I guess in the interest of increased publicity and an overall sense of acceptance by the general public, somewhere along the line the Fuck Yeah Fest was re-named the F Yeah Fest. Uh oh... Was this going to be one of those watered down industry events? Was I going to be fed some ironic, regurgitated version of "cool" by a bunch of cynical assholes who are trying to peddle "teen angst," 2008-style*? It was being held in Echo Park after all...
Let's not get carried away just yet. It was reassuringly apparent in the days leading up to the F Yeah Fest that the organizers were most enthusiastic about the music, so I'll dispense with scene talk for now and jump right in.
My first block of must-see acts was playing upstairs at the Echo. I arrived as Underground Railroad (to Candyland?)'s set was underway, a collection of punky, poppy, fun numbers in the vein of some of their other projects (FYP and Toys That Kill, but with less fuzz and more keyboards). Perfect music for standing in a hot club on a summer afternoon and enjoying your first cold beverage, of which there would be many.
Off with Their Heads followed; I had just seen them play an almost identical set three days prior in San Diego, but this one was somehow sweeter. Can't say enough good shit about this band. I only own From the Bottom, from which they played just two cuts (temporary fill-in drummer doesn't know the new songs), but their sound is undeniable. Gruff vocals, punk chords, great basslines, lyrics any poor schlub can relate to without getting too depressed about the whole thing...you know the story. It's punk in a most pure sense.
Paint It Black. Paint It fucking Black. I have seen them three times in San Diego, but I think the kids just don't get it down there. Too much sunshine and money, not enough pissed off kids. It was awesome to finally see the band in their element, with a crowd that was willing to put in as much energy as the band. Best set of the show. They played songs from all over their three albums, and Drill Sergeant Yemin was out of control. And shirtless...oh yes.
I could actually just copy/paste a lot of the above paragraph to describe Trash Talk, who were equally energized and menacing. The differences can be minute when talking hardcore -- if PIB is a bulldozer with a jet engine, then TT is one of those bulldozers with the giant drill on the front. Holy shit. The kids went nuts. Stage climbing, mic sharing (and breaking), "cops" showing up at the end of the set, the sound getting cut off... Awesome, messy, and exciting. Trash Talk in 2008.
INTERMISSION 1: Fresh air, Hipsters, Sitting
After killing an hour on the downstairs patio at the primary venue, the Echoplex, it was time to finally see what Fucked Up (F'd Up?) was like in a live setting. I love Hidden World so much, and I figured the night would climax here. They took the stage and roared triumphantly with "Baiting the Public," which was really quite impressive. Three guitars might be comically excessive for a band like Bad Religion, but for Fucked Up it sounded huge and perfect. Unfortunately, that perfection might be my only complaint -- while the upstairs bands flirted with sloppiness (Trash Talk actually fucked sloppiness in the ass), there was a bit more restraint and professionalism to Fucked Up's craft. Makes sense in the context of their elaborate recent recordings, but it translates to a slightly less exciting live show. Also, the more cerebral aspects of the band are harder to connect with behind shortened songs and jokes about being bald and fat. I recall an interview where one of the guys admits that they are a "record" band -- the shows are more or less part of the job description. After seeing them on Saturday, I might concur. That's not to say it wasn't entertaining; again, they sounded crisp and powerful, and vocalist Pink Eyes (a.k.a. Damian, a.k.a. whatever) got naked briefly and was pretty funny throughout. I'll just say that I'm far more excited for The Chemistry of Common Life than I am to see them on the tour that I expect comes with.
I didn't know all that much about Negative Approach (minus infinity punk points) before Saturday, save the fact that I needed to make sure and see them play. Done and done. Not at all a cash-in reunion of some old guys reliving the salad days -- they legitimately ripped for a very long time. They had people climbing the rafters and everything. I can't imagine it sounded any better in the `80s.
INTERMISSION 2: Nightfall
Almost five hours of standing and loud music and scotch will make sitting seem really great. Luckily there was a stand-up comedy show included on the ticket. Around the corner at the "Rec Center," Bob Odenkirk ("Mr. Show") and Jeff Garlin ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") were slated to humorize, and I walked in as Mr. Odenkirk was beginning his set. He took a realistic approach to his situation: He was talking to people half his age, so he spoke with a twisted wisdom that was charismatic and parental in the funniest way possible: "I feel sorry for you guys -- your generation bears the unfortunate burden of believing that tattoos are actually cool" (quote not exact).
