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FYF Fest 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

The good, the bad, and the Yeezy

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Photography by Philip Cosores

When Sean Carlson started FYF Fest in 2004, it had a more profane name and a lineup that similarly reflected his tastes as an 18-year-old. Carlson is 30 now, and this year’s iteration of the fest suggests that a little age and perspective might not be such a bad thing after all.

FYF Fest is no stranger to growing pains. Previous editions held at the Los Angeles State Historic Park in Chinatown are remembered as much for their long lines and allergy-inducing dust clouds as they are for the actual performances. But Carlson and his fellow organizers have listened to fans’ complaints and built a juggernaut of a festival that’s fast becoming the best summer ticket in the country.

Gone are the long lines and crappy burgers, replaced by a streamlined entry system and gourmet food options at every turn. Also gone are the insane distances between stages; it no longer feels like you’re running a half marathon just to catch a band on the other side of the festival grounds. In the LA Sports Arena and Exposition Park, Carlson has finally found a venue that will allow FYF to grow without creating a new logistical hurdle each year. Hell, even the bathrooms are nice.

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But people don’t shell out a couple hundred bucks for a decent place to piss. FYF’s real attraction is its lineup, which has evolved from a showcase of the different shades of punk rock into something much more impressive. Longtime fans may gripe about the inclusion of a whole stage dedicated to electronic music, but punk can’t pay the bills alone these days. A successful summer music festival in 2015 needs to have a little bit of everything, and FYF’s lineup is a clinic in how to appeal to pretty much everyone.

The best example of this might be the headliners. What does it say about a festival’s clout that Kanye West – arguably the biggest rapper in the world right now – is willing to hop on as a last minute replacement? Fans might have missed out on an appearance from the increasingly elusive Frank Ocean, but nobody can say that Kanye didn’t bring it to the Main stage on Saturday night. Morrissey proved equally impressive, and his set felt almost like a homecoming thanks to the Latino fans who came to watch it in droves. Sure, it was risky to book two of the most volatile personalities in music on back-to-back nights, but Carlson’s gamble paid off with minimal drama.

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In fact, the defining feature of FYF 2015 might be its total lack of bad vibes. The heat never felt stifling, the crowds never felt too crowded, and the musicians – with a few exceptions – came out with their dance shoes on. Some of them even had a few tricks up their sleeves, whether it was the Jesus and Mary Chain playing Psychocandy from front to back, Run the Jewels teaming up with Zach de la Rocha and Travis Barker, Kanye West getting an assist from Rihanna, Flume being joined by Lorde, or Solange teaming with Dev Hynes. At Lollapalooza a few weekends ago, you couldn’t throw a water bottle without hitting a Bud Light ad or a 16-year-old overdosing on molly. FYF certainly looks more attractive by comparison, thanks to a better lineup, better security, and a refreshingly non-corporate look.

That’s the thing: For as much as it’s changed in its 11 years and 12 installments, FYF is still the baby of Sean Carlson. You didn’t have to look far for reminders of this. Sean Bonnette of Andrew Jackson Jihad waxed nostalgic about how Carlson gave his band their first LA break, and local punks Joyce Manor marveled at the fact that they’ve been allowed on stage for four years running. This is how FYF will continue to stake its claim as the country’s best music festival — it feels like the concert you and your best friends might book, if you had the time and the resources.

Now that it’s all over and the dust has settled, we’ve gone ahead and ranked all the sets we were able to catch this weekend. You might agree, or you might not. It doesn’t really matter. One of the beautiful things about FYF these days is that there’s room for all of that.

–Collin Brennan
Staff Writer

Solange

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The normally soulful Solange presided over FYF’s most disappointing set, though it’s hard to say how much she should be held at fault. Signs of a train wreck began to surface when the singer was nowhere to be found 20 minutes after her prescribed start time. She finally emerged to a chorus of restless cheers, but things only went downhill from there. Something just seemed off about this whole production. Solange’s backup singers looked listless and rarely bothered to sync up their choreography, while the rest of her band played tentatively, as if hoping not to mess up.

