FYF Fest: The must-see acts and the maybes, an hour-by-hour guide
The FYF Fest marks the unofficial close of the outdoor rock 'n' roll festival season in Southern California, bringing it to an end with dissonant guitars, vocal yelps, disaffected beach-bum punks and even a song or two inspired by the Civil War. Thirty bands and three stages, the all-day affair at the L.A. State Historic Park falls somewhere between a neighborhood block party and Chicago's Pitchfork Music Festival, taking a smaller, more targeted approach to the multi-act bill.
Plenty of it is adventurous, and some of it is even a bit tuneless. Yet the celebration of the underground, the niche and the weird is also a bargain. Tickets started at $20 for early-bird buyers, and in the days leading up to the fest, now in its second year in Chinatown, have risen only to $30.
Rare, indeed, is an affordable all-day fest that is as pridefully left-of-center as FYF. With a bill built for discovery -- as well as one that contains plenty of local heroes -- Pop & Hiss breaks down the must-see-acts and those you may want to investigate, time permitting. The hour-by-hour guide is below.
The Magic Kids (12:10 p.m., Oak Stage): Cuteness abounds here, and those who can deal with sometimes-hokey lyrics will find plenty to love. Yes, a line like "there's no candy sweeter than my baby" becomes a buoyant call-and-response chorus, but the sugar-high vocals and toy-ish instrumentation is all used to create grandly orchestrated retro pop.
Let's Wrestle (12:30 p.m., Redwood Stage): There's going to be plenty of noise throughout the day, so start it with these jangly and melodic Brit-poppers, whose debut for Merge Records, "In the Court of the Wrestling Let's," went dreadfully unnoticed. Frayed, spiteful and a little goofy, Let's Wrestle slaps a prep-school nerdiness on top of a frenzied soul-punk sound that makes like Franz Ferdinand imitating the Jam.
Maybe No. 2:
The Goat and the Occasional Others (12:10 p.m., Sequoia Stage): Local sewer punks can kick up a rockabilly inspired frenzy, and deliver it all with a cocky vocal snarl. It's music built for skating, and paired with lyrics meant to garner a laugh.
The Cults (1:50 p.m., Oak Stage): The FYF Fest could be a breakout of sorts for this boy/girl (supposedly boyfriend/girlfriend) duo from New York. Single "Go Outside" is minimalist '70s soul, complete with a fetching glockenspiel-driven melody. Expect the duo of Brian Oblivion (fake name, see "Videodrome") and Madeline Follin to be joined by others live, which should toughen up the band's more precious side.
The Blow (1:40 p.m., Sequoia Stage): The moniker of Khaela Maricich, the Blow is synth-pop as an art project. It may be too light to stand up in a festival setting, but certainly a more colorful option than the sleepy folk shenanigans of Vetiver, and locals the Growlers can be caught regularly around town.
Screaming Females (2:15 p.m., Sequoia Stage): Marissa Paternoster can wield the guitar, and she is not to be missed. Intricately powerful, Paternoster's precise shredding is some of the most distinct in today's indie-punk scene. She's out front, and tension is built as her bandmates race to catch her.
Davila 666 (2:45 p.m., Oak Stage): Down and dirty punk rock from Puerto Rico, Davila 666 offers a pretty faithful homage to the Stooges and the Ramones. A few more border-crossing sounds would make the band stand out more, but as far as revivalists go, Davila 666 can hold its own. The concern is that it may veer toward novelty status.
Best Coast (3:35 p.m., Oak Stage): In a perfect world, Best Coast's debut “Crazy for You” would have been the album of the summer. Bethany Cosentino taps into West Coast traditions and has a knack for hook, presenting a fuzzed-up take on early Cali surf rock and '60s garage pop. Her songs are all youthful longing, and possess equal parts self-deprecation and sarcasm.
Must-see No. 2:
Warpaint (3:05 p.m., Redwood Stage): Though FYF attendees will surely have opportunities to catch Warpaint in the future, the local quartet is quickly hitting its stride. Hazy harmonies and hypnotic guitars, Warpaint's slow-building songs can be transfixing. It's not so much abstract as it is a shadow of something more familiar.
A.A. Bondy (3:35 p.m., Redwood Stage): A former indie-rocker (Verbana) who went the troubadour route. "Friday Night Lights" fans will know his "Killed Myself When I Was Young," which brought one Season 4 episode to a close. Vivid storytelling, and no doubt a pleasant afternoon choice.
Maybe No. 2:
Thee Oh Sees (3:50 p.m., Sequoia Stage): One may start to think the FYF Fest is little more than a garage rock showcase by this time in the day, but Thee Oh Sees strut between a spacey, bachelor-pad edge and carrying a noisy experimental flair.
Titus Andronicus (4:25 p.m., Oak Stage): An early pick for the set of the day. Repeat: An early pick for set of the day. Think of what the Pogues may have sounded like if they grew up near Asbury Park, with lengthy, breathless, Springsteen-referencing songs loaded with half a dozen shifts in direction and twice as many hooks. The band's latest, "The Monitor," is supposedly a concept album inspired by the Civil War, but it's largely just about surviving the recession and looking for answers in the bottom of a bottle. This is a band that can turn the phrase "you will always be a loser" into something of a defiant chant. There's a battle line drawn between the haves and the have-nots, and Titus Andronicus doesn't identify with the former.
Soft Pack (4:50 p.m., Redwood Stage): Nothing really terribly exciting or offensive about this band, but if by this time in the day you're not tired of FYF's over-reliance on spunky and retro surfy garage rock, the Soft Pack deliver it with a touch of wit.
