Monday, November 09, 2009

From Fun Fun Fun to Wet Wet Wet

Entering the gates to Waterloo Park for Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest on Saturday, concert-goers paraded in wearing shorts, tank tops, and every pattern of spandex tights. By Sunday, outfits were topped with ponchos and all the emo hairstyles had been hijacked by the “wet look.” That’s what happens when music festivals and monsoon seasons collide.


If there is a manual for how to create a generic auto-tuned hipster dance band, Austin electro group LAX has probably committed it to memory. In the way that faux-Rastafarian dudes are both instantly identifiable and mockable, LAX has co-opted the hipster-dancer persona with bravado, churning tunes with lyrics like, “I want to hunt you / like a cheetah.” Introducing a new track, the band dropped a backbeat that sounded like it’d been lifted from Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” upended with a groove borrowed from Bob Marley and featuring lyrics genuinely stolen from Grandmaster Flash (“Don’t push me / cause I’m close to the edge…”). Then they sang a song about smoking pot. Well, we all knew that was coming. It was rather amazing, in a musically offensive sort of way. It wasn’t the content that was offensive; it was the construction.

On the orange stage, Knoxville’s Royal Bangs pounded away. Sonically they resemble a more dance-focused Broken Social Scene – though in the flesh they appear as three dudes on guitar, a drummer, and a lead singer who rocks on keys, thrashes the guitar, then goes crazy on drums. With a couple of hard-driving guitar tracks, Royal Bangs move from BSS to The Who territory, striking satisfying chords in both musical realms.

If LAX had delighted in lifting hip hop lyrics, James Husband, merrily strumming his guitar on the yellow stage, introduced lines taken from “The Sound of Music” as he opened his set (“somewhere in my youth or childhood / I must have done something good”). But his mellow strains were heartily outweighed by Austin’s The Sword blaring their guitars on the black stage. If music can be so loud it makes your jaw hurt, one hopes The Sword fans have health insurance. That said, when it comes to axe-swinging, these guys are not messing around. (Proof: They have a track featured in Guitar Hero II.)

Back on the orange stage, the crowd watching Red Sparrowes – old guys experiencing the music in a full-body sort of way, and a dude wearing 3-D glasses – gave way to folks waiting for No Age. Having just released their “Losing Feeling” EP, the LA duo played a noisy new track that was met with equal noise from fans. After a short and hearty set from Death, Yeasayer gave an extended soundcheck. With each band member playing multiple instruments that needed checking, the crowd grew restless, until that moment when the lead singer unwittingly said that he couldn’t quite hear the cowbell on the monitor. Then everyone had to chime in and shout, “more cowbell!” Yeasayer: making hipster dreams come true.


For a brief period Sunday afternoon the rain slowed to a drizzle and it seemed safe to hide out beneath a tree in front of the blue stage where New Mexico’s seeming one-man show Alaska In Winter crooned auto-tuned songs and played the melodica while wearing a white fur hat. It was so wet out though, I saw a hipster who wasn’t able to light his joint.

The rain subsided a bit more and a mash-up dance party started when Car Stereo (Wars) took the stage. If I had to guess, it would be that one of those car stereos is playing Girl Talk, while the other blasts a local Top 40/hip hop station. While CS(W) dropped some newer riffs than Greg Gillis, sampling “Kiss Me Thru The Phone” and “Birthday Sex,” their mixes played more to the idea of giving the mainstream what they want, rather than something they’d never expect. The MC worked the crowd by asking rhetorical questions like, “Are we in Austin, Texas?” “Is that your bag?” “Is this your hat?” Before CS(W) dropped a mash of MGMT’s “Kids” versus Ciara’s “One, Two Step,” a girl dressed as a California raisin went up to a young boy who was standing next to his mother and tried to get him to dance. He looked up at his mom with a bewildered look. He will probably steer clear of raisins for the rest of his life.

On the other side of the park, the stage was being readied for comedy. While it’s become trendy for outdoor festivals to serve up hipster comedians alongside indie bands, it has always seemed an unnatural pairing. For a brand of comedy that thrives on awkward pauses, clever word play, and an esoteric nonchalance, emerging in broad daylight to compete with the roar of metal-soaked rock seems an impossible feat. Case in point, while Nick Thune can prove amusingly aloof signing about refusing to observe Daylight Savings Time on nighttime TV, his low-key Stephen Wright-with-attitude one-liners are nearly impossible to enjoy in mid-afternoon backed by the din of metalcore band Coalesce. Hipster comedy belongs in night clubs. At night.

As the rain began to pour harder and the grass swiftly turned to mud, it was time to make a gracious exit.

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