Fun Fun Fun Fest 2015: The Grifters, adrift on the big stage

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The Grifters at Fun Fun Fun Fest, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Photo by Peter Blackstock
The Grifters at Fun Fun Fun Fest, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Photo by Peter Blackstock

The Grifters at Fun Fun Fun Fest, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Photo by Peter Blackstock

What makes Fun Fun Fun Fest its own singular breed is a willingness to stray from the obvious at times in booking performers, something that can be both a boon and a bane. Case in point: Memphis underground rock band the Grifters, who hadn’t played Austin in two decades and have mostly been split up since the ’90s, could have been an inspired and triumphant return. But in the end, clearly not enough festgoers remembered or cared.

Crowds of a few hundred on the main Orange Stage are reasonable for early-afternoon acts, but when it dips below 100, as was the case for the entirety of the Grifters’ 2:10 p.m. set, it’s obviously a misfire. The band had its moments as a muscular yet mysterious garage quartet trading on the dual vocals of guitarists Dave Shouse and Scott Taylor, but on a brilliantly sunny Sunday, it was clear they were much better suited for their midnight show at Beerland on Saturday as part of FFF Nites.

The Grifters, in their first visit to Austin in about 20 years. #FFFfest #360fff

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A friend who’d seen the band in the ’90s tagged their aesthetic reasonably well in describing them as “Pavement of the South.” I found Shouse’s songwriting more melodically compelling when he teamed with violinist Joan Wasser (Joan as Police Woman) in Those Bastard Souls shortly after the Grifters’ heyday. On this day, though, they just seemed out of place, and they probably knew it, cutting their scheduled 40-minute set short by 10 minutes.

Sometimes these reaches outside of data-researchable audience-draws can pay off, which is why it’s good that Fun Fun Fun Fest remains open to such inspirations and whims. On this day, though, I found myself wishing they’d given the slot to a local act from the same era — maybe Sincola, for instance — that might have been able to catch the spark of magic the Grifters didn’t.


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