Event: Fun Fun Fun Fest, Day 2, Late Night Show
Venue: The Sidewinder
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 7 November 2015
Introduction: I still marvel at FFFFest for putting together all the late night shows in addition to the main festival at Auditorium Shores. It's hard to believe that they manage to get fairly big acts (relatively speaking) to play such small local venues, but it makes for an experience that is hard to match. The much-touted "intimacy" of smaller venues is a real thing, although I would argue it's only worth it if the sound system is up to par. Anyway, I left the main festival a bit early to make sure I could get in to my venue of choice. I did the same thing two years ago only to realize I was way too early, but I had the suspicion this time would be different, especially since my venue of choice was lined up to host three or four big names in indie rock. I did make it in, but I must have been one of the last ones to make it back to the outside stage before the venue had to restrict entry and enforce a one-out, out-in policy.
My reason for being outside was to see Moving Panoramas, a self-described "all-gal dream gaze trio from Austin". They certainly fit their own bill, and while there were no standout moments, they were consistently solid. The frontwoman stole the show, as her guitar and vocals were the dominant elements that made the music compelling. The drummer seemed to be struggling, but the bassist was decent if not exceptional. Their music had a tendency to fade into a hazy background, but it occupied a space that I find particularly enjoyable. They have some promise in them yet.
Unfortunately, I was a bit distracted during the set by the constant flow of people pushing hard against me in search of alcohol and toilets. I was already planning on moving inside at that point, but it was an easy choice to make in terms of personal space. Since I'd recently seen Alvvays and I only had a modest interest in Future Islands, hopefully someone who was more interested than me in those bands managed to get in.
I got inside in time to see the very end of Carl Sagan's Skate Shoes' set. It was hardcore thrasher stuff and it did nothing for me. The second band inside was Future Death. For some reason I had reasonably high hopes for them, but they delivered the same kind of hardcore punky stuff that had been failing me all day. I'd heard them described as "noise pop", but I sure didn't see any pop under all the noise. The drumming was great and the rhythms were wild, but I just couldn't get into the energy of it.
The last band inside was the band formerly known as Viet Cong. (They recently made the laudable decision to find a better name for themselves, and while they haven't announced a new name, they tellingly introduced themselves only with the band members' given names. [Edit 2017.03.21: They finally settled on Preoccupations last year.]) I missed my chance to see them at SXSW earlier this year, and I was looking forward to seeing them in such a small venue. During their soundcheck, I caught bits of Can's "Vitamin C" and Siouxsie & the Banshees' "Arabian Knights", so they had gotten me quite excited. However, when they finally started playing in earnest, I was a bit disappointed by their cacophonous sonic surge. Instead of a post-punk sense of space and exploration, it seemed like they were struggling with punk's raw energy. There were parts I could grab on to, like the solid drumming and the occasionally astral guitar work, but a lot of it was just a noisy mess. I think they and the preceding bands on the inside stage suffered from mediocre mixing, and thus while I was not particularly impressed by their set, I get the impression that they are capable of more.
[The band formerly known as Viet Cong.]
Moving Panoramas: B
Moving Panoramas: B
Future Death: C-
The band formerly known as Viet Cong: C+
Final Thoughts: I can't help but wonder what the rest of the evening sounded like on the outside stage – and the other late night venues around town. It would seem that Sidewinder's outside stage has superior sound to the inside, at least judging by this night, and I'm curious if Future Islands would have impressed me in the right environment. I may have gotten the intimate experience I wanted, but maybe it was a little too intimate. It seems like the late night shows are a bit of a crapshoot, and I might not have gotten the best experience, but I don't regret giving it a try.