Dressed in all black in defiance of the mid-day sun, Dee Dee and her band of Black Widows seemed intent on performing the most disaffected set of the day. In fact for the first 10 minutes, I was sure the four of them had a bet going to see who could move the least while still technically playing their instruments. The gals eventually became more animated as the set progressed, especially once they hit a stretch of tunes from their still fun-as-hell debut I Will Be. There were some sound issues to be ironed out, but once the corrected, Dee Dee’s soaring voice and the backing harmonies of the other Dum Dums began to win over the day. For a band that’s only been around for two years, it was amazing how stacked their set-list felt, drawing from across their catalog of 2 full-length and 3 EP releases. Gauging the crowd, the goth bubble-gum pop thing wasn’t for everyone, but I certainly came away a believer.
Set-highlight: Lord Knows
Black Stage, 3pm
(Courtesy of Stereogum)
It's hard to explain why this jazz lover has had a soft spot for this hardcore punk band. Maybe it's the raw, pure (well, pure-ish), to the point energy of their performance. This San Francisco band have been punk vets for over two decades and it shows. Yes, this is punk, but it takes a certain degree of professionalism for lead singer Blag Dahlia to crowdsurf and sing a verse, let alone to do so three times in a half hour. However, the short set (though, really, it's a punk show, how long do the sets have to be) covered a time and true repertoire of hits like "Let's Fuck" (dedicated to the kids present, of course), "Unrepetant", and "You Gotta Burn", a set of songs this band has neatly had under its belt for years (and not too different from the set they played at FFF two years ago). It was a raucous good time that only escalated once legendary luchadero-masked He Wh oCannot Be Named finally appeared at the end of the set. Things got a little crazy, but things always do at a Dwarves show.
Apathy seems to be the prevailing mood at the Orange Stage this year, a shame too, considering the talent up on the big stage. Sharon Van Etten was perhaps the biggest casualty, her mid-day set marred both by an unseasonably hot afternoon and a crowd seemingly more intent on planning their future show schedule than taking in the one at hand. To my view, Van Etten rose above the occasion. Her voice is the kind that slices right through the festival noise: clear, powerful and emotive. Paired with Heather Woods Broderick’s harmonies, Van Etten occasionally hit some chills-worthy moments, including “Give Out,” a stand-out from her latest full-length Tramp, and the especially gorgeous closer “Love More.”
Yellow Stage, 4:45pm
(Courtesy of Stereogum)
Comedian Hannibal Buress is on the rise, moving from the "he's sort of like the black Mitch Hedberg" of his earlier days to a distinct style all his own, still rooted in his hip-hop loving Chicago roots, but blossoming into the personality observational humor one would have when one observes mostly YouTube videos of strangers fighting and the habits of women in bars at 2am. Buress was the comedy headliner of the Yellow Stage Friday which would explain why the small tent was packed to the gills. The former Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock writer's set included jokes fully polished from his latest album, Animal Furness, and new material on the likes of that uppercutting bus driver video everyone's seen, enthusiasms for pedicab drivers, and a detailed analysis of rap songs complete with auditorial aides. Buress set, judging by the capacity crowd, was one of the can't miss shows that Friday and he certainly lived up to the hype.
Sometime in the afternoon, I saw the luscious locks of 80s hunk Val Kilmer cruising around backstage, prompting two immediate questions.
2. Why the tazer Val? What Top Gun fanatic ran up to you like you were Morissey, messing up your doo, that you would need 50,000 volts of fan-stopping power?
(Courtesy of The Austin Chronicle)
I’ll come clean, I was only at this set because 1. I needed to stake out a spot for X, and 2. I was more than a little curious to see Against Me leader’s recent transformation from Tom Gabel to Laura Jane Grace. The appearance of the band’s recently transgendered singer quickly took a back seat to the band’s incendiary live presence. Perhaps after seeing the shambolic nonsense that was the Black Lips/Val Kilmer’s set just before, I was desperate just to hear a band playing a coherent set. But that’s underselling Grace and crew: this band was razor sharp, careening from one shout-along anthem to the next with brutally loud poise. And oh yes, many a fist were pumped. One final note on Gabel/Grace’s pipes, I don’t know if punk Ronnie James Dio is overstating it, but damn could she wail.
D.M.C. and Rev. Run were 10 minutes late, a bit of a surprise given how big FFF Fest is on the whole punctuality thing. The fashionably late entrance only seemed to push the massive crowd into a frenzy, especially when the band launched early on into their party-down anthem “Tricky.” From there the show took a turn towards tribute, with Run and D giving warm dedications to Jam Master Jay, whose murder 13 years ago put an abrupt end to band. A nice touch was inviting along Jay’s two songs, Jam Master J’Son and Dasmatic, who performed a tag team DJ set that added a bit of modern hip-hop flair to an otherwise throwback affair. Additional hits like “Addidas” and “Walk This Way” hit with as much impact as any super-fan could have hoped, with Rev and DMC where in energetic and fine form throughout. Unfortunately ‘throughout’ didn’t add up to much more than half an hour of onstage time for the duo, no doubt a serious buzzkill for the fans chanted in vain for an encore long after the band had retired to their trailer. Abbreviated though it was, it was a more than worthy slice of 1986 and a killer way to close the Fest’s opening day.