The singer herself wasn’t much better, leaning heavily on a pair of exaggerated dance moves and growing visibly frustrated as the show went on. “Some things never seem to fucking work,” she quipped as a tech attempted to change her mic. To her credit, Solange tried to make the best of a bad thing and didn’t blame anyone else for her troubles, but what was supposed to be an assertion of her stardom ended up as a showcase of her limitations. –Collin Brennan

Bloc Party

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It feels like every couple years we find ourselves at the crossroads of another Bloc Party reunion. And while the first go-around left plenty of room for nostalgic excitement, this incarnation left a bit to be desired. Opening on a slow note and never finding their footing, the band blazed through a catalog littered with fan favorites, with the unfortunate air of simply going through the motions. When frontman Kele Okereke took a moment between tunes to ask the crowd, “Are you excited about Yeezy?” the resounding and somewhat hilarious “noooooo” may have left the frontman feeling empowered, but the droves of folks flocking from the stage following an immensely standard mid-set rendition of “Banquet” said otherwise. While plenty seem prepared to celebrate the simple fact that the band has returned to the stage at all (even if they’re down two original members this time), it remains to be seen just what Bloc Party means in 2015. –Bryce Segall

Kaytranada

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Kaytranda’s future vibes in the arena were initially stalled thanks to the venue’s difficulty in managing entry. A quickly filled floor led to backed up, poorly marked lines that you were only able to circumvent if you escaped to the upper decks, which were definitely not air conditioned (something that matters during a set that’s born to make you sweat). Despite this, fans turned out in droves to get down to the XL producer’s dark selections and tantalizing rhythms, not letting any midday lag slow them down. Screams erupted for an early set appearance of the producer’s own “Leave Me Alone” and a remix of Drake’s “All Me”.

The set clearly doubled as your best chance to score with your Tinder date, judging by the amount of grinding happening no matter where you found yourself in the venue. From above, it was easy to see the crowd’s collective waves of movement. If at this point in his career Kaytranada can already exercise such a relationship of command with his audience, we can only imagine how he’ll weaponize his live performance (which unfortunately lacked any semblance of visuals this time) once he’s got an album under his belt. –Bryce Segall

Girlpool

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If Joyce Manor turned FYF into a sweaty basement, Girlpool made it feel like a high school bedroom. The LA-based duo drew a sizeable crowd to their early set, but at times it seemed as if they were the only two people in the world. Lacking a true rhythm section, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad have taken to simply watching each other to determine each song’s pace. If you were standing close to the stage, you might have caught them sharing a quiet smile, too.

Girlpool’s style doesn’t seem to lend itself to a large festival setting, and it didn’t help that they messed up a transition after switching instruments mid-set. Some might find this kind of thing endearing, but the Sunday afternoon set suffered from what appeared to be a lack of preparation. Allocated a mere 40 minutes, the girls still struggled to fill all that time. Of the songs they did play, “Ideal World” and “Before the World Was Big” were obvious standouts. –Collin Brennan

Neon Indian

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Neon Indian reemerged from a lengthy hiatus earlier this year with a pair of jams, the stellar and reggae tinged “Annie” and the similarly fantastic “Slumlord”, the former of which opened the band’s set for their first show on American soil in three years. Those who braved the festival’s earlier hours and accompanying heat were rewarded with a set heavy on new tunes from the recently announced VEGA Intl. Night School alongside plenty of peak moments like the sing-along-ready “Polish Girl”.

The band’s expanded live presentation, which included acid-washed visuals and a theme of neon city streets, might have been better served in the dark, but that didn’t detract in any way from frontman and project mastermind Alan Palomo, who admitted from the stage that he’d “really missed doing this.” With much of the new material harkening back to the laser-synth-soaked palette of his earlier days, the tracks now find themselves complemented by Palomo’s more accomplished sense of songwriting, leaving the fairly standard set with an etched-in-the-brain excitement for his next LP. –Bryce Segall

Battles

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People pass out a lot of junk at a festival like FYF, from event flyers to free samples of lube. One thing that might have been more useful? A plain white card that reads, “If you’re looking for a good time, call Battles.” The experimental rockers haven’t been heard from much since 2011’s Gloss Drop, but they haven’t lost their knack for layered riffs and locked-in rhythms. Their Sunday evening set at the Trees was equal parts fun and mesmerizing; if you could stop focusing on all the sounds Ian Williams was pulling out of his guitar, you might have remembered to dance.

