19 Jul 2015: Waterfront Park Louisville, KY
After the previous evening’s epic, later-than-scheduled My Morning Jacket show, Forecastle saw lighter crowds for Sunday morning. A Helter Swelter forecast also played a part in keeping early crowds down and caused long backups at the water stations. Early birds were treated to a set by Noah Gundersen. The Seattle indie-folk singer-songwriter, in black tank and shades, delivered a slow-burning set that drew from last year’s Ledges, including “Isaiah” and “First Defeat”, songs that hit harder on the Boom Stage than on their studio versions. Gundersen’s guitar was cranked, for one, and extended codas to the songs had the drummer gasping for air. It was the humidity, and material from Gundersen’s upcoming Carry the Ghost tested the audience’s endurance. They were rewarded toward set’s end with Gundersen’s interpretation of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, which, following Gundersen’s usual instincts, slowed the song to a crawl.
“I wouldn’t stand out there in that heat to watch me”, claimed Tammy Rogers, fiddlin’ filly for Nashville bluegrassers The SteelDrivers. A sizable crowd felt differently, braving direct sun to nod along to the quintet’s fun, highlight-packed hour-long set. Former SteelDrivers singer Chris Stapleton played the festival the day before, and any hopes that Stapleton had stuck around to cameo with his old band didn’t pan out. The band did, however, play the songs Stapleton wrote for and sang in the band, including drain-the-glass tune “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey”, which Stapleton himself played in his own set, and “You Put the Hurt on Me”, featuring soundalike vocals from Gary Nichols, Stapleton’s replacement. Nichols proved that he’s a formidable performer in his own right, not only on his slick flatpicking runs and his powerful replications of Stapleton’s tunes, but on his own rattling, banjo-driven “Long Way Down” from the band’s new The Muscle Shoals Recordings.
One of the day’s loveliest sets was Over the Rhine‘s afternoon show on the Boom Stage. With big-ticket names on competing stages, it was a select audience, but the married couple—singer Karin Bergquist and guitarist Linford Detweiler—played a radiant twelve-song set. Rounded out by touring guitarist Brad Meinerding, OTW opened with “Meet Me on the Edge of the World” before playing “Cuyahoga”, a song about the band’s homestate of Ohio: “We share a river, so we thought you wouldn’t mind”, Bergquist said. Before a stunning “Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body”, Detweiler suggested that the band go play down by the park’s canal and the audience could all get in the water. It didn’t happen, but the sun-slammed crowd thought it was pretty good idea. “I’m already soaking wet anyway”, Bergquist added. Bergquist is a remarkable singer, and her soft vibrato on “Called Home” was juxtaposed to her cowboy boots, which stomped out the rhythm on a piece of plywood, given an extra jingle courtesy of the bells of her dog’s collar.
First Aid Kit
On the Mast Stage, the Soderberg sisters of First Aid Kit were a feast for the senses. Decked out in black (Klara) and white (Johanna), the girls had the crowd from god dag. It was their first time in Kentucky, and it was love at first sight for this crowd, as FAK played their best songs, fusing their comfy voices on early-set winners “Stay Gold” and “Master Pretender”. Klara, playing guitar, took the lead on “Waitress Song”, proving that she’s one of contemporary folk’s finest singers. Johanna whipped her hair and shimmied at her synthesizer on “Silver Lining” while the backing duo of multi-instrumentalist Melvin Duffy and drummer Scott Simpson, grooved and twanged. Amazingly, the Kit pulled off the rare Paul Simon/Black Sabbath combo with a knee-bucklingly beautiful version of Simon’s “America” and a can-you-believe-this-shit cover of Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. The set ended with “Emmylou”, as the Swedish sisters stepped away from the microphones to lead an unplugged singalong for one of the weekend’s most endearing moments and a fitting end to an unforgettable set.
