Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011 @ Auditorium Shores and Red 7, Austin, Texas, November 4-6, 2011

Words by Jay H. Gorania; images by Victor Hewtty III

Day 1 – Friday
Since there were hipsters everywhere, the thought crossed my mind. But rather than swinging like Tarzan from one stringy, vine-like ironic mustache to the next, which surely would have caused problems, I sprinted across Fun Fun Fun Fest’s massive park-consuming, multiple-stage monstrosity to get to the “black” stage to catch Danzig, who was a couple songs into his set. Expectations were high, not just because it was the legendary evil one himself, but because he was set to play Misfits and Samhain songs as well, with an appearance from original Misfits six-stringer Doyle himself.

Since the show, the Interweb and Facebook have been flooded with jokes and mock-up pics. Yep, things didn’t go as planned.

Danzig took to the stage 45 minutes later than scheduled, cutting extensive time from their allotted 90-minutes just prior to the strict 10 p.m. city curfew, and irking many in the crowd. A few minutes shy of 10 p.m., Danzig told the crowd the organizers were going to cut their set. He went as far as asking the audience if they thought organizers had ever heard of “a riot,” intelligently side-stepping an overt call for one.

With only a couple of Misfits songs played, such a brief time shared between Danzig and his former Misfits bandmate Doyle onstage, the set was cut. Johnny Kelly beat the drums as supporters chanted for fest organizers to reconsider, but the band eventually left and the crowd did too as the cops came to make that happen, in the face of a few “pig” comments and bottles and cans that may or may not have been directed toward the stage. Few could legitimately blame the cops though, as they truly were just doing their jobs, and enforcing a city curfew isn’t quite as insidious as Nazi soldiers who were “just following orders.”

In the heat of the moment, a few cries of “Occupy Fun Fun Fun” seemed humorously on-point, but a few cries of “Occupy Danzig” may have been more appropriate if there’s truth to the organizer’s perspective. According to his Facebook page anyway, Danzig said he was sick that day and didn’t want to play in the cool weather, demanding soup and vitamins and a windscreen for the stage along the way.

Regardless of perspective or spin, Danzig took his time getting on stage, and the fest organizers had to abide by the city’s curfew that was enforced by the on-site cops.

“I flew here from Jersey for that? Seriously,” some tall dude spat with his jaw literally agape with disbelief. Needless to say, the ordeal was a disappointment to many.

As far as the show?

There have been many complaints about Danzig’s singing, and while it certainly wasn’t 100 percent, his enunciation and brief holding of notes was what was awkward. His raw singing voice wasn’t that bad. Several people rotated from stringed instruments to drums after Johnny Kelly jumped offstage from behind the drum-set during Danzig’s songs, and generally speaking, Kelly was the musical highlight. The guitar and bass sound was terrible throughout.

Jogging about fifteen minutes from Auditorium Shores, Hellbound found itself in the heart of 6th Street area, Austin’s infamous music and party hub lined with venues, pool halls, bars, restaurants and tattoo parlors. Red 7 was the destination, and hometown boys Mammoth Grinder were thrashing away on the outside stage with reckless abandon. It wasn’t clear how many demands they had as far as rider food and weather protection, however they were clearly content enough to tear through their set that sounded like Entombed playing crust punk mixed with thrash.

Not long thereafter, Touche Amore performed with great clarity to a crowd that was reacting like they were the Beatles, but their melodic post-hardcore is certainly not for everyone, as we immediately turned our attention back inside for long-running grindcore beast Phobia.

The heart and soul, and original member, of the band is singer Shane MacLachlan. With former Black Dahlia Murder drummer Zach Gibson driving the rhythm with a steady hardcore battery and lightning quick blasts, Shane took to the stage without pretense and with a blue collar kind of work ethic. Don’t waste time, just get to business. His face was turning red as he screamed as though he was expelling his last breath.

From Ashes Rise took things down a notch with a retro feel a la Saviours with spacious songs that build up with the kind of approach that Neurosis used to take. Their bassist was banging his head and raging onstage like he was doing his best to summon Cliff Burton’s spirit. While the variety of screamed vocals and black metal rasps provided contrast, the music demanded strong melodic singing which was absent.

Day 2 – Saturday
Negative Approach’s bare-knuckled, gritty, yet catchy ‘80s punk rock is inherently suited best for a club setting, but the outdoor showcase was an appropriate nod of recognition in the sense that a band of their stature clearly deserves a massive audience. The day’s weather was cursed with a pressing wind that picked up the park’s ground and spit a filthy storm of dust upon the audience, mirroring the merciless effect of Negative Approach’s music.

