September 2, 2014 in Concert Recap
All photos taken by Zachary Kaczmarek
By Zachary Kaczmarek
Despite the gaffs and drawbacks that attendees experienced at this year’s FYF – missing performances due to a two hour plus wait in line, being turned away at the stage inside the LA Sports Arena due to capacity issues, general overcrowding in a condensed venue – the music remained in the spotlight as the diverse lineup of hip-hop, punk, and dance-infused funk veterans continued traditions of delivering jaw dropping performances, while newcomers made impressions on curious audiences looking for something fresh. The change of venue may have taken the air out of what was supposed to be a big year for FYF, but by the weekend’s end it was these select number of artists that saved the festival. Here’s our list of the best performances of FYF 2014.
Best Kept Secret: Joanna Gruesome (Trees Stage)
Contrary to their bottom line placement on the lineup poster, Joanna Gruesome bears down and soothes their audience in a sharply executed manner that is worthy of a much higher billing. Taking The Trees stage on Sunday afternoon the punk-meets-noise-pop act thrashed around to hellacious riffs that immediately disarmed and transformed into a mesmerizing pop hooks. The swirling torrent of fans forming a pit in the center of the crowd reacted to Alana Gruesome’s shrieks and Owen Gruesome’s earsplitting distortion, while the light head bobbing that was taking place on outer edges warmed up to her soft vocalizations, showing how the group’s neck snapping energy is not limited to fans of hardcore. Depending on your perspective the band’s style could be interpreted as punk with a weakness for harmonized pop hooks, or indie pop with the ability to hit the throttle and shift into a chaotic rage. In the end, the genius of Joanna Gruesome is that they’re both right.
Most Consistently Jaw-dropping: Haim (Main Stage)
Wrapping up the final leg of their tour, Haim took the main stage in their hometown of LA to deliver one last performance in support of a debut record that triggered all the right emotions and boasted some of the best hooks and choruses of 2013. For anyone who has been to a Haim show or heard about what one entails, it goes without saying that two things have remained a critical part of their live experience: transforming moody pop grooves into rock anthems, and following the script.
While they did not stray from what has been a mostly concrete set list, Fleetwood Mac cover, snare drum solo involving all of them, and the usual dialogue – like Este Haim passionately informing the crowd that when people hear “My Song 5″ they “shake their fucking asses” – the Haim sisters were as heartfelt as ever. Tearing through hits like “Falling”, “If I Could Change Your Mind”, and “The Wire”, the sister trio whipped their hair around viciously as they transferred their spark into a crowd that couldn’t resist getting down, fulfilling Este’s proclamation about ass shaking. Even their usual cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” sounded extra forceful, to the point where it could have been mistaken for one of their own.
Their shtick might be slightly predictable and methodical, but it always equals an explosive performance. It’s rare that Haim come off sounding flat or dull, and even though they had run through this blueprint countless times within the last year, their final routine felt like it was the opening date of the tour.
Sharpest Return After a 20 Year Hiatus: Slowdive (Lawn Stage)
Hype is not a word that even begins to describe the expectation that the recently reunited UK shoegaze act had set for themselves prior to their second performance in the U.S. since 1994 – with Pitchfork Fest back in early August being the first. It was a peculiar sight to see longtime fans who never got the chance to attend a Slowdive show and saw this set as their musical salvation jumbled together with younger faces who were also seeing the Reading quintet for the first time.
Impressively enough, Slowdive appeared and sounded as though they had never retired with remarkable chemistry and the ability to sweep away the crowd on any given song whether it far reaching solar system sounds of ”Souvlaki Space Station”, or the dreamy, serene pop of ”Alison”. More importantly though, it was clear that none of the band members were pulling an Andre 3000, and that reuniting for tens of thousands at Primera Sound, Pitchfork, or FYF, was certainly not taken for granted. After the currents of relaxing distortion ceased to the encase the thousands of ears and Slowdive’s spell was lifted, the air was filled with nothing but a resounding applause, a wake up call for what felt like a fantastic dream that had only one drawback – it had to end.
Best Empowering Display of Defiance: Run the Jewels (Trees Stage)
The time has come to include Run the Jewels, better known as rappers El-P and Killer Mike, in the all time great list of live hip hop acts. Hitting every line with furious anger, nailing every series of back and forth rhymes with perfect timing, and riling up the crowd to punk-show proportions, Run the Jewels rapped about how they’re known for “pounding the stage”, and “burnin and cursin”, and writing songs for the “writers who write for the liars that impress you and your parents”, yet as intimidating and villainous as they portrayed themselves to be, there was the feeling that this was no different than palling with close friends, if your friends could construct and deliver bust gusting rhymes.
In a fitting manner, the duo closed out the set with “Christmas Fuckin Miracle”, a song about users, societal vultures, and oppression, which was dedicated to Mike Brown and the people Ferguson, Missouri. However out of control or haywire their performance and lyrics may have been presented, the rage came from a genuine place as the people’s rap duo rallied the crowd and burned and cursed for all the right reasons.
