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Festival Review: Fun Fun Fun Fest 2012

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At around 4:15 a.m. Saturday morning, the official Fun Fun Fun Fest app sent a push notification, which is weird because usually there are two things that happen that late over cell phones: emergencies or regrettable judgment calls. I guess you could say this was both. It read, “Hey girl can I com over? I been drinkin bout you. Hollr.” It’s one of the best booty-texts I’ve heard in a minute — and it went out to thousands of people.

If it was real, that’s awesome. I hope that guy/girl found love in a hopeless place. But I’m willing to entertain the slight possibility that it was fake and just a really great joke set up by their social media person. The attendees at Fun Fun Fun Fest don’t care, and certainly aren’t going to get up in arms about it and take it up with the big wigs. I mean, it probably was a big wig, which is all the funnier.

In its seventh year filling up most of Auditorium Shores in Austin, TX, FFFF managed to keep the feel of an epic impromptu summer party set up in your friend’s backyard while elevating the logistics and amenities just enough to accomodate its thousands of ticket-holders. There’s no branding on the stages (which are designated as Black, Blue, Orange, and Yellow, each roughly focusing on metal, electronic/hip-hop, top-tier indie, and a grab-bag of comedy and music, respectively), local vendors (Frank’s was out of this world), and the only way I can describe the numbers was “appropriately attended”: never claustrophobic, rarely tumble-weed worthy.

 Festival Review: Fun Fun Fun Fest 2012

In addition to the high-profile reunions like Refused and Run DMC, the most metal-friendly lineup of any mainstream festival, and a grip of the best comedians working today, one of the best parts about my time there was that FFFF played host to ersatz skate park and Anarchy Championship Wrestling matches placed right in the the middle of the grounds, not tucked away in the corner somewhere. Taking in some sweet vert ramps and rickety suplexes was the perfect transition between watching Tanlines’ daytime cocktail dance vibe and Seaweed’s ’90s Sub Pop.

I shot the photos, and David Von Bader and Paul de Revere put the pen to the paper (or the finger to the smart phone) and grabbed notes on several acts throughout the weekend. (With such a stacked lineup, we wish we could’ve been in several places at once.) By most accounts, Fun Fun Fun Fest closed out the “festival season” in the U.S., and they did it by crowd surfing through the weekend, lifting everyone’s spirits with the exception of the occasional kick to the skull.

-Jeremy D. Larson
Managing Editor

Friday, November 2nd

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Torche – Black Stage – 2:15 p.m.

Aggressive music performed in the daytime and outdoors runs the risk of being neutered by the environment, but Friday’s sun-drenched Black Stage proved the perfect venue for Torche’s sludge-borne pop-rock. The Miami-bred band looked the part as well, with frontman Steve Brooks donning a Hawaiian shirt that was almost as loud as the band’s thundering riffs. The group’s set featured plenty of fresh stuff off of its most recent LP, Harmonicraft, but the highlight of the performance was absolutely the brute force, “bomb note” assault of a closer “Tarpit Carnivore”. –David Von Bader

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Diamond Rings – Blue Stage – 3:20 p.m.

There’s a difference between performers acting like they don’t care about what an audience thinks and the concept of self-consciousness genuinely not even occurring to them. Diamond Rings’ John O’Regan was the latter Friday afternoon. His project’s joyful, sprightly synth pop (plus his giddy, lanky dancing to it) was a tribute to a lack of self-awareness. Amid the aggro music of the nearby Black Stage and the navel-gazing indie of the Orange Stage, Diamond Rings couldn’t help but sound and feel refreshing. –Paul de Revere

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Napalm Death – Black Stage – 4:25 p.m.

As members of literally every other band playing the Black Stage on Friday looked on with looks of adoration and only the most twisted of metal faces, Napalm Death proceeded to overcome some early technical malfunctions and completely terrorize the crowd. The British grind-core pioneer’s sound was absolutely menacing and by the end of the set, “Barney” Greenway had vomited on stage (sonically and literally), a cyclone of dust had been kicked-up by a crowd engulfed in the heft of classics like “Scum” and the group’s cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Fuck Off Nazi Punks”, and Fun Fun Fun Fest had an affirmation of the now 30 year old band’s live potency. –David Von Bader

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Hannibal Buress – Yellow Stage – 4:45 p.m.

