Live review: Despite failures, FYF Fest gives crowds a lot to cheer about
The annual FYF Fest, now in its seventh year, experienced serious growing pains Saturday at the Los Angeles State Historic Park downtown, even if the music onstage offered gratifying highs. The daylong concert featured 35 buzzing bands, a combination of rising, boundary-pushing underground acts and seasoned rock stalwarts, and drew an enthusiastic crowd estimated to be 20,000.
But just as last year, those arriving early to catch the first roster of bands were left stranded in interminable lines. Although the musicians onstage played to eager enthusiasts, the behind-the-scenes organization was visibly lacking throughout the day and night, as evidenced by overflowing trashcans, lack of water dispensaries and endless queues.
Festival-goers are nothing if not a dedicated bunch, though, and despite the many problems, the patient and the persistent experienced a hefty offering of musical joy. Here are highlights and lowlights:
Best costumes: The Dead Man's Bones children's choir was called Warm Glass of Milk, and it arrived decked in period costumes. The kids, ranging in age from preschoolers to teenagers, came portraying (among others) Charlie Chaplin, Audrey Hepburn, Janis Joplin and Ludwig van Beethoven, stood behind Bones' founders Ryan Gosling (yes, the actor) and Zach Shields and belted out a wonderful array of couplets, the best of which was "I raise my flag up into your heart / You let the winds come tear it apart."
Best singalong: It's hard to imagine that one year ago Local Natives were hustling the Eastside residency circuit. Because if the crowd's instant, rapturous reaction to the boozy piano intro to "Airplanes" was any indication, they were born to play to fields of thousands. It takes a special skill to make a line like "Every question, you took the time to sit and look it up in the encyclopedia" into a lighters-up moment, but the Natives' crystalline harmonies could make a cookbook feel anthemic.
Best seamless incorporation of a train: Washed Out's set was too quiet, unfortunate considering the gorgeously subtle textures of Ernest Greene's bedroom chillwave. But every time the Gold Line train whizzed by the stage, quiet yet forceful, it so beautifully matched Greene's smoothed-out pastel pop that we wished for a sudden rush hour to occur at 8 p.m. on a holiday weekend.
Best evidence that rock 'n' roll is no longer dangerous: In addition to more mustaches spotted on Saturday, there were marked differences between Saturday's rock-oriented FYF and last month's electronic dance festival Hard, both of which were at the same location. For one, there were no police helicopters buzzing overhead keeping an eye on the "ravers" like at Hard. Nor were there the dozens of uniformed officers and squad cars guarding the periphery of the park. Rather, a lone cruiser sat parked at an intersection on North Spring. The scariest place at the fest was in the mosh pit for 7 Seconds, but the slam dancers managed to police themselves just fine, thank you very much.
Best dance set of the night: The sprawling crew that goes by the moniker !!! originally formed in Sacramento and have become reliable shepherds of the beat, never straying from their North Star of propulsive, thinking-man's funk. It's always a good sign when the viewers closest to the stage aren't the only ones dancing. All over the park, bubbles of dance erupted, pushing sweaty strangers closer together, everyone on a fearless mission to get down.
Most perplexing start: For the first portion of Panda Bear's set, Noah Lennox, as he's known to the DMV, seemed determined to scare off anyone seeking the saltwater lull of his breakthrough solo work, "Person Pitch," or the obsessive jams of Animal Collective. He opened with synth monoliths, almost violent in their inescapable tension, which were eventually spliced with disembodied rips from "Merriweather Post Pavilion." A little later, Panda Bear weakened a beautifully slumberous loop with mismatched vocals and guitar. It seemed like every time a lovely moment would take flight, Lennox would attack it with his version of musical DDT.
Best argument for organizational skills: Dear promoter Sean Carlson: We love you, and the Los Angeles music scene is all the better for your ambitiousness and boundless enthusiasm. But it's time to stage an intervention: The last two years of FYF have been some of the most frustrating concert experiences in recent memory. Want a bottle of water? Wait in line for 45 minutes. Have to use the facilities? That'll be an hour. Want something as wantonly luxurious as a cold beer? Soviet bread lines moved quicker. A great lineup means nothing if you spend half your time beneath punishing, shadeless sun unable to meet any basic human needs. Next year, double your capacity for every amenity or the "Y" in FYF may come to mean "You" instead of "Yeah" -- and you can fill in the rest of the acronym.
Most unceremonious close: At other festivals and at their own concerts, the Rapture has been known to kill the crowd with a cowbell-laden dance-punk frenzy. Not so for its closing set at FYF. Perhaps Luke Jenner and company were directed to keep it chill for the finish lest all those American Apparel employees on their night off burst into rioting, but the last three or four songs were the equivalent of sticking a knife in a fat tire.
-- August Brown, Margaret Wappler and Randall Roberts
Photos: Best Coast performs on the Oak Stage (top); Local Natives plays to the crowd (second); fans rock out (third); and Ted Leo performs in the hills of the L.A. State Historical Park with 35 other acts at the FYF Fest. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times.