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Fun Fun Fun Festival 2015 Review: From Worst to Best

Ten years later, the Austin festival stays true to its original spirit

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    On the way to a 10-year anniversary, most American music festivals lose something. Whether that is a bit of their identity, a bit of their comfort, or a bit of their local appeal, at some point, some sort of consolation has to be made in the name of survival.

    Fun Fun Fun Fest, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year, might be the closest thing we have to an exception. Sure, the festival isn’t the same as it was in its inception, but still present is the atmosphere and appeal that has earned it a reputation as one of the premier music festivals in the country. Whether it’s big little festival or a little big festival, its punk rock ethos is still very much alive, and not just quarantined to the Black stage on the farthest corner of the festival. On Friday evening, Antemasque played the main stage followed by Cheap Trick — both artists who are very much in tune with what Fun Fun Fun Fest holds as its core.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    This isn’t just the impression of the festival we’re talking about. Back in 2012, when Consequence of Sound named Fun Fun Fun our festival of the year, co-founder Graham Williams spoke to the festival’s identity and ambition. “It’s just about having that reach and presenting everything that is great about underground/progressive music, old and new,” he said. “We never want to just become known as a nostalgia fest that only has old bands.”

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    If we’re to gauge the fest based on this vision, 2015’s iteration was exactly what FFF set out to be. Venom (who Williams was eyeing way back in 2012) played their first-ever Texas show. L7, American Football, Ride, and Babes in Toyland all brought their reunions through. And some of today’s most heralded contemporary acts, like Grimes, Future Islands, Neon Indian, Chromeo, Schoolboy Q, and CHVRCHES all impressed. Many bands even signed up to play twice, capping off their evenings with slots at FFF Nites series.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    While Fun Fun Fun Fest is a music festival, it also manages to be so much more. The taco cannon was back. So was the wrestling, the BMX and skate park, the headliner-themed hot dogs (the Wu-Tang dog from Frank came with a chance to sit on-stage with the rap group), and a pretty amazing frozen banana stand called Bananarchy. Fans could sit on the grass, stand and stare, or stage-dive from the front of the pit. But maybe best of all for the citizens of Austin and the music fans that make the trek here, FFF is a chance for like-minded individuals to gather and find their common ground. Metal fans get the chance to walk by rap or indie rock; fans of electronic music might get to witness the mayhem of Converge or American Nightmare for the first time. Never is there tension for the fest to cater to one group or another. Unlike pretty much every major music festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest can sit firmly in its identity and know that the audience is there for whatever it has to offer.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    With all that said, we caught more than 40 of the acts that played over the event’s three days. Here’s our take on them, from worst to best.

    Philip Cosores
    Associate Editor

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    Schoolboy Q

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Schoolboy Q was fighting a nasty cold and was visibly and audibly fatigued for his Blue Stage headlining set. “I’m worn out,” he admitted, taking breathers after each track to wipe down with a towel. After “Hands on the Wheel”, he stepped back for a monologue: “Ya’ll ready for another album? I know I am. I’m so tired of performing these songs. ‘Man of the Year’? Tired of it. ‘Collard Greens’? Tired of it. ‘Studio’? Tired of it. ‘Hell of a Night’? So fucking tired of it.” He performed all these cuts, albeit begrudgingly. Maybe it was the illness, but this was not Schoolboy’s finest hour. –Jon Hadusek

    Rae Sremmurd

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    What the youthful duo of Rae Sremmurd bring to the table in boisterous energy, they lack in the ability or desire to actually perform their songs live. While the pair entertained with declarations of their intent for partying, their encouragement of voting, and their distaste for ex-girlfriends, their backing track wasn’t just something to lean on; it was often the majority of the song that was heard. Chalk it up to inexperience, but in terms of live performance, jumping around for hits “No Flex Zone” and set highlight “No Type” just isn’t enough. Even the group’s DJ showed a lack of polish, botching a song only to be let off the hook by a dancing panda bear and a troupe of young women invited on stage. For fans, it wasn’t a bad time, but not the caliber of performance that they deserve given the group’s nighttime placement. –Philip Cosores

    Dwarves

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Legendary punk rockers Dwarves ransacked the stage, shouting, “Oh fuck yeah! Sit back and suck my dick.” As they roared through the entire Blood Guts and Pussy LP, it became apparent that the crowd was not ready for such an intensely energetic performance on this overcast afternoon. Blag Dahlia engaged the audience every chance he could with witty commentary and random addendums like, “No one told you punk was smart.” Halfway through their set, Dahlia again shouted, “C’mon, let’s start a fucking pit,” only to receive a weak response from the packed festival grounds around the Black Stage. Dwarves packed a mean punch, but they just weren’t loud or fast enough to awaken the masses. –Allison Franks

