FYF 2015: The Comeback Special
D'Angelo, Morrissey, and a pinch-hitting Kanye West help FYF's second staging at Expo Park to find its footing.
August 22 and 23
Los Angeles Sports Arena and Exposition Park
Los Angeles, CA
With the looming specter of last year’s logistical disaster and the waking nightmare of last-minute artist cancellations and visa issues, FYF 2015 had a lot to overcome before it even started. Thankfully, this past weekend overcame all expectations with regards to visitor experience improvements (shout out to the new and improved Main stage walkway) and the ever-shifting lineup. FYF successfully brought together some of the largest egos and most reclusive artists in the music world for a two-day extravaganza with explosive sets, slightly cooler temperatures, and real working bathrooms. It seems like our days pining for LA Historical Park might be over.
Below, a weekend report of our favorite (and least favorite) acts from FYF 2015.
“Are you hot?” Kevin Morby asks. It’s 2:30pm on the Lawn stage, where the only shade is in the portable toilets on the far end of the field. “It’s okay. Sometimes it’s good to be hot.” Morby’s music isn’t exactly made to get the body moving, which makes fighting the dead-eyed sun a difficult battle for the Kansas City native. Morby draws his stirring folk-rock in the dust, and you get the sense that the smallest disturbance would dissipate the entire picture. No matter. Guitarist Meg Duffy works over his strumming like a benevolent dervish, scattering sound upwards and giving the songs a shape and presence big enough to seek refuge under. — MSG
Norman, Oklahoma’s BRONCHO don’t fare quite so well in the heat. Singer Ryan Lindsey’s hair goes ragged before the band make it through their first song, and he punctuates the group’s undermanned sludge rock with minor shouting fits. It’s hard to know what to make of it all. There’s enough muscle and melody buried under the dimed-out midranges to suggest a few worthy power-pop gems, and while they do seem to find their footing later in the set, watching BRONCHO for forty minutes feels like watching a Whigs LP melt in the sun. — MSG
When Mikal Cronin hits the stage for his FYF 2015 set (right after he hits the stage to tune his own guitar and conduct his own sound check), it’s a bit jarring to see the SoCal native without his signature long locks. While he debuted this shorn look earlier this spring in a press photo for his most recent album MCIII, Cronin’s Lawn stage performance is the first time that we’ve seen the frequent Ty Segall collaborator perform tracks from the softer new LP, and true to his roots, he breathes new and raucous life into songs like “Made My Mind Up” and “Say.” Leading his live quintet in a packed forty-minute set, Cronin and co excite the modest—but energetic—crowd, especially with their excellent harmonies. — BP
For a festival whose (very organized!) doors don’t open until 2 p.m., Alvvays’ 4 p.m. slot time is considered quite early, especially in LA, but that doesn’t stop fest goers from rushing over to the Main stage once the Canadian dream-pop band start into their short but sweet set. “You’re growing like a beautiful germ!” squealed frontwoman Molly Rankin, who is sporting a platinum blonde bob haircut and an Oakland A’s jersey. The sizeable crowd sways to tracks from the group’s infectious self-titled debut—including runaway hit “Archie, Marry Me” and the eerie “Next of Kin”—which aren’t as delicate live, but just as playful. — BP
Working extra hard to emphasize the “s” in “Paris,” La Femme introduce themselves to a partially dumbfounded Saturday afternoon audience, winning over wanderers with a funky madness that simply can not be walked away from. Live renditions of tracks from their 2013 debut Psycho Tropical Berlin recall the grace of Stereolab and the bite of The B-52s, and the arrangements are measured out in a carefully democratic fashion, allowing no single member to feel like the star. That’s the case, anyway, until a heavily mustachioed man in rainbow short-shorts (a standard French hype-man outfit, it must be assumed) comes onstage toward the end of the set to show everyone how to get down comme un Français. Shame it’s too hot for berets. — NR
“This is the best city in the world,” screams Joyce Manor’s Barry Johnson as the Torrance, CA, four-piece launch into their early evening set. The FYF staples—who have played the festival four years in a row—turn on the charm between tracks with a set heavy on numbers from 2014’s Never Hungover Again, swigging from a bottle of tequila and thanking FYF founder Sean Carlson for letting them come back year after year after year. Even without a new album to promote, Joyce Manor keeps the sweaty mosh pit guessing by inviting Hop Along’s frontwoman Frances Quinlan up for a cover of Weezer’s “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly.” — BP
