FPSF 2015 Rundown, Pt. 4: ILoveMakonnen + Rocket From The Crypt + Robert Ellis + RL Grime + the last place you look + Tycho + Charles Bradley + Skrillex + Moji + The Tontons + The Decemberists + R. Kelly
At long last, my friends, here we are, standing on the precipice before the steady collapse into heat-induced delerium and music-induced euphoria that accompanies every Free Press Summer Festival just as surely as the sun rises every morning. It’s gonna hurt, yes, but you’ll love it just the same. (Or I will, anyway, at least as long as I’m able to take shelter somewhere periodically; I’ve only ever even found the Media Tent once in five previous years of FPSF, and was told very politely that I had to leave unless I had an interview scheduled with somebody…)
This’ll be Jason Smith & Jeremy Hart‘s last rundown/preview thing for FPSF 2015, I’m afraid, because hey, we’re all gonna be there tomorrow & Sunday, amirite? (That’s June 6th & 7th, by the way, for the calendar-impaired.) You can read the last three installments here, here, and here, should you feel so inclined, and then we’ll get on with this one right here.
Before I start, though, I need to mention a bit of a wrinkle the FPSF organizers have thrown in: remember that super-duper exclusive Diplo set for Fancy Pants pass holders? Well, now it won’t be at the actual Fancy Pants tent(s), but instead will be up at Fitzgerald’s — which, honestly, makes a whole lot more sense than trying to cram the bazillion people who’ll want to see the guy into a relatively small tent. So it’ll be kinda-sorta like those FPSF afterparties the Pegstar folks did after last year’s festival (only, you know, with just one guy).
The special solo set will be on Sunday, June 7th, at 10:30PM, and it’s free, but with the following caveat: “Guaranteed Entry for Fancy Pants while space is available. Regular schmoes encouraged to try their luck. Silk Pajamas holders will be given back door entry.” Now, I’m a little confused by that, myself — it sounds at first like Fancy Pants holders get in no matter what, but then there’s the “while space is available,” and the bit about regular schmoes. I dunno exactly how it’ll work, but if you want to go, I’d get your ass up to Fitz early on Sunday, right?
And since we posted a bunch of ’em tomorrow (and, um, OCD runs in my family), here’re some more links to other, non-SCR coverage of FPSF 2015:
- “Free Press Summer Festival preview: Scale the Summit,” David Cobb, Houston Calling
- “Important FPSF 2015 Survival Tips,” Houston Press
- “Acts You Can Skip at FPSF 2015,” Houston Press
- “The Best Regional Acts at FPSF 2015,” Houston Press
- “The Best Houston Acts at FPSF 2015,” Houston Press
- “Iceage Braves the Necessary Evils of U.S. Festivals,” David Sackllah, Houston Press
- “Performance and Punchlines Drive Guilla’s Excellence,” Stephan Wyatt, Houston Press
- “A Firsthand Account of How Belle and Sebastian Came to Be That Way,” Adam Newton, Houston Press
- “Nothing Fancy Pants About the Unofficial, Unsanctioned Summer Fest ‘BrokeAss Stage’,” Jesse Sendejas Jr., Houston Press
- “Free Press Summer Fest at NRG Stadium,” KPRC Channel 2
- “Free Press Summer Fest is at NRG Park this weekend: Here’s what you need to know,” Craig Hlavaty, Houston Chronicle
- “Crochet, Crossbodys and Chuck Taylors: What to Wear at FPSF,” Julia Davila, Houstonia
Read all that? Good. Now read this:
Hrm. Alright, so even after listening to quite a bit of ILoveMakonnen this week, it’s taken me a while to wrap my head around what the guy does. Don’t get me wrong — I like the beats on most of the his self-titled debut immediately, particularly the heavy-lidded bounce of “Tuesday” and the piano-tinged “Swerve,” but he’s got such a strange, quirky, semi-tuned vocal style that it didn’t quite fit, y’know? Listening to him sing and rap made me feel all weird and uncomfortable, like I was listening to music that some friend’s kid made and it was making me cringe a little but I couldn’t show that it was making me cringe.
