Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked: Surviving FPSF 2017, Day One

It began with a screwup. On my part, mind you, nobody else’s. Before I get to that, though, there’re some things that need to be said about FPSF, aka The Festival Formerly Known As Free Press Summer Festival (although I’m not sure how official the “FPSF” moniker is, really, I’ll admit; just seems weird to keep the “Free Press” bit when the FP no longer owns any of the festival). I’ll break this thing up into chunks as I can, so it’s a little more digestable.

SOMETHING ABOUT THE WEATHER:
First: yeah, thanks to the weather, things definitely didn’t go as planned. But guess what? That’s nobody’s fault. Seriously, it just isn’t. This is Houston — the weather here is more fickle than the cast of a bottom-tier reality-TV show, changing from hour to hour or even minute to minute to the point where I don’t even pay attention to meteorologists anymore.

Case in point: we were told for days running up to the festival that it’d rain all freaking week long, just a veritable deluge. And yet, other than some brief showers, the rain barely materialized. It’s like weather here does the opposite of what people think it will do, just to be an asshole. “You think it’ll rain, huh? Well, how ’bout some blistering heat instead? Hah — eat that, stupid humans!”

I’ve heard grumbling for years about the timing of FPSF — why can’t they have it in the winter? Why not push it back a month or two? What about doing it in the fall? Except that really, none of that matters. Last year’s inaugural Houston Open Air festival got canceled due to severe weather, and that was at the tail end of September. In October of the previous year, Something Wicked was canceled for the same damn reason.

Hell, even last December’s Day for Night saw a hot-as-hell first day turn into a storm with sideways-blowing rain and wind so strong it ripped apart some of the outdoor installations. And then the next day, it was freezing fucking cold, because of course it was.

So to the people who oh-so-wisely declare, “yeah, they just need to move that damn festival to some other time of the year” — yeah, no, that’s not necessarily going to matter. The weather in this city could whomp FPSF at really any time of the year.

Now, maybe the weather sucks here more than other places; I don’t know what to say about that. I do know, though, that other music festivals have cancelled because of weather problems in other cities over the years.

Germany’s giant Rock am Ring festival, which was canceled this year because of a terror alert, was actually also canceled last year, too, because of the weather. Then there’s Levitation up in Austin, and Electric Zoo in NYC. That’s just from some quick Googling, and I’m pretty sure there’s more.

My point is this: this shit happens. Did the evacuations both days of FPSF, and the eventual cancellation of Sunday’s festivities suck? Yes. Is it the end of the world, or of FPSF specifically? No. (Well, hopefully not, anyway, on the latter part.)

Also, the FPSF folks refunded half the base ticket price for anybody who purchased wristbands with a credit card (if you got ’em on Craigslist, yeah, you were fucked), which I thought was a good move. If you bought wristbands the day of, with cash, you can get a refund from Front Gate Tickets before July 4th, and if you only got the Sunday wristband, you can get a full refund for that.

FROM WHERE I SIT:
In a way, it’s all in what you make of it. If you came to FPSF dying to see Lorde, or Flume, or Tove Lo, or The Shins, then yeah, odds are pretty good you walked away seriously pissed off or depressed. If that’s you, yeah, I’m sorry, especially if you flew here from somewhere else. That really sucks, and I don’t mean to diminish that; for me, though, things were somewhat different.

See, while there were some disappointments — I was kinda-sorta looking forward to seeing Lorde, and I was truly excited at the prospect of seeing Miike Snow, Bishop Briggs, and St. Paul & The Broken Bones — the people I wanted to see most were generally earlier in the day on either of the two days of the festival.

And despite the weather, y’know what I realized? Okay, I’ll admit I was warm and clean and dry and back at home when I realized it, and it’s true that I spent far, far less money to get to FPSF than a lot of festival attendees, but it hit me last night that yeah, I had a goddamn good time.

In fact, despite the eventual cancellation, I liked FPSF 2017 a whole lot better than I did FPSF 2016, back down at NRG Park. Some of that’s for personal reasons — last year I had the flu both days, and my wife hurt herself badly while I was at the festival on Saturday, so the rain last year on Day 2 felt like a reprieve for me.

This year, FPSF felt more like it was supposed to — not completely, not like in The Good Old Days, no, but closer than it had been, with some differences that I’ll get to later on.