Though their music lends itself to toe-tapping, Battles was met with a fairly sleepy crowd at FYF. Their fans just didn’t seem to have the energy to kick up the same kind of dust we saw hours earlier at Title Fight and Andrew Jackson Jihad. Regardless, the trio marched on gamely, pausing only once in the middle of their set to make the necessary introductions. If this is the kind of energy that’s going to show up on new studio album La Di Da Di, we’re in for an early autumn treat. –Collin Brennan

Mac DeMarco

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The short of Mac DeMarco is that the massive crowd that his sunset Lawn Stage set earned is largely undeserved. Even the smattering of fellow musicians crowded side-stage was surprising considering no other act all weekend really earned peer onlookers from anywhere in that region. As each song garnered massive roars, endless crowd-surfing, and sing-alongs for his “hits” like “Salad Days”, the whole scene felt overblown and ready to implode on itself in a moment’s notice. It was the weekend’s most blatant example of herd mentality.

One fan walking to DeMarco commented that it was “the best music to get drunk to,” but there is more to it than that. DeMarco is endlessly charming, his “gee-golly” attitude making him the boy that girls want to date and the guy that boys want to get high with. All that said, it can’t be ignored how pleased his many fans were, and there really are worse things in the world that young people could be obsessed over. Still, it is hard to imagine we will look at the massive festival draw that Mac DeMarco had in 2015 without scratching our heads in five, 10, or 20 years. –Philip Cosores

Laura Marling

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With Girlpool, Tobias Jesso Jr., and Mac DeMarco all sharing the stage, the idea behind the Lawn Stage on Sunday seemed to be a chilled-out summer day. But more than all of those acts, Laura Marling is challenging material, the kind of songwriter to really demand a quiet that’s rarely possible at festivals. So to witness Marling going straight through the first several songs from her 2013 album Once I Was an Eagle as if they were a single composition really pushed fans to let Marling do her thing. The fact that she pulled it off, playing to many DeMarco fans camped out for a good spot, is commendable. Shouts of “you’re so lovely” filled pauses, making even the language chosen for her praise completely appropriate in the most unexpected setting. –Philip Cosores

Joyce Manor

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They may only be in their 20s, but the boys of Joyce Manor are fast becoming grizzled veterans of FYF Fest. Returning for their fourth performance in as many years, they were granted an afternoon slot on the Main stage and made the most of it – more, in fact, than they were probably even comfortable with. “Thank you guys for coming to the longest set we’ve ever played,” joked bassist Matt Ebert, alluding to his band’s penchant for playing pop punk that’s short and to the point.

That’s not to say the foursome lacks emotional heft. Set staples “Heart Tattoo” and “Catalina Fight Song” worked the young crowd into a froth of feelings, many of which spilled over into the pretty sizeable circle pit. The high point came when Frances Quinlan of Hop Along appeared onstage for a cover of Weezer deep cut “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly”. “I would never make someone listen to this much of my own band,” apologized guitarist Barry Johnson, but you didn’t hear a word of complaint from the crowd. –Collin Brennan

Death Grips

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In many ways, FYF Fest is a natural venue for a band like Death Grips (not that there are any other bands like Death Grips). Though they’re as abrasive and relentless as any of the punk groups that used to be FYF’s bread and butter, they also have a strange kind of crossover appeal. As such, they both embody the festival’s roots and predict where it’s likely headed in the future.

A Death Grips show is a sweaty, visceral, even violent affair, and their Sunday evening set proved no exception. Rather than take full advantage of all the AV trickery at their disposal, the Sacramento trio opted to be bathed in a steady shade of crimson, their faces obscured to the crowd. MC Ride stood at the helm, barking his characteristically bleak rhymes and making circle pits appear out of thin air. Rather than wind down gradually, the band cut themselves off at the height of their intensity and simply walked off the stage. It was exactly what we’ve come to expect from Death Grips: namely, the unexpected. –Collin Brennan

DJ Dodger Stadium

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Body high kings DJ Dodger Stadium kicked things off in the arena for day one, bringing Jerome LOL and Samo Soundboy together for a union of DIY house originals that spanned the better part of an hour. Perched above a regal crown, the duo’s commanding insignia shifted colors throughout the set as the pair wove in and out of tracks from their two releases and what can only be assumed to be their unannounced follow up, including the recently unveiled and undeniably euphoric “You Don’t Have To Be Alone”. Backed by a coordinated light show expertly pulled from the book of predecessors like The Chemical Brothers, the set invoked the spirit of momentous mainstage shows of the European electronic festival circuit, confirming that they deserved to start much later than 4 p.m. Despite the early kick off, the pair had no problems transporting us straight to midnight and back by the time they finished, even if their set felt marred by a case of killing it too early. –Bryce Segall

