Phoenix at FYF Fest 2014

FYF Fest 2014: Day 1, Future Islands, Slowdive, Real Estate, Phoenix, Interpol, FYF Fest, Chet Faker

FYF Fest 2014 Day 1 at LA Sports Arena and Exposition Park, Los Angeles, CA, August 23rd, 2014

Aug 25, 2014 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Los Angelenos are accustomed to traffic, but not the foot kind. All the bread lines in communist Russia can't compare to the queue clogging up the sidewalk perimeter of Exposition Park at the start of the 11th annual FYF Festival. (Keen observation by Real Estate bassist Alex Bleeker: "'FYF festival' is a little redundant isn't it, like 'ATM machine.'")

Several thousand festival goers shuffle along in the blazing sun under a cloudless sky and wonder whether they'll get inside in time to see the following night's set by The Strokes. There's grumbling and gallows humor as attendees endure a wait between one to three hours to enter the site of the 1984 Olympic Games. For the organizers, the logistics of organizing a two-day event for 30,000 people must feel a bit like staging an Olympics or putting a man on the moon. But, given that a weekend pass costs $129, paying customers are understandably distressed at the unpleasant experience.

 

The beneficiaries of the bottleneck are Real Estate. Their afternoon slot on The Lawn stage is right next to the entrance. A sizable crowd gathers next to the Natural Science Museum for the languorous jangle and twang of Martin Courtney's lime green Stratocaster. The East Coast four-piece looks out on giant posters of dinosaurs and wasps draped on the outside of the museum as they ply their languid rock. Given that it's August and baking outside, one wonders why rock stars such as Real Estate feel obligated to wear skinny jeans and button downs instead of sensible shorts. Note to rock stars: It's okay to rebel from the indie dress code once in a while.

 

Real Estate aren't great at engaging its audience. They don't have any charisma to spare. But the band's guitar sound—sweet and liquid like honey water—feels appropriately summery. "It's Real" and "Talking Backwards" are especially well received.

 

Deeper inside the festival grounds, chaos ensues as the first wave of festival goers arrive like refugees after their ordeal in the queue. Many of them head straight for the cool shade of Chet Faker's set inside The Los Angeles Sports Arena. (Toilets with flushing water are another draw.) Unfortunately, no one can get in. The police have blockaded all the entrances. Turns out the Fire Marshall has decreed that the arena floor is over capacity. The problem could be easily solved if the venue's security opened up the balcony seats, which are roped off and under guard. A few intrepid souls hurdle the cordons to sit in the balcony, only to be rounded up and thrown out by security. As a result, your correspondent isn't able to gain access to Chet Faker, but fellow Under the Radar writer Laura Studarus later reports that he played a dynamic show. Chet Faker is one of several acts on the FYF lineup whose moniker is a corny pun of a famous person's name, the others being DJ Harvey and Joanna Gruesome. (Com Truise couldn't make it?)

 

There are two other stages on site. A smaller outdoor setup named The Trees, which seems mainly geared to underground and hardcore punk acts, the music that this festival was originally founded on. The Main Stage is at the far end of a concrete parking lot the size of two football fields. One advantage of FYF's setup is that each of the stages is separated by buildings such as the Coliseum and the Arena, so there's zero sound bleed between them. The disadvantage? Long walks from one stage to the next, especially when the narrow lanes are blocked with lines of people waiting for food truck fare. Walking against the prevailing current of foot traffic is especially difficult in such narrow confines. Best thing to do is to appreciate the colorful festival fashion on display. One guy carries a big cutout photo of Kanye West on a stick. His female partner carries a cutout of a crying Kim Kardashian.  A number of men sport Hercule Poirot moustaches, immaculately gelled into trigger-shaped curls. There are dozens and dozens of T-shirts emblazoned with the album cover of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, including a few of the discontinued Disney edition. (A silent protest against Interpol's appropriation of the British band's sound? Nah, more likely an appreciation of the album cover's classic zebra-striped topographic image.) More incongruous is the sight of a young woman wearing a T-shirt featuring Ronald Reagan in a cowboy hat. The 1980s really are back.

