Day two of LA's FYF Fest promised to be perhaps the most packed musical day of my life. It was essentially wall-to-wall must-see acts for me from about 3 PM until after midnight, and I geared myself up for it with a kind of excitement laced with grim determination to see all the acts I wanted to see, dammit, even if it killed me. I was (mostly) successful, in that I did not die and I pretty much got to see everybody. The physical and emotional toll, while not fatal, was at least significant.
I started things off about as light and fun as possible, with the great Jonathan Richman at the Club Stage. The former Modern Lovers frontman was as engaging, endearing, and hilarious as I had been led to expect, and joined by his buddy and drummer Tommy Larkins, won the crowd over with a set of favorites that somehow walk the line between tongue-in-cheek and earnest in a way that can't really be rivaled. He's loose in a way that's so rare in that it seems unforced, and he's able to delight the crowd with funny dancing and rambling monologues because he seems just so damn natural. It was great.
I stuck around on that stage for Big Thief, a band that I really like and found mildly disappointing. Much of it could be chalked up to sound problems, which delayed their set and made it hard to hear the (perfect) voice of Adrianne Lenker at times. But they were also a bit low-energy and sloppy, and I couldn't help but think that their excellent songs weren't quite translating in that context, and that a smaller show was probably the best place to catch them. Oh well.
I headed over to the "Trees" stage (my favorite stage) to see Mistki, who ruled as always. She's gotten a lot better with the material from the great Puberty 2 since the last time I saw her, and her sound has gotten even more big and refined on stage. She's able to mix in electronic drum textures with ease, and everything bounces perfectly off of her big, shiny, goth-y bass sound. Songs like "Thursday Girl" and "I Bet on Losing Dogs" really popped, and I was sad to leave her set early in order to pursue other opportunities.
I tore myself away from the tail end of her set in order to catch Thundercat, who was just a delight. His trio (which also included drums and keyboard) were probably the most musically-advanced group one could hope to see at a festival like this, ripping through a funky, jazzy set of songs that showcased Stephen Bruner's frankly unbelievable bass playing. It's not just that he plays the bass as a lead instrument, but that he does so with a virtuosity that invites comparison to great, boundary-pushing string players like Eddie Van Halen or Les Claypool (sounds like hyperbole I know, but seriously, the dude shreds). It's truly something to behold live, and that the set managed to be so fun is a testament to Stephen's great songwriting that bridges jazz, soft rock, R&B and funk in ways that craft a vocabulary all his own. Definitely one of the highlights of the festival.
Then I hustled all the way back around the Coliseum to see Cap'n Jazz play the club. The influential, again-reunited emo band (whose members have gone on to be involved with American Football, Owen, Owls, Joan of Arc and others) (and The Promise Ring, but Davey von Bohlen isn't taking part in this reunion and Nate Kinsella is in his place) were absolutely on their game, shredding for a blissful crowd with songs that were high-energy and extremely, uh, emotional. The crowd was loving every second of it, and frontman Tim Kinsella is spectacular at his job, a huge ball of energy and banter that commands your attention the whole time. They were joined onstage at one point by Devendra Banhart, which was a welcome and very cool surprise. The energy around the set was just fantastic, and fans should definitely look forward to catching them on their larger run of reunion shows.
After this I headed over to catch Built To Spill, another great '90s band, now touring as a trio. They played their 1999 classic Keep it Like a Secret in its entirety, and although I'm more of a Perfect From Now On kind of guy, it was still a real treat to see those songs live. The band sounded tight and almost minimalistic as a three-piece (I'd seen them with a larger band and it was much more spacious and jammy), and frontman Doug Martsch did a great job carrying things -- he still has that exact same distinctive voice, and his guitar playing does a ton of heavy lifting for those songs.
By this time darkness had arrived, and I don't know if I was more excited to not be in the sun or to see A Tribe Called Quest (this is a great compliment to ATCQ). They were awesome, rolling through a catalogue filled with so many hits, paying tribute to the late great Phife Dawg in ways that felt genuinely meaningful, and basically having the crowd feeling good vibes all night. Q-Tip is a fantastic rap frontman -- he brings such precision and energy to his verses, and it's thrilling to here him nailing classic rhymes on songs like "Stir it Up," "Buggin Out" (which for Raphael Saadiq came on stage), and "Bonita Applebum," among many, many others. And the new stuff, while there wasn't all that much of it, really stands up next to the classics. Tip got visibly choked up talking about the waves of grief that he's dealt with since Phife passed, and there was a sense of triumphant tribute payed on Saturday night, one of the great hip-hop acts of all time showcasing their work in a joyous communal setting in a way that's been a long time coming.
