Friday, August 3, 2012

The Lighthouse and the Whaler - This Is An Adventure

Violin and glockenspiel color This Is An Adventure with storybook soundscapes that swell and rise without laying on the sap. An expansive album streaked with orchestral beauty and unbridled passion, the subject matters stretch from death to lifelong journeys, keeping our attention with spritely chimes and sing-a-long whoa-oh-ohhs.

Forecastle Festival X - Day 3

Coming off a few shows in Europe, Cincinnati's Walk the Moon started the day off with an incredible energy that threatened to swallow the crowd full. Covered in their signature face paint, the band danced and stomped through a quick set of vibrant synthy pop songs. Popular songs included "Anna Sun" and "Tightrope," but they took us back a couple decades for "Lisa Baby," a disco-infused number with bouncy bass and a rocking motion.

No stage chatter was going to slow down Cloud Nothings. The Cleveland natives were on a rampage to play hard and fast, no interruptions allowed. Dylan Baldi seems like a quiet guy who just happens to front an insanely loud rock band. Most of the songs in the set came from 2012's Attack on Memory. "Fall In" sounded great live, a rush of melodic garage rock that urges the body to jerk back and forth. Bass player, TJ Duke, added crucial rhythm to a very feedback-heavy set.

The band stretched "Wasted Days" from a nine-minute song into a 20-minute assault. Speed-of-sound riffs slowed down and stretched out into druggy interludes that gave the band a break from the heavy shredding. It was hard to distinguish whether some of it was part of the song, or just ambient musings. It may have lost a little traction with the crowd, but Cloud Nothings pushed into the next song without a problem. Anyone with a tolerance for walls of sound kept up just fine.

Deer Tick was next to take the same stage. Starting with my personal favorite, "Art Isn't Real (City of Sin)," off their debut record, we were in for a varied set full of country, folk, and rock 'n' roll. Every member of the band started the show with a pink cowboy hat. "We're full grown men, but we act like kids," John McCauley howls in the country swinger, "The Bump," a pretty apt description of their behavior. He's known for getting naked and lighting dollar bills on fire inside his mouth in the middle of shows, but he must have been in the mood to behave at Forecastle.

"Main Street" and "Miss K." added nicely to the set. The band alternates singers, so when the drummer took the mic, McCauley jabbed, "He can do more than drum. He's also really good at Scrabble." The whole attitude of the show was easygoing like that. It was a welcoming atmosphere for fans and new listeners alike, the perfect kind of band to see outdoors on a hot day.

Fruit Bats seem to be the perfect example of easy living. Such Fruit Bats songs as "When U Love Somebody" have the carefree feeling of a night under the stars with that special someone. It's hard to not just drift off during the set, taken away by the acoustic musings to that favorite daydream. Eric Johnson's distinctive vocals cut through intricate pop songs with just the right amount of reverb to take the edge away.

Budding singer-songwriter Cheyenne Marie Mize was given an unfortunate slot competing with Neko Case, so not nearly enough people got to hear her powerful set. "Wishing Well," a favorite, is an a cappella swampy folk song with tribal-like percussion. Her voice is incredible, a soulful, smoky tone that truly shines. Some of her songs tiptoed into a murky area, but as soon as she found her edge, her crowd was drawn to her.

And then it was a waiting game for Wilco, a band that I had seen live, but never in the festival setting. While Forecastle reached so many peaks throughout the weekend, this was the real treasure. "Poor Places" opened the set, one of the five songs that they played from their classic record, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It was a slow start, warming up for the feedback-drenched "Art of Almost," where Nels Cline displayed his first insane guitar breakdown of many. "Impossible Germany" was mind-blowingly euphoric; a revelation that maybe the right guitar solo can change the world. (Maybe I'm being hyperbolic? But let me be. It's Wilco.)

More songs off last year's The Whole Love included "I Might" and "Born Alone." "At Least That's What You Said" started as a tiny acoustic number, but erupted into monster riffs and a sound so huge it could knock you down. Wilco grooved on it for what seemed like forever, in the best possible way.
The keyboards twinkled so gently on "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" that it seemed to allude to the delicacy of the song's subject. Like many of the band's best songs, it ends in a mess of feedback and twisted emotions. "Heavy Metal Drummer" transitioned fluidly into "I'm the Man Who Loves You," in the same order as the album.

While Wilco walked away without an encore, at least we can chalk it up to them ending with an enthusiastic "A Shot in the Arm." The Summerteeth song was the ultimate closer; I was actually in such a state of happiness that I was jumping up and down like a fool. I know the song is almost certainly about heroin, but I couldn't help but think that Wilco was really all I needed to keep living.
And living we did this weekend. Forecastle 2012 actually brought me back to life, woke something inside of me that's been desperately missing. Waterfront Park has since been cleaned, the stages removed, but the memories... those stay there. The figurative ship has sailed, but if we're lucky, it will dock again in the same place, at the same time next year. And we can only hope that it lives up to this 10th anniversary, a landmark for both the festival and the city of Louisville.

Forecastle Festival X - Day Two

A little rain couldn't spoil a festival literally named for people who live on a ship. Well, it was actually a lot of rainenough to push back the start time for the second day by an hour and a half or so. Luckily, the rain let up quickly enough that each band just cut a couple songs from the set list, and nobody had to go home without taking the stage.

