McHank Goes to Fun Fun Fun Fest McHank Goes to Fun Fun Fun Fest

“As far as the FFF goes it’s one of the best Fests goin’! How can you not dig on TURBONEGRO, THE SPITS, REFUSED, P.I.L., SUPERCHUNK, BOB MOULD, ATLAS SOUND, DUM DUM GIRLS, DISAPPEARS, X, FUCKED UP, RED FANG, POWER TRIP, FLESH LIGHTS and THE YOUNG just to get things started? It’s a partee!”- Keith Morris, OFF!

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I didn’t quite know what to expect going into Fun Fun Fun Fest. There were wristbands and badges and a whole massive amount of my favorite bands, I knew that, but you never are certain how the whole thing works until you’ve done it. I have to say, I have never had a better time going to a festival in my entire life. As a matter of fact, I haven’t had a whole lot of better TIMES in my entire life.

THURSDAY

So I got to Austin on Thursday night, and as soon as I got to where the tents were set up, I realized this fest was better organized than any other I’d been to. No hassles getting a wristband, no harassment from employees, just smooth sailing. Things were looking good. On top of that, the first show I wanted to see, Superchunk, was right next door. I saw Jon Wurster hanging out and chatted with him a little bit. He told me that Superchunk hadn’t practiced, and hadn’t played at all together for three months prior to the fest.

Well, it sure as HELL didn’t show. I’ve seen Superchunk several times over the years and this was one of the best times…maybe the anxiety of doing it unrehearsed, maybe the excitement of opening the fest, whatever it was, it worked. They nailed it. Mac said, “This is another song that came out the year you were born.” Perfect mix of tightness and just the right amount of slop. You don’t exactly want them sounding like Rush.

That night, on my schedule, I had plans to see Dwarves or Mind Spiders. I had settled on Mind Spiders, since they both played at the same time, and they weren’t playing again on another day. Well, they were playing in a small, sweaty, crowded room. Which would have been fine. If it didn’t smell like a vomitorium. But it did. So I chose to get some rest for the big weekend ahead.

FRIDAY

The first band I saw on one of the main stages was Dum Dum Girls, and I have been listening to them a LOT lately, so it was really a treat. You know, when you’ve had songs in your head, when you see them performed they take on extra nuances? It was strange seeing them outdoors, but they seemed unphased by the heat.

Next I made the long trek to see Torche. They were tighter than ever. Being that Harmonicraft was one of my favorite albums that came out this year, I had high hopes. They didn’t let me down. The drums were like thunder. The band raged. Life was good.

As soon as they finished, the Dwarves stormed the stage adjacent to them. By stormed I mean STORMED. Blag stomped and bragged, “You are now witnessing the greatest rock and roll band of all time!” I don’t completely agree, but he does, and that’s all I want. They are sold on themselves, and the audience was into them. They played a lot of what I wanted to hear, and sounded good.

I tried to catch Hannibal Buress doing his stand up set, but by the time I got over there, the crowd went so far that I could barely hear him. I did hear a bit about how rap concerts were kind of a gyp, because they’d sometimes play a record and just enjoy it and talk about how good it is. Then he played a snippet of Chris Rock stand up and talked over it saying how much Chris Rock was killing it. It was pretty funny. But I moved on.

So next I saw the absolutely legendary Bob Mould performing (for the last time) the entire album of Copper Blue. It sounded so perfect, and the crowd was enthusiastic and acknowledged that this was something special. Mould and band, including Jon Wurster pulling double duty, were visibly satisfied. I was lucky enough to talk to Mr. Mould and tell him how much I enjoyed the set, and he told me, “Oh, that album’s an easy one to play. If it had been Beaster, I wouldn’t have a voice left to thank you.”

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From there I went to watch Converge. My good friend Ben summed them up perfectly, and said, “Buddyhead got it right, their vocals sound like a dog through a distortion pedal.” The band sounded massive, but yeah, wasn’t too keen on the vocals.

Well, luckily, there wasn’t a dearth of good bands, so I managed to catch a bit of El Ten Eleven. If you haven’t seen them, Kristian Dunn from Inch / Lakeside Orchestra is more or less a wizard with a double necked bass/ guitar. They’re a two-piece band that sounds like an orchestra. A funky, dancey orchestra.

Caught Superchunk a second time, still fantastic, and maybe even a slightly better song selection. Fun.

After they played, I took a hotel and dinner break, gathered myself a little, as I had been rocked. Didn’t expect anything to impress me after that day, but I was really happy to be proven wrong.

Seaweed. Seaweed was one of my favorite bands through the 90’s. I saw them a lot. I think the last time I saw them was in 1998. Anyway, you wouldn’t know a day had passed. Their singer, Aaron Stauffer attacked the stage. A dominating presence to this moment, his voice sounding not at all affected by time, his lyrics just as poignant as they were when I bought the records. The band sounded crisp and rehearsed. The audience was intense in a way that I do not see very frequently anywhere in California. This was by far, to this point, THE best set of the festival.