At this point I was reaching near-complete exhaustion as I headed over to catch Erykah Badu. I already knew I would have to cut her set short to see my beloved Sleep (who I would also have to leave early to catch Frank Ocean), but I was resigned to the task ahead and prepared for the bottomless FOMO one can feel at these things. Unfortunately, Erykah was running late, and didn't go on until about a half hour past her scheduled start time. This was a bummer, as I could only catch her first song, which was awesome, and begrudgingly I walked off towards the club stage. What was I gonna do, miss Sleep?
No, I was not. And on a personal level, it was the right call, as they opened with a 30-minute version of their 60-minute masterpiece Dopesmoker, which for my money is the best 60 minutes of stoner metal ever recorded. I have written about seeing Sleep more than once, so my thoughts on the subject are clear: they are the greatest. Suffice it to say that this time around, seeing Matt Pike and Al Cisneros play that much of Dopesmoker, their masterpiece, was an unexpected gift, and it was ultimately probably my favorite time seeing them.
But after about an hour, having done my diligent twitter research and determining that Frank Ocean was starting late, I had to run out and catch the headliner. Though I sadly missed the couple of songs (including the opener "Solo," which is easily my favorite song on Blond), I was there for the rest of the unique, sometimes confounding, and ultimately extremely moving headlining set from the man who seems intent on challenging expectations and pushing norms of pop music consumption as much as possible.
Frank wasn't performing on the stage, but rather on a riser in the middle of the crowd. There was a disco ball overhead and a crew of musicians sitting in a circle like they were around a campfire. The band included a bassist, a keyboardist, and two guitarists, and like at London's Lovebox Festival a week earlier, (Sandy) Alex G was one the guitarists. (Perhaps he'll show up when Frank plays NYC's Panorama this weekend.) There were cameras that took indie-movie-style handheld footage of the proceedings which were up on the giant screens on stage. There was definitely a bit of awkwardness to things at points--the crowd seemed a bit confused at the understated nature of the proceedings, and a lot of people presumably couldn't really see him. He performed the Blond track "Good Guy" twice in a row because he felt that he didn't do a good job the first time, making note of the fact that it was only his fourth or fifth show in several years.
But there was something amazing about seeing him trying, and mostly succeeding, to subvert the expectations of a typical headlining set by trying to conjure something powerful in its intimacy rather than in its spectacle. As the set wore on and Frank grew more comfortable (and as I was able to get closer to him), the show produced a kind of hushed intimacy that produced a very real sense of momentousness. Of course, most of the songs on Blond, which dominated the setlist, are hushed and intimate, and it makes a certain kind of sense that this set was how Frank wants them to be heard. I had honestly been a bit lukewarm on the album, but I found myself loving these songs as they were presented here. The sound from the musicians was pristine, as was Frank's singing, crystal clear and incredibly emotive. At one point, Brad Pitt showed up, sitting next to the band, talking on his phone, projected on the big screen, while Frank sang the Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye." Pitt is an avowed Frank Ocean fan, and there was a truly surreal quality in his presence there. Obviously, using post-divorce Brad Pitt as a symbol of loneliness is projecting a kind of luxury loneliness, as was Frank's note, while introducing a lovely Stevie Wonder by way of the Carpenters cover, that he'd been living in hotels for the past few years. But at the FYF set Frank made a strong case for the universality of his subject matter, bringing people together in a shared experience that felt special even by the standards of a huge festival filled with great artists. There wasn't enough of a track record for me to expect anything in particular from Frank Ocean's set, but I wasn't expecting that, and that's about all you can ask for.
Saturday also had MGMT, Perfume Genius, Homeshake, King Krule, Nicolas Jaar, Noname, Princess Nokia, The Drums, The Faint, and more. Pictures of Saturday are in the gallery above, and videos of Frank Ocean and Cap'n Jazz's sets are below.
Pictures and review of Friday are HERE. Coverage of Sunday coming soon.