THE LOCATION:
One reason for the harking back to The Good Old Days of FPSFs Past, no doubt, was the location. Ah, Eleanor Tinsley Park. I knew I missed the place, but even knowing that, I wasn’t quite aware of how much I missed the place, y’know? NRG Park is fine for a music festival or a rodeo or a carnival or whatever the hell else — and my hat’s off to the Park staff for helping get FPSF quickly relocated over there the past two years — but it’s got no character. The whole string of Buffalo Bayou parks have become truly beautiful places these past few years, and despite the mud and muck, I found myself just enjoying wandering around.

In particular, I realized I just wanted to hang out by the little pool in the middle of the historic buildings in Sam Houston Park, with its cool metal coyote sculptures scattered around (I’d originally assumed they were foxes, but a Parks & Recreation-working friend informed me they were actually admittedly-more-indigenous-than-foxes coyotes). I kept looking around thinking, “Okay, I really need to bring the kids up here some weekend, just to roam around and hangout. Maybe when it’s not full of mud.”

I should note that this year’s festival wasn’t in the exact same place where FPSF has been in years past; it was further east of the main area, to the point where I walked in and actually made it all the way down to the Budweiser Stage at the far west end of the festival before realizing I’d walked right past the Neptune, Saturn, and Mercury Stages. The center of Eleanor Tinsley Park itself was actually behind the barriers blocking the festival-goers (and me) from the backstage area.

But hey, that’s cool — it felt a lot more compact and manageable than in years past, with no real bottlenecks or areas where people got jammed up and couldn’t move. There’ve been FPSFs where I actually missed seeing bands because I had to hike all the way from one end of the festival grounds to the other, and it took me like 15 minutes. This year was a lot easier on that front.

DAY ONE — HEADING BACK TO THE START:
Now, back to where I started this: I screwed up, and I did it long before showing up at the festival grounds. See, as Editor of this site, I went ahead and submitted press requests for all three of our allotted people — me, fellow writer Creg, and photographer Jason. Or, at least, I thought I submitted requests for all three of us, with two Media Pass requests for myself and Creg and one Photo Pass for Jason.

Except, as it turned out, I didn’t. Looking back, I remember having issues with the Internet that day, so my guess is that while I did indeed click the button for all three, one of those three button-clicks didn’t go through. At all. Add to that a very confused chat conversation between several SCR folks, where I thought Jason had gotten his confirmation email (he didn’t), and he thought I had gotten the confirmation email for him (I didn’t, either), and the end result was that right after I parked in my usual spot at 1100 Smith, I got a concerned call from Jason, who was at the ticket booth with no wristband waiting in his name.

I got down to the festival grounds as fast as I could, but after talking with the ticketing staff for a while, things looked bleak. They had my name and Creg’s name on a list, and that was it. Ironically, Creg wasn’t going to be able to make it, due to a family thing that came up at the last minute, but for Jason, it wasn’t happening. I sent an email to Sandee, our press contact at Fresh Clean Media, not expecting a reply any time real soon, and then Jason shrugged and headed back to his car, leaving me to trudge on into the festival, photographer-less and alone.

As hinted at previously, I just kind of walked mindlessly down Allen Parkway, assuming I’d hit a couple of the four stages along the way, but I ended up completely missing the Saturn and Neptune Stages and, thinking the distant Budweiser Stage was Saturn, where Kay Weathers was supposed to be playing… I got a little confused.

Then I got a phone call, from awesome press contact Sandee. Since I was able to confirm to her that yes, Creg couldn’t make it this time, she offered to swap out his wristband for Jason’s, and get Jason a Photo Pass, to boot. (If you’re reading this, Sandee, you are badass, and we appreciate it.) I ran back down Allen Parkway to the gate to retrieve my photographer, and then the day progressed a bit more like I’d planned it.
 

KAY WEATHERS:
My first stop was to the actual Saturn Stage, to see Kay Weathers. I’d heard good things about her, but hadn’t actually seen or heard her yet. And I’ve got to say, it wasn’t what I was expecting — not in a bad way, mind you, but definitely different. I’d figured on something more folky, more singer-songwriter-y, but live Weathers, clad in a Greek goddess’s toga, rocked a whole lot harder than that, charging off into psych-tinged shoegaze territory with just her voice, an electric guitar, and a MacBook.

She was simultaneously ferocious and serene, swaying and swooning over the dreampop beats and swirling, distorted, hazy guitars; the outfit, for its part, could have seemed odd and out-of-place, but somehow, it worked, giving her an operatic quality, which was borne out by her seriously strong vocals. I didn’t get to see nearly as much of Weathers’ set as I’d have liked (see issues getting Jason into FPSF, above), but I was pretty impressed with what I heard.