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From there I went to see Deathfix, the new band featuring Brendan Canty, the drummer of Fugazi, playing guitar and singing, and also featuring Devin Ocampo from Medications on drums. I hadn’t heard them, and didn’t know what to expect, but based on that resume, there was no way I was going to miss them. There were hints of Minutemen, Prince, Shudder to Think, an overall vibe of classic rock, and many other things. I can’t say it was something I expected, but I was pretty happy with it. It’s hard to go in cold on a band and be floored. They were very good, and the drums were a highlight.

Following them was Braid. I have literally seen Braid well over a dozen times. They don’t get old. They are some of my favorite songs, favorite players, and people in general. I’d never seen them outside of California, and the reaction was incredible. People were stage diving, carrying on, and having a grand time losing their minds. It made me wonder why their fans aren’t ALWAYS this receptive. They played hard, the crowd sang along en masse, and it was truly an incredible end to an amazing day. Their singer, Bob Nanna said to me, “We love being a part of both the Fun Fun Fun Fest and the Nites. Overjoyed to be part of such a diverse lineup.”

SATURDAY

Saturday started out with Deathfix, and now, having a better handle on what to expect, honestly, I enjoyed them more. The nice thing too, was I was lucky enough to hang out with them for a few hours before they played. As Fugazi is my favorite band of all time, even though I have met Brendan a few times before, it still was an honor. Jeff from Deathfix said something hilarious while we were sitting around, “There’s a magazine over there with Joe Perry on the cover and he looks just like Emmylou Harris.” Brendan said this to me, “I thought FFF was evidence that a festival can really be done right, with the goal being on the music itself. I really appreciated being able to catch up on what a lot of people were up to these days. People and bands I’ve cared about for a long time, and ones I’d never heard of. Nicely done. Also, it was great to hang with David McHank.” He told me I didn’t have to leave that last part in, but I’m not taking it out.

After that, I hung out with Braid until they played, and they played a spectacular set to an enormous crowd, and it restored my faith in people’s musical taste. You meet so many people that don’t even know what the most mainstream of the bands you listen to are in your everyday life, and it’s kind of depressing. To see a gigantic mass of people who not only know one of your favorite bands, but sing along to every word, is a very refreshing and invigorating feeling.

Next up I walked over to see OFF! and they were astonishing. They shot off like a rocket and kept propelling through a long set of short songs, packed with intensity. The audience roared with approval. Even if the members didn’t have the previous bands, they’d still be a supergroup based on the sheer power of their playing, the passion of Keith’s lyrics and the concentration of their delivery.

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As soon as they finished, Seaweed went on at the opposite stage. Aaron Stauffer, the singer of Seaweed, went onstage, but found the rest of the band had technical problems. Rather than leave the stage, he did a deliberately terrible comedy routine. As soon as it was about to tank, the band came on and everything went over well. It didn’t match the spark of their night set, but “not as good as perfect” is still pretty damn great.

By this point I was feeling pretty beaten and took a couple hours to have a break, and rejoined the festival at night, in time to see Ramona Falls, a band that began as a side project for Brent Knopf of Menomena, but blossomed into their own band as he jumped ship from Menomena to take this band to their current destination. This was their first show with a new lineup, but I think, had the band not mentioned it, nobody would have known. Aside from the intensity of drummer Paul Alcott’s performance, Ramona Falls seem almost like a misfit of a band from the rest of the performers I saw at this festival. Closer to Depeche Mode or Jeff Buckley than anyone else, they write good songs and perform them expertly, so I have to say, they were a joy to behold.

Next, I went to see Broncho. A few years ago, I’d been at SXSW and heard them from outside a window, and their melodies were so catchy I was drawn in from the street. Turned out they were soundchecking for a show they’d be playing much later, but one of them gave me a CD, and I never forgot them. It was great to see a whole set. I was remembering them sounding like early Nirvana, but they ended up sounding more like King Tuff or Bracket. Whatever they were, the melodies were astounding and they played fast and tight. I don’t think anybody in the club didn’t have a good time. My friend described the crowd as a “sorority girl mosh pit” but forgot to mention “Rob Zombie in a Darryl Hannah wig wearing half a wet suit.” Only in Austin. Luckily I got a picture so you know I didn’t make that dude up.