Any list of stand-up comedians that could double as rap critics would have to include Hannibal Buress. Buress had a laptop DJ backing him up under Fun Fun Fun Fest’s Yellow Stage tent as he dissected absurd, nonsensical, and straight-up nasty rap lyrics. At the end of his set, Buress riffed on 2 Chainz, Juicy J, and Big Sean lyrics and ad-libs, including some insanely funny wordplay on UGK deep cut “Pregnant Pussy”, which is about exactly what you think it’s about. -Paul de Revere

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Converge – Black Stage – 5:15 p.m

Maybe it was the fact that the group’s inadvertent “opening act” was Napalm fucking Death, but, Converge brought an intensity to the Black Stage that had yet to been seen all day. The performance blurred the line between absolute catharsis and a head-banging good time, and from the instant guitarist Kurt Ballou ripped into the ominous opening riff of “Concubine” the afternoon crowd began to eat itself alive. Vocalist Jacob Bannon stalked the stage, crept through the photo-pit, and offered the mic to crowd-surfing zombies, hungry for their piece of the set.

Live, Converge is a rarity in its ability to perform the technical wizardry of the records proficiently (and without the technological assistance so many bands call upon these days) while providing a stage show that is as aggressive as the sounds themselves. Though Bannon’s theatrical thrashing about was an obvious focal point, to watch Ben Koller effortlessly pound out his lyrical and pummeling drum fills and stabs in the flesh is a show in itself. The set ended as it began, punctuated by another track from the band’s groundbreaking Jane Doe, “The Broken Vow”. –David Von Bader

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Against Me! – Black Stage – 7:15 p.m.

Laura Jane Grace is the “new” lead singer of Against Me!. Few things have changed, though, especially The Voice: that raspy, urgent tone popularized on New Wave, As the Eternal Cowboy, and Reinventing Axl Rose, which the band heavily pulled from for its evening set on the Black Stage. “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong”, “Sink Florida Sink”, and “Thrash Unreal” cut like knives. Grace, guitarist/vocalist James Bowman, bassit/vocalist Andrew Seward and drummer Jay Weinberg were a well-oiled machine of anthemic punk songs, leaving little to no breathing room for themselves or the audience between songs. (The words “between songs” is a gross overstatement.) When Grace yowls, “Evelyn/ I’m not coming home tonight” on “Guinness”, it’s not hard to think that she’s going to leave it all — her life, sweat, and body — on stage. –Paul de Revere

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X – Black Stage – 8:00 p.m.

To witness a punk band age gracefully is a catch-22: it offends the very fundamentals of punk in many ways. However, X — with members now in their mid 60’s — have managed to not go totally gentle into that dark night, and what’s more, the band’s performance on Friday night proved that some very serious teeth remain where many bands of their age have placed dentures. So moving was X’s performance, that a female fan was outright balling during “The Unheard Music” in the front row. The sentiment was shared by many, including Dennis Lyxzén from Refused and comedian David Cross, who was spotted climbing the scaffold and reveling in the performance.

X’s set began with the ever dapper John Doe, who wore the clothing equivalent of a Tarintino film, soliciting some appreciation for the Big Boys, the Austin punk group responsible for the fest’s moniker. Without another word being said, X cracked mercilessly into the now legendary content of its debut album, Los Angeles. D.J. Bonebrake’s snare drum apparently shared in the audience’s excitement and self-destructed before the end of the first song, but things moved along without a hitch thereafter. Exene Cervanka hopped about at the front of the stage, appearing to channel from the past the spirit of the band’s early days. Billy Zoom and his perennial grin blasted through the solos and chugging chords of “Sugarlight”, and John Doe, well — John Doe is what I want to be when I grow up. The set was transportation back to a unique time and sound for punk rock and certainly earned X and their legacy a few new fans from the large, primarily younger crowd. –David Von Bader

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Run-D.M.C. – Orange Stage – 8:35 p.m.

It happens at least a few times every year at festivals: a legacy band unheard from over the past 10, 20, even 30 years returns to make a grab at artistic/cultural relevance and, let’s be real, a pay day. Run-D.M.C.’s Fun Fun Fun Fest set this year was anything but that.

