Saturday, August 23, 2014

FYF Fest, August 23 & 24, 2014 at L.A. Sports Arena and Coliseum, Exposition Park

Just when we were getting to really like FYF Fest at Historic Park outside of Chinatown, they changed it to Exposition Park outside of USC. Both have their pros and cons, but just the change shows that FYF was moving toward being a much bigger deal than our local fest with increasingly recognizable bands. This made them more capable of getting bigger and better acts but it was quickly approaching being another Coachella, with the negatives that come from that connotation. Still, we would take it as we could have it and enjoy it for what it was. The change in geography might not have been the worst move in the world, and it was because the park was closed down due to a massive renovation (though with no promise that it would ever go back there). There was nothing we could do and we trusted the festival enough to follow along wherever it went, though still being local helped a good deal. This was another weekend with the drinking kids, all the familiar faces, and had already become our traditional get-together weekend (not so much the easy rote to see off summer, since we kept partying the rest of the year, but we’d take any celebration to make an event). The line-up for the weekend also didn’t disappoint, though we probably would have showed up for a lackluster list, knowing we could trust the organizers to get obscure but worthy bands for us to discover, and since a lot of it was about all of us hanging out anyway. Though there were some great surprises that could have gotten us out to even an unfamiliar festival. And the easy (though distant) parking or taking the subway -- either way to get there, whatever worked best -- never hurts. One of the most significant acts they got were Slint, a relative legend from the ‘90s that I missed completely (as they were nowhere near the KROQ rotation back then). It was indie-rock all the way, and it wasn’t hard to see that something so challenging could have gotten big, no matter how rewarding once you got into them. Scott, my right-hand man at work, was more clever with that corner of music than I was and he got me a copy of Spiderland which I enjoyed, even if I still hadn’t really gotten it even after seeing them. They were our first act of Saturday, one of our must-sees if only because we knew it was a big deal for them to be there and might never see them again. It was also welcome to be in the air-conditioned comfort of the interior of the sports-arena, after whatever effort we put in to get to the festival. They were still a challenge to me even after seeing them, but their live show expressed that I should have more familiarity with them (and that I should get to those bands I missed back then); Slowdive being there was the biggest deal for me. I got into them in drips and drabs over a number of years, having missed them originally (and being in the wrong country for them), but they became a band I liked without being obsessed by, showing how limited they were to me for quite a while. I was always about Souvlaki, said to be a classic in every music magazine I read, and it was always an album that I could get back into without being so familiar as to be fully immersed in and could always listen like it was new and get something fresh out of every time. It wasn’t until much later that I rounded up more of their stuff but the rest of it was more of the deep sound that I finally got to discover.  Their showing on the FYF line-up was a great surprise, not that FYF is only about punk bands, but that they included an obscure (in the U.S.) shoe-gaze band years and years after their peak, with fans that had likely aged out, was astounding. And they didn’t disappoint live, bringing the washes of guitar that sound so great in headphones to the open field of the park. They never bothered with pop so they didn’t have to go back to their singles but what they put together was a sturdy representation of anything they ever were, and showed the range of the festival and knowledge of the FYF organizers; it seems a surprise when Against Me! don’t play FYF, since they fit in so well with what the festival is about.  As such, we saw them mostly in passing, figuring we could catch them any other time and since we’d seen them a few times already (including at least once there).  It’s a shame they could only score being a reliable but mid-tier festival act, since being the best at what they do deserved more, but if they wanted to keep riding on New Wave (which they didn’t necessarily keep bothering to do) (and pardon the pun), then surely the people of FYF wouldn’t mind, and they would be back again; Interpol weren’t necessarily a big surprise but they’re always welcome on a festival line-up.  We were going to be there anyway but having them is always a big point in an event’s favor.  By this time we had seen them enough that we didn’t have to pay attention like we might never see them again, and at that time of the evening navigating the beer lines was a consideration, but from what we saw they still put on a sturdy performance.  They always play “Evil” ("Rosemary") too early in the set but at least they keep including it.  A lot of the rest was from El Pintor, which we didn’t know at the time, but they could keep on putting out more of the same (which is forever a cop of Joy Division anyway, as if I have to tell you) and we wouldn’t mind; Phoenix weren’t a big draw for me, and I’m still mystified that they ever capture headliner status at a worthy festival. I don’t mind that brand of French-to-American pop, and a lot of their stuff is likable, but it just doesn’t have enough of an edge to keep me in it.  A little too twee (and I like plenty of twee). But we didn’t have to stay for much of them, as we were just rounding everyone up and seeing one last band as a push before being done for the day. We were tired enough so it was probably good that it wasn’t a band that we needed to give more to or expected much from us, so we could just see the first half of the set and make our way out. My attention was finally piqued when they started "Too Young" -- their best track that should have gotten more notice but it was years before everything else would hit for them -- but it was just a tease to go into different song. That would have been enough for me to abandon them there, especially since that meant they wouldn't go back to it for the rest of the set. They were touring on the album after their big one, and the best of the latter was just for the encore if anyone cared to stay, so we knew we weren’t missing much. It was actually a pretty good ending to a day that peaked mid-way, so relaxing on the downhill was welcome.

