Gabel – took turns backing each other up as they delivered some punk-tinged alt-country.
In a way, this was less ‘Stage 3-meets-Stage 2’ than ‘Stage 3-meets-Austin’ – their lower-class punk-country had a real authenticity to it, like what living on limited means in the Red States is really like. Sometimes their outlooks were a little limited themselves (such as Gabel’s song about snitches, or Barry’s piece about going to jail for shooting his little sister’s abusive husband, even though it was his sister who actually did it – he never heard of the battered wife defense? Little sis wouldn’t have served a day…), but it was really great to see young punks embracing the style and ethos of the city– Stevie Ray Vaughn would be proud…
Spinto Band, Stage 1A, 3:20 PM – 3:55 PM
A band perfectly suited for the sunny climes of a Sunday afternoon in Austin, Delaware’s Spinto Band (yes, something has come out of Delaware besides credit cards, Joe Biden, and that Wayne’s World joke…) have been honing their peppy, preppy sound since long before the likes of newcomers Vampire Weekend and Tally Hall (QRO photos). While Spinto Band is always just about what you expect, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, the band was trying out some of the new material from the recently released Hoodwinked, and it actually seemed to hew more to the bright neo-sixties (akin to Apples in Stereo – QRO album review) than today’s sometimes grating indie-prep. But they still have the same funny faces and motions, as well as the crowd-favorite kazoo…
Annuals, Stage 1B, 4:00 PM – 4:45 PM
As part of their tour with Minus the Bear (see below), Raleigh, North Carolina’s Annuals graced Stage 1B. After the success of Be He Me and especially the recent Such Fun (QRO review), Annuals are a band that should really be headlining – or, in this case, playing later in the day. And they will be doing that, come 2009, so this was actually a nice last chance to see them early (and in the sun) – though the crowd at Stage 1 had certainly grown since the prior acts.
If anything, it might have been a little too sun-baked to really energize the audience at first (singer/keyboardist Anna Spence had use her hands – and her hair – to shield her keys from the intense light). However, the group kept up their well-regarded live fervor (QRO live review) throughout their set, getting stronger and stronger as the day went on. With a set list limited, and mostly devoted to Such Fun, they couldn’t fulfill audience requests (“If we only had time, brother…” replied guitarist – and Sedona (QRO album review) frontman – Kenny Florence). Thankfully, Such Fun is well, exactly that – though it would have been nice to hear the excellent “Sore” from Wet Zoo 7” (QRO review).
Instead, outdoors and in Austin, Annuals were more alt-country than at other times, especially on the slower and quieter songs like “Hardwood Floor”. But they didn’t neglect to burn bright on pieces like “Hot Night Hounds”, with singer/guitarist/keyboardist Adam Baker (QRO interview) and bassist Mike Robinson (QRO interview) still making those funny faces…
Side-note: Are Annuals the most redheaded band since Simply Red? Between Robinson and Spence (not to mention the fair-haired guitarist/drummer Zack Oden), there’s more ginger there than in the Emerald Isle, and some of the best locks this side of The Jealous Girlfriends (QRO spotlight on).
Franki Chan & The Toxic Avenger, Stage 4, 4:25 PM – 6:25 PM
While in line for the backstage Port-a-Potties (and stopping queue-jumpers – see below), saw two Stage 4 DJ dance acts combine for an on-stage dance party, thanks to Franki Chan & The Toxic Avenger. They literally filled the stage with dancing fans – probably all from backstage, as opposed to the ‘regular’ fans, who once again got the short end of the stick at Stage 4 (see Dan Deacon, Day One).
Islands, Stage 1A, 4:50 PM – 5:35 PM
If it was a little too sunny for Annuals, the skies had unfortunately darkened too much by the time Islands were on. The weather was still nice, but the tropical sounds of Arm’s Way (QRO review) benefit from as much vitamin D as possible. More rockin’ than at other times (or on record), there was still that signature calypso sound from the Montreal act – but they did seem to be missing one of the Chen Brothers…
DOA, Stage 2A, 5:10 PM – 5:55 PM
The venerable DOA were celebrating their 30th anniversary, “We started in what you call the Jurassic Age of Punk, but some things never change…”. They then launched into the always-appropriate “Disco Sucks”. The band certainly had a 70’s-punk nature to their sound, more guitar-focused than much of today’s punk rock (thanks to that guitar-focused decade), but still pre-eighties thrash and metal – all of which was great to hear and bring you back.