It was obvious immediately from Reverend Run’s heartfelt sermonizing on stage Friday night. This festival appearance — their only performance following September’s appearance at Jay-Z’s Made in America Festival — was personal. It was not for glory, money, or some silly whim. It served as a heartfelt live tribute to the tenth anniversary of Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell’s untimely death and DMC’s fallen best friend and collaborator, which led to Run introducing its new live DJs: Jay’s sons, Jason “Jam Master J’Son” Mizell Jr., and T.J. “Dasmatic” Mizell, who spun/remixed records as a defacto second act. The first and third acts were all about Run-D.M.C.’s trademark call and response, which included old-school rap hits: “Peter Piper”, “Down with the King”, “Run’s House”, “Rock Box”, “Mary Mary”, “Beats to the Rhyme”, “It’s Tricky”, “It’s Like That”, and, of course, “Walk This Way” sans Steven Tyler.

It’s rare that forefathers are as missed as Run-D.M.C. has been, especially in the rap world, which is just now getting well-enough along in years to have artists that qualify as forefathers. If The Beatles were able to “reunite” in some form, somehow today, it’s easy to imagine it feeling like how Run-D.M.C.’s set felt on Friday night. It gathered the largest crowd of that festival day, reaching from Fun Fun Fun’s Orange Stage to almost its entrance/exit.If there was ever any doubt, ignorance, or memory lapse about Run-D.M.C.’s incredible hip-hop stature, this set re-established it. They’re not only the “king of rock/ there is none higher,” they’re the Forefathers of Hip-Hop. And to Jam Master Jay’s sons, they’re gracefully, gradually handing over the crown. Few legacy acts have this much grace and genuine passion and energy after all these years. -Paul de Revere

Saturday, November 3rd

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Brendan Benson – Orange Stage – 1:35 p.m.

The eyes of the late, great Gram Parsons were set on Raconteurs member and singer-songwriter Brendan Benson. Parsons’ visage was present, too: in the form of a standing cardboard cutout placed crowd-side at the Orange Stage courtesy of the country legend’s Austin, TX-based foundation. By the time Benson covered “Luxury Liner”, the spirit of Parsons was apparent in songs like “Cold Hands Warm Heart” and “The Light of Day”, power-pop jams that matched well with the warm midday sun that kicked off a festival day. –Paul de Revere

 Festival Review: Fun Fun Fun Fest 2012

(via Instagram user Atxandrew)

The Helio Sequence – Orange Stage – 2:10 p.m.

The studio sounds of The Helio Sequence’s lush guitar effects translated well live, which was arguably the main draw of this Portland band’s set Saturday afternoon. And the draw was strong for so early in the day. Brandon Summers’ vocals and lyrics shone clearly through the din of his pretty guitar sounds, enough to show his band’s songwriting prowess. Benjamin Weikel’s beats drove the music forward, lending some heft and propellant to otherwise just pretty music. -Paul de Revere

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Why? – Orange Stage – 3:35 p.m.

If ever you were put off by an Anticon Records artist’s artsy-fartsy impenetrability, there’s good news for you in Why?’s newest live incarnation. The band is super poppy, fun, and funky! The band’s Flaming Lips-like freaky deaky sounds combined with its African funk grooves compelled its good-sized afternoon crowd to move their hips a bit. Rapper Yoni Wolf continues to prove that he’s one of a handful of genuinely clever rappers outside of mainstream rap, as well. The Anticon band had one of the best sets of Saturday for being creepy, weird, and funny while still being fun. -Paul de Revere

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Wyatt Cenac – Yellow Stage - 4:30 p.m.

“I’m from New York City,” Wyatt Cenac said, his Fun Fun Fun Fest set a convenient escape from his city’s travails with Hurricane Sandy. “I just came down here to charge my phone and get gas.” Cenac mused on comic books, toy stores, and, well within his Daily Show schtick, politics. “Libertarians are like anarchists with mortgages,” he said, leveling the dense Yellow Stage crowd with laughter. Cenac, to use the comic vernacular, killed. -Paul de Revere

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Tanlines – Blue Stage - 4:45 p.m.