    Alvvays

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    A band struggling through sound issues on stage is hardly news at a music festival, but monitor levels got the better of gentle Canadian indie pop band Alvvays on Sunday afternoon. Singer Molly Rankin wore the hardship on her face and in her demeanor, making music that should be warm come across as a little bit of a drag. Fortunately, the band shook the vibe by set’s end, with Rankin getting in the Fun Fun Fun spirit in time for “Party Police” and the requested crowd singalong “Marry Me, Archie”. The overall impression was that the charm of the band didn’t come across, but for pretty understandable reasons. –Philip Cosores

    Viet Cong

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    Photo by Jon Hadusek

    Calgary post-punk band Viet Cong had to play their set with someone else’s gear. “American Airlines lost our shit, so this will be pretty stripped down,” vocalist Matt Flegel said. Though the songs lost their ominous tonalities without the proper effects pedals and amps, the quartet powered through with a more garage rock-heavy set. Their decision to play through less than ideal circumstances was admirable, even if it was a poor representation of the band’s typical live show. –Jon Hadusek

    Title Fight

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    The sun finally came out on Sunday afternoon, shining a light on the genre-defying tunes of Title Fight. Even if their current sound has incorporated more lush ’90s alternative, they still pack enough of their old hardcore punk to inspire a constant stream of stage diving and crowd surfing. But the set mostly fell into a low-key hangover, which even the grimaces of singing bassist Ned Russin and the triumphant “Rose of Sharon” couldn’t really wake up the crowd from. When Russin noted brightness of the sun on stage, it seemed as if the set as a whole would have been better suited for some mood lighting under the cover of darkness. –Philip Cosores

    Gogol Bordello

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    Photo by Dave Mead

    In preparation for their Dallas show the following night, Gogol Bordello rushed to the stage and performed their iconic Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike album in full. As always, Eugene Hutz carried the band atop his shoulders with enough energy to stampede through enemy lines. It was refreshing to hear infectious songs such as “Not A Crime” and “Dogs Were Barking”, but several parts of the concert felt forced. Hutz carried his bottle of wine during “Start Wearing Purple” more like a prop than a statement and seemed to run through the songs without a moment’s pause. Gogol Bordello tackled all their famous shticks with one too many new members aboard the boat. As we raced to shore weary from our travels, Gogol Bordello set us free to tackle new lands. One can only hope they will embark on some new adventures of their own. –Allison Franks

    The Charlatans

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    Photo by Jon Hadusek

    One of the great Madchester Britpop bands, The Charlatans‘ appearance at FFF was a pleasant and welcome surprise. Their 3:20 afternoon set on a rainy Saturday afternoon, however, was less ideal. The typical abbreviated festival soundcheck was not conducive to the band’s polished style, and the overall sound was empty compared to the grandiose textures heard on their recorded output. Still, the band appeared jovial and grateful to be back in Austin, and frontman Tim Burgess was warm and kind to the audience, leading clap-a-longs and thanking the crowd between each song. Even with iffy sound, hearing “The Only One I Know” live was a highlight of the weekend. –Jon Hadusek

    Parquet Courts

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    On record, Parquet Courts thrive as much on their sound as their lyrics, but at a festival they have to bank on vibes, as the group revels in their sloppiness. It works in the moment, but the songs quickly blend together, becoming less captivating and more background noise. There is strength in their frontman-by-committee approach, as each has his strength, but it masks the fact that none are compelling enough to carry the load on their own. This lets the band’s best material, like “Borrowed Time”, shine bright, both in contrast and in just how good it is. It all added up to an uneven set whose peaks were particularly lofty. –Philip Cosores

    NOFX

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    “I’d like to thank all the dudes that brought their 12-year-old girls to this festival and stuck them on their shoulders. That’s real smart,” quipped Fat Mike, the unapologetically blunt frontman for NOFX. The band brought in the smallest crowd of any of Saturday’s headliners, but Fat Mike had a joke for that, too: “People are going to start filing in once they see how terrible of a band Jane’s Addiction is.” The banter was as fun as the songs, with decades-old songs “The Brews” and “Moron Brothers” turning into singalongs. The band was sure to remind the audience that their song “There’s No Fun in Fundamentalism” gave the festival its name, and their cover of Rancid’s “Radio” was an absolute treat to hear, but the band still came off a little bit underwhelming, mostly because of a casual audience that couldn’t reciprocate the group’s irreverent fun. –Philip Cosores

