YACHT at Fun Fun Fun Fest: Lessons in Dancing and Breathing

11/08/2011 01:41 pm ET | Updated Jan 08, 2012
  • Phil West Austin-based Writer exploring the places in which pop culture and politics intersect

While the name, Fun Fun Fun Festival, seems just a little tongue-in-cheek in its exuberance, there's still something about the first day of a multi-day music festival, in Austin, in postcard-perfect weather, with still unsullied grounds and still relatively rested fans traipsing along the landscape, that at the very least sets the table for fun.

Even at something with the DIY punk history of a Fun Fun Fun Fest -- but now in its sixth year, and now with a lineup, identity, and media presence to rival the citywide holiday that is the Austin City Limits Music Festival -- bands playing festivals, no matter how cynical their outlook normally might be, seemingly can't help but be moved by the aesthetic of good times and people gathering together and play to that in a way that feels categorically different than a nightclub or an arena show.

YACHT, not the least bit cynical, and taking it to the next level of togetherness at its Friday Fun Fun Fun Fest show, started the show with yoga.

"Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth," implored YACHT leader Jona Bechtolt. He even went as far as to note he'd be able to tell if the audience was doing it right -- as any good yoga instructor might -- by the way their shoulders were moving.

It's not all that surprising that the YACHT live experience would start this way. After all, the group -- splitting its home base between the arty northwestern nexus of Portland and the enigmatically arty west Texas outpost of Marfa -- professes an aesthetic that everyone can be a member of YACHT, and is keen on terms like "utopia" and "trust."

But the music itself is a different kind of communal -- an intelligent variant of dance music, perfectly at home on LCD Soundsystem's DFA label, propelled by bass, sometimes augmented by cowbell, and filled with arresting yet ownable declarations.

The 45-minute show split its attention between its latest two albums, See Mystery Lights and Shangri-La, with singer Claire L. Evans finding the appropriate emotional nuances in some of those album's strongest songs -- the I-will-survive bravado of "I Walked Alone," the catchy strains of manifesto in set opener "Paradise Engineering," and the coy-yet-happy "Psychic City," which included some pockets of contemplative, spacey calm added to the song's core forward drive. Bechtolt and Evans also, in key, dance-inducing portions of the set, showcased a limited and probably intentionally hilarious series of synchronized arm motions.

In the back half of the show, YACHT brought two elements to potentially surprise the first-time showgoer. First, Evans asked, "Does anyone have any questions?" in all earnestness, leading to one of several Q&A sessions in which the audience learned about love and Evans' preference for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Then, with Evans asking again in earnestness if there were B-52s fans in the audience, YACHT launched into a version of "Mesopotamia" which not only featured Evans perfectly nailing the new wave pioneers' distinctive vocal inflections, but revealing a not-so-obvious but uncanny bridge between the experimentation of 30 years ago and the experimentation of now.

Certainly, there will be larger crowds in the festival's coming days, more opportunities for communal moments, bigger sounds, and even -- if the collective festival-wide glee around Slayer's Sunday night finale is be believed -- transcendence.

But Friday's YACHT show provided one of those moments of band-to-crowd connection that work on a more subtle level, certainly with celebration and revelry, but also -- as the opening request from the band set the tone for -- one in which you're aware of how you're breathing.