Friday, November 12, 2010

On the Scene: Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest

Posted By on Fri, Nov 12, 2010 at 11:14 AM

Man Man
  • Man Man
The best thing I saw at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest last weekend was really a mini-festival unto itself. I’m at a bit of a loss to describe what exactly it is that Philadelphia outfit Man Man does onstage, but whatever it is, it’s a contact sport. It’s piano-driven, growl-laden, smashing, crashing, and a bit burlesque. Front man Honus Honus often adds or subtracts from his clothing between songs, but the sum total is never much. All members sing and jump around the stage, and the crowd responds in turn, creating a melodic mash-up of dancing, clapping, and shouting back and forth. When it comes to creating a rhythm, everything onstage and off is fair play.

At the end of that set, the crowd rolled over to catch the much more toned-down, but just as delightful Dirty Projectors. I’ve been itching to see them since falling for their last album, Bitte Orca, which really is a shining example of voice-driven, experimental pop. It’s instantly likeable, with such interesting feats of vocal instrumentation that you can’t help but pick it apart. And the live show brings a new level to appreciation of the sound, as the four singing members of the band voice incredibly complex songs without a hitch. Truly impressive, and great dance music to boot.

My last stop for the evening was checking out MGMT’s headlining set. This is the first time I’ve caught them since their second album came out, and I was interested to see how they’d arrange a setlist. They smartly devoted roughly equal amounts of time to the first and second albums, playing all the crowd-pleasers, while sprinkling in newer, less immediate songs. They may not be as singularly dance-poppy as they were the first time around, but they’re more interesting, and the crowd certainly didn’t seem to mind.

Magic Kids
  • Magic Kids
On Sunday, I arrived a little early for the Magic Kids’ set and was fortunate enough to catch the last three or four songs from Austin band Mother Falcon. The group’s MySpace lists 18 members, all students at Westlake High School. I’d say seven of them had violins, and among the rest were two upright basses, a trumpet or two, keyboards, guitars, an accordian, and a bassoon. All were dressed in black, and at least two of them looked to be pretty young teenagers — a mere high school orchestra at first glance, but three vocalists anchored what threatens to be an overwhelming stage presence. The band channeled Beirut and Bon Iver atop more classical influences, easing gracefully through a soft but raw take on the baroque pop movement. Very interesting, engaging, and worth keeping tabs on in the near future.

Unfortunately, neither Mother Falcon nor the Memphis-based Magic Kids got much of an audience, probably due entirely to their early set times. Magic Kids frontman Bennett Foster successfully worked the crowd he had, though, backed by the always-charming “oohs,” “ahhs,” and — oh right, music — of Alice Buchanan, Alex Gates, Michael Peery, Ben Bauermeister, and Will McElroy. I’m always impressed by the band’s balance between demure and frenetic, sweet and smooth; in the polarized indie sphere, shows often result either in motionless arm-crossed viewers or veritable moshpits, and it’s nice to see someone who really understands how to bridge the gap. That said, I’ve always enjoyed watching Magic Kids in a smaller venue, and luckily we Memphians have next week’s Hi-Tone show to look forward to.

My afternoon was spent lazing through four solid consecutive sets by similarly easy, crowd-pleasing musicians. Margot & the Nuclear So and So's ambling, harmony-laden soft rock was followed by a great showing from Deakin, one of the members of Animal Collective. It’s funny to me that the members of Animal Collective on their own always end up playing more melodic, less opaque music than they do as, well, a collective. But interestingly, though the biggest complaint levied against them is that they’re unlistenable, the individual members rarely get as much attention with their ostensibly friendlier music. It’s still very much acclaimed (case in point: Panda Bear), but it’s rarely ranked above Animal Collective itself.

  • Deerhunter
Chillwave poppers Toro y Moi followed with an appropriately low-key set, and then Kaki King took the stage. Her career is really interesting, because her music varies quite a bit, but what anchors her sound is her incredible skill at guitar. It’s unusual to find someone who’s succeeded in the indie world mostly on the strength of their instrumental skill, but King continuously manages to make interesting, technically driven music.

I was most looking forward to seeing Deerhunter (and so, I daresay, was everyone else), and they didn’t disappoint. Frontman Bradford Cox, who’s also responsible for the spacier Atlas Sound, is always a pleasure, and it’s clear that the band has some sense of loyalty to their fans and feel compelled to please them. That was unfortunately hindered by their short set time — after four or five songs, they were told they had ten minutes left, and Cox apologized for not being able to finish the set. Even so, they put on a great showing; Cox has a way of stringing out his distorted, ambient licks and lyrics to give a sense of suspended time. Accordingly, the crowd was mostly silent for the show, though it was clear no one was bored.

After that, I somehow found myself in the midst of a packed, frenzied crowd waiting for French hyper-pop icon Yelle. For someone who mostly does a lot of shouting and dorky dancing in crazy clothing, she certainly knows how to put on a show. It was the most high-energy thing I watched all weekend, and a great cap to the largely low-key festival.

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