The electronic duo’s set got off to a shaky start thanks to some serious technical dismay. However, after all of the sounds were put in the proper places, and a few angered shouts of “it’s mono!” to the side of the stage from a frustrated Jesse Cohen, the band’s danceable pseudo-African rhythms and sing-a-longs brought a pleasant air to the Fest. The grounds cooled for a bit, and as the band kicked off the breezy “Real Life”, a flock of birds in a perfect V formation flew into view from behind the stage. Cinematic, to say the least. –David Von Bader

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Seaweed – Black Stage - 5:30 p.m.

The androgynous bit of the early ’90s that resided in the ether between punk and grunge was well represented at Fun Fun Fun Fest by Seaweed, a band that never quite tasted the success many would argue they deserved. The Tacoma, WA quintet reassembled a few years ago and performed a meaty set of its distinctly Pacific Northwest sounds. Frontman Aaron Stauffer was a bit drunk and provided stage banter that might be ready for the comedy stage in a few years. The band was tight and a blast to watch despite the drunk Stauffer and his pity-chuckle worthy jokes about shitting in the alleyways of Austin back in the day, and moshing to Youth of Today — who played the adjacent stage next. –David Von Bader

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Public Image Ltd. – Orange Stage - 7:50 p.m.

Fun Fun Fun Fest is known for– and seemingly prides itself on– reigning in legacy acts that don’t play live much anymore. Run-D.M.C.’s Friday set was commissioned specifically, according to Reverend Run. But in contrast to the legendary rap group’s earnest performance, Public Image Ltd. was there to play their time and pick up a check, basically. That’s not to disparage the band’s performance, which was competent if not skilled. PiL’s grooves were deep, rich, and tasty.

Johnny Lydon still has the snark and wit he had at PiL’s inception but on Saturday night, he had seemingly no motivation to show it. At one point midway through the band’s set he said, matter-of-factly, “Let’s get on with this, then.” So many great dance-punk and electronica acts from the U.K. and U.S. owe a lot to PiL’s grooves — the DNA for LCD Soundsystem and basically every DFA band come to mind, for example — but Lydon and PiL show little to no regard for that. There was no graciousness, no warmth; instead, they just played: competent, workmanlike, punching in and out. Good for them, okay for us. -Paul de Revere

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The Sword – Black Stage - 8:00 p.m.

The most evil sounding didgeridoo ever broke through the crisp Austin night to signal the entrance of The Sword on Saturday night. The favored riff wielding sons of Texas were met by a massive crowd that swilled beer and head-banged away to the band’s Sabbath-inspired songs that spoke of witchcraft, space travel, and magic smoke. Lead singer and guitarist J.D. Cronise made mention of the group’s recent success, currently holding the number 17 record in the country — a very big deal when placed in the context of said album’s peers. It’s difficult to overstate the impact of The Sword’s deep grooves, harmonized guitar solos, and thunderous drumming upon the resonating energy of a hometown crowd, but the set’s moment in time was, without a doubt, triumphant for both band and audience. –David Von Bader

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Refused – Black Stage - 8:50 p.m.

To return from a grave allegedly so deep that it could be called “permanent” has become something of a trend these days: American Nightmare has hit a few exclusive performances and the festival circuit, At The Drive-In followed suit as well. However, the most talked about resurrection this year has absolutely been that of now uber-influential Swedish post-hardcore band, Refused. The group died with a poetically worded letter in 1998, proclaiming that they would never reunite, forcing rampant speculation of a financially motivated reunion. Regardless of whatever motivations placed the Swedes on stage again, their performance closing out Saturday night’s Black Stage festivities saw a band that appeared as hungry as they must have been before anyone gave a shit about an oddly affected hardcore punk from Northern Sweden, and far before people started their own bands in the mold of Refused.

Dennis Lyxzen — now in his 40’s — led the band through a frantic set of its now classic songs. Lyxzen’s command of the stage was akin to the anarchist ringleader hinted at in many of Refused lyrics, screaming, singing, and campaigning for the audience’s very souls with the piss and vinegar so many rock-based acts just don’t have these days. The crowd, which had swelled at this point, returned every lyric of the band’s well-worn songs to the sweat-drenched singer, who explained how Fun Fun Fun Fest’s proposition to perform helped to extend their initial reunion run of just a few shows through the rest of the year. The set ended with “New Noise” and a gracious Refused exiting into the night, and potentially into the history books forever more following this year’s scheduled dates, though based on how much the band appeared to enjoy being on stage again, we wouldn’t be surprised by a full-fledged reactivation. –David Von Bader

Sunday, November 4th

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Cult of Youth – Black Stage - 1:20 p.m.