7 Seconds (5:30 p.m., Sequoia Stage): Lineup has changed, but the band's brute force hasn't. Hardcore. Distilled. A band that helped define the genre.
Must see No. 2:
Local Natives (5:45 p.m., Redwood Stage): The FYF Fest appearance is a victory lap of sorts for the Local Natives. The band hasn't been strangers to the L.A. market of late, but the act has only been getting stronger live. There's plenty of nuance here, as three-part harmonies ride waves of Afrobeat rhythms, and upbeat songs are textured with horns, keys, thin guitar lines and a cymbal crush.
If the food lines aren't too long:
Wavves (5:25 p.m., Oak Stage): Here's what Wavves gets right: Nathan Williams has honed his distorted, surfy punk (although there are better versions of it on the bill) to make for concise, tightly wound melodies. Here's what Wavves gets wrong: As long as Williams keeps writing songs about having nothing to say, at some point his audience may just be inclined to shrug and believe him.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (6:15 p.m., Oak Stage): No real coup, as Ariel Pink (real name: Ariel Rosenberg) plays the local scene quite a bit, but recent album "Before Today" is still a triumph, and it's nice to see the Highland Park resident get a showcase slot. There's certainly a Syd Barrett-like expansion of sounds, but also an invitingly delicate aura to much of the act's work. At times, it feels lovingly resurrected from another time, but before anyone gets too comfortable it's all roughed-up and skewed with an almost childlike whimsy.
Dead Man's Bones (7 p.m., Redwood Stage): So ... songs about zombies? And a creepy choir? And quite possibly magicians? Yes to all of the above, please. The ghoulish project of actor Ryan Gosling and his friend Zach Shields is borderline novelty, but it's an entertaining one. And there are songs about zombies.
Must see No. 2:
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists (7:15 p.m., Oak Stage): Ted Leo has been so consistently prolific -- and a touring warhorse -- that it's easy to take him for granted. Don't, as Leo and his band put on an energetic show, and decorate their power-pop with detailed observations and unexpected turns. In fact, Leo deserves a hearty FYF round of applause for his recent takedown of Green Day's Broadway ambitions in his band's video for "Bottled in Cork."
Washed Out (7:35 p.m., Sequoia Stage): The late-night synth-pop of Ernest Greene is gorgeous stuff, and hitting around sunset should be the right time to take it in. If Greene is backed by a band, the breezy chill-outs will have lovers holding hands and swaying. If Greene is armed only with a laptop, the late-night orchestrations could simply drift away in the twilight.
Cold Cave (8:10 p.m., Sequioa Stage): The strongest electro-pop offering on the bill. Led by former punk rocker Wesley Eisold, Cold Cave is a near psychedelic mix of feedback, scorched synths and club-ready textures. There's plenty of grooves, but just as many headtrips. Added bonus: Cold Cave brings former Mika Miko singer Jennifer Clavin back to the stage, and her excitement and warmth counters Eisold's deadpan.
Man Man (8:10 p.m., Redwood Stage): Phillly noisemakers will no doubt deliver one of the more adventurous sets of the day -- an exuberant mess of horns, keys and whatever was left lying around the kitchen. Make no mistake, Man Man can be an absolute joy to watch and, for better or worse, the act isn't afraid to test the limits of its audience. Depending on one's tolerance, this is either Zappa-inspired oddness or clownish tomfoolery.
Sleep (9:30 p.m., Oak Stage): There's been some hardcore and punk offerings throughout the day at the FYF Fest, but in terms of pure metal, only Sleep fits the bill. Yet if you're only booking one metal act, make sure it's a showstopper, and Sleep is just that. Worth the price of admission alone, Matt Pike's guitar wizardry creates ear-splitting crushes of lumbering, layered noise. It's a monolith of sound, and it defined the stoner metal sound.
School of Seven Bells (9:10 p.m., Sequoia Stage): Centered around the enchanting vocals of Alejandra Deheza, School of Seven Bells is all dreamy retro-futurism. Guitars and voices are manipulated, and the organic and the electronic shape-shift around one another. With a nighttime set, School of Seven Bells should come with a laser light show.
Delorean (10:10 p.m., Sequoia Stage): Should be a relatively upbeat and perfect sendoff for the night, should you opt for this Barcelona quartet that puts a live spin on global club grooves. Plenty of samplers create a wash of synths, and though vocalist Ekhi Lopetegi takes a more relaxed approach, expect a dance party.
Big Freedia (10:35 p.m., Redwood Stage): Shamefully the lone hip-hop representative on the bill, New Orleans' Big Freedia is one of the leaders of a largely underground gay rap subculture known as "sissy bounce." The beats are simple, but the artistry is all in the vocal variations, and Big Freedia's forceful, chant-like delivery is practically insisting the crowd get up and dance.
You were warned:
Panda Bear (10:50 p.m., Oak Stage): Ambient meanderings from Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox.The trance grooves don't go anywhere, and the yelps and yodels make this feel like some sort of joke on the audience. The Gold Line is a short walk.
Note: The above format was stolen from Pop & Hiss friend Greg Kot, but used with his expressed written consent.
Note No. 2: Set times were based upon the FYF's schedule as of Wednesday, Sept. 1.
The FYF Fest is Sept. 4 at L.A State Historic Park, 1245 N. Spring St. Gates open at noon. Tickets are $30 and available online.
Images, from top: Warpaint (Mia Kirby); the Cults (Windish Agency); Titus Andronicus (XL Recordings)