    Future Islands

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    There aren’t many festivals that Future Islands haven’t appeared at in the last year and a half following the release of their breakthrough album, Singles. Maybe the best thing that can be said is that the group still brings all the enthusiasm that made them a known commodity. Unfortunately, many of the fans in attendance couldn’t see frontman Samuel Herring’s facial expressions and pantomimes, as the stage was lit with little regard for how it would play to the audience or on the video screen. Still, when Herring spoke about Fun Fun Fun Fest being the first festival to give them a large stage for their act way back in 2011, it spoke to both the event’s commitment to rising acts and the loyalty and camaraderie that follows the talent. “I feel like we’ve gone places together,” Herring said of the fest before thanking Austin for giving them a shot. –Philip Cosores and David Brendan Hall

    ODESZA

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    As the night drew to a close, ODESZA created an electronic ambiance that set the crowd in motion and echoed over the horizon. Amid lingering synth, booming bass, and wavering keyboards, we bore witness as Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight unleashed their intoxicating energy upon the Blue Stage. ODESZA pushed the exhausted masses to dance a little longer and showcased several live performances from their other mysterious bandmates who popped on and off stage. It was both a chilling and mind-numbing performance that perfectly wrapped up Sunday’s contagious synth atmosphere. –Allison Franks

    Anamanaguchi

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Anamanaguchi painted the stage with an explosion of color and smiles. Their energy was intoxicating and they quickly enveloped the crowd within their 8-bit beats. Sporting rainbow guitar strings and giant glow sticks, the band proved itself to be every nerdy high schooler’s dream and spoke to the kid in all of us. When M33sh took to the stage for “Pop It”, the crowd went wild as balloons rained down on them. And just as soon as she entranced us like a sexy Japanese school girl, she began effortlessly eliminating every balloon in her path with her magic wand to fight the magic within this kawaii videogame adventure. –Allison Franks

    Eric Andre

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    Photo by Jon Hadusek

    It’s hard to say whether absurdist comic and professional goof Eric Andre actually prepared material or just showed up to his Sunday set. Nevertheless, it was massively entertaining, opening with a Jerry Sandusky joke and ending with Andre performing “The Tuck”, dick and balls mostly exposed. At one point, he dropped the mic and literally broke it (“The sound guy probably hates me now. Sorry!”). A classicist of stand-up comedy might’ve called it half-assed, but just hearing the dude talk about weird shit was enough to send people into hysterics. –Jon Hadusek

    L7

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Famous riot grrrl band L7 returned to the stage this year after more than a decade’s absence, showcasing enough energy to choke their fans. With all four founding members in tow, L7 assaulted with “Shitlist” and the rebellious “American Society”, causing the masses to push hard, jump high, and mosh furiously. The performance was ultimately a wish fulfillment for fans, hopefully foreshadowing many more performances yet to come. –Allison Franks

    Eugene Mirman

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Eugene Mirman hit the stage with some unexpected physical comedy for his all too short 30-minute comedy slot. As he uncomfortably adjusted his mic, he assured the crowd, “Don’t worry — I went to mic school.” From there, the hilarious voice actor known best for his work on Bob’s Burgers took us on a ridiculous romp, discussing everything from awkward car hijacking mishaps to joining the NRA mailing list. Mirman kept the packed tent on their toes, giggling with glee as he brought out his Boner Journal and some highly suggestive paintings he’d made for his new friends at the NRA. The comedian delivered some hard punches and brought solace to his fans from the muggy weather outside, which no one was ready to face again. –Allison Franks

    Murder By Death

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    Photo by Greg Giannukos

    It’s unusual to find an intimate show at a big musical festival, but Murder By Death filled that void during their late night performance inside the Jash Yellow Stage tent. Playing a mix of new and old material, Adam Turla’s booming baritone intoxicated the air during “Coming Home”, while cellist Sarah Balliet left us quivering in “Ball & Chain”. The crowd may have been small, but our energy was overflowing. –Allison Franks

    Mikal Cronin

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Surely, many of those who gathered to catch LA-based singer-songwriter Mikal Cronin on Friday initially discovered him as the bassist in Ty Segall’s band. But during his performance on the Orange Stage, his music stood strong without riding the coattails of his collaborator. That was typical of the material of his first two records, and definitely the case with this set’s featured new tracks off the recently released MCIII. “Turn Around”, “Made My Mind Up”, and “ii) Gold” resounded as expertly written pop-rock songs accented with spurts of wild riffage, which cropped up most prominently in the latter cut. Here Cronin’s smart songwriting gave way to convincing rock star antics — he drew cheers of encouragement aplenty as he thrashed through the tune’s final breakdown. –David Brendan Hall