-US.:
After that, I had to run over to the Mercury Stage to finally — finally — catch -Us., aka Avery Davis, who’s evolved pretty drastically from the gentle folk-pop-with-electronic-touches he started out as. The -Us. I was able to watch at this year’s FPSF is miles and miles away from that, but I found myself liking it quite a bit, all the same.

This new (to me, anyway) -Us. is far, far more pop than anything else, and it’s pop that owes a major debt to the New Romantic synth-pop of the ’80s, folks like Spandau Ballet and Culture Club. I don’t mean that as any kind of slight, mind you — as a grown-ass adult, I find myself appreciating that era of music a whole hell of a lot more than I did back then (although yes, even back then I was a fan of “Karma Chameleon,” although my friends and I had no freaking idea what it was about). Davis’s languid vocals, gently-strummed guitar, and unrepentantly-tinny beats combined to make a summery, sleek-yet-warm sound that felt pretty damn good in the slow-down-or-get-heatstroked H-town summer heat.

Also? Kudos to Davis for being one of the absolute few bands I’ve ever seen at FPSF to plaster their name all over the stage while they were playing. I’ve been pleading for that for years, honest.

DEEP CUTS:
Continuing with the pile of Local Houston Folks I’ve Been Needing to See for a While Now, I then hustled back to the farthest reaches of the festival, to the Neptune Stage — which turned out to be pretty much directly behind the ticket booth, to the point where just plain climbing the fence would’ve been a great shortcut — for Deep Cuts, another band that’s mutated quite a bit since I heard them last.

Most of the beach-y, surf-y sound had been pared away, replaced by a more club-friendly, funky feel, with a surprise saxophone added for a bit of oddball color, to boot. I was a bit wary about the sax, actually, but okay, it came off pretty nicely, providing a nice counterpoint to the slick, nightclub-ish (but still jangly) pop.

I’ve got to apologize, by the way, to the Deep Cuts guys — I had been in the middle of a preview interview with the band for FPSF, but ran too close to the wire…and then lost our Internet the day it was meant to go live. Sigh. I hate AT&T so, so much. It’ll appear sometime soon, I swear.

HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF:
Over to the one true “big” stage of the festival (although, okay, the Neptune and Saturn Stages weren’t small, strictly speaking but they weren’t one of the gigantic stages from FPSFs past) to catch Alynda Segarra, otherwise known as Hurray for the Riff Raff. I wasn’t real familiar with Segarra’s work before researching her for the FPSF previews we did, but I was seriously hooked after hearing HFTRR’s most recent album, The Navigator. Her voice is nicely rough, with just the right amount of scratchiness in it, not to mention a world-weary feel that’s both wise and wise enough to know how much she doesn’t know yet.

Live, she and her gang of New Orleanians were the first true rockers of the day, at least for me, with Segarra spinning and dancing as she rumbled and howled her way through songs from Navigator (including my favorite, single “Hungry Ghost,” which is the most Springsteenian song I’ve ever heard that wasn’t written by Springsteen), plus some others I didn’t recognize. It was truly, truly excellent stuff, understated but still powerful, and while the crowd seemed uncertain at first, after the first few songs they got on board in a pretty big way.

ROSE ETTE:
Going by what I’d heard online of indie-pop(-ish, as it turns out) outfit Rose Ette — which is Teresa Vicinanza from Tee Vee, John Baldwin from Wild Moccasins & Teenage Kicks, Daniela Hernandez from New York City Queens, Jessica Baldauf from The Lories and Portland band Orca Team, making it not only a Houston music supergroup, but a multi-city music supergroup — I thought I knew what I was going to get from the band live. Fragile, delicate, sweet indie-pop-ness, and hey, that’s cool. I like that sort of thing quite a bit, and once upon a time went through a pretty serious indie-pop phase, the evidence for which can still be seen on my CD shelves.

The reality, however, was a bit different. And, I’d say, quite a bit better. Live, the band was a lot more garage-y and loud — still pop songs, to be sure, but with a bite the recordings just don’t have, good as they are. It was less twee indie-pop and more, say, Teenage Fanclub or The Posies at their best, which, yes, is a good place to be. I wasn’t expecting it, at all, and was floored, particularly towards the end of their set, when the band started to let the guitars get a bit noisier and louder. I am absolutely going to have to see the band again at some point.

