Friday, August 3, 2012

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.

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