[Buzz Bands LA and friends were out in force at this year's FYF Fest. Part 1 of 4:]
Fool’s Gold • Mister Heavenly • The Head & the Heart • Smith Westerns • Cults • Cold War Kids • Guided by Voices • Broken Social Scene • Descendents • Death From Above 1979
Photo galleries: Concert photography by Scott Dudelson
Below, our capsule reviews:
Highlight: Lewis Pescacov’s guitar licks seem to come from another place, if not another continent. The Los Angeles quintet, firing on all cylinders after last month’s release of their sophomore album “Leave No Trace,” welcomed early arrivals with a noon-hour cocktail of tightly wound pop that’s equal parts Afro rhythms and ’80s radio. “Wild Window” and the new album’s title track, along with “Nadine” off their debut, got FYF off to a frolicsome start on a perfect day for frolicking, musically and otherwise.
Lowlight: Gosh … It was hard to find one … Maybe the sky could have been bluer?
Afterthought: You know your festival has a good lineup with “KROQ Ken” Scalir is one of the first people through the gates and on the rail for your opening act.
— Kevin Bronson
Highlight: The trio finished its set with a decent cover of Cody Chesnutt’s “Look Good in Leather.”
Lowlight: Mister Heavenly carries the broad stench of the side project that it is. There’s very little distinguishable about the indie-rock churned out by Ryan Kattner (Man Man), Nicholas Thornburn (Islands) and Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse). Groany vocals, check; guitar freakout, check; neo-reggae beats, check.
Afterthought: At least it wasn’t Man Man.
— Kevin Bronson
THE HEAD AND THE HEART
Highlight: An old-fashioned rumpus broke out at around 2. Seattle’s finest purveyors of folk-infused indie pop played a sparkling set of songs off their self-titled debut. They weren’t interested in converting a great deal of hippies in high-waisted shorts and fringed boots to their cause; those were easy pickings. No, the six-piece went after the jaded jerks in the back who weren’t going to dance no matter what. And by gum, they got them. How? Because this band plays each song like they’re genuinely surprised and delighted that they sound good together. After each tune, they grinned at each other as if to say “Hey, that wasn’t half bad. Let’s do it again.” It’s the kind of joy that can’t be manufactured or faked. It’s the kind of joy that Edward Sharpe anf his Magnetic Zeroes took to the bank. Combine that with catchy melodies, lyrics with some grit (don’t want to over-sweeten it) and a couple of banjo solos, and you’ve got the crowd hootin’ and hollerin “It seems like hallelujah for the first time,” like they really mean it.
Lowlight: Some people took their do-si-do-ing a little too seriously and steamrolled into other people’s beers. Also, the amount of dust that was kicked up would choke a horse.
Afterthought: Maybe I’ll be woman enough to wear a bandanna or a hospital mask to keep out the dust next year. Probably not.
— Molly Bergen
Highlights: “Hi, we’re Smith Westerns from Chicago, and you’re a big crowd,” vocalist Cullen Omori said early on, and indeed it was. Although their sophomore debut album, “Dye It Blonde,” had already become a hit by the time 2011 rolled around, it was interesting to see these baby-faced kids draw such a throng for a mid-afternoon main-stage set in the harsh sunshine. With given the Smith Westerns’ heavy Brit Pop influences and sparkling guitars, hipsters were treating Smith Westerns like they were the Beatles. At least it hasn’t gone to their heads. “Thank you for being here. We never get to play in L.A. that much,” Omori said graciously he and his band went into a set of their “money-making” songs (“Smile,” “Weekend” and “Dye the World”).
Lowlights: Although there was a bit of drama added in for comic effect as Omori sarcastically exclaimed before “All Die Young,” “This next song’s a tear jerker. I was backstage crying, getting ready to play this one,” they seemed to struggle with their gear onstage throughout the set: “It’s the Matrix up here fighting the machines.”
Afterthought: Omori needs a haircut. Is it me, or does he look like the girl from “The Ring?”
— Seraphina Lotkhamnga
Highlight: We skipped Cults.
Lowlight: A lot of people seem to like them.
Afterthought: Richie James Follin (Guards, ex-Willowz) joined his sister Madeline and Brian Oblivion on guitar for the final two songs. He’d played in the band regularly through their Coachella gig. It would have been cool to see Guards.
— Kevin Bronson
COLD WAR KIDS
Highlight: The Kids’ raw-boned but big-hearted indie-blues went down like a heaping helping of home cooking to a crowd that hasn’t seen much of the hard-touring quartet recently, except for maybe spotting Jonnie Russell jogging in Griffith Park, or seeing the Matts (Maust and Aveiro) at local shows. The mood of the crowd — and it looked like date night for young summer romances — swang from sing-along on “Louder Than Ever,” “Royal Blue” and “Bulldozer” (from their CWK’s third album “Mine Is Yours” to head-bobbing dancing on 2008′s “Something Is Not Right With Me.” As the sun dove toward the horizon, it was buoyant.
