Written by Nicole Licea
I have never heard people say “fun fun fun” as many times as I have in the last couple of weeks. If, for some reason, you didn’t know about FFF Fest, perhaps you need to rethink your current living situation (under a rock?).
The two-day event, held at Waterloo Park on November 3 and 4, showcased an impressive variety of bands, from Against Me! to Zykos.
Since a total of only 5000 tickets were sold, the crowds were not nearly as ridiculous or desperate as they were at ACL. Also, with the chance to choose from over 60 acts for about thirty bucks a day, concertgoers got more bang for their buck at this alternative music festival.
It was sunny and breezy when we arrived in the early afternoon on Saturday. One of the first bands to play on the more indie-rock-heavy Stage 1 was Austin-based folk rock getup Brothers and Sisters. Apparently, Conrad Keely from And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead occasionally contributes violin and/or keyboards to this band, but he did not make an appearance at this event.
Brothers and Sisters’ down-home country melodies were clean and poppy enough to be appropriate for the sunny afternoon, with the added goodness of pedal steel and tambourines. Lead singer Lily Courtney reminded me of a blonde Jenny Lewis with a bit more of that traditional country wail.
On the more hard-hitting Stage 2, punk rockers Down To Nothing opened up, but I would highly doubt the punk cred of people who actually got there that early and stood in the sun at 12:40 p.m. to see them.
Viva Hate, a fierce three-piece rockabilly band from California, got things swinging at that stage around 2:00 p.m. The lead singer’s wild, growling expressions and the double bassist’s clipping bass-lines kept show-goers on their toes and moshing for more. Madball, Sick of It All and Angry Samoans also performed there.
Stage 1 also showcased Zykos, The Lemurs, Evangelicals and Emma Pollock and her band.
At 4:30 I snagged a great spot at the riveting performance put on by Final Fantasy, a solo project by young Canadian musician Owen Pallet.
He carried on one of the most adept and unique performances of the entire festival, all by himself! Playing and looping back precise violin parts and then layering keyboard and vocal harmonies, he managed to pull off the one-man-band thing with skill and meticulous attention to purity of sound.
Along with playing several of his original songs, he did covers of Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” and a song by Destroyer. This was, to the audience’s delight, followed by an actual appearance by The New Pornographer’s Dan Bejar, with whom Pallet then re-performed the song.
Another much anticipated highlight of the evening was Of Montreal’s 6:30 p.m. slot, which directly followed the hyped up, well received but slightly drawn-out set by Okkervil River.
The first thing to appear on Of Montreal’s stage was a white-suit-clad dude with a tiger’s mask, and then, on came the extravagant glam-happy plumage, the dancing ladies, the trippy technicolor video displays and the sparkling diva frontman, Kevin Barnes. Some songs they played were “Suffer for Fashion”, “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse”, “Oslo in the Summertime” and also a brand-new, self-dubbed “soft-porn” song from their upcoming album. The band was expectedly sloppy, but still managed to please their ecstatic crowd. That is, until the lights went out—and stayed out—for the remainder of their final song.
The New Pornographers and Explosions in the Sky were up next to play Stage 1, but I was off to see Neurosis on Stage 2, followed by Girl Talk on Stage 3 (both began to play around 8:30 p.m.)
Far fewer people showed up to see Neurosis than I had expected, but I guess more people preferred the non-stop dance party happening at the opposite end of the park for Girl Talk’s set.
I made it to Girl Talk for the last 20 minutes, and was unable to make my way through the pulsating crowd. But I could hear just fine, and everyone was getting down, no matter how far they were from the stage.
Okay, so Greg Gillis doesn’t actually play live music during his set, but I will give him props for being able to command a primal, dance-crazy crowd like nobody’s business. My only big complaint is that the mixing in of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” would have been a lot less annoying had he not left the sample so intact.
But, true to his nature, Girl Talk put on a relatively eclectic mash-up of rap, rock, classic, R&B and indie songs for a truly unique dance experience. The entirety of the small stage was filled with dancing fans, even one particularly adventurous fellow who stupidly decided to jump into the crowd. Nobody caught him.
Neurosis’ hypnotic set was on the completely opposite end of the spectrum, the doom metal night to Girl Talk’s day. Their throbbing soundscape reverberated and lulled the almost immobile audience into a head-banging stupor, as cryptic visuals of black-and-white flowers uncurling on the screens behind them.
Interspersed with heavy-hitting waves of sound, their dark, ambient songs of this experimental heavy metal band were appreciated at least by the fans that came out to see them.
We showed up a bit late on Sunday, but just in time to see Don Caballero on Stage 1 at 4:00 p.m. Their set was filled with angular mathematical rhythms and song structures that would make any math-guitar nerd weep.
Between 4:00 and 5:30, Ocote Soul Sound and Clap Clap! played on Stage 3. Having not heard of them before, I was delighted with both of their performances. Clap Clap! commanded the crowd with dance rhythms reminiscent of Q and Not U. With a pretty big (eight-member) setup on a pretty tiny (usually reserved for DJ’s) stage, they did well with what they had.
A female vocalist provided cute accents to the frantic screams (and sometimes croons) of the three or so males who contributed vocals.
There was one random member of the band who didn’t seem to be playing anything, but luckily he jumped around aimlessly and sang, although not into a mic, so that he was at least contributing somehow. Car Stereo (Wars) and MC Chris, and Diplo followed, in that order.
At 5:40 p.m. on Stage 1, electro-pop girl-guy duo Mates of State played to a huge crowd, followed by Ted Leo and The Pharmacists.
I secured a spot a couple of people back from the stage for Battles while Ted Leo was still on, so I did get to hear them while we waited. They were upbeat, powerful, and to me, highly reminiscent of high school. They also managed to get the crowd dancing when they did a cover of Daft Punk’s “One More Time.”
Finally, Tyondai Braxton and his crew took the stage. The extremely concentrated musicians took their time tuning to get everything just so. They played a relatively short set, but got in most of the songs off of “MIRRORS”, including “Atlas”, “Race:In”, “Ddiamondd”, “Leyendecker” and “Tonto.”
Braxton and Ian Williams put on an amazing show, both pulling double duty, playing guitar and keyboard simultaneously. The endless, driving drum sequences, chugging baseline and Braxton’s cartoonishly modulated vocals and whistles worked to create an overwhelming, unstoppable matrix of electro-analog sound.
Cat Power took over Stage 1 afterward with Dirty Delta Blues.
My mind is still blown by Battles. I drifted over to Stage 2 to catch the end of Murder City Devils. A lot of people were already there because Against Me! had just finished playing. Unfortunately, they and Battles went on at the same time, and I opted to see the latter.
Before Against Me! went on, Youth Brigade, Lifetime and Riverboat Gamblers all put on quick hit-and-run punk performances, with more crowd-surfers and air-punching goons than I have ever seen collected at one place at the same time.
All in all, I was pleased with the location for the event, cleanliness of the porta-potties (they had hand-sanitizer inside!) and cheapness of the tickets. There were also several after-shows at places like Beauty Bar (21+), Red 7 and Deville, where a ticket stub could get you in for half-price or sometimes even for free.
Fun Fun Fun Fest was a great alternative event for cross-genre music fans that prefer the coolness of November to ACL’s blazing heat. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
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