Lizzo nearly didn’t make it Forecastle at all, held up by tornados and flat tires on the way to Louisville. The Minneapolis MC bounded on to the Ocean Stage 15 minutes late, but did her best to make up for it with a ball-of-energy set. With just a laptopper/hype-girl/backup dancer in tow, Lizzo mixed her scattergun lyricism with soul-mama vocals for an audience that stretched back the full length of the overpass. “Let’s Go to Church”, Lizzo hollered, shaking her plus-sized afro and hitting a nonstop medley of Lizzobangers, including “W.E.R.K.” and “Batches and Cookies.” She worked the crowd like a boss with her beats, rhymes, and rump on new song “Paris” and left no doubt where the party was on Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, roots music fans gathered at the Boom Stage for the soul-cleansing three-part-harmony belting of The Lone Bellow. These Brooklyn-based troubadours have been touring hard over two albums of their passionate mix of folk, blues, country, and soul, and it was all rustic instrumentalism, neo-folk melodies, and aorta-exploding vocal charge on Sunday. When the Bellow dialed it down, as on “Watch Over Us”, performed politely acapella at a single mic, it was too quiet for the hot, sprawling audience. But the band’s big round ringers, “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold”, played early, and “Cold As It Is”, played late, got good wood on the bat. Guitarist Brian Elmquist was a nominee for the most sweat-sodden performer of the weekend, an indication of the pentecostal fervor with which he plays, and on the set-ending one-two punch of “You Never Need Nobody” and “The One You Should’ve Let Go”, singers Brian Elmquist and Doheney Pipkin infused three chords and the truth with gut-punch beauty.
A convincing argument could be made that Forecastle 2015 hosted the two most significant American rock and roll figures of the 21st century: Saturday night’s headliner, Jim James, and now, Jeff Tweedy on Sunday afternoon. Playing as TWEEDY, with his teenage son Spencer on drums and fleshed out as a five-piece band, Tweedy, the dad, is a busy guy, playing gigs like these in support of TWEEDY’s album,Sukierae, between Wilco shows. Tweedy’s main band had just surprise-released a new album, free to all, three days before. No mention of that here, though, as the set opened with a string of songs from Sukierae, an early highlight of which was “Diamond Light P. 1”, which showcased Spencer’s syncopated drumming, and “Flowering”, both prettier and funkier than its studio version. Dressed in a black Mark Twain t-shirt, an unseasonal denim button-down, and a cowboy hat, Tweedy hit a stride with “Love Is a Wire”, a song he dedicated to its writer, Diane Izzo, who died before she could record it. An unexpected cheer greeted “High as Hello”, to which Tweedy remarked, “I didn’t think anyone knew that song. Now I hope we don’t mess it up.” Before “Wait for Love”, Tweedy asked, “Are you ready for another waltz?”, a bit of humor, knowing that the crowd was enduring infernal heat for this seat. A brown, breezy cover of Neil Young’s “The Losing End” made it all okay, as did “Give Back the Key to My Heart”, scratching an itch for those Uncle Tupelo true believers in the audience. A final dreamy, strummy “California Stars” had hands in the air all over the lawn, as Tweedy smiled at the crowd. Afterward, father and son exchanged a sweaty, victorious hug.
Portugal. The Man
This year’s Forecastle was busy with the gratuitous use of the oddly-placed “the”: We’d already seen Cage the Elephant, JEFF the Brotherhood, and now Portugal. The Man. (Young the Giant were, apparently, unavailable.) Indeed Portugal are well-versed in modern indie-rock tropes, and what may come off as generic, overstuffed alt-rock on record is built for sunny festival crowds. As a result, the Boom Stage was the wrong venue for Portugal, as so many attendees were back in NoViewsville and Can’tSeeTown that you wondered why they were facing stageward at all. John Gourley is one of the most laidback frontmen in rock, but his piping tenor was in great shape and the band locked into PTM’s bustling sonic mix. You already know the setlist—Portugal were swinging for the fences with this big outdoor crowd—so it was a thrill-a-minute dance through “Atomic Man”, “So American”, “Modern Jesus”, etc. And no letting up for these guys—they finished with a crowd-titillating version of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” that bled into Portugal’s own “Purple Yellow Red and Blue”.
