July 26, 2012

A Review of Forecastle Music Festival

The decision to buy tickets for Forecastle came on a whim.

At the outset, the trip provided four things: an extended visit to Chase’s hometown, the chance for us to see each other after more than a year apart, an unprecedented opportunity for Chase to reconnect with nearly all of his high school friends (one person flew in from San Francisco), and, of course, a pass to see two-days of terrific music.

In addition to seeing acts like My Morning Jacket, Girl Talk, Andrew Bird, Wilco, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, we rumbled around Louisville (the old neighborhoods and the new), drank beer at the city’s own Bluegrass Brewing Company, and took a 1 a.m. swim at Chase’s place. With all those elements at work, it was pretty close to perfect, despite the threat of rain throughout.

Best Overall Performance
C: The thought first crossed my mind when I saw all the sweat dripping from his face, but the moment Charles Bradley made me teary-eyed, I knew then that his performance would likely top anything else at Forecastle. And it did. The 63-year-old “Screaming Eagle of Soul” rocked our crowd for nearly and hour, and then, completely soaked in perspiration, he stepped down from the stage and stood right in front of me. He looked into my eyes, reached for my hands, and hugged me. People around us touched his back. Then he hugged Tony, and my friend Jane, and a whole slew of people in the front two rows. Behind us, people screamed and cheered. Aside from the fact that the band with him was nearly impeccable, Charles Bradley worked hard. His feelings seemed genuine, and he transported me, momentarily, to another place. I was spinning and crying.

Charles Bradley + the Extraordinaires

T: In a throwback to the White Sox broadcasters I grew up listening to, who would name one player each night expected to play the best, I announced my “pick to click” performer in advance of the festival: Charles Bradley. Relatively unknown (sort of, but it’s complicated) I urged our group to get up front for Bradley’s soul set on Sunday, and we were able to push against the railing, where we watched an incredible drummer and roots-rock guitarist groove through a great soul set with Bradley giving it — yes — 110%. My highlight was “This Love Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us,” which includes a shift partway through into some sort of Jimi Hendrix/soul world. (See clip, around 0:50.)

T: I can’t lie: I thought Preservation Hall Jazz Band would come across as a novelty gimmick. Instead, they literally brought the sun out on Saturday afternoon, blasting energetic horns in a wide variety of tunes that more than kept my interest. Loved the drumming and guest appearances by Jim James and Andrew Bird.
C: I’m not sure if it was the music by Girl Talk or the experience of seeing and dancing to him with more than 1,000 other people around me. Either way, somewhere in the colorful hue of lights and shapes, I found what I’ll bet came pretty close to a perfect outdoor-festival-at-night time. It might have been better if I were intoxicated, but even sober I couldn’t help but set aside my inhibitions. With bouncing balls rocketing over the crowd and glow sticks being flung every which way, all of us were dancing in ways that loosened the body after a steady procession of earlier shows that invigorated less wiggling and more head bobbing. 

T: Neko Case, despite her surprisingly crude and somewhat annoying ‘tween-songs banter, put on a great show — really clear singing and a terrific backing band that made me think of her songs as more than just catchy narratives. I also picked up on a few of her go-to vocal stylings, in particular a certain type of repetition, like “man man man / man man man--eater” on “People Got A Lot of Nerve.”  I’m also glad she named her banjo/lap steel player, Jon Rauhouse, who I very well may look up. Now I just need to learn the name of the guitarist who played with Charles Bradley.
C: As a native Louisvillian, I’m required to put My Morning Jacket somewhere in my top three. I think they earned the spot, too. It was clear from the outset, anytime Jim James came up on the news (apparently he played an intimate warm-up set Saturday morning) or stepped onto a stage unexpectedly (Preservation Hall Jazz Group) the hometown crowd would stir, and for good reason. Louisville cradled MMJ for years, and Jim James has been an outspoken lover (he even shared in dismay when our best record store, ear-x tacy, closed their doors last year). But besides the band’s personality, the parts of the show I saw were mostly wonderful. The middle lagged a bit, but by the end I was swept up in the moment.

Best Moments
1. The Features took it up to “11” at the end of “Love Is,” in a moment that may have been the most intense rocking I have ever seen on stage. They seemed to reach a cymbal-crashing crescendo, but soon showed that they could take it another step faster, and then still another step beyond that — a full two measures more intense than all those other bands.
2. I began the Girl Talk set on a mission to move toward the front, but I ended it by seeking out Chase and dancing while some nutjob rained refreshing water on the crowd and balloons floated into the dark night sky. I most enjoyed mashups that included the Beach Boys, Vampire Weekend, and a Beastie Boys / “Lust for Life” mash.
3. Charles Bradley can dance. He did.
1. Heading deep into the Girl Talk crowd to dance.
2. Charles Bradley stepping down from the stage to hug and smile at his crowd.
3. Getting to hear Andrew Bird’s “Fitz and Dizzyspells” live.

Wish I Could Have Seen More
C: This is easy. Ever since I’ve been home, I’ve been listening to The Features. Non-stop. “Lions” is my alarm. “Exorcising Demons” was my shower music one morning. And I’ve been making my way through their discography while writing at work. The Forecastle scheduling made seeing their full set virtually impossible as they played during both Girl Talk and My Morning Jacket. But, if I knew then what I know now, I would have skipped the middle of MMJ to listen to the rest of their songs. Their music feels very earnest and amiable, some songs unleash some lash, others bob along sweetly. No matter how they move, their lyrics are interesting and smart. A minimal amount of research about them did reveal the shameful fact that they have a song on the Twilight movie soundtrack, a minor blemish. I like what they told one reporter in an interview: “We're not weird enough for a certain crowd and we're a little bit too out there for the other crowd. We fall in the middle somewhere between mainstream and hipster, which puts us in this weird place, but we're all pretty happy to be here."
T: Easy to agree on this one. My main regret is not sticking it out for the back half of the Features set, especially after their blitz rock on “Love Is” and the “Lions” bop. Because of other scheduling overlaps, I also missed “Washed Out” and Ben Sollee.