Most Extraterrestrial: Grimes (Lawn Stage)
Perhaps at this stage of her career it’s not exactly breaking news, but when Grimes hits the stage, she’s not exactly like you and I, or any other performer for that matter. Where the average pop/rock star, DJ, and most other groups may view a show as a tense ritual or a chance leave the crowd awestruck with a unique experience, Claire Boucher approaches the stage like any child or teenager who stood in the mirror and imagined they were dancing and singing in front of thousands – except in Boucher’s case, this is real. As a veteran singer, composer, and performer, Boucher possesses skills that few have mastered – managing to control every loops and beat while finding time to dance her way across the front of the stage. But her demeanor is more whimsical and joyous than most, letting out the occasional scream or growl at the top of her lungs to emphasize her angelic falsetto vocals.
The fascinating part about Grimes set was not how weird or “out there” she could make it while still making you feel like you’re in the happiest neon, strobe lit club on Earth – although that is quite a feat- but how well she pulled off the casual stadium, popstar persona with newer tracks, ”David”, and “Go”. The latter, a track that Boucher wrote for Rihanna but was turned down, seemed to shake the surrounding area with its massive bass-powered chorus and trap styled synth.
It was a bizarre moment that gave a brief glimpse into an alternate universe where instead of writing curious, interstellar pop from another dimension, Grimes is selling out stadiums and serenading millions with bombastic R&B. But rest assured, for as “normal” and traditional as some of Grimes new material may be compared to cuts off her first three albums, its still way, way out there, originating somewhere from above.
Most Worthy of Inciting Chaos: The Strokes (Main Stage)
The pandemonium that ensued prior to and during only the fourth performance by the Strokes since 2011 was set in motion months before they took the stage. Once FYF revealed the full lineup back in May it was clear that the Strokes’ return to LA would bring all sorts of fanatics. The kind of fans who have not only memorized the lyrics of the classic hits in the band’s early years, but the recent lackluster songs which the average person casually wrote off. And as the sales of high priced, Sunday-only passes on Stubhub prices suggest, there were definitely more than a few primed and expecting the show of a lifetime from their favorite band.
Following Haim’s set the usual pushing and shoving occurred as brutish fans attempted to get a prime spot near the stage, but the lack of breathing room was more noticeable than the typical headliner set, with numerous dehydrated fans passing out, others vomiting on themselves, and casual festival goers struggling to push their way out of the crowd after realizing the level of discomfort they’d have to endure. Everywhere you looked was a man, woman, or teenager donning a black Strokes t-shirt in chrome font. There was even a group who gathered on the roof of an apartment complex across the street overlooking the Coliseum parking lot, hoping to catch a bird’s eye view. All signs pointed to a crowd that was expecting nothing less than an immaculate performance.
After keeping the restless audience waiting for nearly an hour and teasing their entrance with the running of smoke machines and lead-in songs that were nothing more than false alarms, Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi walked out onto the stage, followed by Fabrizio Moretti and Nikolai Fraiture. A moment later Julian Casablancas walked out looking like a long lost Ramone, rocking a disheveled mullet and an acid denim jacket, to which the crowd responded by surging forward to the stage one last time and releasing out all the pent up energy and screams that had been bubbling up during the previous hour of frantic waiting.
Wasting no time the band opened with “Barely Legal”, a track from their much lauded debut, as the enormous mass of people sang every word in unison, transforming a deeper cut into what sounded like a universal sing-along. Even the less dazzling songs from Angles and Comedown Machine almost seemed like proof enough to revisit those albums, sounding tremendously epic and nothing like the uninspiring studio versions.
When the time arrived for quintessential songs like “Reptilia”, “Last Nite” , and “Someday” to receive their run through – all songs that could have easily been used as an encore – every able body within sight was hopping around uncontrollably and screaming lyrics of these indie rock anthems at the top of their lungs. It was an enhanced atmosphere that took the understated coolness of the Strokes’ studio album persona and elevated it to arena rock status. A song like “Take It or Leave It”, which is driven by thin snares and fuzzy distortion, sounded anarchic and huge in a live setting with Fraiture’s drumming sending out booming vibrations and Hammond Jr.’s riffs taking on a thicker more abrasive tone. The vocals of Casablancas were especially moving, – considering how hit and miss his solo performances have been – layered with just the right amount of gravelly smokiness but crisp enough to project out towards the edges of the crowd. The end of the set took on a unique feel as the band returned for an encore, “New York City Cops”, a track which Casablancas said was dedicated to “the homies in Ferguson”. Casablancas yelling out “they ain’t too smart” in reference to the police force took on stronger social tones than the usual youthful disdain for cops. For a shining moment, he became the ultimate rebel and “New York City Cops” felt like brighter indie rock equivalent to “Fuck the Police”.
On the walk out to the exit there was a security guard who was singing “someday, someday”, a most unusual sight that put the craze of the headlining set in perspective. Prior to the set beginning a hardcore fan nearby went going in-depth on her theory about how the band’s latest record, Comedown Machine, was secretly a farewell album and said “this may be her last chance to see them play”. Whether the Strokes continue to produce more albums or tour once again remains to be seen, but the band closed out FYF like it was their last time gracing the stage, and the fans, with reckless abandon, happily reciprocated.