Sunday was a day with much fewer hopes and expectations. As such we we didn't hurry in, also because we had something going on early that afternoon, being a Sunday and all. The first band we got to was Balance & Composure, some harder-than-average rock act that didn’t make much of an impression but it was early and we were getting our bearings; a lot of the rest of the day must have been drinking in the beer gardens and breezing through stage areas and other bands since we only saw a few more barely enough to say that we were there. Apparently we saw the Presidents of the United States of America, a band that I didn’t have to see even when they were big (which actually, somehow happened), and might have been fun if for no other reason that they were completely opposite of most of the acts they have there (except for having guitars and being now fairly obscure) but they pulled a surprisingly big crowd so whatever we saw was as we navigated the outside of the crowd to get somewhere else, and hopefully that didn’t include us having to stand through “Peaches”; I don’t know why I thought Murder City Devils were a female band. As it were, they were a big draw for Carla and it was great to happen upon them.  Even better to see a legitimately punk band, out of a sea that we missed, and one with enough miles to put down a ferocious and high-energy performance. An unexpected stand-out for me; since we left early, Haim became the Sunday headliners for us. They might have been big in other parts of the world (I heard them on the radio when I was in Indiana) but we could still claim them as ours -- and not even just for L.A. but for Sherman Oaks, just across town from us. Even still, we had yet to see them anywhere along their ascent so it was a special thing to see them there, which may have been their peak (or at least an early one for them). They were appreciative of their home-town show and if every performance they put on wasn’t always a celebration, that night was, for them and for all of us maybe in equal measure. They might have gotten a bad rap by the legit music snobs, an indie band that crossed over to mainstream and could never go back again, but there was a buoyancy in their music, enough that it was a fairly unique thing in that space between alt and pop, not that that was a uncrowded place but that they could actually do it with some legitimacy and display of quality, instead of being another crap KROQ band that went big because there was nothing better happening or relied on their long-legs and good looks (which never hurt but they didn’t even need it).  We knew we’d run into them again but that night they lived up to whatever promise that fueled them on their way up to it.  And it was good enough for us to end on, and missing the big acts of the night made it a breeze to get out and home, chalking up another satisfying FYF event.

Missed: Albert Hammond Jr., Julian Casablancas (there was a strong Strokes presence at the festival, which is great for Strokes fans, which we absolutely are, but we didn’t have much concern for their side-projects, especially after seeing some of Casablancas’s lackluster set at Coachella earlier in the year), Grimes (knew by name, not as much by sound), Ty Segall (for as much as I should be into his stuff, especially from listening to Rollins’s show even intermittently, you really can’t get away from him, but I still hadn’t done it then); The Bronx (something tells me I should know them better); Darkside (which were a big deal to be there, for whatever reason, since I didn’t really know them, though I saw an instant of them inside probably while I was waiting for someone to come out of the restroom); the Strokes (crazy that we missed them but we’ve seen them enough, and knew that their best stuff was what we’d already seen, so we opted for leaving earlier instead), Deafheaven (my biggest conflict of the weekend, between them and leaving at a reasonable time. Missing them here stuck with me for a long time since I had been into them for a while, being the rare shoe-gaze band that came up on the radar in a long time); Jamie XX (somehow I missed the connection to our much-loved The XX. Apparently the letters being in his name seemed like it could have been a trick or laziness for the lesser member of the band to ride some coattails, and I still didn’t get on the train until a lot better. Though even if I had known and thought it through there were other conflicts with seeing him, including leaving early to beat traffic and be capable of working the next day, which won out).

Interpol's set-list:
"Say Hello to the Angels"
"Hands Away"
"Length of Love"
"Take You on a Cruise"
"All the Rage Back Home"
"Not Even Jail"
"Slow Hands"

Haim's set-list:
"If I Could Change Your Mind"
"Oh Well" (Fleetwood Mac cover)
"My Song 5"
"Don't Save Me"
"The Wire"
"Let Me Go"

Slowdive's set-list:
"Catch the Breeze"
"Crazy for You"
"Machine Gun"
"Souvlaki Space Station"
"When the Sun Hits"
"She Calls"
"Golden Hair" (Syd Barrett cover)

Slint's set-list:
"Breadcrumb Trail"
"Nosferatu Man"
"Don,  Aman"
"Good Morning, Captain"

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nine Inch Nails/Soundgarden/Cold Cave, August 21, 2014 at Sleep Train Amphitheater

