Gloriously loud music, comedy, and taco cannons can only begin to describe the three day festival experience of Fun Fun Fun Fest 7. The weather gods smiled kindly on this festival the entire weekend, with three full days of sunny and mildly warm weather without a single drop of rain. The food and drinks were solid, the crowd was pleasant, and with a few exceptions almost every act went off without a hitch.
Cursive – You’d think being a veteran act by now and still playing during the middle of the day would get to a band, but Cursive seemed genuinely pleased to be there, playing an energetic set consisting of both new cuts from their album I Am Gemini to classic cuts from earlier in their catalog. Still a fan favorite, songs from The Ugly Organ seemed to get the biggest response, with people ecstatically cheering as “Art is Hard” and “Gentleman Caller” roared into their ears. Lead singer Tim Kasher told the audience, “As always, the pleasure is all ours to be here!” That’s not entirely true; this early day crowd thoroughly enjoyed their set.
Dwarves – “You are witnessing the greatest rock and roll band of all time,” the lead singer bellowed at the receptive crowd as they launched into loud and abrasive songs with lewd sexual topics in his best Iggy Pop voice. Well aware of their crassness, they joked that they were kid-friendly, which got quite a laugh from the audience. But what else would you expect from a seminal punk such as the Dwarves?
Sharon Van Etten – One of the best up and coming female singer/songwriters, Sharon performed a beautiful set of engaging and emotional music. She told the audience she loves Austin before playing a song about her move to New York. “Tennessee misses you,” an audience member yelled at her. She laughed and replied, “That’s not what I heard!”
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – Just before his set was supposed to start, a staff member informed me that his van broke down and he would be unable to make it in time. Heartbroken, I shuffled off to get a few laughs to make up for this disappointment.
Jon Benjamin – Most well-known for his voice work as FX animated spy Archer and as the talking can of corn in Wet Hot American Summer, expectations were quite high. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like he does too well without a script. His jokes were slow and awkward, even bringing someone else on the stage who did most of the joke telling, which wasn’t very funny. Part of the blame for lack of enjoying the set goes to the “Yellow Stage” itself. It’s an enclosed tent area that isn’t designed for large audiences, so I was far in the back and comedy is more difficult to connect with from far away. Note to self, must get up really close to enjoy this stage.
Bob Mould – His days as principle singer and songwriter in the influential punk/alternative band Hüsker Dü put him on the map, but it was his time in Sugar that saw him at the peak of his capabilities, creating some of the best melodies and lyrics of his career. Unfamiliar with much of his work, I went into it as a blank slate and left completely wowed. Even though the songs weren’t familiar, they were so catchy and compelling it was as if I already did know them. This show was his final performance of arguably Sugar’s best album, ‘Copper Blue’, in its entirety. To have witnessed this and discovered a true legend in the process was a total treat.
Tomahawk – As a fervent Mike Patton fan, this show was highly anticipated personally and fortunately it did not disappoint! There were a few mic/sound problems at the beginning of the set but the band charged full steam ahead anyway, delivering a powerhouse set of weird and dynamic hard rock. When their set opens with “God Hates a Coward” and closes with “Laredo” you know it’s going to be incredible. They played a couple of new songs, all which sounded great and blended seamlessly with their older material. If you haven’t listened to them, do yourself a favor. For those in the known, this was affirmation that their new album ‘Oddfellows’, which is coming in January, and can’t come soon enough.
Santigold – When a festival is this jam-packed with great artists, sometimes you can only catch snippets of acts to get to everything you want. Santigold was running at least 15-20minutes late, so sorry, had to skip out to see someone who made it to the stage on time.
Bun B – Rep’in UGK for life, this legendary Houston rapper assaulted the audience with a barrage of non-stop rap anthems for his entire set. He didn’t do much talking except to get the audience to do a quick shout out to his deceased partner Pimp C. But that’s ok; when you thrill an audience and keep them bobbing up and down for an hour straight, that’s all that matters.
X – Performing their legendary album ‘Los Angeles’, one of the original punk bands took to the stage before a huge crowd that was curious to see these old school punkers play some classics. They did not disappoint, as every member seemed excited to be there and kept the audience involved and loving every minute. Their socially conscious messages are timeless and their melodies are just as catchy as they’ve always been. They were pop punk before that label even existed. Too bad not very many modern punk bands can find such a satisfying blend of sociopolitical relevance and compelling melodies.
