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Fun Fun Fun Fest 2012’s 20 Best Sets

This past weekend, Austin’s seventh annual Fun Fun Fun Fest saw the once-modest, mid-autumn gathering finally metamorphose from off-season distraction to a festival-season staple capable of attracting more than just Ryan Gosling and a few local punks (and thanks to the Austin Music Office, SPIN was hanging in a sweet ATX Airstream). The headliners were heavyweights in their respective fields (Run-DMC, Refused), and the daily lineups (split between three specialized stages) were uniformly strong. There was both a taco cannon and a Black Lips set made zanier by contributions from Val Kilmer and Rooney Mara, the latter introduced by the former as Miley Cyrus. (Michael Fassbender acted as their chauffeur, carting them around backstage in a golf cart; he is a vocal Penguin Prison fan.) There was a nautical-themed skate and BMX ramp. Napalm Death were there. So were Superchunk and Seaweed and a few thousand music nerds, so many of which made the best sets we saw even better. Here are the 20 we’ll remember.


Friday, 1:05, Black Stage

To make your way to the Black Stage, you have to walk the length of Auditorium Shores, past dozens of tents, locally sourced food trucks and lastly, Fun Fun Fun Fest’s skate and BMX park, which plays host throughout the day to countless kids on bikes and skateboards. In the first few hours of the festival, as FIDLAR, a nascent bunch of SoCal pop-punks, were just starting to hit their mid-set stride, it wasn’t odd to think that theirs was the noise soundtracking the kickflips as you walked. But it wasn’t: The skate and BMX park was blasting dubstep, its low-end often congealing with the more sinister edges of FIDLAR’s mix, a mutant blend of hardcore-steeped lullabies played at roaring volumes.


Friday, 1:45, Orange Stage

The heat was at its most intense (Friday’s high was in the mid-80s) and luckily, every song felt like a breeze. For the past four years, Dum Dum Girls frontwoman Dee Dee has quietly become a lights-out songwriter, continuing to craft warm, windswept gems long after the Spector-ized swell of late ’00s lo-fi pop has subsided. “This one is to the kid in the Black Flag shirt who knows every word,” she said before leading her uniformed (black, white, lots of leggings) crew into “Season Of Hell,” a highlight from this year’s End Of Daze EP. There was definitely more than just one.


Friday, 2:35, Orange Stage

Few strains of punk went unrepresented at Fun Fun Fun, and turn-of-the-century emo, like that served up by long-running Omaha outfit Cursive, enjoyed face time atop the Orange Stage. In recent years, frontman and chief songwriter Tim Kasher has strained to keep his band’s output from remaining in one place for long, tangling and overloading his arrangements in the process. But in a set split evenly between material new and old, one could hear how well a lot of his early, much-beloved work continues to hold up over time: The teeth-gnashing and stomach-churning of Ugly Organ’s “A Gentleman Caller” and “Art Is Hard” were highlights. Twice, one could spot singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten taking a break from her band’s setup on the other half of the stage to play air drums and scream along.


Friday, 3:25, Orange Stage

Anyone familiar with Sharon Van Etten’s backstory could quickly understand why Cursive’s early records would be a formative influence. The Brooklyn singer-songwriter packs her songs with pained confessionals, many of which are the byproduct of a torn relationship or two. But her latest, Tramp, found her thickening her songwriting with more muscular arrangements. Plus, months upon months on the road (with her finest band yet) have transformed her from soft-spoken, saucer-eyed wallflower to a singer in full command of the stage. What was once an almost meditative and hymnal experience has become something staggering.


Friday, 5:05, Orange Stage

Bob Mould barreled through Copper Blue his 1992 post-Hüsker classic under the Sugar moniker. In front of a reverent crowd, Mould made it halfway through the record without saying a word, focusing his efforts instead into wringing every bit of crunch he could from what continues to be one of his most beloved sets of songs. The energy never flagged and neither did the melody.