St. Vincent, Stage 1A, 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM
The skies were pretty well dark by the time Annie Clark – a.k.a. St. Vincent – finished a long soundcheck at Stage 1. By now, the crowd size was at full-force, so thankfully St. Vincent had a great light & smoke show to back her up and take advantage of the hour, making the performance beautiful in look and sound.
Playing mostly from her breakthrough debut full-length, Marry Me (QRO review), she did hit up a few others, including a new one with a Björk-like vocals and energy. She also serenaded her fellow Texans (though Clark has since moved to – where else? – Brooklyn…) by saying, “The thing about Texas is, we know how to kick out the jams!”, right before a solo cover of The Beatles’ “Dig a Pony”.
Clark started her set like she started Marry Me, with the expansive “Now, Now” and lovely “Jesus Saves, I Spend”. “Human Racing” was a little less bright, but the record’s eponymous track was as beautiful, if not more so. And St. Vincent saved the best for last, with excellent single “Paris Is Burning” and Clark’s “song where I can shred a little” (QRO interview), “Your Lips Are Red”. The only problem was that it was all too short, too soon before she had to thank the crowd “For being part of the jam, for being so sweet, for being so attractive…”
Minus the Bear, Stage 1B, 7:35 PM – 8:35 PM
Outdoors, Seattle’s successful Minus the Bear only got bigger and grander. In fact, their math-rock, combined with a devoted fanbase, make them something on the lines of other-side-of-the-border’s Rush. Their light & especially smoke show was still going strong, even in the open air. They also mixed up newer numbers (like from last year’s Planet of Ice) with older fan-favorites, such as closer “Absinthe Party at the Honey Fly Warehouse”.
Bouncing Souls, Stage 3B, 7:40 PM – 8:40 PM
After Dead Milkmen, Bouncing Souls probably beat out DOA as the best punk band on Stage 3 at FFF. These New Brunswick natives have grown from the nineties punk revival to an established act in today’s scene – unfortunately, all those albums made it a little hard for old hands to recognize any of their songs.
Singer/guitarist Greg Attonito eventually removed his guitar to more fully rock & engage the crowd, from trying on various fans’ hats to even crowd surfing. And during that surf, Stage 2 act Kevin Seconds (of influential eighties punk band 7 Seconds) took over lead vocal duties. And everyone was on stage or in the pit (or both) for the wild ending that blew things up.
Grupo Fantasma, Stage 4, 7:45 PM – 8:30 PM
Couldn’t go all day without a local act at Stage 4, but thankfully Austin’s acclaimed Grupo Fantasma returned-ish (see Brownout!, Day One). More cubano than the salsa Brownout!, they make you hungry for a pork sandwich. That, and its more percussion/drum-based sound, is probably due to singer/bongo-man Jose Galeano, who proclaimed it was time to “Shake your ass!” to their danceable music.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Stage 1A, 8:40 PM – 9:40 PM
Up against some tough competition in Bad Brains and Tim & Eric Awesome Show (see below), Brooklyn’s Clap Your Hands Say Yeah still pulled a very healthy crowd. A specific and special band, CYHSY first broke onto the scene in 2005 with their self-titled, self-released debut LP, on the back of massive word of mouth. And, unlike most ‘indie’ acts, they’ve stayed truly independent, recording, producing, and distributing last year’s follow-up, Some Loud Thunder (QRO review) all on their own. Yet they still have managed to be successful enough to close out the Fun Fun Fun Fest.
After an explosion of sound, singer/guitarist Alec Ounsworth twenty-first century Gordon Gano (The Violent Femmes) nasal vocals came out, as the band moved through songs up and down, fast and slow. While there were some new numbers thrown in there, it was still hits like “Satan Said Dance” that got the crowd moving (and with a name like that, how could it not?…). By the time they & FFF finished on “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth”, the two days had wrapped up in style.