But then, after a while, I started to get used to it. I’d be driving home from work, and out of the blue, “I Don’t Sell Molly No More” would pop into my head, and suddenly I’d be hum-singing along for a second before I realized, “wait, is that ILoveMakonnen? The hell?” And today, it hit me why he’s managed to worm his way into my brain: it’s actually because he’s not some picture-perfect singer who always gets everything just right (or has it Autotuned until he does, either way); he’s just this guy, this kid who lives in Atlanta and started recording songs in his bedroom, and now, holy shit, he’s got a Grammy nomination under his belt, but at the heart of it, he’s still just this weird, kinda off-kilter kid. He’s like the Rap Everyman, and I kinda love that. (Jeremy H.)
[ILoveMakonnen plays at 4:30PM on Sun., June 7th, at the Mercury Stage.]
Rocket From The Crypt
Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES. I’ve been psyched as fuck to finally get to see Rocket From The Crypt again ever since they announced back in 2013 that they were reforming, and I’ve missed my shot at seeing ’em relatively recently both here and in Austin, so I was over the freaking moon when they were on the announced FPSF lineup. I’ve loved the band since I first ran across “Ditch Digger” (off 1992’s Circa: Now!) while DJing at KTRU, and when Scream, Dracula, Scream! came along in 1995, I was really and truly hooked. Even now, I’d count that album as one of the single best rock albums I’ve ever heard, and songs like “Born in ’69,” “Ball Lightning,” “On a Rope,” and “Middle” are absolute classics, at least to me.
Up to now, I’ve only ever seen RFTC live once, and weirdly, while everything that happened that night is etched permanently into my brain, my recollections as to where and when it was are stupidly hazy. The band was touring for Scream, and they happened to play a tiny shithole dive somewhere west of Downtown, possibly on Washington; they played like they were on fire to a relatively small but devoted crowd of fans, and it was amazing. At one point, Speedo (aka John Reis, aka The Swami from Yo Gabba Gabba!) did that Ultimate Rock Star trick I’ve seen people attempt multiple times over the years, hitting his guitar with his pick band hard and spinning it around his back, mid-song, and picking up exactly where he left off, and he fucking nailed it.
And then, just as the band finished its set, a bunch of serious-looking guys in suits flooded into the bar, announced it was officially being closed down by the TABC for an expired liquor license, took the cash register right off the damn counter, ushered everybody out, and padlocked the door behind us. Man. That was one hell of a night. (Jeremy H.)
[Rocket From The Crypt plays at 2:10PM on Sun., June 7th, at the Neptune Stage.]
Here’s another act for all the classic country/Americana fans. And if you’re an Americana fan from Houston and you haven’t seen Robert Ellis live, you’ve really missed out, because he’s on tour and living elsewhere these days and only checking in from time to time for “homecoming shows” and secret, unannounced pop-ins at the Big Top Lounge. If you don’t know him, then find the song “Bamboo” and you’ll find that Robert’s words put you right on the outskirts of his hometown, Lake Jackson, with tears in your eyes. Then listen to some other great songs, like “Good Intentions” and “Only Lies,” and you’ll definitely find yourself at his FPSF set. (Jason S.)
[Robert Ellis plays at 3:10PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Fancy Pants Tent, and at 6PM on Sun., June 7th, at the Venus Stage.]
There’s something about RL Grime‘s debut album, Void, released late last year, that makes me think of a post-apocalyptic, dystopian sci-fi future, something grim and bleak and brutal. Hell, screw the guitar-playing freak on the bungee cords in Mad Max: Fury Road; if some future army of oblivion-seeking psychos goes to war, this would be a far better soundtrack to their unstoppable, rage-fueled carnage. The trap bass drops, the twitchy, skittering, Underworld-like rhythms (check out “Valhalla,” in particular), the sampled calls to prayer and distorted vocals, and the eerie, pseudo-retro-sounding synths (see “Site Zero/The Vault” and “Let Go (Interlude)”) all builds and builds into something that doesn’t seem like it’s attached to our current era at all.
It isn’t perfect, unfortunately — the Big Sean appearance on “Kingpin” feels like it’s wholly out of place, jarring shoving street braggadocio into the middle of this seemingly futuristic scenario. Even “Reminder,” a track that veers towards R&B and features How To Dress Well, sounds like it could still fit the bill. Me, I’d step clear of the more predictable mainstream, street-level stuff and go full-on towards that dystopian vision. (Jeremy H.)
