“Texas is supposed to be hot, right?” asked one festival-goer aloud, arms hugging her body and teeth chattering as she barreled through the throngs — significantly thicker than Friday’s (Nov. 7) masses — at Austin’s Auditorium Shores during Day 2 of Fun Fun Fun Fest.
By all accounts, even in November, the answer is generally yes in the Texas capital. But a storm system that swept through the area late Friday and early Saturday morning plunged temperatures into the mid-50s (and almost 10 degrees colder when winds were high). Thankfully, the relatively mild chilliness, only a bit of mud — definitely manageable in regular sneakers, but enough to delay gates by 30 minutes — and a couple of airline snafus comprised the only real fallout from the rain (most significant: Gesaffelstein cancelled altogether and comedian Tig Notaro switched from Friday to Saturday).
Perhaps it was a collective proverbial sigh of relief then that made the second of three days so superb. But its success was owed equally to a genre-spanning lineup jam-packed with so much surefire talent — Jane’s Addiction, Ride, Grimes, Wu-Tang Clan, Gogol Bordello and NOFX, among others.
That mix produced a solid stream of memorable fest moments and there were so many schedule conflicts — a testament to a truly stellar 10th anniversary lineup — that catching every must-see act posed an impossible task. Here’s what we managed to soak in.
3:20 p.m.: Though the gates’ late opening sadly caused cancelations of local buzz acts A Giant Dog, S U R V I V E and American Sharks, spirits are noticeably high with no more rain in sight to meddle with sharp sets from Joanna Gruesome and Speedy Ortiz on the Orange stage. The Charlatans are likewise riding the wave of positivity: Andy Warhol lookalike frontman Tim Burgess can’t stop grinning as he sashays and wistfully ambles through chill ’90s notables “Weirdo” and “North Country Boy.”
He continues to dance like nobody’s watching during jumpier, piano-driven cut “Trouble Understanding” and Talking Heads-inspired “Let the Good Times Be Never Ending,” two of the strongest showcased from 12th album, Modern Nature (released in January). Onlookers remain mostly rigid until the psychedelic wash of organs and screaming, shoegaze-y guitar on ’91 Billboard Modern Rock charts smash “Sproston Green” provides the pep to prep for a day of much more lively music ahead.
4:40 p.m.: Black Sabbath sound-alikes Fuzz begin 10 minutes late on the Orange stage, but no one in the sprawling audience — the most massive so far for a mid-afternoon FFF slot — seems to mind. Besides, drummer Ty Segall, this day donning futuristic face paint to match guitarist Charlie Moothart and bassist Chad Ubovich, provides ample entertainment in the meantime. He first throws water bottles willy-nilly into the crowd — “Stay hydraaaaaaated!” he screeches with more than a hint of inebriation — then puts on a freaky plastic baby mask while sound-checking the skins.
After ripping through “Rat Race,” the first single from just-released sophomore album, II, Ubovich busts a string. That feat plus the following thunderous set of mosh-inciting, stoner-psych jams proves this outfit could’ve headlined the Black Stage instead, then Segall also tries for his comedy stripes to fill the dead air: “What’s green all over and hops from bed to bed? … a prosti-toad,” he cracks. Heh — maybe he’ll play the Yellow Tent later, too.
5:55 p.m.: Within the first 30 seconds of American Nightmare’s performance on the Black Stage, frontman Wesley Eisold whips up the most insane response of any audience so far. It’s as if the center-stage catwalk was designed by him — he immediately throws himself toward the edge, and the clawing, outstretched hands of fans are waiting to receive his flailing silhouette. As his backing trio rocks dutifully behind him, Eisold leads scream-alongs to sinister songs like “There’s a Black Hole in the Shadow of the Pru,” “I’ve Shared Your Lips So Now They Sicken Me” and “Love American,” all the while pulling up and lovingly shoving back every crowd-surfer and stage-diver that comes his way. The church of hardcore has officially convened at FFF Fest, and Eisold is easily the most fit to lead the congregation of chaos.
7:00 p.m.: Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo is wrapping up one of the most freewheeling dance parties of the weekend on the Blue Stage. Upbeat bangers off new album, Vega Intl. Night School, have a lot to do with it — they’re significantly more lively than the chill wave vibes of his early material. Still, the unfettered energy radiating from Palomo himself is equally inspiring. He’s impossible not to watch as he fearlessly busts moves in every direction, jumping from speaker to speaker near the end before taking a quick crowd-surf. Bonus points, too, for peppering in understanding of the local cultural climate (he’s a Denton, Texas, native) during his final salute: “Thank you. I love Austin … it’s a rapidly changing city so it’s a snapshot every time I’m here.” Up next on this stage, highly anticipated solo act Grimes will have her work cut out for her (spoiler: She kills it anyway).
8:20 p.m.: It’s a treat to catch snippets of Jane’s Addiction warming up for their headlining set on the Orange Stage — a full-album undertaking of 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual — as I pass by their backstage, makeshift jam tent, complete with practice drum kit and amps. They’re rocking out to Van Halen’s “Panama” sans frontman Perry Farrell at the moment, which eventually casts stark contrast to space-glam vibes of Ritual cuts like “Bobhaus” and “Ain’t No Right.”
Farrell’s vocals lead off too low in an initially botched mix — the faithful fans are far louder than him on opener “Stop!” and guitarist Dave Navarro’s technically perfect shred flurries nearly quash Stephen Perkins’ precise pounding. The kinks get worked out in time to enjoy most of the record (which features some of the weirdest Jane’s tracks), though an obnoxious front-row fan hollering “Nothing’s Shocking!” to the point of annoyance during airy main set closer “Classic Girl” threatens to kill the vibe again. But those tracks eventually come in the encore, and besides, the odd sonics of Ritual splendidly lend themselves to Jane’s veritable on-stage circus.
Perry’s wife Etty Lau Farrell leads a trio of backup dancers through everything from pretty, interpretative moves to straight-up stripteases atop industrial looking catwalks and Victorian armchairs, inside metal-and-glass dance chambers and grinding on the legs of each band member. Owing to nearly three decades of professionalism, the group saves the best (and most Shocking) antics for the finale, hoisting up flesh suspension dancers to twirl through the air on either side during the group-percussion outro of “Chip Away.” It comes off a bit weird for a follow-up to super-hit “Jane’s Says,” but was likewise fitting to wrap up a freakishly eclectic Day 2 of Fun Fun Fun Fest.