 

You can hear that decade's influence on Future Islands, whose fans flood the tarmac of the Main Stage. Opening track, "Back in the Tall Grass," sets an appropriate tone with its lyric: "It's the heart of the summer." The sound is pure disco thump, led by William Cashion's baselines. Gerrit Welmers adds keyboard bop and lush textures.

 

Few bands get a sales bump from playing a late night talk show. Future Islands are the rare exception—four minutes on David Letterman transformed this three piece into recent Under the Radar cover stars—and it's easy to see why. Singer Sam Herring isn't a pretty boy rock star. But he's by far the most compelling frontman of the entire festival. His everyman look is matched by his man-of-the-people persona. Not even a hypnotist could take your eyes off Herring. It's as if he isn't fully in control of what his elastic body will do next—at times, he seems as if he's about to turn into the Hulk. The singer does Simian squats on stage and scuttles about like an ape before suddenly leaping to his feet. He thumps his chest several times and his voice occasionally emits a growl that would frighten even the frontman of Opeth. At times, he channels Springsteen's voice and drops to his knees or performs high kicks. The ecstatic attendees begin crowd-surfing and bopping inflated condoms in the air. Highlights of the heavy Calisthenics set include "Dream of You and Me," "Tin Man," and "Seasons (Waiting on You)." By the end, Herring looks as if he's just taken the ALS ice bucket challenge. You can almost see the bulge of his big heart through his sweaty button-down shirt. Your correspondent hasn't previously been taken with Future Islands, whose sound often seems a tad simplistic, but they're a stunning live act.

 

Next on the agenda: A set by the reunited Slowdive. But attempts to return to The Lawn stage is thwarted by the festival's biggest snafu yet: the police have completely cut off access to the arena. A huge crowd stands outside, perplexed and anxious. Your correspondent asks several security guards whether there is an alternate route to reach the lawn stage that doesn't involve cutting through the arena. "No, there is not," say several security men. Slowdive are the must-see band of the festival and now it appears that won't be possible. Eventually, a helpful soul explains that there is an alternate route, all the way at the very back end of the Main Stage area. (Note to FYF organizers, please ensure your security men are better briefed on basic matters such as the festival layout.) After a long run through the gauntlet course of food lines, your correspondent reaches the lawn stage. Slowdive has already played three songs, including "Catch the Breeze."

 

"£%#$!"

 

The entire audience appears to be holding its breath, immersed in the British shoegaze band's ocean of sound. The three guitarists—Neil Halstesd, Christian Savill, and Rachel Goswell—are urged on by the warm throb of Nick Chaplin's bass and the vigorous drumming of Simon Scott. It's a relief to hear a drummer at the festival who isn't playing in boring old 4/4. Goswell, resplendent in a silver dress and smiling shyly, sings the hook to "Crazy for You," its circular guitar figure still captivating 20 years later. Unfortunately, her pretty voice sounds paper thin in the mix of "Machine Gun" but the reverb-y guitars sound great. During "Souvlaki Space Station," left-handed Savill plays a solo in which his slide guitar sighs as if in post-coital bliss.

 

One wonders whether most of these teens and twentysomethings have any idea who Slowdive is. After all, the band broke up—or, more accurately morphed into Mojave 3—when many of the attendees were in diapers. Is Slowdive cashing in on the reunion dollar or will they produce new material? One hopes for the latter. The band's multiple guitargasms are indescribably majestic and beautiful. The five-piece doesn't take the opportunity to play "Visions of LA," but "Alison" and a cover of Syd Barrett's "Golden Hair" end the set on a highpoint. Before they depart, Goswell announces they'll be back in November. Can't wait.