DREAMERS:
I’m gonna be honest here: I’ve had issues with DREAMERS (or “Dreamers”? not sure…). As I’m fairly sure I’ve mentioned elsewhere, whenever I hear them play, I can’t stop myself from thinking, “okay, that’s their song that sounds like Everclear; that’s their song that sounds like Walk The Moon; that’s their song that sounds like Weezer,” and so on. There’s nothing wrong with any of it, no, and I get that bands are influenced by other bands and want, on some level, to sound like them, but sometimes you just get too close to the source, y’know?

Unfortunately, while I’ve been able to get past that for the band’s recorded stuff, seeing them live was underwhelming. I went in willing to give ’em a chance, hoping they’d prove me wrong and show that they’re honestly their own band, with no over-influencing (if that’s a word), but…eh, it just didn’t work for me. After just a few songs, I found myself slowly drifting away from the Neptune Stage and heading over to sit down by the coyote statues to chill out for a bit before deciding okay, there was other stuff going on elsewhere that I really needed to see.

THE STRUTS:
And then, holy shit, The Struts. I met back up with Jason, and we got down to the Budweiser Stage just as the Derbyshire rockers came onstage, and it was absolutely electric. As my wife’s noted since, the guys in the band couldn’t look any more British if they tried, especially frontman Luke Spiller, with his kinda-raggedy teeth and the Oasis-meets-Ozzy hair (although drummer Gethin Davies mixed things up a bit with the Welsh flag draped over his drumkit).

In the hands of a lesser band — and a lesser lead singer, in particular — the music these guys make just wouldn’t work. It’d be comic, a chuckling throwback to the glory days of glam-rock (although they do cross some lines there, too). But god damn if they don’t make it work, and work beautifully. They’re like the Rolling Stones if that band had ever been fronted by Freddie Mercury, albeit with a bit of Sweet and Def Leppard and even the aforementioned Oasis thrown in there. The music’s loud and brash but anthemic at the same time, sweeping you off your feet and making you put your fist in the air.

Spiller himself is pure gold, just the epitome of the charismatic singer and showman, dancing and slinking and strutting and working the mic and the crowd like he was born to it. The grin didn’t leave his face for a single second of the set, at least not that I saw. Right at the start of “Could Have Been Me,” the band’s biggest hit, Spiller aimed the mic to the crowd for the “I can’t hear you / I won’t fear you” pre-chorus line, and everybody in attendance roared it out like they’d been waiting for the moment for years; it was perfect. Out of all of the sets I saw at FPSF this year, this one was the hardest to pull away from; I desperately wanted to stay and see more, but I had to keep moving.

KHRUANGBIN:
From there, it was a sprint back over to the Saturn Stage for Khruangbin. Despite being from here originally, I’d never been able to see this band live, and with bassist Laura Lee living in London and now out in L.A., my chances to see ’em have become fewer and farther apart, time-wise. So I dragged myself away from The Struts to catch the band, at last, and wasn’t disappointed in the least.

They’re about as far removed from The Struts as can be, honestly, exuding a chilled-out, laid-back, funky cool that was alluring and mellow at once. Lee and drummer D.J. Johnson bumped and bounced along in a locked-tight groove so damn good the security guards up front were getting down to it, while guitarist Mark Speer sent sparkling, echoey, brightly-colored little bursts of funky, poppy guitar out into the crowd. Speer actually called himself out after playing for a bit, declaring, “And that’s enough of that for now,” before saying he really didn’t like playing guitar all that much and that the other members of the band were far cooler than he was. It was a nice touch, and a nice way to show off the rhythm section.

I did find myself wishing I wasn’t watching Khruangbin play outside, in the heat (although the band absolutely had it worse than me), but instead indoors somewhere with the lights down low everywhere except on the stage, a cold drink in my hand, and the A/C going full blast (obviously). But hell, if this is how I get to see this band, after all this time, I’ll take it.

Sadly, said heat was starting to wear on me by this point, so we ventured back westward in search of air-conditioning, which for us meant finding the fabled Press Area of the festival. It took us longer than I would’ve guessed, but we did indeed make it there, and a complimentary can of ice-cold Dark Chocolate Mocha High Brew Coffee improved my mood immensely, along with, yes, the air blowing over my sunburned self. We got to chat with some other media-type people, notably badass photographer Jay Dryden, who I got to meet in person for the first time, and the Chronicle‘s Andrew Dansby, who was there in spite of having had major shoulder surgery earlier in the year.