John Brannon, who went on in his career to front the equally abrasive Laughing Hyenas, barked his lyrics with as much ferocity as you could ever find from any hardcore or death metal vocalist around. And similar to Phobia’s Shane McLaughlin, there was little pretense as far as banter. He let the crowd know they were from Michigan, and he announced song titles, and then he went absolutely apeshit.

Much maligned and much praised, the transition of Cave In from ‘90s metalcore/noisecore into an arena rock band has turned heads and raised eyebrows, but whether one approves or not, they have the ability to perform alongside any rock band, their progressive stylings more tasteful and restrained than that of Coheed and Cambria, their song-writing as passionate and rocking as anything you’ll hear from the Foo Fighters (a band for whom they have opened).

On the other side of the park, Kool Keith had the massive sea of fest goers bobbing their heads and smiling. Watching a DJ behind the turn tables alongside glitter-wearing Kool Keith isn’t an exciting display by any means, but the schizophrenic ranting of Kool Keith was charming in its loose, unique delivery.

“Why is a rap dude mentioned in Hellbound,” one might be asking. Fun Fun Fun Fest’s musical variety is a welcome proposition for anyone who has gone to metalfests where blast beats run together with little or no variation, and when you can’t tell one grim dude from the next due to them seemingly using the same corpse paint make up artist.

Next up, The Damned put on one of the weekend’s best sets, truly putting the rock ‘n roll in punk rock. With a quick vibrato similar to that of Roy Orbison, Dave Vanian‘s lounge lizard crooning evoked feelings of melancholy that battled some of the band’s up-beat old school rock parts, though collectively they came together with the goth ‘n gloom underpinnings that ran throughout. For a bunch of guys in their 50s, their seemingly boundless energy was surprising, endearing and entertaining.

Along with other tracks, The Damned ran through their classic debut album Damned, Damned, Damned, and to the crowd’s delight, Vanian took a verbal swipe at Danzig by saying the crowd and band should pack tightly together to keep Danzig warm.

A couple of songs from the reunited post-hardcore punk/rock act Hot Snakes were as addictive as they were on record, but we were on our way to catch instrumental metal act Russian Circles at Red 7’s outside stage.

Not far removed from the metallic jam-outs of Pelican, Isis and Red Sparowes, Russian Circles wasn’t afraid to the massage smooth, calm passages for extended periods, before building them up to monolithic, edgy climaxes that are just as much hard rock as they are metal. The idiosyncratic and heavy use of effects and loops pedals, impressively pulled off in similar resonance to what’s heard on CD, set the band apart from others riding the instrumental metal wave.

Next up, Texas’ death thrash legends Dead Horse offered a very different kind of heavy music. With a decidedly Southern and Texan spin on death thrash, Dead Horse performed their classic songs in front of a rabid crowd that was as rowdy as the attendees of a small town rodeo. Fitting in terms of appearance if nothing else, singer Gregg Martin looked the part of a southern man with his boots, button-up shirt and farmer’s cap. Meanwhile, drummer Ronny Guyote’s belligerent battery was simply outrageous. It was almost as though he was fueled by an unholy cocktail of crack and jet fuel.

Capping off the fun, energetic aspect of their performance, their metallic rendition of the B-52’s “Rock Lobster” was met with laughter and mosh pit insanity. Big, dumb, silly, violent fun.

Day 3 – Sunday
Due to an unfortunate personal mishap that will soon be discussed in my blog here at Hellbound, I missed Eyehategod, Cannibal Corpse, Henry Rollins’ spoken word performance and Trash Talk. If some reports were accurate, “Cannibal Corpse had the biggest pit ever,” and “Eyehategod was so fucking awesome.”

At any rate, Hellbound did make it in time for Slayer. After seeing a completely lack-luster and disappointing performance in the summer of 2010 in Denver, there was reason to question whether or not they “still had it.”

At Fun Fun Fun fest, anyway, they delivered exactly what any longtime Slayer fan would hope for. Dave Lombardo’s powerful stomp and drum bashing was everything he is known for, and Tom Araya’s voice was in top form, whether he was screaming his lungs out or singing. He even hit higher falsetto notes and screams than he’s normally capable of pulling off.

Continuing to fill in for Jeff Hanneman, who is sidelined due to a health-related issue, Exodus guitarist Gary Holt simultaneously stayed true to the originals and he also let his natural style shine through, especially as he took a few liberties with the solos.

Araya gave fans the over-the-top language they wanted to hear, about darkness and what not, delivered with a tongue-in-cheek tone that satisfied the high brow folks as well as the stereotypical meatheads who took his words at face value. He also threw in some profound thoughts here and there. “You don’t have to wear a uniform to fight for freedom,” he said, perhaps referencing the Occupy Wall Street movement, unquestionably ringing true for anyone who values the fight for freedom.

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.