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Live review: FYF Fest at the Los Angeles State Historic Park

September 6, 2009 |  1:26 pm

Anyone who has ever thrown up the diamond-shaped hand sign at a Jay-Z concert might have been bemused to see fans of the brutal Rhode Island noise band Lightning Bolt doing something similar during their set at Saturday’s FYF Fest in Chinatown. The tastefully bedraggled throngs pointed their index fingers in the air and spun like dervishes while the duo blew through a deliriously unlistenable set of atonal skronking. Not the coordinated reaction you expect from followers of a band whose drummer, Brian Chippendale, wears a mask that from a distance looks like a cartoon dog face bound with a ball gag.

FYF Fest, the signature event of the young L.A. promoter Sean Carlson, is now in its sixth year and a second name change from one cheekily profane to its polite current version. Saturday’s installment was the first at the Los Angeles State Historic Park, a reflection of both the growing scope of the Fest and its mission this year to raise awareness for California’s imperiled park system. Despite absurdly long lines for everything from getting in to getting pizza, FYF succeeded admirably at its central mission: to make a communal afternoon for those at the farthest fringes of music. 

An interesting thing about FYF is that, for a good swath of its audience, the avant-noise, math-punk and outsider rock bands make up an alternate constellation of pop stars, replete with quick ascents, wise old sages and villains you love to loathe.

The latter had representation in Wavves, a notoriously combustible San Diego band plucked from founder Nathan Williams’ bedroom into the international touring circuit on the supposed strength of his sun-damaged surf-pop scrim. Rarely does a band find more sonic fidelity at an outdoor festival bordered by the Gold Line tracks than on record, but songs from Williams’ blood-curdling album "Wavves" came into unexpectedly enjoyable focus during his set.

More professional takes on a similar sound came from Times New Viking, who thickened their trebly haze with synthesizers and on-point harmonies, and Carbonas, who added a bit of MC5 swagger. At the more testosterone-heavy end of the spectrum, the Canadian collective F* Up deployed a three-guitar battalion in service of lacerating but implacably textured hardcore. Their formidably girthed frontman (who answers to the name Pink Eyes) constantly threatened to scale the scaffolding.

The few flinty electronica delegations had some difficulties, from the Brooklyn duo Telepathe sustaining what looked like a power outage mid-set (and growing commensurately testy onstage), to the sonically promising but energy-bereft synth-rock quartet Cold Cave. The Portland duo Glass Candy did better on its night-closing set of inspired, shimmering disco.

Tim & Eric, a staple of the stoner-comedy series "Adult Swim," updated the classic-mock riffage of Tenacious D with a devilish sendup of ‘70s lothario funk. However, dedicating a sarcastic tune about competing jambalaya recipes to “all of those we lost in Katrina” might not have been in the best taste.
Far and away the night’s best set came from L.A. duo No Age. After climbing off the local art-punk circuit with its 2008 full-length “Nouns,” No Age has finally learned to command festival-sized stages with just a guitar-and-drums setup.

Ferocious tracks from “Nouns” sounded fuller and even more inviting, while the new cuts displayed a curiosity and real skill with electronic loops and samples, an advancement that suggests the duo can do practically anything. Guitarist Randy Randall waxed nostalgic about how many FYF Fests he's played so far with No Age, and former band Wives; whatever has kept him and drummer Dean Spunt coming back should ensure a long run for Carlson’s brainchild. Even kids who live to be massacred with feedback need a day in the sun with funnel cake.

-- August Brown

Photo. The crowd at Black Lips. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times