[RL Grime plays at 4:40PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Neptune Stage.]
the last place you look
the last place you look have been rocking Houston and everywhere else their tour van will take them for 12 years now, making themselves at home on every stage they meet, whether it’s upstairs at Fitzgerald’s, the ballroom at Warehouse Live, or The Woodlands Pavilion. Though their music is going to especially appeal to the 94.5 FM Buzz listener and the fan of bands like Tool and Blue October, hipsters like myself will find their musical talent, energy, and commitment to putting on a professional show impossible to ignore. As a photographer, I know I’m always going to get great shots of them. Don’t pencil them in; pen them in. (Jason S.)
[the last place you look plays at 2:40PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Jupiter Stage.]
I’m not really sure why I expected Tycho to be yet another EDM guy intent on dropping the bass and not much else, beyond the whole trend where EDM artists give themselves quasi-Science-y names to sound cool or futuristic or whatever, but San Franciscan producer Scott Hansen definitely blew that whole expectation out of the water. I mean, Tycho definitely is rooted in electronica (can we still call it that, or am I severely dating myself?), but he (they?) makes music that’s not dance music so much as it is swoon-worthy, atmospheric, ethereal pop, packed full of skyward-pointing, M83-esque synths, droney guitars, and propulsive but understated drums to make this expansive, hazy sound.
Despite the electronics, then, this is far, far closer to old-school dreampop/shoegaze than anything else, bringing to mind My Bloody Valentine at times (see those nicely “warbly” notes in “L”), a vocal-less Jesus & Mary Chain at others, and M83’s early, pre-’80s obsession days at other times still. Beyond that, there’s a lot here that makes me think of various spacerock bands, particularly Explosions in the Sky — Tycho has the same stately grace as EitS, that beautiful serenity that makes that band alluring, and which makes Tycho pretty damn alluring itself. (Jeremy H.)
[Tycho plays at 7PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Fancy Pants Tent, and at 7:50PM on Sun., June 7th, at the Mercury Stage.]
Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires
About seven years ago now, I got my first real taste of the “retro soul revival.” My friend, Levi Johnson, turned me on to a little-known act named Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. They were just starting to gain in popularity. In fact, right after Levi told me about them, they packed Walter’s on Washington and made everyone in attendance (including my wife and me) instant fanatics.
Fast-forward a couple of years and up pops another slightly older, very wise performer named Charles Bradley, who embodies all the smooth singing talent, dramatic flair, and pure lovable personality of the classic singers like James Brown and Marvin Gaye and “just name any great Motown singer”. At this point, if you know Charles Bradley, it’s like he’s been around forever, but it wasn’t that long ago that he was barely scraping by with a doctorate from the school of hard knocks. Going to see Bradley perform is acknowledging that if someone has talent, he/she deserves to be heard — no matter who they are or what age they are. Do not miss him! (Jason S.)
[Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires plays at 8:50PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Venus Stage.]
As we’ve been doing these things, it’s been kind of an eye-opener when it comes to a lot of artists I thought I knew fairly well. Sarah Jaffe, Iceage, and Ben Kweller have all caught me off-guard, with me thinking they sounded like one thing — based on what I’d heard in the past — and learning that they left that sound in the dust a while ago. And now, with big-name headliner Skrillex, no doubt the biggest electronic artist on the bill this year, I’m getting that same feeling.
See, most of what I know about Skrillex is the harder, harsher, more “brostep” side of the dubstep sound, and yeah, believe it or not, I like it. (It’s been a bigger shock to me than it is to you, trust me.) I like the grinding, crunching sounds, the glitchy electronics, the bass so low and crushing you can practically see it emanating from the subwoofers like an honest-to-God cloud of pure sound. I know, I know; it’s not “really” dubstep, but fuck, who cares?
Now, though, I’m listening to Recess, and it sounds like Sonny Moore has moved on somewhat from the robot-sex dancefloor mosh anthems. There’s a lot more depth and variety here than I’d really given Skrillex credit for being able to pull off, and in fact, some of the tracks (like “All Is Fair In Love and Brostep,” for one) sound — to me, at least — a lot closer to British dubstep than the American version Skrillex helped to pioneer. The tracks are more playful and complex than some of the earlier stuff he’s released, to my ears, and while die-hard fans of Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites and nothing else may walk away surprised and disappointed by this new side to Skrillex, I’m looking forward to witnessing it live. (Jeremy H.)
[Skrillex plays at 8:40PM on Sun., June 7th, at the Mars Stage.]
