Words, Photos, and Video by Ricky
Everyone’s already told you … Austin, TX remains a kickass, music-obsessive city despite it being surrounded by a dirt-filled desert of conservatism. The massive SXSW and Austin City Limits Festivals flood the town with traveling music dorks each year, but a younger, cozier, and (dare I say) FUN festival crept into the scene seven years ago. The Fun Fun Fun Fest! The name says it all…organizers strive for a festival devoid of pricey, overcrowded Coachella or Lollapalooza vibes. Their gift for assembling lineups THAT MATTER and convincing vital bands to reunite for the occasion perked my interest … so I planned my first trip to Texas. Here’s what happened …
The festival continues to grow in size and scope each year without losing touch with its fanbase. Each of the festival’s four stages embodies a style: Orange stage = indie/pop rock, Blue stage = hip-hop/electronic, Black stage = punk and metal, and the Yellow stage hosts a cluster of stand-up comedy acts, hot dog eating contests, rap battles, and even a “punk rock circus,” whatever that means. Add pirate-ship-shaped skating ramps (this year’s fest had a nautical theme), amateur wrestling rings, merch tents stocked with posters, clothing, and bandanas (you’ll learn why soon), and finally, a taco cannon. You heard me right … a cannon that launches tacos. Genius. Hell, the festival name is even fun to type … try it.
The festival graced Austin in early November. I know—I’m a bit late on this—but no biggie, plus it was a blast to revisit the weekend. Spoiler alert: I avoided the Blue Stage, so if you seek some electronic music commentary, seek elsewhere.
OK, the videos have probably finished loading by now, so let’s begin!
My boyfriend Cormac and I arrived in Austin Thursday afternoon and checked into a lakeside hostel (in an area that an airport security guard called the “bad part of town”—it wasn’t too bad). After we scarfed down some grub at a mouth-watering BBQ joint, we mingled our way to the weekend’s first show. For night owls who whine about the festival’s 10PM curfew, organizers planned “Fun Fun Fun Nites” throughout Austin’s grid of bars … and all “Nite” shows were free for 3-Day pass holders—like us! On Thursday we hunkered down at the Mohawk for a 3-way outdoor extravaganza.
Joyce Manor, Mohawk, 8PM
I spent most of Joyce Manor’s set glaring at the dreadlocks dangling from the back of the bass player’s head—they turned out to be the straps for his glasses. Oh well. These guys resembled a less-plastic, more-punk rock, TALENTED Weezer. “If I Needed You There,” a tune off their new album, is also one of 2012′s best songs.
Imperial Teen, Mohawk, 9PM
Oooo … the first act of the weekend to feature a former Faith No More member (Mike Patton’s Tomahawk being the second)! The four smiling band mates delivered a sh-sh-sugary batch of repetitious pop tunes, along with cuts from their 90’s catalog, i.e., their better material. Merge Records released their new album earlier this year, and I’ll admit their new tunes fared MUCH better live.
Superchunk, Mohawk, 10PM
Speaking of Merge, Superchunk took to the stage with no new release to promote. Excellent … that meant lots of old songs!! They blew through a set clouded with favorite rockers like “Precision Auto,” “Cast Iron,” and perhaps THE BEST Superchunk song, “Mower.” The set ended when Jon Wurster emerged from the drums and howled a crazy version of an old 7” track, “Fishing.” Another personal highlight of the weekend? Cormac asking singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan how to pronounce his last name … turns out I was wrong all these years.
I awoke in my hostel bunk bed to the smells of hostel pancakes … Mmmmm. After munching on a few hostel p-cakes we caught the non-hostel bus to the Auditorium Shores: a beautiful field nestled along the Town Lake. The normally quiet park welcomed a makeover for the weekend, and the snazzy Austin skyline in the background looked like a giant Bob Ross painting…beautiful city. The crowd anticipated big-deal acts like Against Me! and Run DMC, but the great thing about music festivals is how each fest-goer’s day radically differs from the next … here’s a bit of what my day looked like.
The Midgetmen, Yellow Stage, 12PM
Nothing like starting a 3-day musical bombardment with an Austin-based Weird Al Yankovic cover band. They covered Dare to Be Stupid in its entirety. It wasn’t as nerdy as it sounds, plus a free waffle bar sat in the front of the stage—had I known, I would’ve skipped out on the pancakes … dammit!
Torche, Black Stage, 2:15PM
The Black Stage remained my fix for Friday’s onslaught of loud guitars and booming drums (almost too booming—the sound guys’ infatuation with EXTREMELY LOUD bass remained a constant annoyance). The melting sun did little to keep me from bouncing to the sounds of Burning Love, Fidlar, and sweaty Norwegians Kvelertak, but it was Torche’s meaty riffs that jumpstarted the day. They played tracks from their new album Harmonicraft and their (arguably) best release, Meanderthal. Oh, and check out that sweet Hawaiian shirt—more hard rock bands need a sense of humor.
