FYF Fest 2014: Interpol, Phoenix bring a dash of professionalism

FYF beings excitement, including strong sets from Interpol and Boris, but also headaches.

The main stage of the FYF Fest on Saturday night was a contrast in colors.

Interpol, the suited-up, all-black-all-the-time moody New Yorkers, fueled a rock 'n' roll resurgence in the early-to-mid 2000s, when FYF Fest was finding its footing in Echo Park clubs. Phoenix, however, was all brightly lit synths and manipulated guitars, its stage lighting representing a hyperkinetic rainbow and the act's merging of rock and dance cultures signifying the more recent direction of the pop charts.

Each group's set Saturday had its merits. Interpol is one of the most efficient and workmanlike rock bands around -- its guitars a little bit artsy, it choruses often big and the look dapper but coolly detached. Phoenix, aided by additional help on percussion, was a relentlessly celebratory rush of beat-driven pop. And for a festival that awkwardly -- often frustratingly -- struggled to adjust to a new location at Exposition Park, the headliners were a refreshing dose of studied professionalism.

Interpol has been making the festival rounds this summer before the Sept. 8 release of "El Pintor," its first new album in four years. But this wasn't a set about bold new directions. Interpol largely stuck to the familiar -- be it the slicing riffs of "C'Mere" or the fire-alarm rush of "Say Hello to the Angels." Interpol's sound may be born in the shadows, and guitarist Daniel Kessler is apt to dip back into them and go in search of my high-pitched abstractness, but this an arena band first and foremost.

Few new tunes were previewed, but the ones that were gave in to Interpol's best and worst tendencies. "Anywhere" is slick and fast and in danger of becoming anonymous, but "All the Rage Back Home," in which verses and hooks are constructed out of corkscrew guitars that spun their away around the methodically-voiced singer Paul Banks, shows that the band is continuing to challenge itself on "El Pintor."

Interpol's ascension mirrors that of FYF itself. The band has maintained its independence, still recording for Matador Records, even as it's grown to festival headliner. FYF Fest, once strung together in Echo Park clubs and having survived past disasters in which the fest ran out of food, is now working with Goldenvoice, the concert behemoth behind the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. FYF continues to curate a festival that toes the line between the avant-garde and the mainstream.

With four stages spread around massive grounds bordering the California Science Center and the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, FYF in 2014 was bigger than ever. There were exciting moments on the first day of the two-day fest, including the ability to jump from Interpol to the experimental metal of Japanese noise band Boris, a band that can string together an entire range of cascading notes from feedback.

There were also headaches. The glistening dance pop of Phoenix is no stranger to festival goers, as the act headlined the 2013 edition of Coachella. So if one instead wanted to check out the bigger dance party happening at the opposite end of the festival where electronic adventurer Grimes was performing, one would have to prep for a 15-minute walk at peak crowd times.

Worse, some of Saturday's most exciting artists were tucked inside a stage set on the floor of the L.A. Sports Arena, but with the seating area of the basketball arena roped off the venue was at capacity early in the day. (Promoters said early Sunday that the arena's seating area would be open for the second and final day of the festival.) Interested in the enrapturing electro-soul of Chet Faker or the glistening disco-inspired grooves of Todd Terje? The only option was to make a day of hanging indoors, this after some fans reported waits of three hours just to get in the main gates.

Distressing, in that such logistical logjams did away with FYF's biggest selling point: discovery.

Twitter: @toddmartens

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