FRIGHTENED RABBIT:
I’ve got a few rules I follow when it comes to music festivals like FPSF. Number 1 is that I can’t stop moving; I typically try to see 3-4 songs by each band, and then get on to the next stage, the next band, so I can see as many people playing the festival as possible. I won’t go into the other rules right now, because they’re boring and weird and probably make no sense to anybody but me, but Rule Number 1 is the important one here, because it’s also a rule I break maybe two times with each festival.

Each year, I allow myself one set each day where I stop and focus on just that specific band for a while, and screw whoever else is playing. Last year, that was Frank Turner; in a previous year, it was Rocket From the Crypt. This year, that band was Frightened Rabbit. I’ve been a big, big fan of the Scottish indie-rockers for several years now, and each subsequent album cements that love further and further. Last year’s Painting of a Panic Attack is a case in point; I honestly didn’t think I could like this band more than I did, but that album knocked me flat on my back, staring in awe at the ceiling as I listened.

So with that in mind, I was desperately excited to see these guys play FPSF this year. More than any other band playing, headliners or not, Frightened Rabbit was who I was there to see, period. As bandleader Scott Hutchinson himself admitted, the band hadn’t played Houston in a decade, and yeah, I was feeling that empty space pretty keenly.

Happily, Frightened Rabbit didn’t disappoint, not in the least. Despite a somewhat muddy sound — the keyboards had gotten turned up too high and were overwhelming the guitars for a while there — the band put on an excellent show, throwing in my absolute-favorite track, “The Modern Leper,” off 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight, right at the damn beginning and powering through a best-of of their past four albums. I didn’t recognize every song, but they played “I Wish I Was Sober” and “Woke Up Hurting,” both off of Painting of a Panic Attack, “Old Old Fashioned,” from Midnight Organ Fight, and “Holy” and “The Woodpile” from 2013’s Pedestrian Verses.

By the time the latter song rolled around, I was in full-fledged fanboy mode, rocking out as best I still can as the music rolled and washed out over the festival crowd, which was appreciative if not as big as the crowd had been for The Struts earlier on. Throughout the set, Hutchinson joked and chatted with the crowd, prefacing “I Wish I Was Sober” by warning the audience, “I’m not saying you shouldn’t drink, but if you do, you’re going to make a dick of yourself.”

Later on he singled out the people sitting or laying down on the grass back at the rear of the viewing area, seemingly blasting them for being lazy bastards — “Yeah, I’ve only been doing this for 10 years so you can just sit there.” Barely 30 seconds later, a bit of wind came through, and he changed his tune: “Ahhh. A breeze blows through, and suddenly, my whole world changes. People in the back, I’m sorry.”

He then mentioned how the band hadn’t played Houston in a long time, declaring that they would if the weather wasn’t so damn terrible. As if on cue, the sky darkened, and big, fat drops of rain started coming down.

There we go!,” Hutchinson laughed, adding, “Welcome to Scotland.”

EVACUATION INTERLUDE #1:
As Frightened Rabbit finished their set, the rain started to come down harder, and then harder still. At first, I didn’t much care — “screw it,” I thought, “I’m prepared for this, all my stuff is safe in a drybag in my backpack, and besides, at least it’s cooling everybody down.” This is Houston, after all; a little rain is small potatoes. When the rain didn’t stop, however, and I realized I was already completely drenched, Jason and I decided to get the hell out of the Saturn Stage area and try to find somewhere at least a little bit drier.

We ended up huddled under a tent for the little electronic kiosks where you could activate your cashless-payment wristbands (which, no, I hadn’t bothered with, because I’m old and want to keep my money in relatively real form and close by) with about a dozen other people. The gang changed occasionally, with people heading out to find friends or deciding to try their luck elsewhere in the festival grounds; the latter seemed pretty dumb, really, because we could see the next two underpasses down Allen Parkway from our little shelter, and they appeared to be packed so full that people were stuck on the edges where the water sluiced down off the bridge overhead.

The only shelter I saw that wasn’t packed with people, actually, was the marrow-donor registration tent a couple hundred yards away — the people working there had barricaded themselves in with tables on all sides, so there was nowhere to squeeze in and under the tent, and they had plenty of room. That’s freaking genius, right there.

It was a weird experience. Most people tried to be polite, but nobody made conversation with anybody they weren’t actually there with; for the most part, everybody seemed to be trying to avoid making eye contact. And then, at random intervals, a festival worker in a raincoat would stomp up to the tent and, in an understandably annoyed tone of voice, ask us to please quit fucking dripping water all over, y’know, his electronic kiosks, which would presumably be damaged by getting wet.

