Fun Fun Fun Fest: Day 1 review

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X's Exene Cervenka (Bloodshot Records)

Ah Fun Fun Fun Fest, that oh so awkwardly named assemblage of hipsters, punks, and weirdos who somehow come together every early November to create one of the year’s best festival. Kicking off Day 1 on Friday were undoubtedly two of the Fest’s biggest marquee billings: L.A. hardcore legends X performing their masterpiece debut Los Angeles in its entirety, and, by a considerably larger margin, Run-DMC reuniting for the second time since the death of founding member Jam Master Jay. Points off for putting both sets within 30 minutes of each other, making it impossible to catch the entirety of each, but we’ll put that aside for now. X was the first to strike at 8. First impression was that they looked like a band that released their first record over three decades ago, especially frontwoman Exene Cervenka, who at some point became the frumpy cat lady who lives in the apartment below me. But what hasn’t changed is the band’s attack, and more surprisingly the rapid audience reaction as soon as they hit their first note of "Your Phone's Off the Hook, But You're Not." I ended up paying dearly for this miscalculation, and proceeded to get the living shit knocked out of me as I swirled around perhaps the gnarliest circle pit of the day. Watching bemused by the madness below, X charged through Los Angeles’ stacked track list, laying especially hard into classics “Nausea,” “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline,” and the title track. Thirty years clearly hasn’t dulled this stuff one bit. As the last notes of “The World’s a Mess, Here’s My Kiss” rung out behind me, I hauled ass down to the other end of Auditorium Shores for Run-DMC's hugely hyped reunion set. Lucky for me (and no one else), DMC and Rev. Run were 10 minutes late, a bit of a surprise given how big FFF Fest is on the whole punctuality thing [Note of the editor: Santigold started her own preceding set 20 minutes late due to technical problems]. The fashionably late entrance only seemed to push the massive crowd into a frenzy, especially when the band launched early on into their party-down anthem “Tricky.” From there the show took a turn towards tribute, with Run and D giving warm dedications to Jam Master Jay, whose murder 13 years ago put an abrupt end to the band. A nice touch was inviting along Jay’s two sons, Jam Master J’Son and Dasmatic, who performed a tag team DJ set that added a bit of modern hip-hop flair to an otherwise throwback affair. Additional hits like “My Adidas” and “Walk This Way” hit with as much impact as any super-fan could have hoped, with Rev and DMC in energetic and fine form throughout. Unfortunately, “throughout” didn’t add up to much more than half an hour of onstage time for the duo, no doubt a serious buzzkill for the fans who chanted in vain for an encore long after the band had retired to their trailer. Abbreviated though it was, it was a more than worthy slice of 1986 and a killer way to close the Fest’s opening day. Other notable sets: Special Performance feat. The Black Lips: The enigmatic title of “special performance” probably could have been best translated as “staged clusterfuck feat. The Black Lips,” though that may not have drawn the huge crowd that gathered to find out for themselves what the hell was going on. The set turned out to be The Terrence Malick Show, with the director — whose IMAX camera and safari hat have been ubiquitous at Austin’s major festivals for the past year — using the audience and band as a backdrop. Having already brought Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale to town, his latest star roll-out was none other than Val Kilmer. In full Jim Morrison mode (specifically 1970, wasted, Lizard King Morrison-mode), Kilmer proceeded to trash the stage and halt any attempt at a song the band attempted to play. He also, at one point, wielded a chainsaw, talked about uranium, cut chunks of his hair off and threw them into the audience, and was eventually forcibly removed from the stage. Oh, and Rooney Mara of The Social Network/The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fame was on stage too, pretending to play guitar. Because why the fuck not. Though the Lips finally were allowed to play a full song without Kilmer kicking their mic stands over, they were clearly done, leaving only closer “Modern Art” to sate fans. By no small margin, it was the most bizarre moment of the day. Sharon Van Etten: Selling indie folk to a festival crowd (especially one baking under a mid-day sun) isn’t the easiest sell around, and there didn’t seem to be many buying NY-based Sharon Van Etten’s delicate mix of delicate singer-songwriter Americana. Thankfully Van Etten and her three-piece couldn’t be bothered, and proceeded to play through the apathy to produce a remarkably strong set. Van Etten’s killer voice, balanced beautifully against multi-instrumentalist Heather Woods-Broderick’s harmonies, created some of the few chill-inducing moments of the day. Here’s hoping at least a few in the Auditorium Shores crowd took notice enough to dig more into this vastly talented artist. Yellow Ostrich: Relatively unknown Brooklyn band playing heady indie rock + Friday noon-time set did not equal a lot of confidence. But these up-and-comers managed to pull off an early day surprise through strong songwriting and effective sing-along hooks that managed to get the early bird crowd prematurely going. The band’s sound was also surprisingly intricate, with all three members providing harmonies, and multi-instrumentalist John Natchez contributing an impressive sonic depth with his table full of electronics. Definitely an act to watch out for as they swing back through the Lone Star state. — J.D. Swerzenski    

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