It was a busy festival crazy weekend here in the Midwest. Cincinnati had the first ever Bunbury Festival, Chicago had Pitchfork and in Louisville Kentucky, the Forecastle Festival returned to the Louisville Waterfront. As a veteran of several Forecastle’s in previous years, I was excited to see what the ‘re-launch’ of the festival would entail. When I showed up on Friday, the weather was sticky but pleasant compared to the previous weekends triple digit temperatures. The Waterfront was set up nicely and one thing I noticed right away was how easy it was to get from one stage to the next. I bet if you timed your walk to each stage, it would be a couple minutes at the most.
I took in a few Friday evening sets, including Atlas Sound, which to the chagrin of many was just a solo Bradford Cox playing guitar loops into songs from the bands most recent album. I’m not saying it was bad but it wasn’t much to look at on the otherwise spastic Red Bull Ocean stage. Still you have to give Cox credit, the guy is one of the most creative minds around right now, and he is always keeping us on our toes.
After a few songs from the Atmosphere crew, I headed over to what I was most interested in on Friday night, Beach House. It was certainly odd to see them parked right next to the local Joe’s Crab Shack, where patrons that dined on the outside patio found themselves in a catbird seat for the concert. Beach House is on as much of a roll as any band playing right now, and their live set did not dissapoint. Mixing in familiar tunes from previous albums but a heavy dose of their excellent new record, Bloom, the trio seems to really be in an exceptional groove right now. At one point guitarist Alex Scally said to the crowd, “We don’t do any of that cheesy crowd participation stuff, but we’ll try to take you somewhere.” And somehow, even in a incredibly distracting festival enviroment, they did just that.
I bee-lined to the Starboard Stage to see the under the radar act of the first night, Dean Wareham. You might know Dean from such legendary indie bands as Luna, and of course Galaxie 500. The crowd was trending young on the Waterfront Friday night, with Beach House, Sleigh Bells and Bassnectar all playing, so I expected a smaller crowd. And it was under-attended, but still badass, as Dean and his longtime collaborator and wife Britta Phillips played all Galaxie 500 tunes, much to the delight of all in attendance who actually know the back catalog. This was the underrated highlight of the evening.
I did catch Sleigh Bells to round out the first night, and was impressed by the emotion they bring to a main stage, although it felt increasingly like a hip hop show to me as the set wore on. Overall a great start to the weekend, and the weather held up nicely.
Of course, Saturday the weather was not as cooperative. Rain poured on the Louisville area in the early afternoon hours enough to push back the festival for a little more than an hour. The rain was really needed in the area, so I don’t think people were upset at the delay, and after it was set, things went along nicely.
By the time I made my way over to the park for another round, the park was already filling up. I noticed a much larger crowd for Dr. Dog on the main stage than I had seen the previous night for later sets, it was evident that Saturday was going to be crowded and fun. Dr. Dog have really stepped their game up too, going from a band you typically find opening for headliners like Wilco and MMJ to being a main stage draw themselves, and they sounded great as the clouds broke over Forecastle.
Seeing James Vincent McMorrow next confirmed a few things for me. 1) McMorrow has a fantastic voice that is as strong live as recorded and 2) The stages were too close together, and throughout the weekend the Starboard Stage performers, who were mostly of the acoustic nature, had trouble competing with the Ocean Stage and the Mast and Boom stages not only for fans, but for a clear sound. This was one of the few disappointments for me in an otherwise stellar weekend.
I spent some time cleansing my indie rock palate next by taking in Galactic. They sounded fantastic and the set was enhanced even more when former Living Colour frontman Corey Glover joined the band onstage for some lead vox. Sure, Glover has been doing this for a couple years now, but it was a treat for me and he can still bring it.
After that, I took in Andrew Bird‘s set on the main stage, he always impresses me with how great he is live. I tend to discount Bird, because I’ve seen him many times but I find myself greatly impressed every time I get to see his live set, and Saturday he was in fine form. I bounced over to see Washed Out on the Ocean Stage next, with some admittedly high expectations. It’s safe to say I’ve been riding their chillwaves for some time now,(that’s just horrible) but had yet to catch them live. They sounded good, but I have to admit I found the lead vocals to be less than stellar. It could have been my high expectations for the set, but I admit that halfway through, I was over it. Moving back to see some of Kentucky’s finest musicians was exactly what I needed and Daniel Martin Moore and Joan Shelley provided the perfect escape.
Daniel and Joan were brilliant, and somehow managed to overcome the party going on at the Boom Stage (Girl Talk) and the chill waves from Washed Out crashing into their sound. Daniel heard Greg Gillis of Girl Talk holler out in between songs…”Helllooooo Louisville!!!!” and Daniel laughed and said, “Maybe I should say stuff like that more often” then proceeded to do his best “Helloooo Lousiville!!!” which only ended in laughter from everyone around. If you aren’t familiar with Daniel and Joan’s records, get familiar now, because they are fantastic.
My Morning Jacket
You have to forgive any ridiculous statement that may follow, because the set from My Morning Jacket to round out the night was nothing short of epic. And you had to almost expect it right? After all, the band helped curate the lineup this year, they are originally from Louisville and also happen to be one of the best live bands around. But actually living up to those expectations? Yeah, I think they surpassed them.
If I told you MMJ would rip through a nearly three hour set that included old favorites, (One Big Holiday, Magheeta) great covers, (Rocket Man, Careless Whisper etc.) new classics (Holdin On To Black Metal) and plenty of guest appearances (Dean Wareham, Preservation Hall Jazz Band), you’d be satisfied right? It was a completely satisfying set that I’m happy was available as a live stream in addition to everyone in attendance. One of the best live bands at the peak of their powers.
Overall, the first two days of Forecastle were a triumphant return for the festival and the city of Louisville, despite missing last summer, they didn’t skip a beat.