Bad Brains, Stage 3A, 8:45 PM – 9:45 PM
Throughout Day Two, pretty much every band on Stage 3 sung the praises of Bad Brains (though Stza of Leftover Crack did mention the alleged homophobic bent of singer/icon HR), and it’s no surprise, since the seminal D.C. hardcore band helped pave the way/invented much of the punk/hardcore sound that was playing at Stage 3. They’ve broken up and reformed more times than you can count, but have been going strong since last year’s Build a Nation.
In addition to being the go-to answer for the remark that there are no African-Americans in punk rock, Bad Brains were known for injecting jazz-fusion and, mostly notably, reggae into their punk rock. And, like on a Bad Brains record, their show saw the massive crowd go wild during their punk songs, but way restrained during the reggae rhythms (there was some hands swaying in the air). The particulate-filled air and nose-and-mouth-covering fashion styles of Day Two (see below) did inspire HR to wrap his entire head in some blue sheet…
Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Stage 2, 8:45 PM – 9:45 PM
Comedy came full-blast to Stage 2 with the one-and-only Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim of Adult Swim’s (late-night Cartoon Network) only live-action show, Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!. On television, the pair goes for massive deadpan strangeness (previously honed in the animated – and slightly more linear, if you think Sealab 2021 was linear… – Tom Goes To the Mayor) with skits, faux-ads, and especially faux-public access programming. Live and in-person, while the public access was dropped, they kept up the faux-ads, interspersing them between hilarious, absurd, and hilariously absurd song & dance routines and more (all with a million-and-one costume changes).
DJ Douggpound served as intro to Tim & Eric, delivering lame-ish jokes, then proclaiming, “Are you ready for the remix!?!” and remixing what he just did (which included a riff To Catch a Predator’s Chris Hansen and Douggpound’s new, positive usage of “Fuck that!”). Then Tom & Eric came out in skin-colored body suits, with bright red nipples and massive fake, hairy balls, singing, “Diarrhea!” (something that would be a reoccurring theme of their show). They only stopped when they gave themselves an award for ‘Best Comedy Show at Fun Fun Fun Fest’.
Them came the first of many short films – an ad for diarrhea pants, which will store any accident (provided it’s not solid…). Other joke ads included the hidden camera show, “Whoopsi Daisy” (with a Whoopi Goldberg look-a-like), a urinal shower (whose ad halted when a janitor entered, saying he wasn’t going to clean up that mess, despite it just being an ad, and not even a real bathroom), and Alan Thicke (Growing Pains) promoting ‘Napples’: the apple that will put you to sleep for fifteen minutes, then wake you up – thanks to its laxative (note: be sure to wear your diarrhea pants…). Maybe that was what inspired the kid’s song about all food being poison. And through them all was a chronicle of Tim & Eric’s ill-fated road-trip, which started with Tim running over Eric, and ended with Tim, Eric & friends hiding from Eric’s parents in the closet, only to have to watch Mr. & Mrs. Wareheim make love…
Other, non-poo-related song & dance routines included one about peeing (naturally), kissing your sister on the lips, taping your nipples, something where Eric dressed up like a hamburger, and never wiping your butt (okay, that one is poo-related…). But the pinnacle was Tim & Eric’s finish, a grand tribute to the ways of China that Tim had mastered, in body, mind, and soul. For body, the spandexed Tim broke boards held by the spandexed (and sparkled) Eric. For mind, Tim found the four dragons held by female members of the audience who were dragged on stage, as well as the one male fan up there (“500 bonus points”) – then kicking them all off the stage in anger and disgust. And for soul, Tim held his breath for thirty minutes, as “your soul is your breath.”
Actually, Tim didn’t really hold his breath – after two failed attempts that barely lasted a few seconds (and one fake-out that was uncovered because Tim & Eric were wearing headset microphones…), Eric put Tim into a trance, where he told the crowd that Tim has never been able to get anywhere near a half-hour, so he said they should just pretend he did it and fool him to get it over with. So when Tim came back out of his stance and held his breath (nearly toppling over in the process), Eric had DJ Dog Pound speed up the clock immensely, and the crowd played along. Tim doubted that he had done it – and doubted his friend – in the subsequent song about friendship, even putting a knife to Eric’s throat, before resolving to trust his ampersand buddy.
The wild crowd were fully in the spirit (though there was a little argument between a fan who’d climbed back down from the stage and security, because he was blocking the projector, but the fan protested that he literally had no place he could move), with two women up front sporting matching Tim & Eric t-shirts. Utterly unlike anything else on TV or at FFF, it was something to behold.
What was missed:
-Kevin Seconds, Stage 2, 2:20 PM – 2:50 PM. Sort of the intro act to the Revival Tour, but saw him on-stage with Bouncing Souls.
-Black Angels, Stage 1B, 5:40 PM – 6:25 PM. Their dirty-psychedelic sound was best in the seventies; it sucked when they opened for Metric (QRO live review), it sucked when they played All Points West the following day (QRO festival photos), and it still sucks back home in Austin.
-Cro-Mags (jam), Stage 3A, 6:50 PM – 7:35 PM. Told they’re the “wildest band ever”. Curious as to why they were always listed with the ‘(jam)’ added on – and they’re only one letter away from a certain someone…
-Matt Bearden, Chris Fairbanks, and Dragonboy Suede, Stage 2, 7:05 PM – 8:35 PM. Saw one of them for a second (think it was Dragonboy Suede), after showing up early for Tim & Eric, and he was terrible.
-If anything, the dust & dirt was worse on Day Two than on Day One (or, as Eric Wareheim called it, “This fucking dustbowl”). Many people were wearing handkerchiefs over their nose and mouths – others were even sporting surgical masks. It was almost as bad as a show at New York’s smoke machine-friendly Webster Hall (QRO venue review).
–Every band at some point or other delivered the “Are you having ‘fun’ at the Fun Fun Fun Fest?” or equivalent joke. Okay, it’s a terrible name for a festival, even if it does honor the classic Beach Boys song (and The Devil – initials are FFF, and F is the sixth letter of the alphabet…). But maybe you should have guessed that somebody already made the joke. At least the comedy-heavy Stage 2 never stooped that low…
-Prevented some guy with a video camera from jumping the line for Port-a-Potties backstage. He feigned that he thought he was in line for a specific john, despite the long line stretching back from the center of the line of johns. There’s really nothing more douche bag at a show than trying to skip the bathroom line – climbing onto the stage, sneaking into the head of the drinks line, stopping in a packed crowd in a spot that ain’t a spot, pouring beer on someone’s head, beating up Noel Gallagher of Oasis… They all still don’t break common show courtesy like trying to cheat a line of people needing to pee.
-Backstage at Tim & Eric, could see into their tent – including when they changed costumes. Thankfully, the back of a well-placed folding chair provided a black bar over their unmentionables.
-In Austin, who do you run into, other than Brooklynites? Why Raleigh, North Carolina natives like Annuals’ Mike Robinson (QRO interview) and QRO’s own Robin Sinhababu. Who’s next? The Rosebuds’ Kelly Crisp (QRO interview)? Sir Walter?
While Fun Fun Fun Fest has been getting higher and higher profile over its three years of existence, it still stands in the shadow of such established North American mega-festivals as Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo, not to mention the Austin City Limits Festival that was held in town only the month before (QRO Festival Guide).
But the festival really turned that into a plus: as opposed to those major headliner-focused events, the acts and the interest were better spread out; as opposed to only either massive crowds or miniscule ones, there was a nice balance, so everyone could see or be seen; as opposed to over-vigilant security and pushy stage crews, the bands and the fans could relax; as opposed to pervasive corporate sponsorship and political awareness, logos and slogans were lost in the Texas sun; as opposed to long treks between giant and tiny stages, the four locales were close in place and size; as opposed to everything sounding the same, everything sounded different; as opposed to being worn out by the end, you were left just wanting more.
Now if they could just change that damn name…