 

During a quick bite to eat, your correspondent chats with four strangers about their festival experience. Between them, the four festivalgoers have recently attended Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Coachella, and Lollapalooza. By contrast, they find FYF wanting. They've never experienced such a congested site layout and long wait times.

 

One can't complain about Saturday's lineup, however. The bands on offer on the bill is of Coachella caliber and FYF appears to be headed for bigger things.

 

Next up is Interpol. The New Yorkers, dressed in customary dark suits and ties, launch into "Anywhere" from their imminent album, El Pintor. Paul Banks has his hair slicked back and Black Les Paul slung low. His voice sounds emotionally bruised during "Say Hello to the Angels." It's as if he's singing to himself rather than to a massive audience. Unlike the frontman, guitarist Daniel Kessler smiles a lot and throws shapes and poses near the front of the stage. Tonight's focus is mostly older material. The crowd roars when "Evil" starts, its bass intro high in the mix. Here's a question no one is asking: Whatever happened to Carlos D? The former bassist defined hipster sartorial style and was the most visually compelling member of the group. Current bass player Brad Truax sounds great throughout the evening, more than filling Carlos D's place.

 

Interpol's sound is one of narrow parameters that haven't changed over the course of its five albums. They'll probably never release a Kid A. Yet they somehow manage to find new approaches to their sound. Case in point, new single "All the Rage Back Home" starts off slow and spare with Banks moping over a chiming guitar figure. Without warning, a chugging bassline and four-to-the-floor drums shift the bridge into fifth gear. The song boasts a supremely catchy chorus in which the band members chant, "Hey, hey, hey" in the background. If the rest of El Pintor is this good, Interpol will have a hit on its hands.

 

Alas, the band only performs two new songs tonight. Also odd: the setlist wholly ignores Our Love to Admire and Interpol in favor of tracks from Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics. One wishes they'd played "Barricades," the blistering single from Interpol. And "The Heinrich Maneuver" from Our Love to Admire (its refrain, "How are things on the West Coast?" would've gone over well with the crowd). Interpol finishes its fine set with a glorious version of "Slow Hands" from Antics.


Phoenix takes to the stage to the Oriental keyboard figure of "Entertainment." Behind them, an LED screen is Soviet red, making for a dramatic silhouette as the band members take their places. It's a rousing start. "Lasso" and "Lisztomania" rev up the crowd even more. Phoenix played its first festival headline slot at Coachella 2013. But the French band seemed too overwhelmed and hesitant to rise to the occasion. What a difference 16 months makes. Since then, Phoenix has built up its festival muscles and transformed itself into a heavyweight champion.

 

Right from the start, tour drummer Thomas Hedlund captivates the crowd as he physically hurls himself into every beat. His heart-attack drumming on "The Real Thing" and "Trying to Be Cool" makes one hope there's a defibrillator at the side of the stage. Tour keyboardist Robin Coudert sits on the elevated drum riser next to Hedlund and often joins in on percussion.

 

During "Girlfriend," Laurent Brancowitz cradles his guitar like a baby as he solos. Phoenix now have dozens of sing-a-long songs such as this one at its disposal, but the band also showcase its art-rock side. "If I Ever Feel Better," buoyed by flute-like keyboards, segues into the heavy chords and squalling solos of "Funky Squaredance." Phoenix displays the most impressive visuals of the festival as the big screen shifts from a shot of Mount Everest seemingly ablaze in sunlight to video of a car speeding toward the Arc de Triomphe. Late into the set, cannons fire graffiti into the audience. On closer inspection, the bits of paper fluttering above the crowd are fake bank notes. In the space of just seconds, Phoenix manage to create more inflation than Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen combined.

 

Thomas Mars skitters across the stage during "S.O.S. in Bel Air." He's a more confident frontman than before. He announces that this is the band's last show of its epic tour. No wonder "1901" sounds so jubilant.

 

The crush of festivalgoers at the exits feels a bit like a riptide of humanity. It's been an exhausting but musically rewarding day one.




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