Bob Mould, Orange Stage, 5:05PM
After Cursive’s strong yet obscure set (I haven’t listened to them since MAYBE 2004), I was beyond-psyched for Bob Mould’s last live revisit of Sugar’s classic album Copper Blue. Played in breakneck speed, the album sounded better than ever, and Mould (despite his usual DJ gig) raged on with the meanest guitar tone of the weekend. After that, we ran into Mould EVERYWHERE throughout the weekend. I hope he’s not stalking me.
Converge, Black Stage, 5:15PM
The grinding of Britain’s skuzziest band, Napalm Death, left me a bit bored—even with the drummer vomitting mid-set due to the heat. Amateurs. Not surprising, the wildest, dust-filled set of the day came from hardcore masters Converge. Concerning the dust, the grass in front of the Black Stage disappeared due to a) the sun burning it or b) punks ripping it all apart with their moshing shoes. By the end of the day, dust absorbed all of the air, prompting many to don bandanas. By Sunday, things resembled an anarchist convention. Oh, right, Converge! Perfection! I thought my mind was truly blown … until …
Val Kilmer featuring Black Lips, Blue Stage, 6:30PM
I texted Cormac, “BLUE STAGE … NOW.” Billed as a “Special Performance,” the Black Lips attempted some garage-rockin’ songs as a long-haired, seemingly drunken frontman fake-punched band members, chased stagehands with a chainsaw (no fatalities besides an innocent amplifier), and cut his locks all while Terrance Malick (Tree of Life director)’s film crew documented. The long-haired stranger? No, not Mike Patton (who looked equally agitated during Tomahawk’s set, but he always looks like that), but Mr. Batman Forever himself, Val Kilmer. The chick from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo jammed on the guitar while actor Michael Fassenbender took a side-stage seat to the madness. “Play the Doors!,” someone screamed from the crowd. “No Doors here … I got windows … I got garages … but no doors,” Kilmer mumbled. Luckily there’s video to prove this wasn’t a dream.
Earth, Yellow Stage, 6:45PM
Guitarist Dylan Carson offered $500 to any audience member who would murder the assclown using flash photography (Carson is epileptic). No one died, but Earth‘s snail-paced, post-rock-minus-the-crazy-climaxes was a refreshing change of pace for the day.
X, Black Stage, 8PM
The change of pace didn’t last long. We dashed back to the Black Stage for a headlining performance by classic LA punks, X. The band’s older age didn’t show. The band ripped through first album Los Angeles in its entirety, and then scattered the rest of the set with selections from Wild Gift, More Fun in the New World, and Under the Big Black Sun (arguably their three best albums). My ears mainly mustered the bass drum and bass guitar in the mix, but I was getting used to it at the Black Stage by then. You can hear me screaming along in the video and—wait—is that Tobias Funke watching from behind the drummer??
Braid, Elysium, 1AM (FFF Nites) / Orange Stage, (Saturday), 2:45PM
I nervously waited at the Elysium bar until 1 AM for a nearly drunk Braid to take the stage, and guess what? The guys nailed it! They focused on material from Frames and Canvas, but also surprised us with classics like “My Baby Smokes” and “The Chandelier Swing.” I’ve yearned to scream the acapella sections of “What a Wonderful Puddle” along with the crowd—just like on the live album. Mission accomplished! The set ended with guitarist Chris Broach stage-diving straight at my face, giving me hope that I’ll still have this much fun when I’m a bit older. As I sat in the taxi on the way back to the hostel, I felt a bit better about life.
Another cloudless, 85-degree day! Instead of a hostel breakfast, we ventured straight to the festival’s array of food trucks. No expensive-for-no-reason crappy carnival food here … Turkish kabobs, homemade cookies, Indian curry, and best of all, chicken & waffle tacos! Austin, your amazed me! The fest also offered water refills all weekend—oh you guys!
10 Minute Massage from Heaven, 12:45ish
This isn’t a band. I awoke in my hostel bed with a kink in my upper back. No worries! A massage tent hid under some trees on the festival ground, so I treated myself. Granted I’ve awarded my back with better massages, but none while punk bands riff from afar.
Deathfix, Elysium, 11PM (Friday Nite) / Orange Stage, 1PM
Featuring members of Fugazi, Faraquet, Medications, and Smart Went Crazy, this foursome meshed laid-back melodies with atmospheric tension and dissonance. The standout track, an LCD Soundsystem-inspired venture where keyboardist Rich Morel expressed his house fetish (no, not Dr. House), differed from everything else. Its silly lyrics, catchy bass line, and noisy guitar from Brendan Canty made our weekend. On Saturday afternoon our second Deathfix fix in less than 24 hours sounded even better than the night before. New album this February on Dischord!
