Monday, November 11, 2013

Fun Fun Fun Day 3

The Men - 2:50 | Black Stage

The Men get off on confounding expectations; that should be obvious from back-to-back listening of the band's first two records, which sound like  Fugazi suddenly being reincarnated as the Flying Burrito Brothers. Hardcore Americana was about the best tag I could come up with for a band that thrashed quite at their speed, but also had a lap-steel guitar player in it (possibly the first ever for the Black Stage.) The three-guitar, three vocal attack made for one of the more engulfing sounds I'd heard at the set, and set highlights "Turn It Around" and "The Seeds" were awesomely overwhelming. MVP of the set easily went to bassist Ben Greenberg, who managed the incredible task to look like he was playing sloppier that Sid Vicious, while sounding as sharp as Mike Watt.

Killer Mike - 5:50 | Skate Ramp
I get the charm of spontaneous moments. F3F has been ripe with them, lest we recall Danzig and french onion soup, Val Kilmer and a chain-saw, and Ryan Gosling (oh Ryan Gosling.) Killer Mike's last minute addition to the bill had the chance to be one of those moments, and the organizer's decision to put him on the skate ramp rather than an actual stage seemed to be a call calculated for this very effect. Unfortunately, nothing else about it was calculated: the 'performance' had Mike positioned on a path choke-point about 100 yards from the massively loud Black Stage, and had him performing off of the the kind of shitty PA they rent out for PTA meetings. Further proving why he may be my favorite MC, Mike made the best of the clusterfuck, abandoning the useless mic and just shouting R.A.P. Music opener "Big Beast" at the crowd gathered below. He got one verse into "Untitled" before wisely realizing he wasn't going to throw out his voice for this shit, and called it a wash. The consummate gentlemen, he then lauded the sound guy for doing his damnedest, promised he'd do a real set later that night and went into the crowd to hang out for awhile. Thankfully the organizers managed to get him a spot at Red 7 later in the night where Mike did, well, kill it. But Jesus, if you're going to fly out an Atlanta rap legend a thousand miles to perform, then to paraphrase "Big Beast," you gotta come correct.

MGMT - 6:50 | Orange Stage

Do MGMT hate their old material? Going off their recent interviews and the bizarre (and typically tuneless) psychedelia of their last record, I'd venture to say absolutely. But from this set, I'm thinking maybe they've just learned to except the inevitable: that crowds go to see them specifically to wear head-bands, paint their faces and dance to those three songs they love. Opening with "Time To Pretend" certainly seemed a signifier, as did the other six tracks or so from Oracular Spectacular that dominated the set-list. The light show was appropriately psychedelic, and did help buoy some of the newer material like "Flash Delirium" and "Your Life Is A Lie" (the giant cowbell helped too.) They've also come a long way as a live band, even if singer Andrew VanWyngarden s far from strong live. Not that any of that mattered once they closed big with "Electric Feel" and "Kids," leaving the head-banded masses jumping along gleefully.

Other Festival Highlights
- Mac DeMarco stage diving into me during Thee Oh Sees
- Bridgette Everette sitting on a kid's face while singing Wilson Philips
- Killer Mike fist bumping me
- Television
- Deerhunter playing tribute to Television
- Watching the 13-year old budding metal gods from Unlocking the Truth work up the courage to stage dive during the Cro-Mags set.
- Winning at the Taco Cannon (potato and egg!)
- M.I.A.'s backup dancer setting white people dancing back another 20 years
- Daniel Johnston singing "True Love Will Find You In the End"

- JD Swerzinski

Chet Faker - Blue Stage - 1:00pm
a voice like Jamie Cullum, beats like James Blake
Chet Faker is immensely blessed. Off the power of just one EP, Thinking in textures, the Australian is touring this globe with Bonobo, playing in Simon Green's band, and opening for the outfit on his own with moody bedroom jams that get the kids dancing. Faker, a.k.a. Nicholas Murphy, is still new at this game and was thrown off by his early Blue Stage placement-- 1pm at Auditorium Shores is far from the nightclubs he's used to playing. This explains why he started his set covered by a tent and why a three ring binder was propped up on the table, shading a console. This isn't music designed for the light of day but it's done so well, all that concern passes. Faker's voice is so pure, left unfettered by production on most of his songs, unlike with other electric artists who make similar music. His voice, cadence, and rhythm are so oddly reminiscent of jazz pop pianist & vocalist Jamie Cullum, by the the end of the set, I wanted them to do some sort of collaborative work that'll spread through the niche music blog ranks like a 2013 version of Babyface & Jon B.'s "Someone to Love". Once the crew removed the tent and the lights at fog machine revved up, the set really took off with song somewhat more high energy, but about as high energy as these sexy slow jams could be. By the time Faker closed with set with a cover of Blackstreet's "No Diggity", most were already well past impressed. All this off the back of one EP. Well done, Chet Faker. You deserve everything.

The Polyphonic Spree - Orange Stage - 2:25pm
as grandiose as expected
No one knew what to think of the sheet blocking much of the view of Orange Stage as The Polyphonic Spree prepared before their set. But once the Dallas ensemble (a word that probably best describes this sprawling cabal of musicians) was ready to go, ringleader Tim DeLaughter started writing "This is where you swing" in large letters on the sheet facing outward to the crowd before cutting it down the middle to the sound if a brilliant flourish from the baker's dozen of musicians and singers in the group to kick things off. With a band "streamlined" to just over a dozen performers bedecked in flowery tunics, Polyphonic Spree put on a show as grandiloquent as one would expect from a band often joked for being an ornate cult. Songs from their latest album, Yes, It's True, are bouncy and dancier than their prior work while still keeping the spirit of their moving, large arrangements. This band is legitimately a big deal, but one would expect that, there's a musical zoo happening on stage.

