If the 2009 festival season could be summed up with one word, it would probably be “rain”-but at this weekend’s Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas, at least someone was willing to take the blame. “I heard you guys were having a drought, so we brought the Danzig black clouds of rain for you,” said former Misfits frontman Glenn Danzig during his Black Stage headlining set Sunday night. “I hope you appreciate it.”
The fourth annual festival, held Nov. 7 and 8 at Austin’s Waterloo Park, hosted acts including Danzig, the Jesus Lizard, Death, Of Montreal, Crystal Castles, Shonen Knife, GZA, Mission of Burma and dozens of others. Aside from the top-tier artists, the festival focused on underground, independent artists and bands local to an area known for its thriving live music scene.
In addition to a relaxed atmosphere and a mechanical bull, highlights of the festival included a super-charged set from 2009 Polaris Award-winning Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up, a rare performance of ’70s Detroit power trio Death, and the only Austin-area appearance of former resident David Yow’s reunited Jesus Lizard. Delivering mesmerizing renditions of the band’s songs including “Mouthbreather,” “Nub” and “Then Comes Dudley,” the 49 year-old Yow lived up to his reputation as a legendary live performer, taking multiple stage dives into the crowd and offering plenty of his well-known banter. Opening the set with a cry of “Alright, Dallas!,” Yow later asked the crowd “Which one of you likes to party?” and at one point gushed “That was one of the coolest moments of my life. My sister’s back there, and I got to kiss my sister while we were playing that song.” Particularly epic were the calisthenics of Jesus Lizard drummer Mac McNeilly, who attracted a backstage scrum of studious, awe-filled drummers from local Austin bands.
One of the most highly anticipated acts of the event was Death, whose performance Saturday night came nine months after the release of the Drag City collection of their previously unreleased material, “…For the Whole World to See”. The band, made up of three African American brothers–Bobby, Dannis and David Hackney–vanished soon after recording one single in 1974. Guitarist David Hackney died in 2000, and has been replaced by Bobbie Duncan, guitarist for a reggae band the surviving brothers formed in 1983. After a technical delay, the trio entered in imposing black monk robes, which were quickly discarded to free the artists’ limbs for an explosive set of the band’s material. Bassist and lead vocalist Bobby Hackney dedicated the euphoric performance to David, whose body-length, white-suited portrait was hanging on either side of the stage in tribute.
The now all-too-familiar festival rainstorm hit on Sunday morning after a first full day of glorious weather, but attendance held and the festival’s four stages remained, for the most part, close to schedule. Only one major change was required, after the weather damaged the smaller Yellow Stage and forced a performance of Canadian duo The King Khan and BBQ Show to move to a local venue’s after party.
Sunday’s damp proceedings began with some brunch-time metal from bands including the Roller and Pack of Wolves, as well as with Latin funk from the Peligrosa All-Stars and dance rock from local favorites Black and White Years. As the afternoon progressed, buzz on the grounds focused on the potential effects of the weather, anticipation for Danzig, and curiosity over watermelon-smashing Metallica tribute band Metallagher.
While the incessant precipitation thinned the crowds somewhat into the evening, the slope in front of the orange stage was still packed for Boston post-punk icons Mission of Burma, who seemed to draw energy from the weather’s dirty chaos, playing straight into the rain in a haze of watery light and artificial smoke. Wu-Tang’s GZA delivered a tight set to Austin’s resilient, mud-splattered hip hop fanatics.
By the time Danzig and his band took the stage, 30 minutes past their appointed set time, the rain had stopped and the remaining fans were the most enthusiastic. Danzig noted that it was his first performance in Austin in 15 years, and that they were celebrating 20 years as a band “when all the labels said we wouldn’t even last one year.” Amid fan sing-a-longs and fist pumping, Danzig howled in his famous baritone for an hour of tunes including “Tired of Being Alive,” “Her Black Wings” and “Satan Sound,” ending, to no one’s surprise, with the band’s 1988 hit “Mother”.
Transmission Entertainment, which promotes Fun Fun Fun Fest as a more grassroots, fan-friendly alternative to other major festivals, plans to hold the 2010 event again at Waterloo Park, though dates have not been announced.