The lights are out in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, save for the Ibiza-level colored gels blasting from the center of the Arena stage. Walking in from the harsh sunlight is jarring, and the arena’s lack of lighted walkways makes finding a seat and traversing the stairs a challenge. Still, Toronto jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD have drawn a surprisingly large and knowledgeable crowd; the room erupts every time the group launch into a new song. At this point in the weekend, the Arena has mostly played host to DJs and other electronic acts, and the sound team treat BBNG as a live version of the same. It’s not a totally wrong assumption, given the group’s recent album-length collaboration with Ghostface Killah, but the subtleties of the group’s sound—particularly the details of Chester Hansen’s basslines—are lost to the thump. — MSG
Don’t let the harsh and reverb-filled sound that comes blaring out of the FYF speakers when METZ starts thrashing fool you: the trio is actually made up of three very nice Canadian boys. Right in the middle of the group’s ear-bleedingly loud and lightning fast set, METZ make sure to lay down some ground rules for the crowd: “Hey! If someone falls over, pick them up! No one gets hurt! Don’t act like an idiot, but continue to dance.” Wisest words we heard all night. — BP
Run the Jewels
“We’re just two underground rappers who like mushrooms and weed,” says Killer Mike as he thanks the massive crowd on Saturday night. While he and El-P are humble about their musical collaboration and friendship all night (including being incredibly thankful for their RTJ2 billboard looming over the LA Sports Arena parking lot), the pair fly through their almost-hour-long set with special guests (Travis Barker, Zach de la Rocha, Gangster Boo) and an infectious energy. Killer Mike and El-P have the rare gift of making their audiences feel like they are part of the RTJ family, so when they ask you to get your fists up in the air, you do it and you do it fast. — BP
Steven Ellison’s late addition to the FYF lineup was billed as a DJ Set, and it would’ve been enough for FlyLo to simply press play on the tracks he’s responsible for in the past year—namely Kendrick Lamar’s “Wesley’s Theory,” his own (Kendrick-featuring) “Never Catch Me,” and pretty much anything from last year’s mind-expanding LP You’re Dead! Instead, Ellison builds a set that veers wildly between his better-known material (including both Kendrick tracks) and an assemblage of sound that seems like it’s being built live. Bass frequencies expand and contract, plinked notes warp and shift in color as warm key tones rise behind them. Still, Ellison’s set declines rapidly when he shifts into his Captain Murphy persona—FlyLo is many a brilliant thing, but rapper is not one of them—and for all its power as a backing track, “Wesley’s Theory” feels flat and uninteresting without the counterpoint of Kendrick’s flow. — MSG
At one point, a little more than halfway through Savages’ set, singer Jehnny Beth stands astride the crowd. One leg planted straight down, rooted (presumably) in some audience member’s palm, the other cocked up like a conquerer. The band behind her settle into a guarded rumble while Beth repeats the title phrase of “She Will,” from the band’s 2013 LP Silence Yourself. It’s a tense, vulnerable moment—any time a woman gives her body to a crowd, it’s a tense and vulnerable moment—and Beth is damn well savvy enough to know it. She milks it, drawing out and reclaiming those words—“She will, she will, she will, she will, she will, she will”—until they became a declaration of her own power, her own seeming ability to control the crowd below her. And then the band explodes and the tension is released and she pirouettes onto her back with incredible grace, letting the audience carry her back to the stage as she barrels through the song’s final verse. In a set that leans heavily on the group’s dark and powerful new material—including “Adore,” which burns slowly for five or so minutes before suddenly rushing to its powerful ending—it’s the familiar “She Will” that proves to be the most surprising. — MSG
The Jesus and Mary Chain
“If you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re playing our album Psychocandy all the way through. But we’d like to stick around and play a couple more after we finish it up if that’s alright?” The dedicated crowd’s screams of approval wash over the Scottish band as they launch into “You Trip Me Up.” Not only is it alright that the legendary group wants to continue to drench us in reverb and shoegaze bliss, it’s a welcome change from the bass-heavy beats and shouts from the busy day’s previous acts. And how does it sound, traveling back in time to 1985? Just like honey. — BP
Kanye West respects artistry. The last-minute replacement for Frank Ocean, who bowed out 36 hours before his headlining set, began his own performance with “No Church in the Wild.” Which meant that the first voice to be heard on stage belongs to none other than Frank Ocean. It’s a sly, purposeful move—West typically opens his sets with “Stronger,” which comes next—and for a single moment, with the massive mobile lighting rig and stage smoke obscuring who exactly was up there, it seems possible that Ocean might have shown up after all and that all of the drama has been manufactured to give us this one indelible (but also very weird) moment.
