F Yeah Fest V, Echo Park, August 30, 2008
PHOTO: The Mae Shi by Sung. Full F Yeah gallery here.
This year’s F Yeah Fest almost ended in tragedy before it began: Sean Carlson, the festival organizer, was chased down the street and savagely beaten by some security guards at the Hollywood Bowl (while some cops watched) just days before the event. But L.A.’s indomitable spirit being what it is, he lathered up his bruises and managed to get things up and running nonetheless. Come August 30th, kids of all ages still managed to drag their no-speed bikes on down to the Echoplex to see four fantastic stages of muscular music and courageous comedy for hour upon hour, hoping to catch something amazing they’d never heard before.
It was in that spirit that I showed up at the Echo around 4:30 to see the Underground Railroad to Candyland, a highly enthusiastic punk band with two singers who sang all the same lines in tandem, one guy with a headband and beard strumming a guitar while singing, the other guy wearing a Spongebob shirt, shorts and sunglasses indoors, leaping into the air and belting out his words as if they were prophecy. He literally looked and sounded like one of the Kipper Kids, and I mean that as a compliment. With sing-a-long songs about cocaine and “going downtown to see the body of a bird,” they sounded like Hickey meets Sham 69 meets Toni Basil’s “Micky.” And it was pretty awesome. Later, comedian Kyle Kinane on the Rec Center stage would make a joke about Spongebob dude: “Musicians get laid. I saw some guy on stage at the Echo with a Spongebob shirt on, jumping up and down. ‘You got two years of fucking anybody you want. Use it wisely.’”
But back to the crowds—this year saw a new crop of kids who probably just turned fourteen, and it’s refreshing to see new fashions replace the tired hoodies and Mao hats that were festival staples just a few years back. I saw tasteful pompadours, a couple pairs of boat shoes, and some kids so young and fresh, their angelic eyelashes made them look like they were wearing eyeliner when they probably weren’t. There seemed to be some confusion about the proper way to wear jeans—clearly flares were out, but the battles of wrinkly ankles versus cuffs, cut-offs versus full length, and tight asses versus saggy britches raged. And nearly everybody seemed confused about where to lock up their bicycles.
After standing outside for a while, feeling like a perv for staring at all the young ‘uns, I waded into the Echoplex to catch The Mae Shi. And “catch” is the right word to describe them—very, very catchy, and with the most perfect keyboard tones I’ve ever heard in my mother-fucking life (rumor has it that the main keyboardist’s dad is some kind of synthesizer pioneer). It’s as if they’re cheating. Everybody switches instruments. Everybody sings. Everybody moves from place to place. The energy levels are just too high. The music is just the most crowd-pleasing thing I’ve seen since drums were invented. At one point they pulled out a rainbow parachute (or was it a giant pride flag?) and draped it across the audience. There was a lot of clapping and chanting and singing and I don’t remember one damn tune.
I’d heard Paint It Black was good, so I waited my turn in line (literally—the club was at fire code capacity, so it was one man enter, one man leave) to get back up to the Echo and see them. I must be old, because I remember when hardcore punk of this ilk was passé—there were driving beats, and riffing guitars, and a singer with his shirt off and an almost-shaven head screaming his face off more than My War era Henry Rollins. This dude’s veins were popping out not only of his head, but also of his amped-up pectoral muscles.
It was a little too brotard for my tastes, so I sauntered over to the “Annex” just west of the Echo and caught the tail end of San Francisco’s 60 Watt Kid’s set. I heard they’re breaking up, which is a shame—what at first sounded like a bit of a mess wound up being possibly my favorite band of the night.
They had two guitarists, one with a foot cast, standing in front of various taped-together keyboards, playing some seriously infectious grooves along to a very attentive drum beat. There was ghostly echo on everything, even on the vocals, which allowed singer Kevin to call and respond to himself in an off-putting way, especially when he sang in some dialect of Esperanto. He jumped into the crowd, putting a healing hand on audience members, then shouted in exaltation as he jumped in the air and rolled on the ground. Then they did a song that started with just drumsticks clicking. Then they did a song where all three band member talked into various phones—which got a better “reception” from the audience than you might think, ha ha!
Obviously I was in need of some emergency comedic help, so I pushed my way back out the annex’s tiny little hallway and huffed it over to the Jensen’s Rec Center. I got there a tad early for comedy, though, because some terrible blonde-haired singer songwriter was still playing, so back I went to the Echoplex in time to catch Mika Miko.
Mika Miko have been doing their thing for about five years now, yet they still all look 19, and pretty much everybody in L.A. loves them and is friends with them or is in another band with one of them. This night, singer/saxophonist Jenna Thornhill was singing towards the wings, all curly hair bobbing and limbs flopping around as she belted out Kim Gordon-esque vocals to a punk rock beat reminiscent of the Descendants and the Wipers and Romeo Void—though perhaps no band with a curly-haired front-woman and a sax can avoid that last comparison.
They played great, though their faces betrayed a little frustration. As I found out later from guitarist/keyboardist Michelle Suarez, the Echoplex made the bands use a ridiculous backline instead of letting them use their own amps. “We’ll never play here again after the way they treated us. It only takes a minute to set an amp up on the stage!”
On stage they were a little more enthusiastic, exclaiming to the packed throng in front of them “Thank you for watching us! We were afraid no one would want to see us!” Tough chance of that, ladies. Everybody loves your band—even the people who’ve never heard you!