Run DMC – Running a little late to their set from X, they were in the thick of their performance when we arrived. But that’s ok, it seems like none of the big stuff was missed as the newly-reunited group tore through “It’s Tricky,” “My Addidas,” and closed the night with their crossover hit cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” The only annoyance was the amount of time spent talking about Jam Master J. Hear me out before you cry blasphemy. We of course understand that he was a pivotal and founding member, and honoring his contributions is important. But when it’s the main focus of your show, even bringing the guy’s kids out to mess around on the turntables, it feels like a little bit too much. That aside, it was a fantastic set and great to see these pioneers of hip hop perform.
Brendan Benson – Why this guy isn’t more popular is beyond me. Every song he played was fun, catchy and thoroughly enjoyable. He even played a Gram Parsons cover in honor of his birthday. Seriously, go check this guy out if he plays your town. It’s a fun show with fantastic songs.
Anamanaguchi – Really only knowing them from composing music for the Scott Pilgrim game, it wasn’t certain what we were going to witness. Would it be a guy just pressing buttons on a computer to make video game noises? Instead we got four VERY geeky looking guys who used this video game music as foundation to lay down a riveting instrumental rock jam. Their sense of humor was on full display as songs were dedicated to his cat and Celine Dion, with a song called “My Skateboard Will Go On.”
Saul Williams – This was another personally anticipated set. It’s been a long time since he’s toured without a band and it was indeed a rare and spectacular treat. Armed with several notebooks of beautifully worded poetry, he dazzled the audience with his poignant and compelling words that touched on topics such as music, racism and other sociopolitical and consciousness-expanding topics. Mixed with this were a cappella renditions of works from his albums, which were greeted with enthusiastic cheers from the dedicated audience.
Wyatt Cenac – Proving he can hold his own without the Daily Show writers backing him, Wyatt delivered a hilarious stand-up comedy set as he reminded us he just came from New York and claimed he just did it so he could charge his phone. His jokes ranged from the expected politics to comic book movies and reading things he would tweet, if he had a Twitter account.
David Cross – Arguably the most anticipated comedian of the weekend, Cross did not disappoint, discussing Hurricane Sandy and how his fellow New Yorkers were handling the situation. There were also more light-hearted topics of course, such as getting a colonic. The audience was massive but seemed to keep everyone engaged with his unique brand of humor.
Schoolboy Q – Returning to the music portion of the festival, I caught this up and coming rapper on the Blue Stage. While his lyrical topics were your standard fare for the genre, he put on a great show and kept the crowd into it, dancing and waving their hands in the air.
Danny Brown – Deciding to stick with rap for a little while, this strange man took the stage. While the words were about hard life on the street and other gritty topics, Danny Brown was like a schizophrenic escaped from a clinic, alternating between a nasally voice similar to Dave Chappelle’s Tyrone Biggums character and a barking DMX. The abrupt switches made for something not quite up my alley, but Brown was an incredibly engaging performer, as the audience hung on his every word and movement.
Public Image Ltd. – Even though I wasn’t very familiar with their music going into it, the fact that their lead singer was singer for the Sex Pistols was enough to grab my interest. The band was at the top of their game, playing their hits and other songs. The music walks a fine line between 80s new wave and good old fashioned rock n roll, but manages to create such compelling music it was hard to walk away from the last portion of their set to get a good spot for tonight’s headliner.
Refused – It’s the reunion nobody thought they would see. This incredibly influential political hardcore band graced the stage as if they never left, tearing through song after song of pure fury. The best part of all was the fact that over the years they had all improved so much as musicians that each song seemed like a mini-masterpiece, crafted by expert musicians in a vortex of controlled chaos. The crowd ate up every single song, flailing about wildly with fists pumping, singing along to every word. When the first few notes of “New Noise,” hit our ears, everyone completely lost it, erupting into a blissful frenzy of enjoyment. The best part of all was that you could tell they were genuinely happy to be playing music together again and graciously thanked the audience again and again for allowing them to play and keeping their music and message alive. With an arm-in-arm group bow, Refused left the stage as everyone tried to process the magnitude of what they just saw.
Fang Island – Only caught the last couple of songs, but they were full of energy and excitement. This is definitely a band to keep your eye on. The early day crowd seemed very receptive, clapping enthusiastically between songs. With a hearty thank you the band left the stage.