But the night belongs to Kanye. And he knows it, and he takes it. The lighting rig—imagine a grid of plain yellow stage cans laid out in a thirty-by-thirty square, 900 points of power—hangs a foot or so over West’s head for the first few songs, effectively shrinking the stage. Kanye paces below them, shrouded in smoke and looking a little like Isaac Hayes circa Black Moses in a loose and ripped tunic and skintight leather pants. It’s claustrophobic, and for an artist who’s so often accused of being stuck in his own world, it’s dramatically appropriate. As he himself makes clear in “Monster,” one of the set’s two violent, big-bopping centerpieces, this is not a happy place to be. With all that wattage bearing down on him, he looks trapped; no one man should have all that power.
For all of his high-art aspirations, though, West is still a populist at heart. He plays just about every song he’s ever released as a single—there are many—and drops in his verse from Big Sean’s “Blessings.” The crowd, to put it bluntly, goes fucking crazy. Even his harshest material—“Power,” “Black Skinhead,” “All Day”—generates movement. It makes it all the more difficult to appreciate what exactly West was doing up there when he extends “Blood on the Leaves,” drawing out that sample of Nina Simone’s take on “Strange Fruit” and stabbing clipped phrases until the song feels as abrasive and alienating as it needs to be; stand among 40,000 (mostly—though not totally—white) people who are losing their minds while Miss Simone sings the line about “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze” and feel the discomfort of our current racial moment swallow you whole. Kanye West is a lot of things, but he’s not an idiot, and as his appropriated rebel-flag merch suggests, he understands the space he occupies perfectly well. — MSG
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Starting out Sunday with the most unfortunately short set of the festival, Australian rock chameleons King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard mark their first-ever show on the West Coast by obliterating the Trees stage with half an hour of psych- and garage-infused krautrock. Frontman Stu Mackenzie leads the charge of extended jams in style (there was a flute solo), guiding the group through a set that leans heavily on last year’s I’m In Your Mind Fuzz, and stays miraculously lean on excess overall. It’s only appropriate that in a few hours Thee Oh Sees will be kicking up a dust storm on the same stage, as Mackenzie seems a lot like John Dwyer these days, from his manic onstage yips all the way down to the cut-off jorts. Yep! — NR
What’s a music festival without a few hiccups? The quirky Philly-via-LA duo of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad have been switching instruments—bass and guitar—for every song of their thirty-minute set without a hitch, but now near the end they’ve confused themselves. “When in Rome…or music festivals!” Just like Ron Burgundy, the girls didn’t really know how to use that term properly, but it was still delightful just the same. — BP
Tobias Jesso Jr.
Four excellent sentences that came out of Tobias Jesso Jr.’s mouth during his set:
• “This next song was on a TV show called Catfish [crowd screams] and it’s called ‘Bad Words.’ Well, now I know where the Catfish fans are!”
• “So I was a groomsman at my ex-girlfriend’s—who this song is about—wedding. And her husband is the guy in this song’s video…how fucked up is that?”
• “I used to play guitar when I performed this song. Now I have a guitar player that I pay to do it for me. He’s over there thinking ‘Not enough bitch!’”
• “We don’t have a set list…That’s fine!” — BP
Baltimore’s Lower Dens take the Arena stage shrouded in fog and obscured by multidirectional lights. “I can hardly see you,” laughs singer Jana Hunter between songs. It’s early, which means the arena is mostly empty, but the caverns suit the band’s sound surprisingly well; the hollow acoustics and roaming blue and yellow lights amplify the implied entropy. For a while, it feels like we’re the only people in the karaoke bar in the “Sucker’s Shangri-La” video. — MSG
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
There may not be a band in the world who can look more congenial while staring right into the sun than Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Ruban Nielson, not one to let a little heat stand in the way of long sleeves and a Blazers jersey, leads his band through a bright and brassy set for a very passionate crowd. The Portland band pull at their rhythms, stretching them between the marshmallow-smacking keys and Nielson’s stilt-walking guitar. No disrespect to Mac DeMarco and Laura Marling, who will follow UMO on the Lawn stage, but they’re perhaps the only indie rock band who can acquit themselves opening for Solange and D’Angelo. — MSG
Jason Pierce (a.k.a. J Spaceman) does not care if you are in the crowd to watch him or not. He’s just going to play the songs that he wants with Spiritualized, and then he’s going to get off the stage. Your shouts mean nothing to him. Yes, he will play songs from Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space (“Electricity,” “Come Together”), but he will not smile at you from behind his shades. Within the dark and slightly air conditioned LA Sports Arena, Pierce and co. don’t create a wall of sound, they conjure a fog of fuzz and distortion. Breathe it in. —BP