Lower Dens

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Last time Lower Dens played FYF in 2010, virtually no one witnessed their set due to line issues. Those days are long gone, with the band getting the luxury of performing indoors, bathed in lovely pink light. Two songs in, frontperson Jana Hunter took out her phone to snap a shot of her drummer, capturing a rare occasion of Lower Dens tackling an arena. But rather than be overwhelmed by the space, the band excelled, showcasing why recent album Escape From Evil earned such a warm reception, and setting the table nicely for Spiritualized to follow. –Philip Cosores

The Jesus and Mary Chain

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Loud. That’s the only word necessary to describe The Jesus and Mary Chain’s late-night set at FYF, which lived up to the band’s reputation for stacking fuzz on top of more fuzz. Hell, my ears are still ringing. The thing is, that’s exactly what you should expect from JAMC, and the Scottish alt-rockers weren’t in the mood to hold any punches. It took fans a few songs to realize that they were just playing their classic debut Psychocandy all the way through, but once they did, something like euphoria set in. That album is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, but it still sounds like a revelation in some respects. No band before or since has made feedback so central to their sound, and guitarist William Reid seemed to relish the challenge of bringing the album to life on stage. A set of earplugs might have made the set a bit safer, but tinnitus rarely feels this good. –Collin Brennan

Spiritualized

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On day two, masters of dynamics Spiritualized brought a different sort of build and peak to the Arena, which was largely overrun by electronic artists throughout the weekend. Providing a welcome refuge from the late afternoon heat, Jason Spaceman and co. proved, like The Jesus and Mary Chain the evening before, that they just don’t make em like they used to. They pushed out rocketing renditions of tunes like “Shine A Light” to mammoth, wall-of-noise highs, blending symbiotic horns and guitars before pulling back to zero. Alongside busting out a cover of Spaceman 3’s “Walkin’ On Jesus”, the set closed with a peaking rendition of Ladies and Gentlemen banger “Come Together” in a fury of seizure-inducing strobes and searchlight panning that left the half-empty arena feeling more than full. While Flume may have brought out the likes of Lorde and Andrew Wyatt on the Main stage, Spiritualized owned the FYF Arena holy ground. With any luck, they won’t think of giving up their spot any time soon. –Bryce Segall

FKA twigs

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Anchoring this year’s festival, FKA twigs took the stage in a typically mesmerizing fashion, with her classically trained theatrics on full display for the adoring thousands happy to abandon Moz and prolong their exit from the festival grounds. Pulling selections from across her quickly expanding catalog, including heavy hitting M3LL155X EP opener “Figure 8”, the Young Turks singer slithered about the stage dressed only in a red kimono, backed by her minimal band and flanked by contorting dancers.

Eye on the prize, the singer’s low movements only narrowed the gap between her and the adoring crowd, as all too often their screams bled into the mix, proving that even on a regular day, twigs commands the sort of impassioned response most long for in their best moments.

Vocally exquisite and operating in a world of her own, twigs pulled in more than a few attendees who thought they’d tapped out for the night. But it was an improvised analog synth experiment that left an impression of its own as the singer left the stage, more than happy to pass the spotlight to her dancers. Their otherworldly twists and turns were rivaled only by twigs herself, who remains a supernatural mystery on record and off. –Bryce Segall

Hop Along

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Frances Quinlan has the best voice in rock music. Such a statement shouldn’t register as hyperbole to anyone who’s been paying attention. Since Hop Along released Painted Shut earlier this year, the Philadelphia foursome has earned premature placement on many an Album of the Year list, and it’s easy to see why. Quinlan is a force of nature strapped to a Gibson Firebird, with a raw, raspy delivery that transcends anything in the DIY circuit that Hop Along once called home. Now that the band’s playing festivals like FYF, it’s only a matter of time before more people catch on.

