Saturday, November 9, 2013

FFF Fest Day 1 Recap: Johnny Marr, Snoop Dogg and More

Posted By on Sat, Nov 9, 2013 at 12:26 PM

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Former Smiths' Johnny Marr doing right things right (all photos by Jaime Monzon, unless indicated)

On Friday, the first day of Fun Fun Fun Fest 2013, Johnny Marr and his band were the best-dressed bunch in the whole festival and went through tracks from The Messenger (“The Right Thing Right,” “Upstarts,” “Lockdown,” “Generate! Generate!”), the latest solo album buy the former Smiths guitarist, who gently but bitingly chastised the crowd.

“It’s a joke, it’s a joke,” he said. “I don’t take it personal that no one bought the record. The only thing that matters is that we’re all here now.”

And there they were. You could hear the Smiths all over, but you could also hear Johnny Marr. After an in-depth soundcheck to make sure he had the best sound in the Orange stage, he went through his post-Smiths career and surprised everyone with an incredible, dead-on version of the Clash’s take on “I Fought the Law.”

The night's headliner, Snoop Dogg (also displaying his Snoop Lion reggae alter ego) was running late, of course, but closed the night with the proper party vibe everyone was expecting (demigod of heavens Indra included). While the DJ played old hits, the crowd kept praying for the raindrops to remain light and they got their wish: what they got instead was a shower of beach balls and the party was complete when Snoop took the stage and started with “Here Comes the King”, from his 2013 Reincarnated reggae album. But the sound problems that had started with the Walkmen earlier fell on him with a vengeance, and there was no sound for a few seconds. He kept on as a pro and delivered nearly one solid hour of hits, ranging from his debut to 2003’s “P.I.M.P.”

I could’ve used some more reggae, but at least he closed the show with it. It was a warm night to end a good Day 1 that was getting colder and colder (and wetter) by the minute.

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Fun Fun Fun Fest is usually my favorite Austin fest. I love the open spaces and one’s ability to check all the stages and get real close to the action even in big shows (unlike, say, ACL, where you can only see the bigger bands from 10 miles away unless you spend the whole day saving your spot under the scorching sun). Last year, according to figures released by the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, more than 55,000 people attended in the three days (17 percent more than in 2011), pumping $27 million into the city’s economy. This year, though, at least judging by Friday morning (and the amount of tickets still available as I write this on Saturday), the festival started kind of slow. A tad too slow if you ask me, but at night things went back to normal with big crowds in front of each stage. And things didn’t start too well at the 501 Studios shuttle pick up point either.

As opposed to last year, when everything ran smoothly, when I arrived to the (supposedly) shuttle pick up point, the area looked like the Syrian Desert. No signs, nothing. The receptionist at 501 studio had no idea about the shuttle, and there wasn’t a soul at the parking lot. When the bus finally came I had to stop it in the middle of the road because it was making an unusual turn. I asked the driver whether this was FFFF’s shuttle, and he said it was but that he wasn’t sure where to pick people up (there’s was a new fence around the parking lot, but hang in there even if you don't see anyone: the shuttle will come).

Arriving to the festival grounds, the driver didn’t know where to drop us off. “Let me get out first and ask someone,” he said. He asked the motorcycle cop standing at the entrance, but he also had “no idea” where the shuttle should park. Different festival volunteers I asked inside had no clue either (at night after Snoop Dogg’s set, I decided to take a bicycle riksha instead).

To make matters worse, the “media area” is a complete joke: a tiny room with two tables and only three seating benches, always packed and, at least every time I went to look for a seat, occupied by people chatting instead of working. But that’s OK. It was nothing that a $10 vegan burrito with guacamole and (vegan) cheese couldn’t cure. UPDATE: As of this afternoon, Fun Fun Fun Fest has "moved the media area to a much larger space with ample seating, tables, refreshments, power and wifi," according to an email sent out by their public relations team at 2:49 p.m.

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(photo by E.L.)

With FFFF it’s all about the music, and the music delivered. In the following pages see a recap of Day 1 with videos of Immortal Guardian, The Tontons, Title Fight, Mac DeMarco, The Walkmen, and Cut Copy.

At 11:30 a.m., Austin’s prog metalheads Immortal Guardian wanted to greet festival goers as the doors opened, so they brought their “Shred Sled” to the entrance gate and then took curious fans along in a sort of parade through the festival grounds (the Shred Sled is a 6' x 8' trailer towed by a Gator utility vehicle and powered by a gas generator). But, guys, if you want to greet the crowd and build things up with Peter Finch’s speech from 1976’ Network, at least let the late Oscar winner finish his damn message. Especially you, new Brazilian vocalist Carlos Zema, who interjected Finch just as he was going to say his memorable punch line. So please, don’t do it again, ’cause I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.

Go to the next page to see Houston’s The Tontons.

The Tontons (their purposely misspelled name an homage to Star Wars’ Tauntaun) is an interesting indie/bluesy band with good musicianship and a couple of terrific singles like “Veida” and “Bones 2.” They can play, but it’s all about singer Asli Omar. She has an amazing presence, a warm, hugging voice, she knows her body and she knows the stage. Would love to see them up close in SA soon.

As much as I love tacos, I wasn’t going to leave my spot to see the first of several Taco Cannon events. If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, here’s a Taco Cannon moment from FFFF 2012 (yes, these are actual free tacos being shot into the crowd).

Go to the next page to see Kingston, Pennsylvania’s Title Fight.

Hardcore punksters Title Fight had the honor of being the first ones to cause a massive sing-along and piss off security when one fan broke the ice by jumping onstage and diving back to the crowd.

Go to the next page to see Canada’s Mac DeMarco.

Now, this is when things got really crazy. Multi-instrumentalist/performance artist DeMarco is known for his raunchy shows and humorous songs, but his funny side distracts from the fact that the songs are as amazing as the imaginative guitar work. He played mostly rhythm, but is capable of strong solos, and his lead guitarist was the backbone of the set. DeMarco's voice sounds like a Lou Reed-esque whisper, but he can sing when he wants. Then he overdid it a little bit with a shameless version of fellow Canadians Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business,” and they kept the joke a little too long with a slaughtered, rewritten version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” some rap, and a left-field version of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Kind of fun at first, but DeMarco’s band doesn’t need all this stuff: their songs are strong enough to keep things going. So guys, next time please keep the jokes short.

Go to the next page to see The Walkmen.

Even thought NY/Philly the Walkmen are known for their love of vintage sounds, they’re also one of the most original and uncompromising bands in the circuit. Too bad they were also the first ones to experience serious sound problems at the Orange stage.

“Am I the first guy you can’t hear?” asked frontman Hamilton Leithauser shortly after set opener “We’ve Been Had,” from 2002’s Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone. But the adoring crowd never stopped liking them and the band overcame any problems with their usually classy set.

Go to the next page to see Cut Copy.

Shortly before Cut Copy hit the stage, that’s when the first raindrops started to fall. But it was too beautiful a moment to be interrupted by rain, so as if demigod Indra had been grooving with the crowd, it never turned into a full-fledged shower and the Aussies (playing at FFFF for the first time), went through some classics and, mainly, songs from their brand-new Free Your Mind, released on November 1.

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