Solange is a full twenty minutes late for her set on the Lawn stage, trimming an already tight fifty-five minutes down to just over half an hour. When she does emerge, she produces a long, comfortable slink of a set; her band is whip tight, but they’re drawn along by the singer’s voice, which she keeps in a simmer for most of the night, raising it to a boil for an extended run of grace notes in her cover of Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness is the Move.” The reworked DPs track stands out in a set of nostalgic pop songs, any one of which sounds like it could have been released in the mid-‘80s. Despite Solange’s exuberance—and the crowd’s overwhelming adoration—the warm nostalgia makes her set feel a little sad, a little vulnerable, and it makes her more compelling. Late in the set, she brings out Dev Hynes, along with the R&B trio King and singer Moses Sumney, to cover Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted, and Black.” They present it simply, with little accompaniment. Just those voices on stage, all of them sounding tired but clear and focused and proud. It’s so simple and beautiful that it’s difficult to watch. — MSG
Belle and Sebastian
And the winner for most thoughtful set goes handily to Scotland’s own Belle and Sebastian. Beyond digging deep into the archives for a memorable and gorgeous set that included Tigermilk’s “Electric Renaissance,” The Life Pursuit’s “Another Sunny Day” and stand-alone single “Jonathan David,” the twee-pop kings and queens took the time to appreciate their location right next to the Coliseum. “We’ve dug up some footage of the 1984 Olympics, which were held right here!” said frontman Stuart Murdoch before launching into “Stars of Track and Field.” “Make sure to watch out for the Jet-Pack Man.’” The inclusion of LA’s living history energized the exhausted crowd and reminded us of Belle and Sebastian’s love and appreciation for their fans. — BP
Thee Oh Sees
Getting pitted against two headliners (D’Angelo and Morrissey) is usually a kiss of death for a band, but John Dwyer’s Thee Oh Sees are not just any band. In fact, Thee Oh Sees are not even the same band that they were a year ago. With a new lineup that includes two drummers who play as hard as Dwyer shreds, Thee Oh Sees’ night-time performance brings the band up to a new level of spectacle (Light shows! Elevated stages!). But with that new echelon of production comes new struggles, like the lack of camaraderie (and keys) on the stage. — BP
D’Angelo and The Vanguard
The story goes that while he was away, D’Angelo gained weight. Enough to fully obscure the abs that made him famous. Enough to warrant mentioning by the two or three writers who were actually able to interview him during the decade and a half that he receded from the spotlight. This is no longer true. Sunday night, as he saunters and shuffles across the Lawn stage, he is as chiseled as Springsteen in ’84. It feels like an apt comparison. His band is just as versatile, their frontman just as magnetic, their moment just as ripe. They open with “Ain’t That Easy” and let D’Angelo take a pre-emptive victory lap around the stage. He points at people, he shakes his head and grins. His guitarist, who is dressed like Prince might have had he been in the pre-Mothership Parliament and who plays the same way, follows him around like Little Steven in The Boss’ shadow. Later, they play “The Charade,” and while The Vanguard keeps the intro stirring, D tells everyone to raise a fist. Everyone does. He dedicates the song to victims of police brutality, then shouts “Hands up!” “Hands up!” everyone responds. When they finally launch into the song itself, they push it, sending it into a disorienting shock of sound punctuated by a single cracking snare. And then, they shift to “Brown Sugar,” a molten anthem to and celebration of the black bodies whose destruction they’ve just mourned. From there, it’s all celebration—a pounding “Sugar Daddy” gives way to a ten-minute jam so hard and funky it would’ve made James Brown get up and shout “Good God!” Anyway, I’m sure everyone at Morrissey was having a great time. — MSG
The first thing that you notice about Morrissey’s Sunday night headlining set is that the crowd is much thinner and more spread out than you would think. The night before saw thousands squished together like sardines to watch Kanye and Rihanna, and from looking at the FYF poster, one would believe that The Smiths’ frontman would pack them in the same way. With ample room to move around and dance in, Morrissey’s crowd is loyal—until the “Meat Is Murder” video montage comes onscreen. While it’s hard to be shocked at what the crooner—whose voice is impeccable still—will do, seeing animals slaughtered isn’t exactly anyone’s favorite way to spend a Sunday night. He did show up though, which is a plus… — BP
If Solange and D’Angelo represent a continuation of soul and R&B’s trajectories, FKA twigs is a complete break from both. The Gloucestershire singer and dancer—though “dancer” hardly does justice to the way she moves her body—nearly obliterates everything that has come before her on Sunday night. Between violent bursts of light, she brings to life a fully embodied world of harsh futurism, one that’s amplified by a dedication to volume (both in terms of decibels and in sheer magnitude) she shares with Tim Hecker and few others. “Embodies” is the right way of thinking about it, too—twigs’ set is almost uncomfortably physical. She ratchets her body with balletic control, twitching to match the skip-tracing sound. Her set is brutal and demanding, technically impressive and overwhelming. It is a hurricane of pixels. — MSG