Sadly, the comic that followed was so unfunny that I had to leave as quickly as possible. Sorry, guy. I didn't want to sit through any more of that, and I missed Mr. Garlin as a result. Bad stand-up is seriously the worst thing on earth, behind show reviews that ramble on for far too long and don't have any pictures.
INTERMISSION 3: Brownbaggin'
After an extended break from the festivities (in and out privileges, thank you), we returned for two final acts. The day was taking its toll and I was expecting to maybe barely enjoy standing through Crystal Antlers and Monotonix.
I'll admit that watching Crystal Antlers did feel like a chore, but they were easily the most diverse act we saw all day. Some kind of stoner jam psychedelic, bass-heavy stuff. Two drummers kind of stuff. They alternated between mesmerizing in a good way and mesmerizing in a bad way, but I felt they closed strong and I'm glad I checked them out.
"If these guys Monotonix are no good, we can just head out."
The events that unfolded after I made this statement to my companions are somewhat impossible and boring to describe. I will write down the sequence of events, but I just don't know. I'm aware that it is cliché and also already stated on their website, but a Monotonix show is an experience that you simply must be present for to understand. After setting up in the middle of the crowd, they proceeded to play some filthy good monster-riff bluesy garage rock not unlike the Black Keys. Well, unlike the Black Keys in that the Black Keys aren't really cool anymore (right?).
The details are hazy, but they include the entire band being lifted off the ground and playing while suspended in perpetual crowd-surf. Including the drummer. Somewhere in there the sprightly singer had time to grab my friend's drink and empty it on his head (it's cool, he probably didn't need that one). The set ended with the band being surfed right out the back door into the street where they played a few song fragments before getting shut down. It was really a fantastic, explosive way to end the day.
Now, to recall the opening paragraph (remember? About the crass regurgitation and homogenization of rebel culture?), I noticed on the Monotonix MySpace page that they seem to do some variation of this "crazy party" set at almost all their shows. I get suspicious when the spontaneous becomes routine, and I'd be lying if I said that the word "gimmick" did not come to mind when I discovered this detail. In retrospect, it can make their set feel less like a special happening -- the band might never look back and say, "Hey, remember when those crazy bastards in LA picked us up and surfed us out the door? Best moment of my life!" because it happens to them every night. I'm not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, at least they're doing something different, but on the other, it won't be different if they keep it up for long. Either way, I suppose I won't complain. It ended up being the climax of my night (2 a.m. @ Denny's was close), and it is rock and roll after all -- don't overthink it unless it sucks. (In that case, dissect each and every bit so you can scientifically prove why it sucks. So when Monotonix produces a record with Danger Mouse I can say, "They've been doing that crowd-surf gimmick for years. That sucks.")
Same goes for my take on the Fest itself. "F" Yeah? Hipster capital of the West Coast? Sure, sure. But if the music is this damn good (and varied -- I'm sure plenty of people were there the whole time without seeing any of the bands I did), why bother complaining? To see the organizers of the event out there, working their asses off (and getting them kicked) to promote and organize such a well-run show, why wouldn't you want to believe? And to see each band turn in a performance that was as impassioned and intense as any headlining gig they'd ever score was confirmation that the acts presented were there for the right reasons. I even saw Keith Morris in the crowd after Trash Talk. He knows what's up.
I think it's obvious (and obviously lame) that someone in the chain of command decided it would be "bad for business" to continue publicizing an event with the F-word in its title, but that increased sense of order and professionalism manifested itself in otherwise very positive ways throughout the show. It's the little things that can make or break an event like this, with over 40 acts cramming themselves into a single nine-hour day. For example, the schedule was set and emailed to all ticket holders before the event and did not seem to change at all on the day of. That really goes a long way when you're a punk rock fanboy who wants to make sure and be in the right place at the right time so you can high-five Dan Yemin when he walks by (plus 20 punk points).
*Maybe, but I didn't notice. Could be due to 8 hours of Dewar's drink specials or the fact that I skipped No Age, Matt & Kim, Mika Miko, Japanther, etc. Haha zing! I'm a maverick, I say what I want!
[Taken from my blog and slightly edited for PN.O -- Original version available here]