Then there were the people passing by. Some ran up, saw how tightly packed-in we all were, got a wide-eyed look, and ran on; others smiled pleadingly and tried to squish themselves into the pack, or at least pass through and out of the rain for a minute before heading off. And all the while, people were still coming in to the festival, in the downpour, making their way through the gates and bag check and then sprinting for whatever cover they could find.

One gang of teenage girls coming in ran past us, the first three with clear-plastic garbage bags held over their heads and the two stragglers fighting over the remaining fourth garbage bag. After they passed us, one of the two wrested control of the bag from the other and ran on, only to be caught up by the fifth girl, who, rather than lose the bag, ripped the fucking thing into thing shreds of plastic. It was like Lord of the Flies meets Mean Girls.

After a good thirty minutes under the tent, my legs were hurting like hell. There was nowhere to sit, and my knees couldn’t take the standing-in-place any longer, so I decided to head for the Budweiser Stage, in case Miike Snow were actually attempting to play in the rain. I told Jason I’d go see and then come back; he told me I was nuts to go out there.

I wrapped my backpack in the rain cover I’d brought and jogged down Allen Parkway towards the underpasses, where I saw things were worse even than my assessment from a distance — not only was the ground beneath the freeways packed with people, but it was full of slippery, ankle-deep mud, to boot, and the concrete slabs overhead were leaking in random spots, so if you were under there but in the wrong spot, you were still getting wet.

Lightning started up in the distance, which, based on FPSFs past, was a very, very bad sign. I kept on, passing hordes of people heading back the way I’d come, until I finally spotted the Budweiser Stage off down the hill. I could see lights from the stage, and I’d swear there was music playing, although I have no idea if it was Miike Snow themselves or just between-bands setup music; as I started to near the crest of the hill, though, the music suddenly snapped off, and a voice came over the speakers announcing that the festival was being evacuated immediately because of the storm.

Back I went. Back through the mud, back under the freeways, back through the crowds of now-unruly festival-goers, some of whom were starting to move towards the eastern entrance. I passed one group just as one of the guys lost it, flinging his arms up and yelling angrily, “I hate this fucking festival! Every fucking year!” Yeah, I could kind of relate to that.

I passed my previous shelter, but it was empty now — Jason had heard the announcement and decided that he was done for the day, and I couldn’t blame him. He’d been through this at two previous incarnations of the festival, too. For my part, I decided to stick it out as long as I could, hoping that the festival would be back on before too long. As I did back in 2013, I headed for the Heritage Clay parking garage just outside of the entrance on the Downtown side; I may be misremembering now, but I think the FPSF organizers actually sent out a message via the FPSF app specifically telling people to head for parking garages outside the festival.

I wasn’t alone; the place filled up quickly with people, mostly kids but some whole families complete with small children, all looking for somewhere to wait out the rain and the evacuation both. Some people, like me, headed up the ramp to get a better view from above — from there, I could watch as the hordes of pissed-off people meandered out of the festival to either mill around in the street (which is no goddamn safer than being in the festival grounds, I have to say), hang out in one of the garages, or make for their cars and home.

The rain slowed to a drizzle before too long, and then stopped pretty much entirely. I sat down to charge my phone and let my hat dry a bit, but just as I did, the Heritage Clay security guards started coming through the building, rousting everybody none-too-gently back out onto the street or the street-level parking lot. At least the rain wasn’t coming down, but it left a different problem for me and several hundred kids: where can we get food now? All the food booths inside FPSF were out of reach, and that part of Downtown is largely dead, restaurant-wise, after weekday work hours end. Somebody mentioned a pizza place nearby, but said it was already overrun with hungry festival-goers.

So I got my ass up off the curb again and started walking. I figured I had an advantage over a lot of the attendees, in that I’ve been to Downtown Houston before, and I know where the restaurants are and aren’t. Rather than go for something nearby and relatively eh, I headed for Market Square, knowing there were a whole bunch of good restaurants up there that were sure to be open, and probably not too crowded because of the storm.

It was a good 15-or-so-block walk, but I was glad to be moving; as with the standing in the shelter before, just sitting and doing nothing made everything hurt. Walking felt way, way better, even if I left a trail of wet footprints all across Downtown. I ended up not at one of the Market Square restaurants proper — I was wet enough to be self-conscious of how goddamn terrible I looked, and most of the places I passed were too nice — but at La Calle on Franklin, beneath the Bayou Lofts. They were open, and nearly empty, although a crew of out-of-towners close to my age wearing familiar-looking wristbands came in not long after I did.

