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Three days of high-energy music, disasters avoided at Fun Fun Fun Fest

Patrick Caldwell
Jean Grae, above, rapped on Sunday while Hold Steady's Craig Finn, left, sang about girls and horses on Sunday.

If you had surveyed the massive, excitable crowd at Fun Fun Fun Fest's Orange stage Sunday night at Waterloo Park, with a few thousand music aficionados eagerly buzzing at the chance to see Southern California punk-pop progenitors the Descendents, you'd have never guessed the booking was something of a Hail Mary throw, a last-minute stab at replacing the irreplaceable Devo, which canceled after guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh cut his hand.

"It really was the equivalent of a punk-rock half-court shot at the buzzer," James Moody, co-owner of music booking agency Transmission Entertainment, said backstage on Sunday. "Our backs were against the wall. We're not a big organization. When you've got 10 days to book a monster headliner that you really respect it's hard. We were sweating it."

Transmission's players needn't have worried — playing its first show in many years and its only scheduled United States date, the Descendents drew throngs of true believers, with frontman Milo Aukerman sounding as enthused as ever on frenetic classics like "I Don't Want to Grow Up." Not bad for a guy who's pushing 50.

That Descendents' set was Fun Fun Fun Fest No. Five in microcosm — fast, giddy, geared for the hardcore music fan and buckets of, well, fun. The festival kicked off with its first Friday events ever, as "Weird Al" Yankovic blew through a well-attended, perfectly executed night of his classic hits-skewering hits, and progressed through a smooth sold-out Saturday and a dusty-but-endearing Sunday. Appreciative crowds turned up at all four stages, and the festival's vaunted circus atmosphere was out in force — with plenty of traffic at the mechanical bull, the Eurobungy, the skate ramps and the arcade games set to free play. After a few weeks with unexpected, last-minute cancellations and other problems, Moody said the organizers were able to breathe a sigh of relief.

"All the snafus happened before the fest. We don't have a record of great luck, you know? Whether it be weather or bands or whatever," said Moody. "So when that kind of thing starts happening you start to wonder, 'Oh (expletive), is this gonna be another year with some weird curveball?' We were just hoping it wasn't a run of bad luck and it wasn't. We got a little bad luck before the festival but all kinds of good luck at the festival."

Even the dust cloud had a silver lining.

"We love the dust this year, because at least it's not raining," Moody said. "We hated the dust when it first happened a few years ago, but after it rained last year we were like 'Bring on the dust!' "

Our writers highlights:

Patrick Caldwell

1. Monotonix. In a festival dominated by on-stage ludicrousness — GWAR's disemboweling of a Sarah Palin model, Peelander-Z's costumes and whatever it is that Big Freedia does — this Tel Aviv, Israel, punk trio's set might have taken the cake. When singer Ami Shalev took a leap off the top of a 10-foot-to-15-foot high boulder into the waiting arms of the crowd, I believed in punk rock, man.

2. Delorean. Quite possibly the sleeper surprise of the consistently dance-worthy blue stage, Barcelona, Spain's Delorean struck the perfect balance between house dance and contemporary pop. If there's any justice in the world, in two years they'll be where MGMT and Phoenix are now.

3. 'Weird Al' Yankovic. For one night, young and old Austinites alike abandoned any pretense of ironic appreciation in celebration of the master of musical comedy. It was silly. It was grandiose. It was a riotously good time.

4. The Gories. Detroit garage rock at its finest, reunited and sounding every bit as shattering as it did in 1990.

Joe Gross

1. Big Freedia's sissy bounce juggernaut on the Blue stage. Gender-bending, form-destroying, shake-inducing beats and grinds. Jaw-droppingly excellent, a potent reminder than New Orleans always will have something to say.

2. Floor on the Black stage. The Nirvana of sludge rock, reunited for a series of shows, demonstrates to everyone how, well, elegant, funny and smart music slow and heavy as brontosaurus can be.

3. Rapper Pharoahe Monch tearing into his monster 1999 hit "Simon Says." Honestly, this was the closest I came to stage diving during the weekend. "If you holdin' up the wall, then you missin' the point."

4. Welterweight pogoing during the Hold Steady. But what, no "Killer Parties" to close the set? For shame, guys.

5. How excited some friends were for the Descendents and the sheer size of the crowd going bonkers for them.

Peter Mongillo

1. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. Through the years, Ariel Pink laid the groundwork for bands such as Neon Indian and Toro y Moi with his strange blend of foreign and familiar. During Saturday's set the cross-dressing mix master brought that music to life as over-the-top funk.

2. Best Coast. This Los Angeles rock outfit led by Bethany Cosentino brought everything — great singing, fun songs, top-notch musicianship and humor. Even when she seemed eager for the set to end, the band was still among the best at the festival.

Alex Daniel

Even though the members of Cap'n Jazz are a decade and a half past the teenage years that inspired their spastic songs, they still sprinted with an energetic abandon complete with screaming, crowd surfing and dropped drum sticks. It was great to see the band recapture that youthful recklessness.

Chad Swiatecki

1. The fest as Warped Tour + 15 years: I finally got comfortable with the Descendents and the Vandals, Snapcase brought my college years screaming back into full relief, and even a so-so Bad Religion set came with plenty of good-to-have flashbacks.

2. Gwar. Held a battle ax in my hands, saw a fake Sarah Palin "impaled" on stage, met Oderus Urungus in person. I think my bucket list might now be empty.

3. The Hold Steady. A little skimpy at just 40 minutes, but I'll never not yell along to "Stay Positive," "Chips Ahoy," "Sequestered In Memphis" or OK, pretty much everything they do.