A Place To Bury Strangers – It’s almost hilarious by now that I keep catching this band during the middle of a warm sunny day. Performing what could be considered dark shoegaze, the band seems ill fitted for sunny days. Despite this, the band put on a riveting performance of both new and old songs with equal passion and intensity. There albums are great, but live is where this unique band truly shines.
Japandroids – Their latest album ‘Celebration Rock’ may be one of the best albums this year, but that doesn’t prepare you for the unbridled, raw energy of this band. It’s amazing how much noise they make for just two people. Lead singer Brian King said they just returned to North America from a several month long European tour. While Austin is not their beloved Great White North of Canada, they said they were thrilled to be here, “even if you guys live in an inferno,” he quipped. We were glad to have them. This one was one of the most energetic performances of the weekend and a must-see for anyone that enjoys in-your-face rock and roll.
The Octopus Project – Yes, they’re local and have been around for many years, but that doesn’t stop these Austin natives from drawing a large crowd of enthusiastic people. Armed with small colorful screens, a wild light show, and a hypnotic Theremin, the band tore through a groove-inducing set of songs both familiar and new. While most songs are instrumental, it doesn’t stop their potent mixture of electronic beats and propulsive guitars from getting everyone’s toe tapping.
Bosnian Rainbows (aka Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group) – At the last minute hip hop legend Rakim cancelled, but fortunately Omar and his band were happy to take the vacancy and play their set. While some people seemed stunned that this was not Rakim, most were in the right place, enjoying every minute of this wonderful new project from the brilliant guitarist of The Mars Volta and At The Drive-In. With frenetic howls and tender cooing from Les Butcherttes singer Terri Gender Bender, this is easily the most engaging and accessible music Omar’s created outside of Mars Volta in quite some time. At times it was avant-garde and angular, at other times downright poppy and dancey, it will be interesting to hear what an album will sound like when they slow down touring long enough to do so.
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – Arriving back home in Austin after a grueling 17 hour flight from Japan, the band seemed a bit tired and frazzled, but they didn’t let that stop them from tearing through a set of some of the rawest, most intense renditions of their songs this author has ever heard. They opened with the first song from their first album, “Richter Scale Madness,” but interestingly, it had a whole middle section that sounded completely new. They played songs from across their catalog, sticking to the more uptempo numbers until halfway through the set, allowing themselves to slow down long enough to have some brooding jams. Either way, this was an incredible performance.
The Black Angels –Austin’s premiere psychedelic band, their unique brand of hypnotic guitars and understated vocals accompanied by swirling visualizations make for one of the best live shows you could hope to see. There’s not much else to say other than see these guys as soon as you can and in the mean time check out their albums to hear some of the best use of psychedelic and gritty rock and roll since the 1960s.
De La Soul – These guys are pioneers in their field and the originators of the laid back, positive “back pack rap” movement starting with their debut album ‘3 Feet High and Rising‘. Expectations were very high. What the crowd got was flashes of brilliance amongst a sea of frustration. They came out 15-20 minutes late to an agitated but receptive crowd. The DJ would queue a song and the crowd would erupt in excitement, but it wasn’t loud enough for the MCs, or there weren’t enough hands up for their liking so they stopped and encouraged the crowd to do more, scream louder. Then they’d rip into a song and it was fantastic. But then things got derailed again when they were unhappy with the sound and complained that the engineers sucked. Another song happened that delighted the crowd but then before another song they wanted to have a shouting battle between two halves of the crowd. This took up over 10 minutes. Before anyone knew it their set was done—they had left the stage only playing about 4 songs. Don’t get me wrong, those 4 songs were fantastic, but there was too much ridiculousness in-between. But as the MCs said themselves, they’ve been in the game for over 25 years so could do whatever they wanted. Just don’t expect your crowd to appreciate your diva behavior fellas.
Nobody likes to leave a festival on a bittersweet note, but that’s just how it had to be. The three long days of standing, dancing and jumping around had taken their toll on my exhausted body so leaving was the only choice. As you can see these negative moments were only small speed bumps in what was one of the smoothest, most well put together and enjoyable festivals of this author’s life. Here’s to (at least) another 7 years of Fun Fun Fun Fest!
Jarad Matula | Senior Writer
Friday & Sunday Photos Courtesy of Matthew Danser.
Saturday, Cursive, Bun B and A Place To Bury Strangers photos by Jarad Matula