    Babes in Toyland

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    Photo by Jon Hadusek

    First-wave riot grrrls Babes in Toyland were a rare all-female act to play the Black Stage, and they held it down. Vocalist/guitarist Kat Bjelland unleashed her scratchy howl upon an audience of mostly dudes, jump-kicking during chord changes and reveling in the disparity. Her songs might come from a place of oppression and feminist anger, but there was no malice behind Babes in Toyland’s Friday performance — only the joy in sending the message. –Jon Hadusek

    Nothing

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    “Thanks for coming out early,” Nothing frontman Dominic Palermo said early in the band’s 1 p.m. set. “I’m sure most of you are hungover. I know I am.”

    If you were going to watch anything on the Black stage with a headache, Nothing might be the ideal band. They infused their stoney, fuzzed-out guitars with smooth, gentle melodies, essentially garage rock’s answer to shoegaze. It’s the kind of music that only holds up if the songs are sturdy, which Nothing’s are. While the band recently received attention for their label’s shady-ass associate, their set at FFF reminded us that they deserve attention for their music, too. –Philip Cosores

    Wu-Tang Clan

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    With Ws high in the sky, Wu-Tang Clan (albeit without Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, or Method Man) bombed the stage. Blunts were blazin’, peace was the word, and Wu-Tang was the messenger. Playing their biggest tracks from “Bring the Ruckus” to “C.R.E.A.M”, these infamous rappers kept the crowd in a constant state of motion until the festival shut down. With the tragic death of Ol’ Dirty Bastard on their minds, the group even played a tribute of “Got Your Money” in his honor to celebrate the upcoming anniversary of his passing. Despite our noblest efforts, Wu-Tang, though they ended with the banging track “Gravel Pit”, did not return for an encore. Drenched in champagne, the crowd slowly fizzled out leaving behind a sea of trash as they ventured out into the chilly night. –Allison Franks

    The Growlers

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    “My voice is rough,” Growlers frontman Brooks Nielsen admitted early in the band’s Orange Stage sunset performance. “But this is the end of the tour and I’ve earned this rough voice.” Indeed, one of the most steadily growing and improving bands in California, fresh off headlining their own festival of Beach Goth, the band has earned a little road fatigue. But for lazy Sunday vibes, they were a perfect fit, finding plenty of favor with a crowd content to light up, chill out, and watch the day ease into night. –Philip Cosores

    Doomtree

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Wu-Tang Clan drew the largest crowd to any hip-hop show Friday on the Blue Stage, but looking around, almost no one knew the words and one bonehead even threw up a West Coast hand sign when RZA called for the group’s signature Ws (they’re from New York, dummy). Minneapolis collective Doomtree, on the other hand, drew an audience a third the size the following day, but theirs was tenfold more hardcore. Fans in the front rapped along to cuts like “No Way” and “Low Light Low Life” at a raucous volume, and even when the majority of the audience didn’t respond to songs off their latest album, All Hands, the group was resilient and at least managed to encourage some happy bouncing.

    Like so many lesser-knowns at FFF, their set was an example of underrated talents gaining new fans by drawing power from humility. Sole female MC Dessa similarly won over her crowd on the same stage with a solo show two years ago, and here offered thanks on behalf of the larger group: “We’ve been hustling independently for a long fucking time, so thank you for supporting, and if you have no idea why you’re here, thanks for giving us a chance.” –David Brendan Hall

    Big Freedia

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Big Freedia is widely considered the Queen of New Orleans bounce music, a style of hip-hop that focuses more on non-stop ass-shaking than rhyming, but by this time, he’s also the most seasoned FFF veteran. The artist born Frederick Ross has appeared at the festival more than any other: five times across four nonconsecutive years, which includes a twerking lesson earlier this day on the Yellow Stage. The only disconcerting part of the show was the inordinately large number of under-10 children sitting atop parents’ shoulders to get a better view of the couple dozen people Freedia pulled up from one of the weekend’s densest crowds for an orgy of booty-shaking during “Azz Everywhere”. I’m all for FFF proliferating a family-friendly atmosphere, but bounce music is as NSFW as it gets — don’t take your kiddos to a Big Freedia show, y’all. –David Brendan Hall

    Jane’s Addiction

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    A full-album, 25th anniversary performance of 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual to close out the Orange Stage on Saturday was nice for its shift from Jane’s Addiction’s typical “greatest hits” format (they stuck with that for the most part last weekend at New Orleans’ Voodoo Experience, forgoing anything off their latest album, 2011’s The Great Escape Artist). But it was risky – “Stop!” and “Been Caught Stealing” are familiar to most, but other cuts like “No One’s Leaving”, “Bobhaus”, and finale “Classic Girl” meander into pseudo-psychedelia that probably didn’t hold the attention of anyone but the diehards here (take for example one obnoxious fan at the front endlessly screaming “Nothing’s Shocking” like a stoned idiot until they busted out “Mountain Song” and “Ocean Size” to end the main set).