The Yellow Stage
Comedians David Cross, Wyatt Cenac, and Eugene Mirman broached topics like politics, Hurricane Sandy, and in Cross’ case, punching his mom in the face. It was Doug Mellard’s random crowd-surfing that triggered the weekend’s biggest laughs though. Later the legendary NoMeansNo pummeled through a set of weird punk tunes until the stage’s manager kicked them off for going over their time limit.
Seaweed, Mohawk, 10PM (Friday Nite) / Black Stage, 5:30PM
The day brought us sets from Red Fang (ehh), Devin (boo!), Why? (surprisingly fun), Disappears (I’ve seen them better) and the weekend’s second set from Seaweed. They were the best Seattle band of the early 90’s (yeah I said it), and can still out-rock most younger bands.
Refused, Black Stage, 8:50PM
After Public Image Ltd’s disappointing show (they focused on newer, dancier songs that no ones cared about), I secured my spot in the giant pool of giddy dudes (and dudes’ girlfriends) and awaited the weekend’s most-anticipated act: REFUSED, the men behind my all-time favorite album, The Shape of Punk to Come. A looooong drone transformed into the intro to TSOPTC’s title track as the band, masked in the shadows, appeared. They obliterated even the hardcore Refused fan’s highest expectations. A giant mosh pit propelled me near the front for an hour of guitar freak-outs, impeccable drumming, and killer dance moves. A humbled Dennis Lyxzen praised the festival organizers and explained how the band’s invitation prompted their last round of reunion shows. Looking back, that hour was a complete blur, but I‘ll never forget getting punched and my glasses flying from my face. Somehow I caught them before they hit the ground—yes, I’m a lucky bastard. Thank god I nearly sacrificed my camera for some video, though, apologies for the shakiness—trust me, I did well considering the surroundings.
La Dispute, Holy Mountain, 12:15AM
We ventured to Holy Mountain for a few beers and a few more rock bands. La Dispute rocked the joint hard, though I still couldn’t shake the silly post-Refused grin that plastered my face. Also, the idiot kid who stage dove four, yes, four times on top of the same innocent 4 or 5 audience members should’ve gotten his ass kicked.
We were promised clouds today—no such things. More sun … lots of sun. We delayed the start of our festival day and stopped at some food trucks to devour tacos (minus the cannon). Austin, both your music scene and your food scene get A+’s!
Veggie Hot Dog Eating Contest, Yellow Stage, 1PM
Fun (fun fun) antics continued into Sunday when I stumbled upon a veggie hot dog eating contest. I don’t remember who won, but watching a veggie dog crowd surf to the back of the tent straight into the mouth of a cop made me love humanity just a bit more.
A Place to Bury Strangers, Orange Stage, 2:50PM
The day started a bit slow with decent sets from Cult of Youth, Liturgy, and Bleached. Then dark post-punkers A Place to Bury Strangers amazed me as they lobbed guitars through the air, dragged custom-made amps across the stage, and filled the burning-hot sky with tons and tons of fog (it looked like their equipment was on fire). I guess, if anything, you can’t call them a boring ‘shoe gaze’ band (rim shot!).
Valient Thor, Black Stage, 3:35PM
The video says it all. Pure, unadulterated, testosterone-bleeding rock n’roll.
Deerhoof, Orange Stage, 5:15PM
If one band might embody the spirit of Fun Fun Fun Fest, look no further than the ‘hoof. Their cuddly noise spasms brought smiles to our faces, despite the new songs faring better for a dance floor and the set being too damn short.
And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Yellow Stage, 6:50PM
An emo-trip down memory lane with The Promise Ring left me a bit underwhelmed (the guys seemed a tired—maybe it was an off night?). A jet-lagged Trail of Dead, on the other hand, just arrived in America from a Japan tour hours earlier and showed no signs of slowing down. An infinite 8+ minute version of “A Perfect Teenhood?” A killer rendition of “Relative Ways” (it’s still a perfect song)? YES and YES! The only thing I missed was their destroying of equipment, though they got pretty damn close.
Explosions in the Sky, Orange Stage, 7:55PM
A time clash left Fucked Up, De La Soul, and Explosions in the Sky competing with each other with 7:55 starts. Ugh … first-world-festival-problems (at least De La Soul apparently sucked). My recent Friday Night Lights obsession influenced me to enjoy Explosions a mere few hours from the Dillon Panthers’ home town (plus Cormac had never seen the band live and everyone should experience these guys at least once). The epic songs triggered clear (if not tearful) eyes and full hearts as expected and made for a perfect festival closer.
Ceremony, Red 7 (Outdoors), 12:15AM
OK, so the festival technically ended, but one more FFF Nite remained! A night of sleepy punk rock (I could barely stand) at Red 7 with Violent Bullshit, Bleached, and Matador Records’ Ceremony. Ceremony headlined, and … yeah … things got a little crazy.
In conclusion, thanks for reading and (hopefully) watching some videos of some of these incredible bands. Best festival of 2012! Hopefully we’ll meet up next year?
For all of my FFF videos (54 in total—woah, I film too much), check them out here