FYF Fest 2011 review with OFF!, Descendents, No Age, Cults, Guided By Voices, Nosaj Thing, and more

Mario, Keith, and Steve at FYF Fest 2011

Another awesome summer, another awesome Fuck Yeah Fest. As promised, a lot of improvements went into this year’s all-day music festival just north of Downtown L.A., including a vastly improved entry system insuring no lines when I arrived around 2:30, way more port-a-potties, and extra food trucks and vendors that didn’t run out of vegetarian dishes as quickly. For me, the biggest upgrade was a photo pass. Yes! I gladly bought a ticket from my local record store months ago, but how could I say no when one was offered? With great power comes great responsibility, though, and I had to alter my show-going strategy and leave before many sets were over in order to catch the first three songs of other sets (when the photographers were allowed to do their thing). It was more of a challenge than a problem–kind of like being faced with a huge buffet of your favorite foods but only being allowed to sample some of them.

Dimitri and Keith going OFF!

On Saturday, I arrived at Los Angeles State Historic Park just in time to catch the end of Ty Segall’s set and jump in the photo pit to see OFF! It was kind of a fitting to start off the day with the local punkers/instant legends, since they were a total highlight of the previous year’s edition. There weren’t many new songs for the all-star band featuring members of Black Flag, Redd Kross, and Rocket From The Crypt to play or stories for Keith to tell, but OFF! never gets old with its ferocious (yet seasoned) riffs and angry (and smart) lyrics. This time around, they were on a larger stage and easily drew a strong crowd–not to mention the largest dust storm of the day. I saw a couple people get dragged out of the crowd with glazed eyes, bloody noses, and various states of dehydration. Every time I see OFF! it feels special (a free show at midnight, a packed in-store, etc.) and this homecoming gig following a bunch of tours was no exception.

Japandroids' Brian King wore a way cool Metallica shirt for the occasion

Japandroids played right after OFF! and was the first of many loud duos that I’d see throughout the fest. The mid-day sun just meant that the dudes from Vancouver got into their full-on show mode that much more quickly, and their fuzzed-out, super melodic singalongs sounded great on a big stage. Too bad I had to leave in the middle of the set to check out the first songs by Cults, but I did get back in time to hear their big hit/my favorite song of theirs, “Young Hearts Spark Fire.”

Not The Cult but Cults

One of the best things about attending a huge music festival is checking out bands that are new to me. I had heard and liked many songs by the Manhattan-based Cults, and now I had a chance to see them live. On the fest’s biggest stage, the Manhattan duo turned out to be a full-on jam band! The sunshine-y yet spooky vibe sounded amazing live, and provided a welcome break from the dude rock that dominated my choices of bands.

Half of the Strange Boys

You might remember the interview with Strange Boys that ran in GR65 (or even the show review). For this show, at least, the band has been cut down to four members. Their deceptively loose sound still recalled  Exile-era Stones, but seemed  a little more straightforward with fewer musical tangents and possible distractions. Perhaps that was better for such a big crowd, but I would have liked to see Jenna from Mika Miko on sax. Perhaps she and Darker My Love’s Tim Presley, who are both local, joined later on in the set. I barely got to see them warm up before running across the park to see a band from Winnipeg.

Weakerthans at Leonardo's stage

FYF Fest does a great job of mixing the old with the new, punk with the indie, dance with the rock, and everything else. But even with all that, Weakerthans seemed to be a fish out of water I haven’t seen the band since the last Promise Ring tour, yet its post-punk, country-tinged, leftist/humanist indie rock sounded as great as ever. The band from Canada dedicated one song (I think it was this one, as heard in Wedding Crashers) to the upcoming curling season. Forget the NFL. Are you ready for brooms and stones on ice? They are.

No Age!

If there’s such thing as a house band for FYF, perhaps it is No Age. I thought they were merely local heroes, but when I happened to be in Paris at the same time they were touring Europe, their show was totally sold out. Bummer, but good for No Age and good for L.A. Yes, the Sub Pop duo is famous to many for playing the Smell but will really play anywhere, including parks, museums, benefits, and the Hollywood Bowl. But while they play music for the kids, they are also mindful of the legacy of L.A. punk, as evidenced by their recent free No Flag matinee… I didn’t leave until the band’s last song, and was slightly relieved to hear that I didn’t miss a repeat performance with Morris and Dukowski.

