FYF 2015 Saturday Recap: Run the Jewels, !!!, and Kanye West’s Smile

Located at the sports park surrounding the historic Los Angeles Memorial Colosseum, FYF is the baby brother of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. FYF may not have the expansive lineup or the sacred desert pilgrimage feel of Coachella, but it’s a decent music festival regardless. This year’s lineup contains a few artists that are unlikely to come to my home town of Phoenix, Arizona, as well as a few bucket list bands that I’ve been itching to cross off my list. I attended FYF in 2012 and when the 2015 lineup was announced, I decided it was time to return to LaLa Land.

SATURDAY RECAP:

The first day of the festival got off to a bit of a slow start. Once inside the massive venue space, my crew (including my constant concert companion Adam and younger brother Austin) headed towards the Lawn Stage to catch Tennis. Their cheery indie pop was a fine way to start the day but I didn’t have a burning desire to push my way towards the front, so we watched from the friendly confines of the beer garden. The weather was gorgeous, the beer was cold and Tennis put on a fine little set. Nothing spectacular but enjoyable still.
From there we made our way towards the Arena stage to watch BADBADNOTGOOD. I had heard people complain about the distance between stages last year but I was skeptical. Most music festivals require long walks so wear some comfy shoes and deal with it. It’s quite a trek from the Lawn Stage to the Arena but it’s still reasonable compared to Coachella or Lollapalooza. While the distance didn’t phase me, the Arena itself did. I’ve never been to a festival that had a proper arena as part of the layout. We had the option of waiting in a long, but fast moving line to get onto the arena floor or we could walk right in and sit in any seat we wanted. For BADBADNOTGOOD, we opted for seats and would continue to do so for each return trip to the Arena.

BADBADNOTGOOD might be a decent band but they did not sound great in the Arena. Their heavy alt-jazz sounded uneven and honestly, just too loud for all the pieces to blend together. Some of the blame might fall to the engineer but I think it’s just the unfavorable acoustics of the Arena. Each set we saw in the Arena sounded too loud and too heavy and not in the fun way. BADBADNOTGOOD, you get a free pass this time.

The schedule was a bit sparse in the late afternoon and early evening so despite none of us knowing more than a song or two from the band, our next stop was Dinosaur Jr. at the Main Stage. These alt-rock pioneers have been hustling and touring for over 30 years and despite a rather aloof stage presence, their sound still has teeth. Surrounded by an enclave of stacked Marshall amplifies, lead singer and guitarist J Mascis was hypnotic to watch. That dude has a real gift for both playing and distorting guitar sounds. As the sun began to set, Dinosaur Jr. played a cover of The Cure’s “Just Like A Dream” and that’s when I finally started to get into a proper festival mood.

We went back to the Arena to catch a bit of Kaytranada’s set. Again the sound seemed distorted and unbalanced but the fact that we had actual seats to sit in made it worth the stop. Kaytranada is a bit of tease, often stopping and rewinding beats in an attempt to get the crowd more hyped. While this technique is effective for some, it all but killed the little momentum Kaytranada had. We left the Arena shortly after we arrived.

Run the Jewels was the first act on the Saturday lineup that I was really hyped to see. Their set at Coachella was fire and I couldn’t wait to catch them again. The onstage camaraderie of Killer Mike and El-P is totally infectious. They are constantly cracking jokes at the other’s expense and they repeatedly refer to each other as best friends. They seem to care as much about each other as they do about the crowd that came to support them. Pulling off a call and response bit is dicey business but Run the Jewels have the energy and zeal to make it look easy. Zach De La Rocha, Travis Barker and Gangsta Boo all made guest appearances and despite the short time slot, they managed to squeeze in “Angel Dust” for an encore. I hope these guys make a new album every year and never stop touring. Run the Jewels is hop-hop as it should be: aggressive, conscious, intelligent and undeniably fun.

After RTJ, most people seemed to make their way to Schlomo or the Flying Lotus DJ set. I’m sure those were both good performances but the real party, for those in the know, was at the Lawn Stage with !!! (pronounced chk-chk-chk). The place was all but deserted and we were able to walk to within 20 feet of the stage. Despite the small crowd, seasoned festival professionals !!! came to get down. Their intergalactic funk party music had everyone dancing. Lead singer Nick Offer is a frenetic dance commander who understands that the best way to get a crowd to move is to lead by example. He was constantly dancing, running into the crowd and sending the people a clear signal that this is a safe place to cut loose. Even their keyboard player, who was on crutches, managed to hobble and dance around the stage, often pumping one of his crutches in the air to the beat. It’s an interesting contrast to an EDM DJ lead dance party. Where as the DJ is there to supply the party, !!! is an active participant in the party. If you like to boogie, !!! is a must see live act.