On March 8, 1994, I bought The Downward Spiral, not Superunknown. Back then, my allegiance was definitely with Nine Inch Nails. I (with Brian) even drove to Mad Platter in Riverside that day and I paid full price for it. I later became something of a Soundgarden fan -- though mostly just for one album (not Superunknown, which I later got through Columbia House or something, and ditched not long after that) and a few singles -- but mostly because they got lumped in with a lot of my other favorite bands. Back then not much stood up to my deep love for NIN.  Though well after college and nearing something nearing middle age, I still considered myself a fan and would pick up whatever they put out but I couldn’t get too excited about seeing them in concert again. I’d already seen them at Lollapalooza the summer before and they were challenging bordering on disappointing; we could have seen them at Outside Lands but passed on it easily enough. But seeing a show with Corey is a singular experience, especially in going back to seeing NIN like we did back in the day (maybe the fourth concert I’ve ever been to, when they were still playing clubs).  And it would be a day out with Corey. He got the tickets fairly late and might have even intended to take a chick with him, but when he offered me the ticket, I took it.  So it was an easy drive to San Diego and a trip to the corporately-titled Sleep Train Amphitheater. As a call-back to arriving at shows by the time it says on the ticket (hopefully less than paranoia of missing anything -- as if Trent Reznor has performed during the day in 23 years) we got there early, among maybe the first few dozen through the door. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a concert venue early enough that it was empty.  We killed some time waiting it out (which had to have been excruciating for Corey since he doesn't drink).  But we had pretty good seats, the front of the section about halfway up. It wouldn’t be the Palace but I didn’t need to be so close up again (and I wouldn’t mind keeping my hearing for the next few days after). There were tickets for the show on Groupon, showing that even putting two once-gigantic bands on the same bill together wasn’t the same kind of draw they once were (who could have easily filled that venue or bigger by themselves back in the day), but we can say that it’s due to their most die-hard fans aging out and the music industry moving past them rather than no longer being able to put out worthwhile, relevant music. Count them down however you like for relying on the nostalgia factor, but this show had an extra gravity for anyone knowing their shared history, especially that of that day (and caring, which is where the trick is). Or it was just these two bands playing together, whether you were a fan of either or both, from the '90s or more recently. Finally we had something to watch, though it was only Cold Cave, who were making some mildly abrasive noise-pop but didn’t move much and the background visuals were a nice touch but couldn't completely save them. (Death Grips opening the show was what got me originally excited about going, if nothing else, but they bailed on it.)  Soundgarden did their thing and it was a fine performance. Nothing like the early-cycle celebration of their return at Lollapalooza '10, as this was just another tour stop, and there were no surprises or fireworks, except that they’re still doing it, as loud as they’ve ever been, and Cornell’s voice has stood up for so long. I didn’t recognize the deeper cuts, and I might have thrown in a few different tracks (“Pretty Noose," "Birth Ritual"), but what they did was satisfying. At last it was time for NIN. I had read that they had switched up the set since I had seen them last, toward the beginning of the tour to one of the last stops, and I was looking forward to seeing something different.  With the house-lights still up, Reznor swiftly stomped across the stage, grabbed the mic, then jumped into the first song before most of the crowd knew what was going on. Then the band blew through the rest of the set and it was a Nine Inch Nails show. Unfortunately, it was the same I’d seen before -- if they had changed their set after the initial run of festivals, they had changed it back, or there were changes I just couldn’t notice -- but this time had the benefit of me lowering my expectations, increasingly more as the night went on and I realized that it wasn’t so different. But if that’s what Reznor wanted to do, he could have let it be it worse. The effort was appreciated even if he wasn't destroying as many instruments, and the new stuff at times sounded better than the old material, as it had a little more electricity than the well-worn tunes we’d already heard and that the band were dragging out yet again. It was also an unofficial celebration of 20 years of The Downward Spiral -- even if the exact-same anniversary for Superunknown didn’t have the same recognition -- so those songs had a little extra poignancy. Reznor even addressed the crowd toward the end of the set, expressing his appreciation of his fans sticking around for so many years and noting that it might be a while before he came back with more NIN but it would indeed happen at some point -- that much talking, above explosively-furious complaints of equipment not working, was nowhere near any earlier NIN show, but it was warm, honest, and appreciated. The set was a little too well-lived-in to provide the kind of spark they had in the early days but it was a good enough show.  Put the two performances together and it was a pretty good deal. Thanks to Corey for the ticket.

Nine Inch Nails' set-list:
"Copy of A"
"Came Back Haunted"
"March of the Pigs"
"Terrible Lie"
"Closer" (with "The Only Time" snippet)
"Gave Up"
"Find My Way"
"The Great Destroyer"
"The Hand That Feeds"
"Head Like a Hole"


Soundgarden's set-list:
"The Telephantasm" (introduction)
"Searching With My Good Eye Closed"
"Jesus Christ Pose"
"Black Hole Sun"
"The Day I Tried to Live"
"My Wave"
"Blow Up the Outside World"
"Fell on Black Days"
"A Thousand Days Before"
"Rusty Cage"
"Beyond the Wheel"