Now that the events of last weekend’s Fun Fun Fun Fest have settled in, it’s time to recap. Austin’s fastest growing festival is one of the country’s best, offering a diverse, unique lineup at a reasonable price in a perfect location (aside from a ton of pesky dust), and keeping crowds manageable. This year they also included free aftershows for festival attendees throughout downtown Austin and brought in $5.35 million in tourism to the city. And the bands themselves didn’t disappoint. Here’s a list of our favorite sets, plus some surprising upstarts who are building momentum that you might want to keep an eye on.
The Best Sets of FFF 2011 (in no particular order)
Thee Oh Sees Ty Segall called them the best live band right now, and it’s hard not to agree. James Dwyer’s crew are having their biggest year, behind the fabulous Castlemania, a new split EP with Australian tourmates (and fellow Black stage performers) Total Control and another upcoming album, not to mention a tour that has spanned most of this year. And they show no signs of slowing down. I have yet to hear them play anything from Castlemania, which is a shame, but the addition of a second drummer in July have made them a formidable stage presence, plus Dwyer’s volatile flailing and Looney Tunes vocals make them a must-see.
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists Following the disaster that was Danzig’s headlining set on Friday, Ted started tweeting that the former Misfits diva would make an appearance at his set on Sunday. Even though there was no sight of him to start the set, the ailing Leo put on a characteristically fiery performance desperately trying not to lose his voice. About halfway through he announced “It’s too fucking cold” and stormed off . A backup guitarist came out instead, and after a few seconds later Leo stormed the stage wearing a pointy-haired wig a la Danzig, apologized for Friday and launched into a series of Misfits covers including ‘Skulls’, which whipped a crowd into a frenzy Danzig himself couldn’t have provoked. The fest’s best moment.
tUnE-yArDs Merrill Garbus is on another level right now. Near-constant touring has perfected her complicated live show, and the additions of brightly costumed sax players and an elaborate percussion rig for bassist Nate Brenner help translate her set to the big festival stage. Not that she couldn’t hold her own as it is with those monstrous pipes and tribal hooks, but when you see fans start to show up with faces painted and neon feather headdresses, it’s proof that she’s doing something special.
Murder City Devils The reunited Seattle fire-starters had the unenviable slot on the Black stage right before Danzig, and according to reports the latter’s manager booted them off the stage early. As disappointing as it was, MCD packed their shortened set with more intensity than anyone else that night, and the crowd responded. Stage divers, crowd surfers and plenty of moshing accompanied Friday’s most exciting show.
Del The Funky Homosapien Even though it was spread out over the weekend, FFF brought in some great classic hip hop between Public Enemy, Kool Keith (who replaced Rakim who suffered a broken foot on the eve of his set) and Del. Covering his entire career from Hieroglyphics to Gorillaz in about forty-five minutes, the legendary Oakland emcee brought hit after hit, opening with some tracks from the classic Deltron 3030, hitting fan favorite ‘Mr. Dobalina’ and even embellishing his verse from ‘Clint Eastwood’. With a tight, full backing band in the Serendipity Project, Del’s set was the best hip hop set of the fest
SLAYER 90 minutes of thrash-til-your-neck-snaps face melting with no breaks that closed with ‘Raining Blood’ into ‘Angel of Death’. Enough said.
5 Names To Watch
Death Grips The enigmatic California hip hop group haven’t done a whole lot yet, and don’t seem to be trying change that. Their first tape Exmilitary is one of the year’s best, though it hasn’t picked up too much hype, and FFF was one of their first ventures out of Cali, but don’t sleep on them. Hella’s Zach Hill did the beats on Exmilitary and he showed up in Austin, bringing his batshit crazy drumming to back up MC Ride’s physical, confrontational shouting. Ride himself is the real deal, throwing his body across the stage and yelling all his lines in a spine-tingling performance. Highlights: ‘Lord of the Game’, ‘Spread Eagle Cross The Block’.
Mind Spiders Don’t let the fuzz and grit fool you, Denton’s own garage rockers are tight as hell. Dual drum fury and serious songwriting chops made early risers on Friday stand up and take notice at the Black stage.
Soul Khan Incredibly self-aware and sarcastic, Soul Khan shrugs off any indication of ego. He takes shots at himself, other artists, the fans (but mostly himself) while delivering some really fucking technical verses backed by funky keys and a classically trained drummer. He knew few watching had ever seen him before and he made the most of it, spitting a slick a capella freestyle impressing the Blue stage crowd.
T-Bird & The Breaks The hometown group claim they play something called chunk, which thankfully sounds a lot more gross and unappealing than what it actually is. A funky blend of hip hop, soul, and ’60s/’70s pop, they have the grooves to get festival crowds moving, dust be damned. Look for an in-depth feature later this week.
Trash Talk Alright, so I didn’t see this set, but it sounded crazy. The hardcore group invited the Yellow tent’s mobs onstage where they just wrecked shit, stage diving, stealing the mic and creating havoc. Just watch this video: