My brother, Paul, and I got the nod to cover the FYF Fest for Juice Magazine (Thanks, Terri!) and hopped the train to head down to Exposition Park on Friday evening for Day One. We had done our due diligence and looked up all the bands we most wanted to check out ... we had a plan. The train passed by three different skate parks on the ride down, which we took to be a good sign for the day. It was still hot and sunny when we got off right at the site at the Vermont Station, and music fans were swarming everywhere. Everyone seemed in high spirits (perhaps DUE to spirits!), and overall ready to rock. Maybe more ready than the venue, to be honest. Very few volunteers in FYF shirts or folks in Security shirts had any idea what was going on, and had either wrong or no information. Maybe Day One kinks, but I hope they had a big old staff meeting after that. For real.
There were people climbing all over an FYF sculpture, taking photos, and selfies were rampant all day. Girls and their selfies, man. A guy was playing sax to entertain the long lines of folks eager to get inside, and heads were bowed over the maps as we all tried to figure out the best strategy to see the most. Not an easy task, as the main stages we wanted to see bands at were on opposite sides of The Coliseum ... so yeah, we got our steps in. Paul really wanted to get over to the Trees stage to see BADBADNOTGOOD, so off we sped. We caught a little of Beach Fossils on the way over, and generally liked what we heard.
More lack of information over at the Trees stage, when no one knew where Paul should go to shoot from the photo pit. Luckily, right then our Venice pal, Wiley, walked up and said, "I'll escort you," after some homie hugs. That's right. I just followed along, with no one stopping me, so I watched BADBADNOTGOOD from the pit with all the photographers. That was great, because they were great - which you can really tell from that close.
They're a jazzy, riffy band, with the cat on the keys especially standing out. His solos were met with cheers, and the personable drummer yelled out, "You wanna keep the vibes going?!" Yes, we sure did.
We passed by the Woods and Outer Space stages on the way to the Media tent, and realized we probably wouldn't be spending much time in those places. We pretty much say Heck, no to techno, but I was happy for all the club kids going off in their colorful festival outfits. The Club stage was next to the Media tent, so we heard a little Hundred Waters sounding not bad while we waited for our phones to charge a little and enjoy the complimentary Kombucha. There's really no time to waste at Festivals like this, because there is always that fear of missing out factor. For me though, this night was all about Björk, and we wanted to jockey for position early. On the way to the Main Stage, we passed by the Lawn stage, and heard some ethereal sounds from Angel Olsen that kind of set the tone for the genius we were about to behold.
Photo: Goldenvoice Media
There was no photo pit for Björk, sadly, so we headed for the VIP area to get a good viewing spot. It was still pretty empty, and we saw people going behind a black curtain with their wristbands, so were like, "Let's check out back there." Barely glancing at our wrists, the guard just let us pass, and suddenly we found ourselves standing between the private backstage areas of both Björk and Missy Elliot and the steps leading up to the actual stage. As we don't personally know either of these legends (yet), there was nothing really to do, so we shrugged and split. On our way back out, this guy was like "You can't be back here with that wristband," and I was like, "Tell her." LOTS of disorganization going on during this opening day, that is for sure. Anyway, no harm, no foul(they're lucky we weren't deranged superfans), and we found our excellent spot to see one of my favorites from. A guy near me said, "Dude, are we really this close to Björk right now?!" Well, we were about to be.
An orchestra soon took the stage and began tuning ... and tuning ... until the same guy said, "They build suspense quite well." That, they did. It was all very dramatic, and when the DJ came out, she got massive cheers. They were nothing, however, to the ovation that met Björk when she took the stage in a giant, puffy, fireball of a dress, with a bright, yellow mask covering her face and head. Visually stunning, as usual. The orchestra began, and Björk opened with "Stonemilker" from her Vulnicura album. I attended the Björk Digital exhibit in the Spring, and recognized many of the Icelandic visuals on the screen behind her. She danced around like a beach ball swan, and the entire crowd stood rapt. Her music is not really that danceable, which would be hard anyway, as squeezed in as everyone was to see one of the most unique artists of all time.
Björk said nothing the entire set except "Thank you!" in a speaking voice so adorable it made the crowd laugh every time she said it. "Lionsong" was equally exceptional, and then I heard the opening chords to "Come To Me" from Debut, and immediately choked up. It is my all time favorite Björk song, one that I sing to myself all the time, and one that I never thought I would hear played live just a hundred feet or so in front of my face. I was in a totally private trance of beautiful joy for every note. TAKK, Björk! That made my entire festival, and it was only the first day.
"Joga" had Björk pumping her fists, and we did too. "Unravel" was emotionally bare, and when her voice soars high above the mesmerized crowd, there's just no comparison good enough. "Mouth's Cradle", "You've Been Flirting Again", "Isobel", "Bachelorette" ... with each song sung, you once again realized how this woman has been doing exactly her own thing for four decades now, and she's taken us all along for her intensely creative ride the entire way. A girl next to me just laughed at Björk's private seeming dancing, and said, "Bitch just does what she wants." Truly something to strive for in life, and it's incredibly inspiring. You could tell that feeling was crowd-wide mutual, as fans stood there with their hands on both sides of their faces or clasped in front of them as if in prayer, in complete awe and adoration at the spectacle before us. Fully deserved.
"Wanderlust" is another favorite, and its visuals of Björk on a raft down a mountain river were among the best of the show. She's tiny, but her sound is so powerful, she could BE that mountain. "Notget" and "Mouth Mantra" with its video shot from inside her mouth were both fantastic, and Björk treated herself to a glass of champagne at this point as reward, raising it to the crowd who loved it all. Paul split at this point to begin the hike back over to the Trees to shoot Slowdive, but I couldn't tear myself away. That meant I got to hear "Quicksand", "Mutual Core", and the wonderful "Hyperballad" as her last song. This one was special. Björk directed us all like a choir, as we sang along, compelling the stars above to "Save us!" Fireballs and fireworks went off, and even Björk said, "Wow!" It was all just WOW.
There was no encore, though we hoped, and the massive cattle herd headed for the exits. Ridiculously, they were making you scan your wristband even to get OUT, and there was a narrow trough of two scanners to get everyone out. We were going to hop the fences, until someone said if you didn't scan out, you couldn't get re-scanned in. What?! Just then, a furious man came up yelling at the guards, saying, "Fuck this, just let them out!" When asked by the guards if he worked there, he replied, "I run this Festival, let them out, this is so fucked up!" We all agreed, of course, but maybe this should have been a chat that was held before this moment. It was a shit-show of disorganization, but the music made it all o.k.
On my way to meet up with Paul at Trees, I passed by the big crowd super into the danceable funk of Anderson.Paak, and got a couple shimmies of my own in before I raced to see Slowdive. Paul loves them, and his own band, spaceblanket, kind of reminds me of them. Dreamy shoegaze, trancey rock that soothes the spirit. Others thought the same, as I had to step over many sprawled out bodies on the grass, taking a breather to some chill tunes. I caught their gorgeous "Alison", and wished we had the luxury of taking a load off to hear the rest, but we had to get back over to the Main Stage to get a decent position for Missy Elliot!
The VIP area was much more packed for this one, and we jimmied our way in to the mix and joined the group contact high that was going down all over. Elliot's hype man came out and had us scream and yell and "Make some noise" (a term I'm good if I never hear again. Let's try something new, M.C.s!) A career recap video introduced The Queen of Hip Hop, and dancers moved around a lit-up magic trick box, that ultimately opened to reveal Miss Elliot, to a deafening roar. Clad in all bedazzled white, with long extensions and a "Queen" bedazzled hat (there was a whole lot of bling), Missy Elliot was BACK.
"She's A Bitch" was up first, which led right into "One Minute Man", I'm Really Hot", and "We Run This". In fact, most songs led right into the next, as it was really more of a big, long medley, with about thirty second snippets of most of her hits - because there are a LOT. And most in the crowd knew every damn word.
"It's been ten years since I performed in the States," said Elliot, and was warmly welcomed back by all the thousands who had missed her. "I fell down 'cause my shoelace came loose! Thank you all for the love and support over two decades! I was sick, but I said, 'I'm not gonna miss this show for nothing!' Can I party wit y'all?!" That answer was definitely yes. "Where's my Day 1 fans?!" They were all here, and in throes of ecstasy when Elliot gave them "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)". A fast run-through of "All N My Grill" "Sock It 2 Me", "Hot Boyz", and "Pussycat" left everyone fired up and exhausted at the same time. Breakdancers threw down, and gave Elliot the chance to rest when they were going off (she was breathing noticeably heavy by now), which she deserved, because this gig was HIGH energy. And also, pretty much everyone WAS high, well before "Pass That Dutch" was played.
Another costume change, and Elliot and the dancers came on with bedazzled camo outfits on, to urge everyone, front to back, to jump up and down for "Get Ur Freak On"! The shouts and jumps were not to Elliot's satisfaction the first try, so she said, "Put your phones down, that's part of the problem! Put them down for one record!" Bless her. For that one song, we were all in it - and present - together, and it was awesome. As was "Work It" with her clever flip it and reverse it lyrics. Another costume change into some graffiti-style outfits, and Elliot revealed that her hair was a mess, her mic pack fell off, and she didn't have her inner ears in, but "A real star keeps it moving ..." There is no doubt that Elliot is a real star, but I'm not ever that into the self-proclamation thing, especially when you don't have to. Katy Perry, Tyler the Creator, Solange, Beyonce, Björk, Janet Jackson (!) and who knows who else, were all there side-stage to cheer her on and cement the fact that "I've made it!"
More Dutch was passed, then a speed medley of songs and dances to "Shut It Down", "Ching-A-Ling", "Shake Your Pompom", "The Things You Do", "Let It Go" and "One In A Million" kept it extra-entertaining with twerkers, hot dudes with no shirts, roller skaters, and you name it! Elliot, now in a blinged out "Save The Humans" jacket expressed that she needed to be closer to the people, needed to touch them, so off she went into the crowd to the over the top joy of her Day Ones in the mix. You could hear their blissed out screams through her mic, and the video screens captured the wowed faces. Their happiness was reflected by Elliot, whose smile was so big it didn't need bedazzling. It had been ten years! The Queen was all the way back!
Elliot closed out her headlining spot with "1, 2 Step" and "Lose Control" and then asked the crowd to light up their phones or lighters, one and all, to remember our lost loved ones. Dancers brought out big posters of Biggie and Tupac and Elliot sang "Rock The Boat" to end her energetic set. The dancers put Elliot back in the magic box, spun it around, and opened it again to reveal Elliot had turned into a little puppet doll, and the real one was probably already passing the dutch backstage with all her celebrity hobnobbers. The consensus for the first day of FYF was that the Ladies First night BROUGHT IT. Everyone streamed out of there (again, no encore) happily spent, and will be for sure buzzing about it all for days.
There was thankfully no scanning to get out this time, but there was almost a rugby scrum going on to get into the VIP area over by the Lawn stage where Flying Lotus was now playing. We'd all been given 3D glasses upon entry for their gig, and their trippy brand of atmospheric jams was back-lit with swirling shapes that I imagine were meant to be all immersive and cool, but it looked pretty much the same without them.
Paul had tapped out of Missy Elliot around the second costume change to get over to see Thee Oh Sees, so once I'd established that the 3D was just kind of meh, I trekked back over to the Club stage to meet up with him.
I now wish I'd gone directly to the Club stage, because Thee Oh Sees were by far the discovery of the day for me. Holy moly! Juice readers will be all over these guys, as it's pure rock energy. So much so that even though the rockers assembled had to be kind of beat, the moshing was as hard and fast as I've seen, and deservedly so. These guys KILL. IT.
Two drummers keep the same beat, side by side, and it never relents. The front man, John Dwyer, is a frenetic madman of sound, facing the speakers to amp up the feedback and scream in our sweaty faces. It was awesome, and I found myself wishing they'd been on at like 9 instead of 1 am, so we could have better rocked it, instead of limped it!
We had to skedaddle to catch the train before it stopped running, so we reluctantly took off as the last chords were still feedbacking. On the very long walk back to the train stop, we ran into two good friends from Venice who happened to drive. Shining the longass train line, we happily walked them to their car, and caught a ride back West, with our ears still ringing from a spectacular opening day of rock and roll at the FYF Festival!
Time to crash and do it all again for Day Two! Get down.
*All photos by Paul Gronner Photography (Unless otherwise indicated)