Wye Oak was the first stop of the day. Something about Jenn Wasner's voice has always reminded me of The Cranberries. It's got this really melancholy hurt to it, which came off as cripplingly depressing in a live setting. So much so that I found myself clenching my jaw without even noticing. But, as stated earlier, I find joy and an excuse to bounce my knees at even the most somber of sets, and this was no exception. The musicianship between Wasner and keyboardist/percussionist Andy Stack was impeccable. Stack plays the drums with one hand, the cymbals with his feet, and uses his other hand to play the keyboard. It's impressive.

The Baltimore duo (Have you noticed how many male/female duos played Forecastle this year? We're at three so far.) stepped out of their gloom pop to play a new song called "Spiral." Stack broke out a bass guitar, Wasner cranked up the reverb on her guitar, and they added a disco beat to the mix. It's probably what it would sound like if an Old Navy commercial was taken over by evil robots. Wye Oak closed the set with a rousing, feedback-drenched version of "Civilian," the title track on their latest album. It was as close as this band gets to a sing-a-long, with a more melodic chorus and chugging percussion. Surprisingly to me, this set was the one stuck in my head at the end of the festival.

A stop by Wick-it the Instigator's stage was next. The mixologist took over the turntables to mash up everything from M.I.A.'s "Bad Girls" to '80s pop songs. He played a few different songs off The Brothers of Chico Dusty, which mixes The Black Keys and Big Boi. My favorite is "Black Bug," which combines "Tighten Up" with "Shutterbugg." Anyone who was seeing Girl Talk that night was probably warming up at this show.

For a guy with such a storied past, Justin Townes Earle comes off as a gentleman in his live show. Throughout his set of songs such as "One More Night in Brooklyn," he chatted with the crowd about everything from bad landlords to heartbreak. His tone was so easygoing, it's as if he was having a conversation with an old friend. At one point he dedicated a song to his mother. But he proceeded to make a snide remark about how she wasn't very good at her job, but she had to be when his dad, musician Steve Earle, wasn't around. Many of his songs reference his relationship with his absent father, and it was equally sad and interesting to get an inside glimpse at Earle's struggles.

The quality of the musicianship amongst Earle's bandmates was impeccable, further accentuating the raw edges of his imperfect growl. Full and round, the whole set shone with country twinge and rock 'n' roll heart. Earle finished the show with a cover of The Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" and the whole crowd got a taste of his happier moments.

The only thing that could have made the Real Estate show better was a stage surrounded by a huge swimming pool, where all the sweaty music lovers could wade while they bask in the sunshine that is their music. Gooey sound waves emanated from the New Jersey band from the first song, the instrumental "Kinder Blumen." The colors of their guitarsseafoam green, banana yellowrepresented their sound, a pastel, sweet trip to the beach. The breeziness of these summery pop songs goes on for days, loopy and reverb-soaked and full of nothing objectionable and everything that gives you warm feelings.

Nobody in the band ever really looks excited. They gazed into the crowd blankly, and it looked like they had no idea how their music could be putting their audience in a trance. At times, songs such as "Easy" and "It's Real," off 2011's Days are jangly. With nondescript vocal melodies, this music can come off like The Beach Boys for the mumblecore generation. Adding to the coastal vibe, the crowd tossed around bright orange beach balls toward the end of the set. "All the Same" closed the show with guitar riffs that snaked around in circles, a shimmering jam that left listeners in a blissed out state.

Washed Out could aspire for the same state of mind, but the synths just seemed to fall short in a live setting. While the crowd danced to songs like "Amor Fati" and "Eyes Be Closed," some of the material felt a little too soft and sloppy to really be immersive on such a hot day with so many competing acts.

My Morning Jacket is a special kind of legend in Louisville. Though not all of them live here anymore, they claim the city as its hometown. And they are rewarded for it, looked upon as rock gods, the sort of legend that you only regard with the utmost respect. They sold out their last show at the Louisville Palace, and streamed the whole thing live for anyone in the world who didn't get tickets. And, lucky for you, you can catch their entire Forecastle performance on YouTube if this review doesn't sufficiently take you back in time to one of the most epic Saturday nights known to the commonwealth of Kentucky.

Things kicked off to a great start when Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined MMJ onstage for "Holdin On to Black Metal," the most vibrant song on Circuital. All the extra horns only made the band's huge sound richer. Covers of Elton John's "Rocket Man" and The Band's "Makes No Difference" added to the set, but MMJ outdid itself when it took on Wham!'s "Careless Whisper" in the encore. "George Michael gets a lot of shit," proclaimed frontman Jim James. "But he's a fucking genius."

Such classic MMJ hits as "Wordless Chorus" and "Mahgeetah" littered the set, but what impressed me was their ability to incorporate "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream, Pt. 2," an oddball musing off Evil Urges. It's the record that made me fall for MMJ, the 2008 breakthrough where they decided they could do whatever in the world they wanted with their music, and they could not be pigeonholed. They could do Prince falsettos and trippy electronic synth music, and the world would still love them. It's this sort of non-contrived, balls out, unafraid, genuine joy for music that makes them such an important band of the past decade.

Andrew Bird added violin to closer "Gideon," but the band came back for more, playing the first two tracks off Circuital, "Careless Whisper," and a rousing version of "One Big Holiday." It's the jam that goes on forever and ever, stretching so loud and so long it's a wonder that anyone in the band has the energy to close out the night with it. But they always do, and that's what keeps MMJ's fierce fan base coming back for more every time.