XXYYXX - Blue Stage - 3:20pm
growing up quite nicely
I had last seen young beatmaker XXYYXX, né Marcel Everett, at Red 7 for a SXSW show. It started late and it took some work for Everett to gain a real presence on stage. His music is great when downloading off the internet but he still needed to translate the experience better live. His FFF set would be an act of redemption in Austin this time around and he certainly stepped up well to the challenge. The 18-year-old's set connected threads of songs together extremely well, giving these bedroom jams a fluidity that made for a set that was a shame to end. This set was a head-nodding jam that makes all the investment into his career worth it.

Cloud Nothings - Black Stage - 3:40pm
I walked away from a much improved XXYYXX for this?
Cloud Nothings 
When I last heard Cloud Nothings a couple SXSWs ago, I was immediately impressed. Their performance inside the rather small room of Mohawk was incredible, likely because they jammed such a giant, brain-exploding sound into such a tiny space. The real curiosity would be to see if such a sound could translate to a larger festival format. Putting this group on the Black Stage had all the intention of being a good idea. Their moodier sound of their much better sophomore album, Attack on Memory, is good material for this place. The band's star is continuing to rise. Dylan Baldi still looks nerdy enough and his facial hair is continually scruffy enough for him not to seem out of place here. Yet there always seemed to be something missing in their Sunday afternoon performance. The change from being in a small room like Mohawk or The Ten Eleven to the distance made by an actual stage makes a big impact here. They didn't seem all that rowdy anymore. The crowd's murmur never died down. Even when they played their big hit, "Stay Useless", sure the audience got moving some, but not so much. It was the most insincere stagediving Black Stage saw all weekend. The applause and "woo"s seemed afflicted somehow. Everything rang hollow.

Washed Out - Orange Stage - 4:30pm
a full band definitely helps
Washed Out 
Among the many repeat appearances to this year's Fun Fun Fun Fest, Ernest Greene's Washed Out was most anticipated for me. His Blue Stage show a few years back was rather underwhelming. His fuzzily produced songs weren't all that rivetting live. However, upon learning he was touring with a full band lately, especially in support of Washed Out's most impressive sophomore album, Paracosm, I increased my expectations, and those expectations were exceeded. Everything about this show was fantastic. Even Greene's reaches back to material from his (chill)wave-making EPs, High Times and Life of Leisure, have some extra kick merely from adding a bassist and one of the most eyebrow-raising guitarists in the who festival, apparently. Even now as I write this blurb, I'm googling "Washed Out guitarist" furiously (I'm still uncertain if the touring guitarist is the very talented Atlanta area guitarist/producer Ben H. Allen whose work with Washed Out on Paracosm, and others, is quite celebrated). There's muscle and bite to these songs. Even the hit tune and Portlandia theme song "Feel It All Around" has all the range and fills the already catchily brilliant song should have had along. This is everything this band should sound like, especially now that it's a band. Recreating the lushness of Greene's compositions was a challenge that this group has risen to in leaps and bounds. The hope was to hear the new material realized with this band, but hearing so much old stuff made me want to hear what else I was missing. I want more than this set. I want a night show. I want to hear a full Washed Out concert where this band is headlining. I want stage projections. Give Ernest Greene all the money. Let him realize more ornate beauty. If this is a year of FFF do overs, Washed Out's move up from Blue to Orange Stage with this much embellished sound is most deserved.

Deltron 3030 - Blue Stage - 6:20pm
the hypest orchestra around
If you're going to tour on the back of a concept album, you'd better make certain you put on a good show. Concept albums are very much hit or miss endeavors; apparently Del the Funky Homosapien's return to form with Deltron 3030, the new release Event 2, is kind of a miss-- critics didn't care for it, it didn't sell particularly well. However, Del and a full orchestra have leaned fully into recreating this work live and it's totally totally works. It's comforting to know these aren't just beats from a DJ but arrangements these people are making in front of us. Dan the Automator is working as conductor with some swagger, at least as much swagger as the classically trained violinist can have on stage while wearing a tailcoat. The dozen or so people on stage, including a full horn and string section, are having a real party up there. These were probably the most hype violinists ever. It was one of the best shows of the whole weekend… and then they closed with Gorillaz's "Clint Eastwood". Then they totally murdered Gorillaz's "Clint Eastwood" with the crowd singing every word, the orchestra getting more live than ever before, and wrapping with a jazz freak out crescendo leaving everyone wanting more. If this is the live realization of a concept album, perhaps everyone needs to give Event 2 another chance.

Bonobo - Blue Stage - 7:35pm
Simon Green continues to make converts
A couple years ago when 2010's Black Sands was sweeping throughout the world, every friend I had was getting hip to Bonobo just a little after me and his sweet sweet jams. The jazzy trip hop tunes were perfect for any occasion. Simon Green was just beginning to expand his effort from a solo work to including more live instrumentation, especially in live performance. Now, a few years later in support of his new album The North Borders, the newly expanded Bonobo featuring Chet Faker on drums (whose solo set earlier this afternoon was outstanding), vocals by the lovely Szjerdene, and support on saxes & flute. Even on songs where Green is mostly playing electronic production, he'll still continue along playing the bass, or have Faker solo alongside on drums. There's an effort to make sure each song had some bit of live instrumentation to take this show over the edge. The custom lights behind the band added that something extra making this set probably the best show of the whole festival (lofty claim, I know, but I stand by it). As I stand by one of my friends back from college who has started to make this festival a regular occurance, he stood mouth agape at the spectacle, noting this was probably the best show he's ever seen here. Bonobo has made yet another fan. Judging from the crowd reaction, my friend wasn't alone.
-Anthony Dean-Harris

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