It may’ve been the hike, or the day, or my general exhaustion and worry, but god damn those were some of the best freaking tacos I’d ever eaten. I’d been before and been impressed, but on this day in particular, it felt like I was eating the food of the gods. Plus, I love the decor, with the old TV-face picture frames, exposed-on-purpose brick walls, and faux-Mexico City (I’m assuming?) doorways and balcony above. It’s a seriously great place. I’d reassured my fellow FPSF-ers in line that they were going to have some good food, and despite some skepticism, I think they agreed in the end.

Just as I finished my last taco, my phone buzzed — FPSF was, at long last, reopening its gates, after being evacuated for a full hour and a half. I hit the road and hiked as fast as my feet could carry me back to the edge of Sam Houston Park, marveling at the post-storm gleam of the Downtown buildings as I went. There’s something about an empty city at twilight after a big storm that I can’t help but love.

There were no bag checks this time around, just smiling security guards asking everybody to walk through with both hands held high (to prove we weren’t bringing in beers or something, I’m guessing), and high-fiving anybody who passed. It was a nice vibe; everybody smiling, everybody relieved to finally be back, that it wasn’t all over for the day after all.

GROUPLOVE:
That vibe continued with L.A. band Grouplove, who managed to take the sodden mess that FPSF had turned into and turn it into a fun, happy-as-hell, cheerful-yet-snarky party full of a couple thousand of your closest goddamn friends. I’d already liked the band quite a bit, but watching them get the crowd psyched and back into the music-festival spirit when a lot of us — me included — had been seriously considering getting the hell home or back to the hotel rather than wait it out was freaking amazing. They’ve got me as a fan for life, no lie.

It helped that the band’s sound is full-on, wide-grinning pop-rock, the kind that sounds seriously out-of-place in the current musical era; they’re a band with so much innocent joy that it feels like they’re from the ’90s, not the 2010s (or whatever we’re calling this decade; I have no idea). Despite everybody being exhausted and wet and sore, Grouplove’s members were full of enough energy for the rest of us, jumping and bouncing around on the stage like overcaffeinated kids — they were clearly having a blast themselves, despite the weather, and that was awesome to witness.

Mid-way through their set, they switched gears and started playing something weirdly familiar; it took me longer than I’d admit to realize they were doing a cover of “Sabotage,” by the Beastie Boys, and not only that, that they were doing it spot-on, and it was pretty brilliant. Vocalist Hanna Hooper was raw-throated and fiery, guitarist Andrew Wessen was obviously enjoying the hell out of Ad-Rock’s screech-y guitar riff, and the whole thing ended with guitarist/singer Christian Zucconi jumping down off the stage and into the crowd. They brought things back together to play stellar hit song “Welcome to Your Life,” from last fall’s Big Mess.

Also worth noting: Grouplove’s set was the first where I’d noticed a sign-language translator off to the side of the stage. It’s possible they were there for previous sets earlier in the day, and I just never saw them — looking back now, I realized that I was on the left side for every earlier set at the Saturn and Budweiser Stages, so maybe they were over on the right side all along? I’d be curious to find out if that was the case.

Either way, the team of two translators working during Grouplove’s set were great to watch; I swear to God, those two ladies had more energy than I think I’ve ever possessed in my entire body. They were rocking the hell out. (And yes, we’ll get back to this particular subject later.)

MILKY CHANCE:
After Grouplove, it was a few hundred feet east to where Milky Chance was set to play at the Neptune Stage. The sun had fully set during Grouplove’s set, and now the darkness was lit almost exclusively by lights from the stages; when Milky Chance came onstage and began to play, they did it in a blue-lit haze so thick they were barely shapes in the ether at times.

The set was equal parts endearing and frustrating, to me — endearing because the band, the members of which hail from Kassel, Germany, seemed to be a little confused about where they were, or at least unable to fully express it. “It’s so wonderful to be able to do this,” one of the band members remarked, “thank you all for stopping by.” On the other hand, though, I ended up feeling fairly bored with the performance itself, which appeared to focus mostly on the band’s new album, Blossom, rather than earlier breakthrough album Sadnecessary.

Most of what I had heard of the band comes from Sadnecessary, so I was disappointed to not hear more of that, and also that the sound at FPSF didn’t bring across the cool percussiveness of the Clemens Rehbein‘s guitar-playing. More than anything else, that’s what I’ve liked about Milky Chance — it’s a pretty unique way to use a guitar, at least in modern pop music, and it’s what set the band apart, to me, pointing backwards to the style of jazz artists like Django Reinhardt. What I heard at FPSF, sadly, was kind of Just Another Pop Band, and that’s a shame.