Though their Sunday afternoon set ended prematurely, it was loaded with highlights to appease a somewhat sleepy crowd. “Tibetan Pop Stars” remains the band’s piece de resistance, largely because it offers Quinlan the best chance to let loose. But just give it time and newer songs like “Powerful Man” are bound to have the same kind of staying power. Lastly, every great set should reveal at least one new thing about a band, and this one proved no different: Hop Along loves Taco Bell. –Collin Brennan

HEALTH

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If you came to FYF looking for violent, strobe-lit chaos accompanied by punishing levels of bass and noise, HEALTH took the cake on day two. With a similar narrative to fellow LA native Shlohmo, the band stole the stage as hometown heroes for a triumphant set which saw them dote on tracks from the recently released Death Magic LP. Songs like “New Coke” and “Life” were primed and ready for singalongs, even if those in attendance had to find moments between the torrential sonic assaults. HEALTH’s inspired set experienced a slight lurch toward the end as the group grappled with technical issues and got cut slightly short thanks to the festival’s double-edged sword of an incredibly tight-run show. Though the exit wasn’t quite what the group had in mind, HEALTH proved that they’re at their peak and still aiming for the stars. –Bryce Segall

Morrissey

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Morrissey may have Irish blood and an English heart, but every show he’s played in Southern California since at least the early ‘90s has felt like a homecoming. LA’s Latino population has fallen hard for the former Smiths crooner, whose melancholic musings evoke the Mexican ranchera tradition and whose uniquely British style is, well, not so unique or British anymore. Morrissey recognizes this, to the point where he littered his headlining set at FYF with tributes to Mexico and the City of Angels. During “First of the Gang to Die”, for example, the stage lights lit up in the colors of the Mexican flag.

Elsewhere, Morrissey showed that he’s still feisty and ripe for a confrontation or two. The set’s most memorable moment came during “Ganglord”, which was accompanied by a montage depicting various violent instances of police brutality. It was a powerful statement to make at such a massive festival, and it showed a willingness to take risks that even Kanye’s set a night earlier couldn’t match. Several songs later, he paused a song early to berate the security guards in front of the stage. All in all, it was a night of vintage Morrissey, from the cranky antics to the buttery voice that’s held up surprisingly well over the years. And you’ve got to believe the locals loved every minute of it. –Collin Brennan

Melody’s Echo Chamber

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Year in and year out, FYF Fest is on top of the game at booking what will hit next, and fans of Tame Impala by way of French disco had plenty of reason to believe Melody’s Echo Chamber might be the next breakout. This comparison isn’t surprising considering that the project began as a collaboration between Tame’s Kevin Parker and French native Melody Prochet, but to limit the performance and project by these two analogues would be a mistake. Prochet sold the mid-tempo tunes, shaking her hair while delivering delicate, precise vocals. Even those inclined to sit on the vast lawn couldn’t help but stand and move with her. –Philip Cosores

D’Angelo and the Vanguard

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In terms of pure musicianship, D’Angelo and the Vanguard was the MVP of FYF. If anything was lost during the cult soul singer’s lengthy hiatus, it certainly wasn’t his edge, but the world’s ability to bask in his talent. Onstage, the multi-instrumentalist is a hand-in-glove, born-to-perform talent. Impeccable in his delivery, the singer’s rusty upper register perfectly pierced the mix as the Vanguard laid down the evening law, making the cool night breeze even cooler with each pocket of precise improvisation. The night’s set proved that the songs off D’Angelo’s triumphant return Black Messiah were meant to be played live.

It’s impossible to overstate the power of 11 people onstage pushing themselves to deliver tightly rehearsed numbers on levels often forgotten in today’s age of autotune and production distraction. Moving fluidly between guitar, keys, and more, D’Angelo operated at a virtuoso level, executing each transition and every note with ease. The impressive crowd could only succumb in awe as hips moved and hands swayed to this steamy and perfect booking. –Bryce Segall

Shlohmo

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It makes sense that WEDIDIT boss Shlohmo smashed it on his own turf, bringing his updated live show, his first with a full band, to the Trees stage during a perfect post-sunset slot. The sad boys and girls of LA collected en masse to get their gut-wretched grooves on, and groove they did. Layers of ominous synths infiltrated the few empty spaces between bodies, with an eerie air that left one feeling captivated. A look around revealed a collective transfixion.

