review by Charlie Zaillian
After Missy Elliott and Frank Ocean’s triumphs the first two nights of FYF ’17, and an impressively self-choreographed main stage set by the author of one of last year's most buzzed about albums (Solange's A Seat at the Table), rock music — that old bedrock of the annual L.A. event informally known as Fuck Yeah Fest but these days, just another genre — finally got the last word.
You don’t turn down an opportunity to see a living legend like Iggy Pop. You just don’t. Coming out guns blazing with his Stooges’ ’69 three-chord classic “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the perpetually shirtless punk rock king (seriously, does Iggy even own shirts?) dealt us a not-surprisingly hit-heavy setlist that included more Stooges (“TV Eye,” “Search and Destroy”) and of course “Lust for Life,” a song he’s played so many times in his life he probably sings it in his sleep. Not even the best closed-captioning in the world could pick up a word of Pop’s between-song mumbling, and there was a hilarious “dude, where’s my mic” moment towards the end of the set. But the man never phones it in, somehow managing to seem very much his age (70 this year) and half that at the same time.
Setting the table for Pop on the Lawn Stage was ultra-prolific garage rocker Ty Segall — a FYF regular making his fifth appearance at the festival — whose fuzzed-out tunes spurred a good-natured mosh pit. Over at the Trees, U.K. mop-tops Temples’ backwards-gazing set of Beatlesque psych was enjoyable, if a little lightweight.
One group that broke from Sunday’s “rock day” narrative was Little Dragon, playing its second FYF but first on the main stage. The trade-off was that it was at six p.m., with the sun still beating down on the blacktop and temps in the 80s — a slightly incongruous setting for the Swedes’ nocturnal, synth-heavy sound, which contrasts entrancing long-form vibe-outs with forays into more straightforward ‘80s pop. Still, singer Yukimi Nagano ranked among the most charismatic frontpeople in a weekend jam-packed with them, with an elaborate, eye-popping onstage ensemble to rival Friday headliner Björk’s.
While most of the day’s action was on the main stages we did venture back to the Club to catch Blonde Redhead, who we were delighted to find were playing their 2000 art-rock opus Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons in full. That sleeper hit record — which found the New York three-piece maturing out of its sonic youth, if you will, into something moodier, weirder, more sensual — has aged beautifully. The band looked great too — flanked by golden lights pointing into giant umbrellas — and drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend on that stage.
We then returned to the Lawn Stage for Run the Jewels. When the incendiary hip-hop duo played FYF two years ago they were must-see status; by now, though, El-P and Killer Mike are on the verge of overexposure, having seemingly never met a fest they didn’t like — this was their second gig this weekend after doing Seattle’s Capitol Hill Block Party Friday. The dueling MCs still make for a good hang and their set Sunday didn’t lack energy or sincerity, but could’ve benefitted from a rumored repeat cameo from Zack de la Rocha — the Rage Against the Machine main man, local L.A. hero and sometime RTJ collaborator who’d joined them onstage in ’15 — that unfortunately never materialized.
And finally, the band the majority of Sunday day pass-holders came to see (you could ID them by their well-worn concert T-shirts; seriously, they were everywhere): Nine Inch Nails.
Twenty-three years removed from 1994’s quadruple-platinum The Downward Spiral, NIN’s voice, face and visionary Trent Reznor continues to make vital records primarily with his fans in mind while leveling up on the live show, the band’s last tour, for 2013’s Hesitation Marks, garnering as much attention for its multimedia achievement as its music.
The industrial-rock icons’ first major performance since that '13 tour, Sunday’s catalog-spanning, festival-closing main-stage set didn’t skimp on hits, serving up potent versions of nihilist anthems “Head Like A Hole,” the devastating “Hurt” and, of course, X-rated “Closer” — Reznor’s “Lust for Life” — and vintage album tracks including 1989’s sorrowful “Something I Can Never Have” and Spiral’s mathy, thrashing “March of the Pigs.” It also caught up casual fans on the group’s more recent exploits, from pretty new (hard-charging mid-set standout “Copy of A,” off Hesitation Marks) to brand-new (“Less Than,” the sleek lead single off just-released EP Add Violence). In its last act, Reznor humbly paid tribute to his late friend David Bowie — the two artists met in ’95 when Bowie took NIN on tour and stayed close until his death last year — with a stark cover of “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” the final song off the Starman’s swan song Blackstar, on which he sang the verses alone then superimposed Bowie’s original vocal onto the chorus.
Reznor’s pain and torment have always come off as genuine, but in his younger years, also so morose it bordered on humorous at times. Today, in middle age, the music — even the same songs — felt less about wallowing than getting back up and surviving. By NIN’s standards Sunday’s show might’ve been an uncharacteristically no-frills production, but for the overstimulated, delirious masses who stuck around, was just what was needed to end the weekend on a powerful, poignant note.
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