In the days leading up to the three-day Fun Fun Fun Fest, weather forecasters were calling for yet another weekend of torrential rain in and around Austin. Strange, as, after going precipitation free for the majority of the previous three months, the weekend of the US Formula 1 Grand Prix and subsequent Halloween weekend had seen, respectively, the remnants of a hurricane and a system of tornadic activity roll through central Texas. It was with a sense of apprehension that I prepared on Nov. 5 for the following day's start of FFF then: the event is held at a venue (Auditorium Shores) that sits right on Lady Bird Lake and is prone to flooding. Any significant amount of rainfall and I wasn't exactly sure what would happen. Therefore, it was a massive relief when the festival's opening two days were overcast but fairly dry.
2015 marked the tenth year of Fun Fun Fun, an event which features four stages catering to a certain genre or type of entertainment by stage: the main orange stage hosts mostly indie rock throughout the day and early evening, while the blue stage specializes in electro and hip hop, the yellow stage comedy performances, and the black stage punk and metal. Over the last four years of attending the festival, I've enjoyed performances at all the stages, but have more and more gravitated towards the black stage even though my musical tastes have occasionally been more in line with what was featured on the others. Regardless, this event has always impressed me for having a line-up that's truly unique, not only in terms of the artists booked, but also for the actual material those artists perform.
Fucked Up (photo: @poonehghana)
At the previous month's ACL Music Festival, Chance the Rapper declared that he had “won” both weekends of the event, a boast that I wasn't entirely willing to corroborate. The statement gave me an idea though: coming up with the “winners” of FFF's tenth year.
One of the best things about FFF is that, as promoters are keen to point out, the “Nites are Free,” meaning that festival attendees can go to any of the after-hours shows that take place in downtown venues after performances have wrapped for the day at the main, stationary location. This has a downside though: doors open at Auditorium Shores at 12 noon, meaning that some people are inevitably stumbling in half hungover and mostly exhausted on any given day. Therefore, it's nice that the festival promoters seem keen to book performers capable of jolting attendees out of that stupor in the opening slot. While Saturday Black Stage openers La Dispute could easily have taken the title, it was Friday's first Black Stage performance from Future Death that took the title of Best Noontime Wake Up Performance. Playing a sort of jerky noise rock all but guaranteed to rattle a listener into (at least semi-) consciousness, the band tore through their midday set, establishing a mark for the day's remaining bands to shoot for.
Cheap Trick (Photo: @dave.mead)
Following a performance from Nothing, I was treated to a band in the running for Most Dramatic and/or Theatrical Performance. I was only vaguely familiar with hard rock trio Mutoid Man, but how could I really not like a group named after a villain from the Smash TV Nintendo Game? Featuring a lead singer who alternately looked like he was being electrocuted or impersonating the facial expressions of Frankenstein's Colin Clive throughout his performance (when he wasn't playfully shooting the bird back and forth with his bandmates), Mutoid Man was a blast to watch, but would later be outdone is terms of pure spectacle by the legendary industrial group Skinny Puppy, who I caught at an after hours show at the Moody Theater. Gas masks, squirting syringes of multi-colored goop, and hypnotic projected images all featured into the group's definitively weird and almost creepy but undeniably compelling performance, and I was happy the band played not only newer material, but also the classics (including a punishing version of “Assimilate”) that I'd been rocking out to since my youth.
Over the years, Fun Fun Fun has booked numerous groups for the specific purpose of having them play through entire albums, often older releases that one might not ever have the opportunity to hear live elsewhere. 2014 for instance saw Sick of It All exclusively play songs from Scratch the Surface and Blood, Sweat, and No Tears. This year's headliner Jane's Addiction played the entirety of 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual during their Saturday evening set, but I was actually more interested in Friday afternoon's performance from The Dwarves which found the group (replete with Hewhocannotbenamed, in jock strap and little else, on guitar) blasting through all thirteen minutes, seven seconds of their sleaze punk opus Blood, Guts, and Pussy. If nothing else, singer Blag Dhalia seemed quite amused by this proposition (“they never told you punk was smart” he declared at one point before harping on the “sensitivity” of songs like “Motherfucker” and “She's a Bitch”). Sure, it wasn't classy (songs like “S.F.V.D.” and “Let's Fuck” saw to that), but it was immensely fun...provided one could appreciate the absurdity of it all. This was my choice as this year's Best Performance of an Entire Album.