CARNAGE:
Okay, so I didn’t catch much of Carnage‘s set over at the Mercury Stage, but I passed by on my way to the main stage further west, and oh, wow. Mud, head-crushing beats, a few hundred half-naked, mud-covered kids, more mud, freaky, hypnotic visuals, more mud, and then the DJ himself telling the crowd he wants to see some blood, to see some fists flying. Well, damn. Yeah, not gonna get into that pit, thanks.

G-EAZY:
So, remember the sign-language translators I mentioned for Grouplove? Well, it turns out there’s something even better out there in the world. See, you haven’t lived until you’ve watched a sign-language translator simultaneously dance and sign the words, “Bitch, you got me fucked up,” over and over and over again (for the track “You Got Me,” off 2015’s When It’s Dark Out). Oh, man. That was kinda amazing, I’ve gotta say, and my hat is off to the translator for G-Eazy‘s FPSF set, whoever she may be. Ma’am, you have one of the hardest, most entertaining jobs in the world, and I salute you.

Not to leave G-Eazy himself out, mind you — I was a fan going in, and seeing him live was damn cool, although I couldn’t handle it for long. The rain may’ve turned the Mercury Stage into a mud pit, yes, but it turned the lawn in front of the Budweiser Stage into a mud lake. As I came down the stairs towards the stage area (I knew well enough by that point not to try to slide down the grass outside of the stairway), I noticed a long, thin line of people way, waaaaaay in the back, nearly to the VIP tent…and then I realized, okay, they’re standing on the sidewalk, because there’s literally nothing but mud between there and the sound booth. Holy crap.

I made my way down said sidewalk, all the way to the north side, where the beer booths were still going strong despite the mess. I slid-stepped along as best I could, understanding quickly that yeah, my shoes were going to be full of fucking mud by the end of the night; I had to make myself be okay with that. Slowly, I wound my way up to a spot somewhat close to the stage, and that was great for the first four or so songs of G-Eazy’s set — which was damn near flawless, as far as I could tell. It was cool to hear “Random,” in particular,

Unfortunately, I started to feel unsteady with the mud all around and people pressing in on me on all sides, and I had to say, “fuck this shit” and get the hell out as quickly as I could. It had been a very, very long day, and I was just done by that point. I resolved to see a little bit of Cage the Elephant, clean myself off, and then head out, possibly burning my clothing afterwards.

CAGE THE ELEPHANT:
Back up out of the mud — which was now caked from the soles of my shoes on up to my lower calves — onto the road, and I found some decent-sized puddles to splash around in and try to get the bulk of the muck off, at least. On my way back over to the Saturn Stage, I saw a bunch of people sitting with their feet in the Sam Houston Park fountain, I’m assuming to clean themselves off a bit.

The crowd was pretty big for Cage the Elephant‘s set, so I couldn’t get close (not that I really wanted to, at that point in the evening), but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the band. I’ve been lukewarm on ’em in the past, but apparently hadn’t realized that they did some of the songs I’ve liked these past few years, namely “Cold Cold Cold” and “Trouble.” I was exhausted and sore and ready to get the hell out of there, but at the same time, I enjoyed what I heard quite a bit, resolving to go back and get a hold of an album or two.

The one track I did know they did that I love, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” came on as I was finally staggering off towards the road, and made me veer back in towards the trees for a quick blast before I rolled out into the night, singing along as I went. “Ain’t no rest for the wicked, until we close our eyes for good”; too damn true. END

(Photos: FPSF entrance by J. Hart; Allen Parkway by J. Hart; Budweiser Stage banner by J. Hart; coyote statue by J. Hart; FPSF posters by J. Hart; Kay Weathers by Jason Smith; -Us. by J. Hart; Deep Cuts by Jason Smith; Hurray for the Riff Raff by Jason Smith; Rose Ette by J. Hart; DREAMERS by J. Hart; The Struts by Jason Smith; Khruangbin by Jason Smith; Scott Hutchinson by Jason Smith; Frightened Rabbit crowd by J. Hart; rainy Allen Parkway by J. Hart; breaking clouds by J. Hart; evacuation crowd by J. Hart; evacuees in parking lot by J. Hart; La Calle by J. Hart; Downtown sign by J. Hart; Grouplove by J. Hart; Milky Chance by J. Hart; G-Eazy by J. Hart; Cage the Elephant by J. Hart.)


Live review by . Live review posted Monday, June 19th, 2017. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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