Lowlight: Maybe it’s just the spareness of their music, but it seemed as if the Cold War Kids were the softest band on the main stage.
Afterthought: Thanks to the guy wearing the “Radiohead Everything” T-shirt.
— Kevin Bronson
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE
Highlight: As the sun set over downtown Los Angeles, Broken Social Scene took the stage while wheels of blue sparkling lights spun brilliantly behind them. A cool breeze caressed the crowd as the Toronto collective struck up their first number “Cause = Time.” Their smart brand of chaotic rock is famous for their bewildering lyrics extended to the banter last night. “Yell for everyone that lives, everyone that is dead, and your city!” yelled lead singer, Kevin Drew, which if you think about it, pretty much covers everyone that ever existed. Their set was short but satisfying mix of new numbers “Texico Bitches” with old favorites “It’s All Going to Break” and the ever important cover “The World At Large”(Modest Mouse). Like an old pair of jeans, the band fit perfectly and required no adornments or adjustments. Further proof that newer bands had a lot to live up to.
Lowlight: Not being able to escape the rumors that Feist might appear on stage after her secret show the night before. Every fifth person was arguing with their buddy about it.
Afterthought: I think Broken Social Scene should move to Los Angeles. Give it some thought, guys.
— Molly Bergen
GUIDED BY VOICES
Highlight: At almost 54, Bob Pollard was in his chain-smoking, leg-kicking glory (although he seems to have cut down the number of onstage beers he throws down) as he guided his Dayton, Ohio, heroes through a 50-minute set of chord-grenades from the quartet’s 15-album catalog. “Game of Pricks,” “Pimple Zoo,” “Tractor Rape Chain,” “Cut-Out Witch” and Tobin Sprout’s “A Good Flying Bird” all satisfied the devotees (they were the ones standing there grinning), and “I Am a Scientist” sounded as raw as it did in ’94. Pollard seemed happy to be here. But come visit Dayton sometime, he said. “We have good pizza.”
Lowlight: Pollard’s voice sounded worse for the wear early. After “No. 2 in the Model Home Series” he apologized for being off, but added “This is a punk-rock festival — you’ve gotta sing out of key.”
Afterthought: Did I miss something or did GbV completely ignore “Isolation Drills?”
— Kevin Bronson
Highlight: They live in far-flung locales now, their 48-year-old frontman a biochemist, but triumphant reunion set by the South Bay forerunners of pop-punk gave FYF Fest a sense of home. It also drew the biggest crowd of the day — not one, not two, but three generations of fans in Descendents T-shirts (although many contrarians opted for Black Flag garb) worshiped at feet of Milo Aukerman and crew as they tore through their three-minute tomes to suburban angst, identity crises and girls. “Suburban Home,” “I Like Food” and “When I Get Old” sounded fresh as ever, as did set-ender “I’m Not A Loser.” Best, though, was when the band had their children onstage for a reading of the commandments from “All-O-Gistics.” Indeed, this was a performance that embraced Rule 5 — “Thou shalt not commit adulthood.”
Lowlight: “How can I stage-dive with all these camera guys up here?” Aukerman joked. “Maybe I’ll just walk on their heads.” Not a problem Descendents had back in the day at the Church in Hermosa Beach. But expecting chaos, security did shoo the photographers.
Afterthought: If only history could somehow expunge the 10,000 imitators — the descendents of Descendents, if you will.
— Kevin Bronson
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979
Highlight: Toronto-based duo of Jesse F. Keeler on bass/synths and Sebastien Grainger on vocals/drums could do no wrong, according to their fan base. Their bottom-heavy barrage satisfied the late-nighters, even if they complained vociferously about what they could hear in the monitors onstage. Come to think of it, it is a good thing or a bad thing when you think you sound bad but the crowd seems perfectly happy?
Lowlight: The set started strong, but there was a noticeable disconnect onstage. First song ended. “We can’t hear anything on stage. Drums up. Vocals up. Please. There are only two of us. God damn.” Second song ended. “Please, for f*ck sake, can I get some of what he’s having? I really want to play this show right now.” Third song, “God damn it anyways. What do you mean he has drums? He can’t hear them. Are you calling me a liar?” Then there was an odd intermission while the sound team tried to resolve the issue.
Afterthought: Starting with their legendary show at SXSW in March, it’s been quite a reunion year for the duo, who broke up in 2006. Not sure this is a recommended career path, but they’ve become massive festival attractions.
— Mary Kosearas
Photo of DFA 1979 by Oliver Walker
||| Also: FYF Fest overview.