All photos by Merrick Ales unless otherwise noted.
Saturday of Fun Fun Fun Fest saw a crowd nearly double the size of Friday’s trampling across damp grass from the previous night’s rain. There was a palpable sense of eagerness in the air as fans of all ages sought to check off bucket list acts and conjure a sense of nostalgia with the trio of time warped headliners, all of whom were bands that reigned within their respective genres (rock, hip-hop, punk) during the Nineties. One of those acts (Jane’s Addiction) would prove to be highly disappointing, at least in the opinion of one of our writers, while the other two (Wu-Tang Clan and NOFX) would deliver the goods to the fans who paid good money to join them in the time warp. Though the theme of nostalgia coursed through much of the lineup, there were also plenty of other acts to see that felt more akin to FFF Fest’s long history of booking acts out of left field that would never show up on more mainstream festival lineups. Glide Magazine’s Neil Ferguson and Danielle Houtkooper caught as much as possible and highlighted their favorite (and least favorite) performances.
Best Chill Out And Take It All In Maaaan
American Football (Orange Stage)
Illinois band American Football’s brief run from 1997 to 2000 only saw the release of a self-titled EP and full-length album that, while short-lived, was enough to earn them the status of cult band. It helped that the band waited 14 years before playing shows together again in 2014. Their appearance on the FFF Fest lineup made them one of a slew of acts that spoke to the desire of music fans today to rekindle old favorites or seize on the chance to see a band they missed decades ago. Fronted by Mike Kinsella, American Football were champions of a low-key style of indie rock that clearly served as an influence for groups like Real Estate. The band’s intricate guitar work sliced through the brisk air with the group as a whole building jangly, atmospheric soundscapes and occasional trumpet flourishes. Football’s instrumentals complemented Kinsella’s soft-spoken existentialist musings told from a youthful perspective. Their mathematical playing and chilled out mood may have baffled younger audiences looking to get turnt on some beats, but for the appreciative audience American Football’s set recalled one of the last times when college radio and the idea of “indie rock” was still a potent force.
Best Strap In And Go For A…
Another band that may be more of a cult act as opposed to universally known stars, RIDE’s appearance at FFF Fest was part of a string of reunion dates. The British group initially went their separate ways in 1996 after releasing four acclaimed albums. Onstage, the band cheerfully pointed out that this year marks the 25th anniversary of their 1990 debut Nowhere, so it naturally made sense that songs from that album would dominate the setlist. Younger fans and those unfamiliar with RIDE may have found their sound to be very much of its era, but those in attendance were treated to one of the finest sets of the weekend filled with peaks and valleys. Playing songs from across their catalogue, the band’s blissful harmonies contrasted with at times careening, psychedelic jams brought to life by rapid fire basslines and kaleidoscopic guitar playing. These more intense moments were balanced out by Mark Gardener’s flawless, shimmering pop songs and vocals. RIDE launched off like a rocket and never came down until the end, and everyone who joined them felt privileged to witness it.
Best Shit Talking And Rocking The Fuck Out
Sporting a bright pink mohawk, NOFX frontman Fat Mike was well aware of the headliners he was up against (Jane’s Addiction and Wu-Tang Clan), and he did not give one single fuck. He jabbed at how bad Jane’s Addiction was, specifically the voice of Perry Farrell, which was a true statement. He also spit obscenities at parents who senselessly brought their young children to the fest and hoisted them on their shoulders for the NOFX set. This also may have been true. Fat Mike doesn’t bullshit, and while Jane’s Addiction (and Perry’s voice) may have sounded aged in the worst way, NOFX held court on the Black Stage with a set of timeless skate punk tunes. True to their SoCal punk roots, the band talked about drugs, called out posers, and ragged on amateur stage divers in between playing a succession of songs from throughout their three decades as a band. Fat Mike and the boys looked happy to be playing their little party within the fest, and their short, jagged punk tunes resonated even with those not chasing nostalgia on a skateboard.
Best Unexpected Balladeers
Murder By Death
Photo by Arthur VanRooy
This Midwest group’s name may seemed ideally suited for a metal band, but their sound couldn’t be more removed. Murder By Death fall more in line with brooding folk and American roots music, and though their albums tend to be more subtle and quiet, their set at FFF Fest was anything but. Frontman Adam Turla’s commanding baritone enraptured the crowd inside the Yellow Tent as he sang songs that harkened to a time when ruddy-faced sailors roamed foggy shipyards and mysterious characters prowled cobblestone streets spouting tales of love, lust, greed, and the dangerous adventure. With the added touch of a trumpet and cello to compliment Turla’s rich vocals, Murder By Death’s performance and songs swelled like a stormy sea carrying ships full of gold-toothed rogues to new conquests. In other words, it was nothing short of epic.