    That said, the trippier vibes supplemented the circus-like production splendidly, which featured plenty of costumed dancing/a striptease by frontman Perry Farrell’s wife Etty and her two companions, plus flesh hook suspension dancers that added extra-freaky pizzazz to the airy, percussive closer “Chip Away”. Overall, it was a prime demonstration of Fun Fun Fun Fest’s penchant for bagging classic bands that, no matter what the set’s premise, practically can’t miss their mark. –David Brendan Hall

    Ms. Lauryn Hill

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    R&B queen Lauryn Hill captivated her audience first with her wacky giant parka and then with her voice. At this year’s fest, she brought the whole band along too, from back-up singers to trombone players. Running through all her top faves, including the classic “Doo Wop (That Thing)” that was cut off after running over time only to be finished by the audience, Hill kept the crowd on their toes with her soulful and uplifting vocal range. She even caught us by surprise with a few covers at the end, like “Killing Me Softly”, a song her Fugees made a hit after the original by Roberta Flack. If you were tired of the electro grooves from the rest of the day, or simply looking for a place to lay down your blanket and finish your beer, this was the set for you. –Allison Franks

    BRONCHO

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Maybe one of the biggest preconceptions of indie rock is that it isn’t music you can dance to. Broncho doesn’t fall into that cliche, with frontman Ryan Lindsey hopping, shaking, and dancing his way through songs as influenced by David Bowie and Suicide as by classic punk. Unfortunately, the indie rock fans in attendance didn’t move as much as the band, but still managed to find plenty of enjoyment from both the group’s infectious hooks and Lindsey’s mumbling banter. He seemed like he was on a good one, and the resulting set got a boost from the band’s clear high spirits. –Philip Cosores

    American Football

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    While so much of FFF favors the bold and the brash, American Football fits a different mold. Booking the recently reformed emo legends after dark on the biggest stage wasn’t necessarily in tune with what would draw the largest crowd, but rather what was most special to the idea of FFF’s target audience. Surprisingly, a good-sized crowd did show up, cheering at the first hint of each song, showing that the festival’s booking and turnout are still in line. It was a special moment for longtime fans, and the band delivered a nostalgic and emotional payoff. –Philip Cosores

    Archers of Loaf

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    After Desaparecidos dropped due to illness, their Black Stage slot was filled by Chapel Hill’s Archers of Loaf, one of the great indie rock bands of ’90s. Well done, Fun Fun Fun. The small but lively crowd appeared to consist exclusively of hardcore fans, as they shouted and sang along to every song. Down to earth and personable, the band’s stage rapport was equally endearing. At one point, Eric Bachmann pointed to the sky: “Look, a drone. It’s coming to get us.” Bassist Matt Gentling added with a laugh, “You’re all probably thinking, ‘These are my final moments and I’m out here watching these assholes.’” –Jon Hadusek

    Peaches

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    It shouldn’t surprise anyone that’s ever heard the music of Peaches that a significant moment in her late afternoon set involved two dancing vaginas joining her on stage for a demonstration of how to stimulate an orgasm. “I can smell joints, but none of them are in my hand,” she pointed out quickly, less an observation and more a demand. Afterwards, there were costume changes, choreography, theatrics, an onstage proposal, and, most importantly, club-worthy groves that would have had more of the fest dancing if it hadn’t been so content to just watch the spectacle. Is it a shame that the music gets overshadowed? Not really. In Peaches’ hands, her set is all about sensory experience, and few artists can succeed on that front with the same wink and tickle. —Philip Cosores

    Bayonne

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    As a gentle drizzle began early Friday, Austin native Roger Sellers drew a decent crowd for his (mostly) one-man-show of looping samples, vocals, and percussion. The sound could have come across as impersonal if it wasn’t for the attitude and enthusiasm of the performance, transforming cerebral sounds into something almost transcendental. Fun Fun Fun fest doesn’t often trade in beauty, but with the fest just getting off to a soggy start, Bayonne managed to be both both pretty and lively, resulting in one of the more unique sets of the first day. –Philip Cosores

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