Antemasque (Photo: @poonehghana)
Undoubtedly one of the bands I was most looking forward to at Fun Fun Fun was American Football. I've loved their sole 2001 album since around the time it was released, but had more or less written off ever seeing the group live: a reunion seemed very unlikely if not impossible until the unthinkable happened in 2014. The band's performance on Saturday, just as the sun was going down, was mesmerizing, not only because it beat out La Dispute's set for having the Most Feels, but also because it boasted the Best Transition from Album to Live Performance. While I was initially a bit skeptical of drummer Steve Lamos's trumpet interludes, he seemed to gain confidence as the show went on, and Mike Kinsella's lyrics, as I had hoped, were simply shattering in a live setting.
During a Saturday set that earned the title of Best Vibes During a Set and Best Audience Participation, Fucked Up vocalist Damian Abraham (who at one point waded through the crowd to high-five a young girl perched atop her dad's shoulders) praised FFF booker Graham Williams for getting bands he really wanted to see as well as bands that he had no idea he really wanted to see. It's a fair statement, and one that's exemplified in the festival's penchant for putting some really unlikely bands on their card. I'll likely never forget a 2012 performance from Run DMC, and was equally awed when '90s act Drive Like Jehu and black metal innovators Venom (to say nothing of the legendary, one and only Cheap Trick who can still rock out some four decades into their career) were booked in 2015. Still, it's got to be the appearance of '80s hardcore group Dag Nasty that got the title of Best “Legacy Act” of this year's festival for me. The group maybe isn't as “nasty” as they used to be, but I was surprised at how good they sounded and was glad I stuck around for them.
OFF! (Photo: @greggiannukos)
Along with all the hard rock, punk, and metal I was absorbing (the Most Abrasive title went to industrial duo Youth Code, who opened for Skinny Puppy), several bands on the card went for a different sort of vibe. Though closely contested by Alvvays's Sunday afternoon set (which culminated in a blissed-out rendition of “Marry Me, Archie”), the Most Woozily Romantic Set went to British rock/shoegaze outfit Ride, who sounded as tight as ever during their after dark set on Saturday night while playing a wonderful mix of songs from throughout their career. Playful song choice and chipper interactions with the crowd helped Alvvays singer Molly Rankin nail down (in my book anyway) the award for Best Female Indie Pop Singer in a closely contested battle of sorts with Chvrches's Lauren Mayberry. I found it amusing that Chvrches played mostly songs from their first, highly acclaimed album despite the fact that I would have assumed they'd play more from their (frankly underwhelming) sophomore release which dropped two months ago, and it's safe to say that some of the group's initial allure has worn off – perhaps just through pure overkill since they've played Austin multiple times since their 2013 SXSW debut.
Another double award winner was psych rock trio Fuzz, who earned both Best Cover Song and Best Usage of Down Time for a blistering, impromptu cover of The Damned's “Love Song” which drummer/vocalist Ty Segall and guitarist Charles Moothart pumped out while bass player Chad Ubovich repaired a broken string early on in their set. Meanwhile, punk rock legend Keith Morris (performing with OFF!) unsurprisingly earned the Crazy Old Man Award for his raving and ranting, and the Most Awkward Fun Moment occurred when, while waiting for Dag Nasty to hit the stage, a “Falls Count Anywhere” match occurring at the on-site wrestling ring (!) spilled out into the front of the black stage. Hooray for suplexes right into the mud!
CHVRCHES (Photo: @dave.mead)
Seriously though, the overall winner of the weekend clearly were the festival attendees. Fun Fun Fun really goes out of its way to provide a supremely enjoyable festival experience – one replete I might add with a taco cannon. The line-up this year, and every year honestly, was top notch and refreshingly unique in an era where many of the major music festivals seem like carbon copies of one another. FFF has provided some of my favorite concert moments ever – last year, I quite literally crossed an item off my bucket list by being situated directly in front of Jeff Mangum during Neutral Milk Hotel's set, and the fest didn't disappoint this year either. By all means, if you get the chance, Fun Fun Fun is one of the best festivals going, certainly in Austin, but probably in general.