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FYF Fest: Ceremony thrills, but fest has room to grow

September 02, 2012|By Todd Martens
  • Tanlines on Day 1 of FYF Fest.
Tanlines on Day 1 of FYF Fest. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

The second and final day of the FYF Fest in downtown Los Angeles was three hours old before it received a wake-up call. It came in the form of a menacing bass rumble and a cloud of dust, the latter of which was quickly becoming visible from a nearby tent dedicated to comedy and electronic music. From a distance, it looked as though something may have been wrong.

Security need not have worried, even as officials kept a nervous eye on the swelling mosh pit. All that was happening was a mid-afternoon set by Ceremony, a Northern California punk band that understands the value of musical thriftiness, the importance of a fist-in-the-air guitar riff and the crowd-unifying power of a simple lyric.

"Gonna do a new song," said singer Ross Farrar. "It's not on the Instagram or the Playstation," he added referring the mobile photo application and the video game system. "It's called 'Everything Burns.'" He paused and then added the following, just in case anyone needed clarification: "Burns. Buuuuuuurrrrrrrrns." Burrrrrrrnnnnnnnsssssssssss."

PHOTOS: FYF Festival 2012

It's not hard to figure out what followed. The bass was sharp, ready to slice anything was put in front of it, and the guitar came spiking down, the kind of riff that makes fans pretend to air guitar. As for the drums, those came in stop-and-start fits for maximum tension -- or maybe that's aggression. 

Some Ceremony songs last all of 30 seconds. Some are just moments longer. No matter how brief, they manage to pack drum solos, guitar solos and enough frenzied lyrics to make the more concerned wonder how Farrar hasn't yet destroyed every single one of his vocal chords. 

The FYF Fest, now in its ninth year and held once again at downtown's mice-infested Los Angeles State Historic Park (mice count at the time of writing: two living, one dead), specializes in this kind or rock 'n' dance simplicity. When it works -- and make no mistake, Ceremony works, managing to make the ferocity of the Sex Pistols and the bluesiness of the Stooges sound completely fresh -- the results are glorious. 

When the results aren't so winning, the FYF Fest can feel as though it hasn't yet shed its more amateur roots, when FYF events were staged at random venues or festivals were planned without enough water for the 20,000 to 25,000 fans who would attend. By and large, this year's FYF Fest is a professional event, once again a party thrown in conjunction with promoter Goldenvoice.

This also marks the first time that FYF, in its downtown location, at least, has been held over two days. And perhaps this is just the heat talking, or frustration at the fact that water bottles on a day when temperatures topped 80 degrees were overpriced at $3, but it was becoming increasingly clear as Sunday afternoon transitioned into Sunday evening that FYF hasn't put together a lineup quite worthy of the multi-day expansion. 

With 80 or so artists, there are always going to be exceptions, and FYF has done well in booking its headliners. Sunday's headliner Yeasayer is coming off its most experimental album, and on Saturday night, Sleigh Bells singer Alexis Krauss led listeners into a fantasyland of hyper-colored noise while Tanlines created an exciting mix of synthesizers and guitar rock.

Yet it's the details that matter, and Sunday afternoon offered little to get excited about. Local rock band the Allah-Las were a pastiche of AM radio sounds, with vocals that echoed from another era and guitars that would have made Del Shannon proud. It was pleasant enough, and just a day removed from when local punks FIDLAR shouted that they felt "80 years old." 

They weren't talking about the FYF lineup on Sunday, but they may as well have been. Nick Waterhouse has a kicking band and knows how to throw a party that would have been all the rage in the days before the Beatles visited Ed Sullivan. Meanwhile, King Khan & the Shrines had a blast worshiping Sly Stone. 

Even when Sunday's artists got a little closer to the present, they were still looking backward. Wild Nothing had a few hooks, but most had already been written better by New Order. Still, one of the best of the bunch was local rock band Papa, whose swift rock 'n' roll had the power-pop flair of Big Star or "Summerteeth"-era Wilco, but unexpectedly laced the songs with keyboards drenched in soul.

A band worth watching, Papa's arrangements were leaps and bounds ahead of any number of FYF garage rockers. Leader/drummer Darren Weiss would frame songs around wind-gusts of guitars and shout a lyric before being suddenly detoured by his keyboardist. "I just want to be quiet now," he said, before instantly changing his mind and yanking the song elsewhere. 

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