Most Popular/Mr. Congeniality
Garage rocker Ty Segall’s side project/full blown heavy rock outfit Fuzz is the epitome of the modern stoner genre. Touring on their latest release II, Segal and co. have found their niche in the form of heavy riffs, a successful emulation of classic metal tied into Segall’s ability to connect with his audience always leads to a fun show. The cloudy day acted as the perfect backdrop for the Fuzz set, acting as a character in the main production. The wind took away from their overall sound (the weather acted as a barrier the sound had to climb around, because science?) which is normally loud and pulsing, however, there was no detriment. Segall’s primitive drumming and wailing vocals paired well with second vocalist and lead guitarist Charles Moothart’s Black Sabbath-esque sensibilities. As with all Segall shows and projects, the audience was excited to be there with their generational rock god, making the atmosphere vibrant and welcoming. When Fuzz first formed it was surprising that Segall would choose the drums over his usual guitar supremacy, but his choice has paid off; his drum/vocal combo now almost rivals his heavy hand and quick fingered strumming. Their playing formation puts the whole band front and center, capitalizing on Segall’s popularity to bring in new listeners while gaining a singular cult following based on the band’s merits.
GRIMES (Blue Stage)
Truthfully, Grimes should also win most creative for the evening. The fest packed in by the Blue Stage to catch a glimpse of the mythical pixie that parades around as Grimes. For being such a small person with an even smaller voice, it’s always surprising how well she’s able to manipulate her electronic set, literally bouncing from her keyboards and mixers to the front of the stage in order to dance along and satiate her ravenous crowd. She knew just what they wanted, playing extended versions of her more mainstream hits early on along with her reverently interspersed dance breaks and in-the-moment twists and turns that kept her floating around. Grimes’ new album Art Angels was just released Friday, and she definitely treated her time at the fest as a celebration party, showcasing every part of what makes her fun to watch and easy to enjoy. In early years Grimes seemed afraid of the growing audiences, now it seems she embraces them, feeding off the energy like an electronic anima vampire. The shift is refreshing.
Jane’s Addiction (Orange Stage)
Looking at the lineup when it was initially released, it was a huge surprise to see the Jane’s Addiction brand stamped firmly in the headliners column. Well, not really huge as the band has been working the festival circuit since reuniting in 2008. Performing all of 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual, Perry Farrell’s voice didn’t seem up to the task at first. The cracks and warbles were less rock and roll and more dated, which was worrisome until they warmed up. After a few songs he found his groove, matching Navarro’s screeching guitar with expertise only rock gods possess. Not ones to stray away from what’s expected, Addiction brought along a bevy of half-dressed babes (one of which is Farrell’s wife, Etty) to dance and grind their way through each song as if it were 1990 all over again. The resulting show was a sexually charged, classically alt set, fantastical where it needed to be and surprisingly well wrought. Aside from the stellar musical performance (and was it ever) Addiction’s spectacle kept things interesting with slight nudity from their signature babes, a prancing Viking woman, and a suspension demonstration featuring two woman hanging from hooks protruding from their flesh as they air danced to a seemingly improvised groove session by the band. It was all wonderfully 90s, driving the cause home in case there was a doubt.
American Nightmare (Black Stage)
Tucked away in the secluded Black Stage area was American Nightmare, a Massachusetts-based hardcore band that normally goes by the name Give Up the Ghost. Hardcore shows are fun to come by in fests; their core audience is always faithful, keeping things interesting even if the band’s punk sensibilities aren’t showing through. This was not the case Saturday night as the spectacle was made a bigger ordeal than the actual music. The smallish crowd that had committed to the spot was mixed, most of which were open to what the band offered, but turned off by the overly done stage antics of the lead vocalist. At times he would disappear on stage as he crouched down in an emotional response to his lyrics, but he would do so at weirdly inappropriate times. The reception from the crowd was mixed as their fanbase was firmly planted in front of the stage while the stragglers on the outside figured out what to make of the band. Some did their best, obviously in touch with their noise rock/hardcore side, while the rest of them had better sense. Though they’ve always been a hardcore band, it felt as if American Nightmare were putting on a façade to please the audience. During the set, the lead vocalist’s call and response moments seemed less like a way to engage with the audience, and more like a break for his voice. Overall it was lackluster, and boring, two words that should never describe a hardcore show.