Cult of Youth played to an unfortunately paltry crowd early on day three of Fun Fun Fun. The New York-based group could very easily have convinced everyone watching the set that they had arrived at the fest in a hopped-up DeLorean, straight from a Peel session in ’87. The band describes itself as “post-industrial folk,” however to our ears, they would have fit in just fine with the best of England’s sophomore class of post-punkers. An acoustic guitar was hammered away in perpetuity as the band sang over tribal drums and delayed guitars in voices that conjured the likes of the Chameleons and Killing Joke. Cult of Youth’s set ended with some intriguing textural noise created via the oscillation of a delay pedal enveloping the shouts of a trumpet being blown by lead singer/acoustic guitar abuser, Sean Ragon. It would be wise to keep an eye on this band in the future. –David Von Bader

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Nicky Da B – Blue Stage  - 2:25 p.m.

New Orleans bounce rapper Nicky Da B and his acting DJ Rusty Lazer pounded the dusty Blue Stage with screeching, car-crash beats and chanted commands so R-rated, they’d make a sailor blush. Nicky charged the set with fun and more than a little sexuality, with bounce’s de rigeur, en masse booty shaking acting as the real star of the early afternoon set. But so was its crowd participation. By the time Nicky dropped his Diplo-collaboration hit “Express Yourself”, about a tenth of his crowd ended up climbing on stage to strut their stuff. Somewhere, Girl Talk was likely watching, wishing he could get his on-stage revelers that hyped, that early in the day. –Paul de Revere

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Nite Jewel – Blue Stage  - 3:05 p.m.

What bounce rapper Nicky da B’s visceral, booty-shaking cabaret lacked in sensuality and subtlety, Nite Jewel’s dreamy jams brought to the table immediately afterward. Nite Jewel is the one-woman-band studio name of Los Angeles artist Ramona Gonzalez, her band fleshed out the delicate, bedroom-R&B songs of One Second of Love and Good Evening. On stage, Gonzalez was graceful and Bo Derek-stylish, singing beautifully, but her set wasn’t all wisps of longing. Upon crowdsourcing the festival crowd for restaurant recommendations for dinner, Gonzalez got a snarky, ironic answer perhaps typical of a crowd of Austin hipsters. “Chili’s?!” she exclaimed, then paused a beat. “Wouldn’t it be great if you were actually recommending Chili’s?” –Paul de Revere

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Valient Thorr – Black Stage - 3:35 p.m.

For those that believe hard rock and metal should be a fun thing, Valient Thorr, featuring Valient Himself in all of his shirtless, bearded, wrestling-boot- wearing glory, brought a live action rock ‘n roll cartoon to the Black Stage. It would be one thing if the band’s party-time vibe was all they had going for them (all of the Andrew W.K.’s have subsided on that sort of fodder for years), but Valient Thorr’s songs are fantastic rock anthems, and it’s just so refreshing to see an act with a stage show this fun that doesn’t discount the importance of great songs. –David Von Bader

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Japandroids – Black Stage - 4:20 p.m.

Compared to Valient Thorr, Japandroids looked like Hanson up there. It didn’t help that Brian King was wearing a Black Flag parody shirt that said “Cat Flag”, either. But the beard-less pop punk band and their beardless devotees jammed out, fists up, hearts out for a best-of set with no banter, just “The Nights of Wine and Roses” into “Younger Us”. I’m not totally sure they belonged on the Black Stage, but they’re in that growing pains stage right now, where the main Orange Indie stage would feel just too big. For now, the two filled up a big field on a smaller stage no problem. –Jeremy D. Larson

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Deerhoof – Orange Stage - 5:15 p.m.

