After an (unsuccessful) attempt to receive my FFF Fest wristband (the thing that gets you in to the festival) at will call on Thursday night, I was finally able to manage to my pass Friday morning at Auditorium Shores. After that, there was a wait.
They let some media in earlier than the rest (including myself), but around 11:30 AM, everyone waiting was shortly filed in (including my ride). I didn’t have any acts planned to see yet, so we parked ourselves next to the “green stage”. It was a biking and skating area. They were just practicing for a demo later in the day, but it was still pretty cool to watch.
Around noon, I headed over to see Spider Bags at the orange stage. This was not only my first time seeing Spider Bags live and first act of this festival, but also the first act I’ve ever seen at a festival. They had a great performance, executing their county-influenced garage sound with high energy and proficient playing. Vocalist/guitarist David McGee joked that he was surprised we were up this early, especially to see them, which was amusing since it was lunch time. Towards the end of their set, they played “Keys to the City”, which was definitely a standout.
After Spider Bags, I caught the tail-end of Radkey’s show on the black stage. I had never heard of them before the festival and only heard them a little, but it was enough to get me to buy their most recent single and get it signed. They played high energy punk (especially the bassist) with call-and-response vocals, tight playing, and great attitude. They also seemed like genuinely great people at the signing, which also seemed to come across in their performance. Definitely the surprise of the day for me.
Then we had Peelander-Z, also on the black stage. These guys were off-the-wall nuts. I’d definitely categorize them more as performance art than music (Peelander-Yellow said, on-stage during their show, “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PLAY MUSIC, I JUST WANT TO PLAY WITH YOU!!!”), but they are great at performance art. Peelander-Yellow was crowd surfing just a couple minutes in, and Peelander-Pink got a “Mad Tiger” dance and chant going, which eventually shifted into “Mod Tiger” with a chang in the drum beat. The whole show was a blast.
To end the stretch on the black stage, I saw Pallbearer. Pallbearer were definitely the highlight of the day for me. There aren’t many bands around today that do the traditional doom metal sound justice, but these guys definitely do. Slow, heavy, long songs with structure and progression, drumming so powerful it makes your heart jump, epic solos, everything you could want from a band like this. Hearing “Devoid of Redemption” live was an experience. After the set, I got a copy of Sorrow and Extinction signed by the band. If you don’t listen to Pallbearer, start. Now.
After getting some food and drink and exploring a bit,
my friend and I headed over to the yellow stage to see Neil Hamburger, but we also managed to make it there for Rachel Bloom’s set.
Rachel Bloom (if you don’t know her), is a musical comedienne. The highlight of her set was likely her closing song, about the internet video sensation “Cake Farts”. She drew a rather poignant metaphor about how we should all find our own cake to fart on and let nothing ever get in the way of that dream.
Neil was on next and he killed it. Way too many great things to talk about, but if I had to pick choice moments: him calling a dude who was on his cellphone during the set a “garbage man” (“a man made of garbage”), later apologizing because he was under the impression he was looking up Bobby McFerrin on his phone so he could understand his joke, a joke involving Forrest Gump and 9/11, and stringing several DJ Diplo knock-knock jokes together. The man is a genius.
Then, it was on to the blue stage for Run the Jewels. The size of the crowd and energy for their show was insane, definitely the biggest of the day up to that point. They ran through songs from both of their albums, and seemed determined to let the artists on the other stages know that they were going to “win” their timeslot. El-P even led the crowd in a “Suck My Dick, Sun Kil Moon” shout, in reference to Sun Kil Moon, who were playing on the orange stage at that time (and bandleader Mark Kozelek’s current feud with the War on Drugs).
After the show, I got a deluxe edition of Run the Jewels 2 singed by El-P and Killer Mike, and I also got my picture taken with them. I look like a dweeb in it, but it was dope.
Then, it was time for a break. My friend and I set up in the RIP area nearest to the black stage and challenged ourselves with the task of relaxing while the Blood Brothers were playing. Around 6:30, Death from Above 1979 came on. Between the massive crowd, the dark, and the flashing stage lights, I didn’t get any good pictures. But I can tell you that’s it massively impressive to see what a huge sound they create live with just two people. They ripped through songs from their classic You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, as well as their new album, The Physical World.
Lastly, we went to Dinosaur Jr.’s set at the orange stage, to see musical heroes of mine live in person. At this point, my phone and and camera were near dead and so was I, but I managed some photos. The ones of Lou came out pretty well, but J got all blurry.
They opened with “The Lung” (an old classic and personal favorite) and played a diverse mix of songs across their catalog that’s been growing for 20+ years. It was great to see them. Hopefully I’ll get to see J’s solo set later on the yellow stage in a more intimate setting (it conflicts with Rocket From the Crypt, so it will probably be the most difficult decision I make this weekend).
Day 1 was exhausting, but a lot of fun. So far, I’m thinking I’m going to have to attend more festivals (though definitely not all the time because it would destroy my weak, frail body).
Here’s hoping Day 2 is just as great!
By Travis Shosa