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So after Broncho, my whole crew was pretty fired up. They were a lot of fun. We all decided we’d walk a few blocks to The Parish and check out Liturgy. Honestly, they were THE WORST band, err, “band” I’ve ever seen. We didn’t realize it was them at first. I have their record and I thought it was pretty neat, but I didn’t know anything about them. I’ve since learned that they are a comedy act, either knowingly or not. So there were two dudes on stage with guitars and a laptop. They start playing and it sounds like an awful joke, and it gets worse from there. I start texting with my friends, and I say, “Just gotta figure out what band this is so I never accidentally see them again,” only to find out that it WAS the band we went to see. One of my friends said they sounded like big cats mating. She wasn’t wrong. Ghastly.

Luckily there was one more band for us to see, and being that they were from San Diego, I’ve seen them several times, so I knew they wouldn’t let us down. Retox went on at 2 AM, and they were so full of furor I wouldn’t be surprised if they woke up the whole town. The audience was whipped into a frenzy with good reason. They didn’t play a long time, but they left an impression.

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SUNDAY

On the last day, all my friends were feeling pretty deflated. Even I was a bit worn out, but I’m a soldier for rock, and I knew that Ume went on early, and I also knew that they are definitely a DON’T MISS band. They lived up to my expectations and made getting out of bed ultimately worthwhile. Lauren Langer Larson is such an explosive front person, acrobatic in a way you haven’t seen since Guy Picciotto from Fugazi. It wouldn’t matter if she didn’t have the amount of talent that she does, her voice is strong and her melodies are spot-on, and her guitar playing is mind blowing, tossing out leads that would make any shredder envious. It doesn’t hurt that her band’s rhythm section, Eric and Rachel, are metronomic and brutal. They’re a hell of a band.

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After they played I had a lot of time, so I went to hang out with Joey Cape from Lagwagon. We sat around, then walked around Austin and ended up at Domy Books. I make a zine and that place has a whole bunch of zines, so I was in heaven.

When I finally returned to the fest, I saw The Promise Ring who, I like, but, they were awful. Just, didn’t seem cohesive and Davey’s voice sounded dreadful. Kind of a let down but, you know, after Braid, Seaweed, and Superchunk all brought it at 110%, you can’t come on and half ass it in a similar style. I feel like there was a mass exodus away from them.

Lagwagon was one of the last bands and I know Joey was worried because a part of his in-ear monitor was missing. Well, he needn’t have worried, because they were incredible. You see a band for twenty years that continues to improve and you almost start to take them for granted. I know a lot of people that talk about how they used to listen to Lagwagon and I just don’t get it. They’re still as good, their songs totally hold up, and they’re just as relevant as they’ve ever been. They kicked the shit out of their set and there was an audience as far as I could see that was going absolutely ape-shit. This was a blast to see. Joey said this: “FFF Fest was the best organized and most professional fest I’ve seen in the states. We (Lagwagon) have played festivals like it in Europe for decades and the U.S. fest have rarely compared. FFF Fest was definitely comparable. Great bands, great food, great time.”

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The last band I saw at the actual Fest was Fucked Up. The band was incredible. A well-oiled machine. They play a diverse style and you can tell they love a lot of music. HOWEVER. Their singer took the approach of singing from the crowd for their entire set. This tactic works wonders in clubs and theaters but it really only works if you’re in his immediate vicinity. I understand. It’s a charismatic way to go. But if you’re too far away it’s hard to get any kind of feel. But I’m glad the most dedicated of their fans got what they wanted from it.

As it turns out, my friend had texted me that he was playing in a couple of bands that night, so, I went to see one last night of shows. When in Austin, do as the Austinites do. The first band I saw that night was Burnt Skull. This band was two young dudes, rocking in the most intense of ways, but they got sidelined by the time the guitar player got down to one string and eventually broke that string. They tried to borrow a guitar but their set time was exhausted and they didn’t play more.

In the other room of the club, I saw a few songs of Violent Bullshit. They were reminiscent of crossover metal-punk, I feel like they would play well with Suicidal Tendencies or D.R.I. A bit closer to the metal side. They weren’t bad but I don’t know if I’d rush out to see them at 37. Maybe when I was 16.

Then Wet Lungs came on. If you’ve never seen Gabe Serbian play drums in The Locust or any of his other bands you may not know, he is truly a master craftsman. He does things that appear to be superhuman. This band was no exception. They played 7 songs in just under 8 minutes and everyone in the place was fully locked on him.

Finally, Gabe was filling in for another band called Skycrawler. My friend Ben and I decided that they sounded like Neurosis, if all the build up of Neurosis paid off with some fast parts. Serbian’s drumming added textures, layers and speed, and it ended up being a perfect way to end the fest.

So, I have to take my hat off to Fun Fun Fun Fest. Really, an amazing selection of bands, and everything ran more smoothly than I could have hoped for.

If this isn’t enough Fun Fun Fun for you, my dear friend, and one of my favorite visual artists, Andy Kowalczyk, wrote a guest column documenting his experiences. Here’s a link to his:

Editor’s Note: Check tomorrow.



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