RTJ and !!! took a lot out of us so we decided to watch Bloc Party from the beer garden and refuel. Bloc Party played a solid set and the crowd noticeably perked up when they played their now 10 year old hit “Banquet”. We didn’t stick around for the whole set. We had somewhere important to be…

I saw Kanye West perform live for the first time at Lollapalooza in 2006. While touring in support of Late Registration, Kanye was on the rise. He had a full live band, a bunch of guests and he seemed to absolutely love performing his music for his hometown of Chicago. I saw him again when he headlined Lollapalooza in 2008. Once again, he was upbeat and unstoppable. Despite being at what many would consider peak Kanye, he still seemed human. Less than a year after the death of his mother, Kanye performed a heart wrenching version of “Hey Mama” that still gives me the chills when I think about it. In 2011, I saw Kanye close down Coachella in support of his masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This time he seemed weighed down by some unseen burden. Maybe it was astronomical levels of hype and expectation, maybe it was the ongoing turmoil in his personal/public life or maybe it was his own unforgiving sense of perfectionism. In any case, the performance was great but I never got the feeling that Kanye was enjoying himself. Most recently, I saw Kanye West perform at the 2014 Life Is Beautiful festival in downtown Las Vegas. Throughout the show, he seemed angry and distant, like he resented the fact that he was performing and he resented us for being there to see it. When and why did Kanye get so damn serious?

Just a few days ago, Frank Ocean was the top billed performer for FYF and then without warning Frank Ocean dropped out of the festival and was replaced by Kanye West. I had a lot of mixed feelings about the swap. Frank Ocean made my favorite album of 2013 (Channel Orange)and I was really looking forward to seeing a large scale performance from the rising R&B star. On the flip side, Kanye West is one of my all-time favorite musicians and I relish any chance I get to see him go to work.

As soon as Kanye started his performance, I could tell something was different. There was energy in his voice and his body language was loose and enthusiastic. And then I saw something I haven’t seen since 2008: Kanye West smiling. At that point, I knew we were in for something special. When Kanye West is in a good mood, he is perhaps the most gifted and entertaining showman on planet earth. He starts cranking out hit after hit after hit. Tens of thousands of people in attendance dance like no one is watching and sing every word in unison. Unburdened by months of preparation and expectation, Kanye West never touches the ground. He starts “FourFive Seconds” and then runs into the VIP pit where Rihanna is watching and hands her a microphone so she can sing her part. Her look of total shock and embarrassment indicated that this was definitely an unplanned move. It was a beautiful little moment between two friends that felt spontaneous and entirely magical.

His catalogue of hits is too big for a 75 minute set. Normally I would expect Kanye to pout and rant about having a truncated time slot but not this time. After an autotune freestyle to the end of “Runaway”, Kanye says “We’re running out of time and I’ve still got like 10 years of hits to plays so we’re gonna do a hit a minute”. The crowd goes absolutely bananas as he rifles through the first 90 seconds of “Jesus Walks”, “All Falls Down”, “Gold Digger”, “Touch the Sky”, and “Good Life”. Smiling from ear to ear, he starts “All of the Lights” and this time he manages to summon Rihanna out of the pit and on to the stage so she can sing the chorus. Yeezus is a benevolent deity and his light shone bright as the song came to a close. That would have been enough but Kanye ended his set with the gorgeous ballad “Only One”. Overcome by joy or exhaustion or the vast untold mysteries of life itself, Kanye lies down on his back and just sings. Fog machines cloud the stage until Kanye disappears entirely. Fade to black.

Where do you go after witnessing such an event?

How do you move forward with your festival experience?

We chose to go watch legendary Scottish alt rockers The Jesus and Mary Chain perform their perennial classic album Psychocandy from cover to cover. It was a noisy and satisfying way to come down from Kanye’s performance. As they ended their set, we made our way back into the Arena to see Simian Mobile Disco do their thing. We find a seat in the mostly deserted upper level and let SMD assault us with their synthesizers and drum machines. I struggle to keep my eyes open as they finish their performance with a song called “Sleep Deprivation”. They end just shy of 2:00 AM. Uber back to our Air B&B. Night cap. Sleep.

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