Friday, 5:15, Black Stage

“How are you all doing out there in that fucking dust bowl?” asked Converge frontman Jacob Bannon as the Salem, Massachsetts hardcore vets got into the homestretch of their ferocious sundown set. As the first day of the festival progressed, the sounds coming from the Black Stage grew aggressive, along with the crowds. But Converge were playing to two, a wave of friends standing behind them on stage, and to the sea of them that extended in front of them. Both knew every word. And, as Converge tore into recent single, “Empty On The Inside,” they had stoked the pit so intensely that the dust had completely filled the sky.


Friday, 7:05, Black Stage

So many conversations could be overheard leading up to this, festivalgoers curious to know if the emergence of Laura Jane Grace had in any way changed the Against Me! live experience. Grace and her bandmates were behemoth, sprinting through a long parade of singles, each more enthusiastically received than the one before. There were smiles on stage and smiles out in the crowd, and, no matter how far you strayed, you could hear it from the other side of the park.


Friday, 7:55, Blue Stage

While most of the attention on Friday night went to headlining rap pioneers Run-DMC, it was Bun B’s set on the Blue Stage that proved the most memorable. At first marred by some technical difficulties, the UGK co-founder (and recent Rice University professor) found his footing immediately and put on a seamless, sweat-less, career-spanning clinic that included dedications to fallen partner Pimp C, as well as Biggie, 2Pac and Houston legend DJ Screw, all punctuated by a closing, call-and-response rendition of perhaps his duo’s finest moment, 2007’s “International Players Anthem.”


Saturday, 1:45, Blue Stage

“I feel like a turd in the rain.” With that announcement Daughn Gibson began his midday Blue Stage set, a head cold somehow managing to further enrich the Pennsylvanian’s toffee’d baritone, bolstering one of the more entertaining performances of the day. Gibson, a former truck driver and drummer for Pennsylvanian stoner-punks Pearls & Brass, told SPIN recently that he spent much of his teen years falling in love with musical theater. His time along the lip of the stage has served him well: Gibson boasts a very natural, often cheeky command of the space, his Olympian poses and poker-faced stage banter at marvelous odds with the nocturnal, monastic feel of his country-informed, sample-based solo debut, All Hell.


Saturday, 2:45, Orange Stage

A few songs into their mid-afternoon outing, Braid frontman Bob Nanna asked the sizable crowd in front of him if any of them had also come out for their show in downtown Austin very early that same morning. He received a roar in response, many of the devotees in attendance having come back for more just hours later. And with good reason: The beloved, recently reunited Illinois post-hardcore foursome offered up an effervescent, spring-loaded set that leaned heavy on fan favorite, Frame and Canvas, from 1998. Nanna, was particularly chatty with the crowd between songs, and the effect was not unlike witnessing the reunion between friends: Everyone was clearly happy to see one another again.


Saturday, 4:45, Blue Stage

Though some wonky sound did in the first half of this Brooklyn duo’s performance, Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm bounced back to unfurl what was perhaps the afternoon’s most buoyant set. Much of that owed to their extraordinarily strong finish, Emm and Cohen (who was wearing a newly made, custom ball cap emblazoned with their “winky sad” emoticon) gliding through a good portion of this year’s Mixed Emotions.


Saturday, 4:45, Black Stage

Before the Keith Morris-fronted hardcore supergroup got going, the much ballyhooed “Taco Cannon” was readied and put to use, and dozens of Torchy’s tacos were hurled into the crowd. “Are those vegan tacos,” Morris asked, just one of a few platforms he would take throughout the set. (They were.) Between outbursts of the punk variety, Morris also became one of the very few musicians to wax political over the weekend, expressing his distaste with our two-party system, outsourcing to China and cell-phones. But none of it threatened to distract from what was a furious, sometimes terrifying set.


