Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011 came along at just the right time for me. I’ve been going through a bit of a musical drought as well as a real one. (I think a lot of folks will probably refer to the weekend event as “dust fest.”)
When I first got to Auditorium Shores on Friday night, I thought the place was full of revolutionaries — I guess because my mind has been “occupied” by current events lately.
Every other person had his face covered by a bandana. After eating about my second tablespoon of dirt, I finally figured out what the deal was. The grass is gone after about a year of very little rain and the wind constantly blasted us with dust. I soon had my own bandana. It was some protection, but I still inhaled enough dirt to start a garden. Chris, my concert buddy, had to miss the last day due to allergies.
I saw a lot of great shows, but the hip hop acts seemed especially enjoyable and relevant for me. Strange, since that’s not my main genre. Public Enemy and Kool Keith kicked a lot of ass. Also really enjoyed Henry Rollins’ spoken word performance on the last day.
Friday night, Nov. 4
We arrived a bit late and missed some good acts, but I enjoyed the hell out of Public Enemy. I thought it was interesting to see how mixed their crowd was, and how white. The fact that they were even at the same festival as Slayer tells you something about how much our culture has changed since the early days of hip hop.
Public Enemy performed a many of their old favorites and were political as expected — many mentions of “Occupy” and a rant about the unjust treatment of immigrants. “Fight the Power” seemed especially relevant given the social protests going on in the country and around the world right now.
Danzig Legacy (Glenn Danzig and members of the Misfits and Samhain) were scheduled to play at the same time as Public Enemy, but were a huge letdown for a lot of fans. Glenn Danzig was a huge primadonna, bitching about the stage and making unreasonable demands.
He went on stage more than 40 minutes late. The band was just starting to get on a roll when they cut the power at 10 p.m. Then he fought with people backstage and tried to start a riot and took off in a van. Always thought he was a prick. Lucky for me, I was more into Public Enemy anyhow and didn’t bother with the Danzig show, but my friend Chris really wanted to hear the Misfits and Samhain stuff and was really disappointed, especially since he forked over $80 to get into the festival on Friday.
Another group that deserves a mention: Four Tet. Some very good electronic music that made me think of ’90s Detroit techno. Somehow it made me think of revolution. I think that’s the rabble rousing music for the Internet age.
Saturday, Nov. 5
I finally got a chance to actually see Tune-Yards. Last time I “saw” them live I only got to see the top of people’s heads, but heard enough to get me permanently hooked. I thought Merrill Garbus and company put on a hell of a show.
Dan Deacon was a good electronic artist who knew how to get people moving. He had technical problems at first, but got them ironed out. There was some crowd surfing.
M83 put on a great show as expected. Although it was a bit hard to appreciate it fully as a minor dust storm kicked up right about that time.
Kool Keith was a pleasant surprise. He wasn’t even supposed to be at the festival, but agreed to fill in when scheduled rapper Rakim broke his foot. Keith packed his performance with old favorites, including some from the Dr. Octagon days. “Halfsharkalligatorhalfman” and “Livin’ Astro” were highlights. A lot of the songs were in that wacky vein, but many, like “Sex Style,” were hilariously over-the-top obscene.
I took a bit of a break from the music and watched a few acts from Wham City Sketch Comedy, a Baltimore-based troupe that includes the aforementioned electronic artist Dan Deacon. Ben O’Brian was pretty damn funny, doing basically stand-up and messing with the audience. There was a guy dressed in an egg costume who made egg puns, who was… not the funniest guy I ever saw. There was also a depressing yet funny lecture on human extinction from a guy pretending to be a drunk professor.
Swedish singer Lykke Li put on a hell of a show. Teamed up with the guys from Peter, Bjorn & John, her show had a lot of punch. Not only did she sound great, but her show was visually arresting also, with the smoke and flapping banners.
I didn’t plan to watch Spoon. I’ve been a big fan for years, but I figured I’ve seen them a few times already and I might want to check someone else out. But they were really on fire and I found I couldn’t resist. I had to stick around for the whole show. Damn good musicians.
Sunday, Nov. 5
We got a little rain in the morning, which kept the dust down. There was also a sprinkle of rain in the evening, but not enough to cause major problems or damage my new cellphone. Speaking of cellphones, the festival had a solar power recharging station for those and other electronics. Pretty neat (I also managed to sneak a bit of juice from outlets near the food booths).
The two bands that really stood out for me on Sunday were Austra and Grimes. Austra is a synth pop and electro-rock act featuring Katie Stelmanis, a classically trained opera singer whose career took a left turn when she fell in love with acts like Nine Inch Nails.
We Were Promised Jet Packs was the first band of the day. Pretty good indie rock. Lots of energy. They seem to be going places.
This was their best:
Grimes is a witch house act featuring a woman with a little girl voice, electronic beats and noise. Her music was catchy and hypnotic. In keeping with the witch house scene, her blouse had inverted crosses and a pentagram. A somewhat effeminate looking man danced on stage alongside her. She had good songs with a lot of energy. The crowd got into it.
Budos Band was impressive, with their Ethiopian-inflected funk. I saw them for the first time in a small venue at South By Southwest and didn’t pay much attention. I have since discovered how amazing they can be and I’m not the only one — they attracted a pretty good crowd. The bari sax player got props from the crowd by talking about metal. He said one of the songs, “Black Venom” was named for Black Sabbath and Venom and dedicated that one to Slayer, the death metal act that was the highlight of the festival for many. I loved the baritone sax and horns. I kept thinking about how much my dad would’ve loved them if he could’ve lived to see them. He used to lament the rarity of band instruments in rock ‘n’ roll.
I got a big kick out of Master Pancake Theater, hosted by Alamo Drafthouse. That’s something they do at the downtown Austin location, making fun of movies Mystery Science Theater style. This time they poked fun of music videos by Pat Benatar, Eddie Murphy and Michael Jackson (they made one together and was it ever awful), Boy George, David Hasselhoff and last but not least, Henry Rollins.
Henry Rollins followed Master Pancake Theater, giving a very entertaining spoken word performance. He talked about politics, his days in the punk band Black Flag, eating rats in India and traveling to Vietnam and North Korea. He didn’t mention Occupy Wall Street as I had expected, but he challenged the young people in the crowd to take charge of their destinies and become the world’s next leaders.
After that, I was pretty much tuckered out. I caught a little bit of the VERY popular Slayer show, but I wasn’t feeling it. Not enough of a metal head. Not for that kind of metal anyway. All in all it was a success as far as I’m concerned. The dust was pretty hardcore and I think having a 10 p.m. noise ordinance curfew at a music festival is ridiculous. But anytime I can make even one discovery it’s worth the money, and I made several.