Like moths to a flame, the audience was enamored and “on one” as the hazy arrangements continued to pull in stragglers until the production’s final moments. Quiet until the set’s near end, the producer broke his silence only for a moment to introduce his fellow band members (which included none other than labelmate Deej) in expletive laden excitement, alerting those opting to skip FlyLo’s last minute addition in the Arena that this last song would be “fucking tight.” If not for Kanye, this could have been the day’s best set. –Bryce Segall

Nicolas Jaar

Nicolas Jaar operates on another level, one unfortunately under-explored by his peers and festivalgoers alike. The turnout for his Arena set looked light compared to Darkside’s packed final play last year. It was a near 15 minutes before interstellar sounds and sampled dialogue gave way to the drop of a kick drum, launching those lucky enough to attend into a wormhole of dance music’s outer limits. Transforming the venue into a galactic disco of minimalism, the celebrated producer projected it all back through the speakers in HD. Executing a level of art in territories guys like Jamie xx and Gesaffelstein are only barely populating, Jaar flips those broad reaching concepts on their head and spins them off into space. His stage presentation found the producer backlit by a series of beams and a hanging sail of ’70s stage lighting. See it to believe it, but really, you’re not just watching his set, you’re feeling it. It was a moment that couldn’t last forever, but we sure wish it had. –Bryce Segall

Savages

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The Trees stage is positioned directly across from the entrance to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, atop which the Olympic Cauldron burns into the night. The flame adopted a more sinister aspect as Savages took the stage on Saturday night, dressed all in black and surrounded by a curtain of fog. The London-based post-punk foursome is a fearsome sight to behold in any context, but this one seemed more apt than, say, a sweltering afternoon at Pitchfork Music Festival in 2013.

Lead singer Jehnny Beth prowled across the stage like a predator, crouching every so often as if preparing to strike. But even her powerful voice couldn’t steal the show from bassist Ayse Hassan, whose riffs serve as the backbone to all the best Savages songs. This allows Gemma Thompson to use her guitar mainly for atmospherics, and it gives Beth the liberty to act out a little. She did exactly that when she ran out into the crowd and stood on her fans’ shoulders during single “Hit Me”. Positioned high above her audience, she seemed to relish the newfound irony in that song’s refrain: “Put me on my knees like a dirty little dog.” –Collin Brennan

Kanye West

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No one — not even FYF booker Sean Carlson — could have predicted that LA native Frank Ocean would drop out of his headlining spot just days before the festival. And no one could have predicted that slot would be filled by none other than Yeezus himself. Kanye West took the stage with a tongue-in-cheek reference to headliner he was replacing, as Frank’s prerecorded voice rang out into the night. “No Church In The Wild” led the triumphant set ahead of a run of staples, including standout versions of “Stronger” and “Black Skinhead”, while Yeezus collaborators Daft Punk and Gesaffelstein looked on from the crowd.

“I’m just getting to hype on this motherfucker,” Kanye told the crowd. Having updated his set heavily since his last visit to the City of Angels, he delivered screaming renditions of fan favorites “Niggas in Paris” and “Cold”. “Blood on the Leaves” gave way to LA’s first live taste of the absolutely biting “All Day”, whose chorus had been switched from Ye’s laidback delivery to a shouting and violent gang vocal. Never content delivering only his own material at a maximum, the GOOD Music head honcho then pulled up Travis $cott for rowdy renditions of twin cannons “Upper Echelon” and Rodeo cut “Anecdote”, which found Yeezy assisting on autotune between La Flame’s dives into the crowd.

While that would have served as the evening’s sole guest, Ye was quick to put a watching Rihanna on the spot, moving to the stage’s edge and passing the mic to her in the photo pit during a shaky yet genuine rendition of the pair’s most recent collab, “FourFiveSeconds”. Before long, the “Bitch Better Have My Money” singer was onstage herself, adding live riffs to her “All of the Lights” chorus as the pair swirled around one another onstage. With 10 minutes left, Yeezy drove it all home, blazing through a parade of hits to the finish. The rapper closed with a touching rendition of his ode to baby North, “Only One”, a breath of fresh air from the hour-plus sprint of excellence. It certainly left the rest of us asking, “Frank who?” –Bryce Segall

Gallery

Photographer: Philip Cosores

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