Saturday, 5:30, Blue Stage

Though recent critical darling and fellow Black Hippy member Kendrick Lamar was not in attendance, Schoolboy Q did rumble through a lip-curling, Ab-Soul-enriched rendition of “A.D.H.D” (from the former’s Section.80). It was one of several rousing moments in one of the most focused outings of the day, the Los Angeleno peppering his set, much of which was culled from his this years Habits & Contradictions, with inspirational observations not unlike what you’d hear during a hardcore set. After surviving prison and fatherhood, “finally,” he said, marveling at the crowd’s size, “I’m a rapper rapping in front of you motherfuckers.”


Saturday, 6:05, Orange Stage

“It’s nice to play while the sun is setting,” Real Estate bassist Alex Bleecker said halfway through the New Jersey outfit’s time on the Orange Stage. Given Real Estate’s gifts for languid, sigh-like indie-rock, their slot was perfectly scheduled — there are few better settings for their handiwork. The fivesome ambled through a sumptuous set of highlights from their most recent full-length, Days, closing with “Beach Comber,” an exceedingly tuneful cut from their 2009 debut.


Saturday, 8:50, Black Stage

Perhaps the set of the festival. The reunited Swedish post-hardcore pioneers drew a massive gathering in front of the Black Stage on Fun Fun Fun’s second night, delivering a crushing, hour-long (relatively lengthy for the weekend) run through older material and call-and-response freakouts from their 1998 masterstroke The Shape Of Punk To Come. Elastic frontman Dennis Lyxzen, in slim-fitting black, recalled for everyone a 1996 tour stop in Houston with Snapcase in which local skeptics derided as Skid Row-indebted imposters. “We’re glad we can be here tonight,” Lyxzen said, panting, “to show you guys we don’t sound like Skid Row.”


Sunday, 1:10, Blue Stage

Heavily influenced by OutKast and the rest of Atlanta’s Dungeon Family, the Dallas-bred duo leaned on material from their Loosies singles comp, an implacable slab of BBQ-ready rap. Their on-stage back-and-forth never felt like it was in danger of wilting in the considerable heat. They danced, goofed around, and, over crisp snares, prompted an “I wanna party” chant that would have done wonders in the evening, but felt just right under the sun.


Sunday, 2:25, Blue Stage

“Bitch, I’m not a freak. I’m just a little nasty.” Had you been anywhere near Auditorium Shores on Sunday afternoon, you would have heard this chant, as it was led by New Orleans bounce dynamo (and Diplo collaborator) Nicky Da B. Flanked by two roving, constantly twerking dancers, the blonde mohawk’d vocalist erased the divison between stage and field by inviting everyone up for a dance party that lasted for much of the set. Most festivalgoers wiggled their asses, one dropped his pants and shook his (sheer-briefed) shy parts instead.


Sunday, 4:20, Black Stage

Known to speak at great length and high speeds during his band’s shows, Japandroids frontman Brian King pledged to keep stage banter to a minimum due to the tight FFF set time. It was a wise move. By the time he and drummer David Prowse launched into “Adrenaline Nightshift,” a highlight from this year’s excellent Celebration Rock, much of the festival had poured into the Western end of Auditorium Shores to catch a glimpse. And though the sound was muddied in parts, the Vancouver duo seemed to have found another gear while on tour in Europe for the past two months, the ferocity with which they took to each number echoed by the rows of yowling, crowd surfing diehards up front.


Sunday, 6:05, Orange Stage

“Do you have a background in….mindreading?” Promise Ring frontman Davey Van Bohlen asked of one supporter who’d just been pleading to hear the reunited emo outfit’s 1996 single “A Picture Postcard.” This was an exceptionally playful and joyous performance, Van Bohlen shuffling and kicking and teasing his way through some of his Milwaukee crew’s most beloved songs, all of which felt, if not dated by their lyrical subject matter (see: the aforementioned “A Picture Postcard,” among other pay phone and mixtape-enriched choruses), completely untouched by time.


Sunday, 7:55, Orange Stage

The Austin instrumental rock heroes (one of three local acts helping to close out the festival) underscored the melancholy inherent their songwriting by making the expansive even more so. The peaks were high, the valleys great, and the volume tangible.

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