Deerhoof is an anomaly: Their music is complex, sporadic, and completely free from the shackles of succinct definition. Yet despite the polyrhythmic fury drummer Greg Saunier creates with his scant few drums and cymbals, Satomi Matzusaki’s often unintelligible, whimsical vocals, and the sounds of two astoundingly deft guitarists weaving in and out of one another, Deerhoof is enjoyable on a universal level. The band has a huge amount of visual appeal to match the song’s curiously infectious nature, and between Matzusaki’s downright adorable dance moves, Saunier’s drum-demon exorcisms, and the intriguing sonics, Deerhoof’s performance was one of the best of the entire fest. –David Von Bader

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The Promise Ring – Orange Stage– 6:05 p.m. 

Make no mistake, Milwaukee’s legacy emo band The Promise Ring makes people wanna get busy. No fewer than three couples were getting cuddled up, if not openly making out. Maybe it was the pretty Spirograph/pinwheel light designs being projected onto every available surface, including the gorgeous Austin skyline. Maybe it was the earnest vocal delivery of singer Davey von Bohlen singing about making girls mixtapes. Whatever it was, it’s hard to deny that as night fell, the band became a promise onto itself: the promise of a great festival weekend fulfilled, the implicit, fulfilled promise that the band would one day play together again or the silent, devotional promise between lovers young and old that filled the lawn of the Orange Stage Sunday night as Fun Fun Fun winded down. It was corny (after all, it was emo) but also hard to feel a little touched at all the love in the air. -Paul de Revere

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The Black Angels – Orange Stage - 7:00 p.m.

A syrupy malaise of sitar and effected guitar consumed the crowd in a gentle sway as day turned to night on Sunday and locally-bred psych-rock revivalist heroes The Black Angels took the stage. The band kicked into “You on the Run” and, immediately, the hustle and bustle of the weekend — the punishment of hearing, livers, and feet — was absolved by the Angels’ superbly authentic psych-rock sounds. The band bent time with its ability to remove the audience from the fest, and sonically transport everyone within ear shot to the cavernous depths of some dingy, 1960’s opium den. The group’s instruments were communal and switched between members frequently, with all options absolutely soaked in reverb or fuzz. The performance, while intense in its own right, was a sublimely ethereal repreive from the energy sapping nature of the weekend, and even lead singer Alex Maas’ echoing howls and shouts felt somehow less jarring amid the more intense fare of Fun Fun Fun Fest. –David Von Bader

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Fucked Up – Black Stage - 7:55 p.m.

You hang around the Black Stage for long enough, or you see Fucked Up do enough festival shows, and you realize that hardcore and punk shows are not meant to have a barricade between the band and the audience. Damien Abraham’s separation from his band for the entirety of the set is an unfortunate necessity to Fucked Up’s show. Nothing gets the crowd surging and moving like the chance to get a sweaty bear hug from Abraham (who in case you didn’t know has the absolute sweetest demeanor that belies his bark, thanking the stage hands and posing for photographers and hugging strangers, etc.), and fom the one-two punch of “Queen of Hearts” into “Black Albino Bones”, the dust was kicking up and people were literally walking on the shoulders and heads of people to get to Abraham. It’s the most fun you’ll have if you’re right up front, but the disconnect between the band and Abraham limits their effective radius at festivals. -Jeremy D. Larson

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Turbonegro – Black Stage - 8:50 p.m.

A bombardiering march of a martial nature introduced Turbonegro (and the large number of Turbojugen sprinkled throughout about the grounds) to the Black Stage for the night’s final romp of sweaty madness. The band, now featuring Brit Tony Sylvester on lead vocals, has faced a bit of backlash since the departure of iconic frontman Hank Von Helvete. But the shirtless and denim jacket clad Sylvester proved beyond any doubt that the band’s death-punk sound and antics were in perfectly sound hands, providing plenty of hilarity by turning the focus on his formidable rear during the introduction of “Shake Your Shit Machine” and generally displaying an agility that betrayed his size.

Sylvester — also known as the Duke of Nothing — joked between songs about “how happy we are to finally be playing the Burning Man Fest” and performed the final few songs of the set wrapped in a king’s cape (featuring the Union Jack) and a crown. The band’s set was pulled primarily from their most recent release, Sexual Harassment, though the evening was brought to a close with favorites “The Age of Pamparius” and “I Got Erection”, and though it might disappoint some to see a set of mostly fresh material from the band, the fact remains that they have not messed with the death-punk formula in the slightest. –David Von Bader

Gallery

Photographer: Jeremy D. Larson

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