Surprised Us
T: I might hate to say this, but Dr. Dog surprised me. I have misgivings about one of their vocalists, but they rocked. I also didn’t know what to expect out of a Neko Case set, and was equally surprised at how awesome the music was and how non-graceful Case can be. Never will I ever need to hear more about where the sweat is running down her body.
C: I figured Preservation Hall Jazz Group would play a lot of swing music I’d be into, but I wasn’t prepared for them nearly run away with the festival on Saturday. They blew me away, and the cameos by Andrew Bird and Jim James only got me more excited about the group. I didn’t want their set to end.

Unsung hero
T: Gotta give this to the clouds, the sun, and the bridges of Louisville, which provided a terrific backdrop to acts like Andrew Bird, Neko Case, and Real Estate. Also: my orange Nalgene water bottle. Lovingly lugged that thing all weekend and didn’t really need any beer.
C: This might be TMI, but honestly, the person who designed the port-o-potty setup near “The Red Bull Stage” (where all the techno artists played). Other toilet areas featured a row of port-o-potties where a line would form in front of each one. Some people would start yelling at the door if a person (not me) took too long. It made the whole experience very high stress. But the design near the Red Bull Stage was much better. The fifty or so port-o-potties were set up in a “U” shape, with one line of people waiting for a door to open and someone to exit. Basically, once a person went in, the line would forget about them because three other doors would open suddenly. It allowed you to be more anonymous. Yeah.

T: The My Morning Jacket set seemed to blow everyone away, but the middle third dragged. Too much jamming.
C: Two things: (1) Admittedly, I'm not a huge Wilco fan to begin with. Maybe it's Jeff Tweedy's stupid hat, or the fact that they're only as good as their best songs (which are from years ago). Either way, Tony put it best when we were swimming at my house, 'I'm glad I saw Wilco, so I never have to see them again.' (2) I heard but never got confirmation that the bourbon-tasting test was a free-of-charge deal. If this is true, then it’s a shame I missed out on that opportunity.

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Blogger JHitts said...

Sounds like a great festival. A few comments:

1) I felt the same way about Wilco. They were good when I saw them a few weeks ago, but nothing mind-blowing. Perfectly pleasant. Which is fine, I guess, but now I don't have to see them again, to echo Tony.
2) I love Neko. But I get the feeling that her between-song banter would grate. It's the reason why I unfollowed on Twitter.
3) For a split-second I read "Charles Bradley" as "Charles Barkley." Which would have been really funny. Regardless, I somehow got away with never hear him before. Thanks for the tip.
4) I saw Dr. Dog open for the Black Keys back in the day. They came on stage, bearded, scruffy and wearing heavy sweaters and hats too warm for the Detroit summer. Some hipster next to me said that they "looked like a Russian grunge band," and everybody chortled. But then they started playing, and they killed. I bought two albums of theirs that night. I haven't kept up with them much recently but I may need to go digging for their newer stuff.

July 27, 2012 at 12:46 AM 
Blogger Fr. Mark Perkins said...

My brother and I are planning on Forecastle next year. This only reaffirms that.


I also haven't heard of Charles Bradley but am very much interested in hearing more of him.


I feel pretty similarly about Wilco.

I've seen them twice. In both cases, the opening track was awesome (this time around, "Poor Places"), as was the 30-45-minute encore, but for significant chunks during the show I felt underwhelmed--or maybe overwhelmed by repetitiveness. I appreciate Nels Cline quite a bit, but I do think he has the old hammer-nail approach to the Wilco catalog ("when you're a hammer everything looks like a nail," "when you're Nels Cline, every song is a barn-burning guitar solo waiting to happen") which is a shame. Bring back some twang, Tweedy.

I also wouldn't necessarily dispute that Wilco's best stuff happened over a decade ago, but I would make a pretty strong argument that 'a ghost is born' and their most recent have some great stuff (and that Sky Blue Sky is somewhat underrated, though not exactly unfairly [it *is* dad rock], and even more so, that 'Wilco (the album)' is.... well, not underrated, because ultimately it's forgettable, but perhaps excessively hated by some people. It's not a great album, not even a good one really, but it's not especially bad either).

So I feel a little defensive of Wilco, even though I was rather underwhelmed by their show.


I've only seen Neko Case perform with the New Pornographers. She was pretty spectacular--even singing background her voice was utterly piercing, and not because she was singing loudly... And she was funny and not over-the-top--possibly because Carl Newman handled the gabber, possibly because she made fun of Dan Bejar repeatedly (whom I love but who deserves to be made fun of).

July 29, 2012 at 5:40 PM 
Blogger Tony said...

Regarding Wilco, one reviewer of the festival put it this way: "the band doesn't need three axe shredders playing guitarmonies when Tweedy is and already was the most compelling guitarist in the band. (Yes, we did just fire a shot across the nose of all you Nels Cline fans.)" I think I agree with this.

By the way, has everyone else noticed how "killing it" now must officially be said about all things that are good?

July 29, 2012 at 9:36 PM 

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