Jason Shevchuk from Kid Dynamite

I got to catch Lifetime in concert, but never saw Kid Dynamite, the offshoot project that I actually preferred. Singer Jason Shevchuk started off onstage, worked his way down to some amps, and quickly set up shop at the barrier where he shouted along and shared spit and sweat with the crowd. Fists were in the air and bodies were flying everywhere, and amazingly the security gamely pulled out the crowd surfers and people who were getting squashed. No bonehead violence or anything. Impressive. Shevchcuk was not only the closest singer to the crowd that I saw but also shared the most banter, giving short lost-and-found conversations throughout the set. All sorts of stuff was offered up from the front of the pit. Smashed iPhone. Honda keys. Only a red cap was not asked about because it was not Phillies gear. If you like melodic hardcore even just a little bit, see the reunited band any chance you get.

Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices are the coelacanths of indie rock, but came off more like classic rock royalty on the big stage. With British Invasion rock poses, a never-ending stash of cigarettes, and a massive catalog of great songs, they leveraged their mileage with maximum attitude and hooks to take the edge off of whatever rust the classic lineup might have since entering the festival circuit. Among younger and hotter but humbler bands, their swagger was king. Musical Viagra?

Yacht (not from photo pit)

I reached the smallest stage just in time to see Yacht’s last songs. The punk stage had transitioned into the dance stage, and whatever straight edge it had was clouded over with pot smoke. Well, that and dust. I totally recognized the electro/indie band’s last song, “Psychic City.” Where did I hear it? KXLU? An iTunes commercial? I don’t know, but it’s the type of catchy song that hooks your brain after just 20 or 30 seconds and it was even better live. Also when did ex-GR shop member Bobby Birdman join the live band?

Jason Chung is Nosaj Thing

I had been corresponding with Jason Chung (who I interviewed in GR63) before FYF, and was pretty stoked that my friend would be playing an evening set at the festival. Following Yacht, the crowd seemed to get even bigger and many fans began chanting his name. By then, the cloud of pot was at its thickest and it was getting hard for me to breathe. (Not the case for everyone, I’m sure.) Beforehand, I’d only seen Jason in the smallest of venues, The Crosby and UNDFTD, and I was blown away by the sway of his cold, drippy beats over the huge outdoor crowd. Can’t wait to hear his next album…

Milo and Karl of The Descendents

There was a time when I listened to the Descendents almost every day, wondering why in the world they “couldn’t sell out a telephone booth.” The Hermosa Beach, CA punk band’s songs were so supremely catchy, expertly played, and universal in their themes–at least to a 20-year-old guy like me, in between girlfriends and full of angst and energy. Twenty years later, they’re back and playing all the songs that should have been hits. It was actually awkward to be in the photo pit and so close to one of my punk rock heroes, but then I remembered that I was even closer when I saw them at Fender’s Ballroom on their “Fin-ALL Tour” and many times at the Whisky. I had no problems mixing business and pleasure, singing along as loud as I could while taking pictures in front. Couldn’t help it, and was super happy to hear Milo talking fondly about coming home and even wearing a Dodgers cap. Like OFF!, Descendents are an indelible and awesome part of L.A.’s musical landscape. This set was different than their recent slot opening for Rise Against and Bad Religion, with a surprise rendition of “Get The Time” and an improv take on the “ALL-o-gistics” featuring a young Qua Qua Choir. I hope the dust didn’t thrash Milo’s voice too much, though, because it sounded pretty raw pretty quickly…

Death From Above 1979 in 2011

I stuck around the big stage to watch its final band, the reunited Death From Above 1979. Yet another duo. It must be easier to regroup when there are only two members in a band. Despite some ruffled feathers over the sound, they were pretty strong and elicited a wild response from the tired crowd. I liked their Spy vs. Spy meets Sprockets dress code a lot and respect that sort of commitment to a show. During the set, I walked around to catch the final songs by Explosions In The Sky (epic) and Dead Milkmen (folksy) before watching DFA 1979 shut it down. I have to admit that after seeing the Descendents, I was just a tourist…

The end of FYF Fest 2011

Tired feet, ringing ears, and a huge smile… Can’t wait for 2012. What bands will reunite? Who will make a rare visit? Will OFF! play the big stage? Can’t wait to find out.