My spirits replenished, back I went again to the Rec Center. This time comedy hosted by Brody Stevens was in full swing, with Kyle Kinane on stage making fun of band names and hipsters. Natasha Leggero’s affected comedy character—a conceited upper class hot girl—kind of bombed for the hipster crowd in the weird echoey Rec Center, but Brody picked the energy back up and made sure Matt Braunger’s set about the awkwardness of watching porn got the hot wet laughter it deserved.
It’s to the F Yeah Fest curators’ credit that they recognize the genius comedy going on right beside the musical festivities of Los Angeles in a way musicians themselves don’t seem to get. You see comedians all the time making inroads to the music scene, but scarce recognition by the musicians of all the talent going on in the comedy circuit. That’s especially aggravating when you know that comedians work three nights a week live and aren’t really allowed to repeat themselves! Fuck musicians.
Anyway, I tried to corral these comedy giants into going with me to The Strange Boys set at the Echo. I love these guys so much—they look like little cherubs, but sickened and green from all the drugs they do, and they sing like snarling baby bluesmen on helium. What all that lo-fi feedback and slurred speech hides, though, are witty Dylan-esque lyrics and a fun sense of bringing back a style of music that was never quite played this way. They have a bluesy, early Stones vibe that’s part Back From the Grave, part Billy Childish, and part Black Lips. Live, they sounded raw and in the red even when their guitars jangled like the wind chimes of heaven.
Back downstairs at the Echoplex, Chicago hardcore pioneers Negative Approach was going through their set, but definitely not going through the motions like you’d expect from such wizened veterans. This was possibly the most brutal, blistering hardcore set I’ve ever seen live. While it’s not my favorite genre, they did everything right, from the speed to the energy to the screams. Kids were slam-dancing and throwing themselves into the crowd, and it felt a lot like we were in 1982.
Brooklyn’s High Places were on next. I know I’m supposed to like them, because they clearly love old electronic bands like Cluster, and all their friends are cool. But their songs just don’t quite click, at least not live. We’re talking Chinese-esque ambient tunes with water effects and vocals that sound far too similar to Enya’s on “Sail Away.”
So I headed on back to the Annex to check out the sounds of Anavan, but the acoustics were just too distorted to hear them properly, probably because the place was too packed with people. Worried now that the night was turning grim, I hoofed it back to the Rec Center for more comedy. This time the room was packed, as Bob Odenkirk was on stage telling dirty jokes about his kids. Sometimes I think the most edgy thing about Bob Odenkirk is that he can use the same lame topics preferred by unfunny people I hate, basically sex and poop, and make them funny in a way the Mike Myerses of the world could never do.
He was a tough act to follow, especially because the echoeyness of the microphone fucked up the other comedians’ delivery—it’s hard to make people laugh when they can’t even undertand you. Josh Fadem got around this the best by running up some stairs to a balcony behind the audience and doing an acapella bit about being a spoiled dictator’s son. He ended his set with a hilariously scary pratfall, rolling ass over teakettle three times before hitting the bottom of these huge stairs in front of God and everyone. He’s a really brilliant physical comedian who also has a poignant wit, and I want to see him get his own comedy special on HBO (or at least CMT or something).
After carousing way too long at the Rec Center scamming free beers, back I went again to the Echo to catch the tail end of Crystal Antlers (who had so much happening in their sound, I still don’t know what’s going on in my brain a week later) and then saw Monotonix. This Tel Aviv band is one that wears their influences on their sleeves, and you either really like their energy or deplore their unoriginality. When there are great bands like Witchcraft and Witch touring around right now, emulating Sabbath and Pentagram, I don’t really need a band emulating Blue Cheer and Grand Funk Railroad—they kind of just wound up sounding like Lenny Kravitz anyway. Hell, I can go see the real Blue Cheer if I wanna. They still tour!
But I was clearly alone in my boredom, since Monotonix had half the audience, including lots of the earlier bands’ members, on stage dancing and singing while the singer got down to his skivvies and sweated on them. There were cameras everywhere, mostly on stage pointing at the audience, and it was actually a really warm, communal vibe. I just wish they’d gone a little deeper with the music.
It was late, and I was afraid my coach would be turning into a pumpkin, so I went back downstairs for one last round of big music on the big stage. Perennial favorite No Age was playing, and to be honest, I don’t think all the doo-hickeys and knob-twiddlers at the Echoplex could really capture the intensity of a No Age performance in the same way, say, a Ukrainian Rec Center can. But though the guitar didn’t bleed as much as normal, they still played a great and energetic show. The crowd was going apeshit, even crowd surfing to the more mellow and ethereal parts of the No Age cannon.
The only problem I had with No Age’s set was the same one I have with Return of the King—too many endings! Dean and Randy ended each song with a wind-up crescendo that seemed to announce “Last song! Let’s go nuts!” But then the ambient portion of the next song would start, and the set would go on to another song. I feel guilty even critiquing No Age, though, because clearly they’re one of the greats of our era, and it makes me feel a bit like Cher talking shit about the Velvet Underground for sounding depressing. I probably was just tired from drinking all day, dealing with asshole security guards, and watching over a dozen or so different great acts!
I woke up the next day with a headache but a head full of joy. I heard Sean wound up losing money on the deal, which is a shame. F Yeah is an institution that brings me anguish and joy every year, like the Running of the Bulls in Pamploma but with more weird Keith Morris sightings. My reviews of the bands don’t really capture how much warmth and fun and great conversations were happening all over, and I really hope Sean gets it together again next year, for the greater good of punk rock.
Photos by Sung. Full F Yeah Fest gallery here.