Picture in your mind that Jeff Buckley had lived (I do it daily) and wanted to write some music with a soul singer with some power in her voice. It could’ve definitely turned out a lot like Moji, who with her band writes Buckley- and Fleetwood Mac-inspired music with the occasional heavier Santana- or White Stripes-type riff thrown in for good measure. On some of their songs, the diva really takes over, and thankfully, Moji has more than enough talent to pull off that diva sound, something that has rarely been done consistently in a rock band setting. I’m especially looking forward to hearing a full-length from them. (Jason S.)
[Moji plays at 12PM on Sun., June 7th, at the Mars Stage.]
I just got an email from The Tontons‘ management asking me to watch their new video, “Pony,” so guess what? I’m going to write about The Tontons’ new video as my preview for them for FPSF. I mean, everyone who knows music in Houston already knows a lot about the band, and we even interviewed Asli Omar for our site last year. (The Tontons were one of the bands to get rained out last year, so this year they’re cashing in a well-deserved rain check.)
So…let’s just get to this new video, shall we? First off: yes! I love this song and was hoping it would be a single. Well, there’s some pretty strange, surrealist stuff going on in the intro. In comes the siren-song of Asli Omar (long considered by me to be America’s answer to Sonya Madan of Echobelly — a high compliment, indeed), and the video puts her face to the voice right away, but the lighting is awesomely dark and just gives a hint of how compelling a woman she is. Good idea to show her, because once you see Asli, you begin to love the band. I wonder where they found those strange sculptures. Man, this is one of the more surreal and really well-put-together videos in Houston Rock history. Now the skull is “singing,” and we’ve got an androgynous figure that looks a little like Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal dancing. I almost think it is him making a cameo for a second, because I know that Houston bands and Athens bands have made connections, but then I know it’s not really him. By the end, it’s just getting a little too strange, even for me. But damn, it is memorable…
[The Tontons play at 1:30PM on Sun., June 7th, at the Saturn Stage.]
I get why The Decemberists aren’t everybody’s cup of tea; the drama-club shtick can get very old and overdone, despite their live shows being reportedly pretty damn entertaining. The band — and frontman/songwriter Colin Meloy — has clearly done a whole lot of growing up since the last time I touched base with ’em, however, with Meloy leaving behind a lot of his more flowery, purple poesy in favor of lyrics that are more personal and true-to-life.
Yeah, there’s still stuff like “Cavalry Captain,” where the band strums and sways through a cheery bit of ’70s-influenced pop goodness that references the Light Brigade, but then there’s the thoughtful “12/7/12,” which is apparently Meloy’s own musings on the Sandy Hook tragedy, “Make You Better,” a song depicting a the half of a relationship that’s trying to somehow “fix” the other person, and the sublimely pastoral, Nick Drake-like “Lake Song”. It’s still dense and intricate and gorgeous, but far less precious and pretentious, and there’s nothing at all bad about that. (Jeremy H.)
[The Decemberists plays at 6:30PM on Sun., June 7th, at the Saturn Stage.]
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha — no. I am not fucking writing about R. Kelly. Read these instead:
- “Timeline: The life and career of R. Kelly,” Jim DeRogatis, WBEZ
- “Read the ‘Stomach-Churning’ Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly in Full,” Jessica Hopper, The Village Voice
- “R. Kelly’s Alleged Sex Crimes Are Still Horrific 13 Years Later,” Kyle McGovern, Spin
- “Why Are People Finally Paying Attention to R. Kelly’s Many Crimes?,” Jim DeRogatis, The Village Voice
[R. Kelly plays at 9:50PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Mars Stage.]
And with that, people, we’re done. I wish we could’ve crammed more of these in, but hey, you do what you can do. Now get yourself all ready to hit NRG Park tomorrow morning/afternoon/whenever, and hopefully we’ll see you out there. If you see a scraggly-looking dude wearing a battered London Olympics baseball cap, or a tall, bearded guy hauling a bunch of camera gear around, say “hey!,” and we’ll try not to look around confused like you’re speaking to someone else, we promise…
(Photos [top to bottom]: ILoveMakonnen; Rocket From The Crypt; Robert Ellis; RL Grime; the last place you look; Tycho; Charles Bradley; Skrillex; Moji; The Tontons; The Decemberists. RL Grime photo by Jasmine Safaeian; Moji photo by Trish Badger; The Tontons photo by Julie Worsham; The Decemberists photo by Autumn de Wilde.)