Field Report, singer-songwriter Christopher Porterfield’s band of Milwaukee folkies, had plenty of competition, playing opposite Portugal. The Man and Modest Mouse on other stages. As a result, they drew one of the smallest crowds of the weekend. Still, with the sun an hour from setting, Porterfield’s desert-rose tunes sounded fine, especially if a reporter were to, say, find a shady spot and lie flat on his back after three days of covering 45 bands in 95-degree heat. The bulk of the set drew from Field Report’s 2014 record, Marigolden, heartbreakers like “Michelle” and “Ambrosia”, a drinker’s meditation that exemplifies Porterfield’s singularly poetic style.
With the polarizing Widespread Panic playing later, Modest Mouse felt, in many ways, like the day’s headliner. And the band did what it could to live up to that billing, getting to 18 career-spanning songs. Let’s look at the numbers: one from This is a Long Drive, two from Lonesome Crowded West, one from Moon & Antarctica, five from Good News…, two from We Were Dead…, and six from the new Strangers to Ourselves. A fairly balanced attack, and the one from Long Drive was, of course, “Dramamine”, a clear highlight that came midset, with its braided lo-fi guitar patterns. Modest Mouse are a bigger band all these years later—literally: eight musicians strong on stage—and the band expanded instrumentally on “This Devil’s Workday” with trumpets, violin, baritone horn, and Isaac Brock’s own frailing banjo. The inevitable “Float On” was a workaday version; Brock got more inspired on “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”, when he sang the fast-patter verses into his guitar’s pickup. Fans packed close to the stage for this set, some who waited all day to be along the rail, and from a distance, continual wafts of smoke rose from the crowd, who hung with Brock & Co. through an encore that included a frantically paced “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box”.
The Tallest Man on Earth
The Tallest Man on Earth‘s sundown set contained several moved-to-tears moments as the 5’7” Kristian Mattson switched between solo performances and full-band arrangements of his confessional indie-folk beauties. Tunes from the new Dark Bird is Home (“Fields of Our Home”, “Darkness of a Dream”) were already memorized by the worshipful crowd, who fought to get close enough to sing back to Mattson. “Revelation Blues” and “1904” were early solo killers, with Mattson, in his customary black t-shirt, roaming the stage, improvising the rhythm of his fingerpicking, and locking eyes with members of the audience. Fans who caught First Aid Kit earlier in the day hoped for a cameo. It happened halfway through his set, when the girls appeared for “The Gardener”, taking the second verse, and providing how-Swede-it-is harmony with Mattson on the chorus. Old fave “The Wild Hunt” was done as a shuffling dance, backed by a four-piece band, and Mattsen sat at the piano to play an aching, solo “Little Nowhere Towns”, a moment that had fans reaching for their gratitude journals. A twin-electric version of “Where Do My Bluebird Fly” came next, followed by “Like the Wheel”, played solo acoustic backed only by the four voices of his band members.
It was up to jam soldiers Widespread Panic to bring it all home, opening with the military-style cadence of “Climb to Safety”. It was clear from the get-go that John Bell’s gnarled howl was packing a prime punch, and Jimmy Herring’s first guitar solo of the night was a tight, blistering call to arms. Of course, things were just getting started, and as with any Panic show, this 13-song, 90-minute set would hit peaks and valleys. “Driving Song” was a peak, if only because it slowed things down enough to provide relief from the steady cacophony of similarly paced songs all night, an issue that started to wear as Panic returned to codas of “Driving Song” and “Proving Ground” after those tunes had already worn out their welcome. “Chilly Water” provided more relief—it’s one of their best songs, but it could have been selected chiefly for the water-slinging tradition on the chorus to combat the still-stifling heat. “Cease Fire” was a 15-minutes affair that featured Herring’s demon-blues soloing during a slow middle section and JoJo Hermann’s funky-clav keyboards stabbing away among the clattering percussion.
After the riotous 11-minute frenzy of “Tie Your Shoes”, the relatively tranquil “I’m Not Alone” gave the audience a chance to catch their breath, with Herring finding a gorgeous tone on a remarkable solo. The night’s biggest response came when everyone recognized the descending keyboard lines of the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”. Since the band hadn’t played the song in four years, perhaps it was a nod to the storms that swept through and ended the festival early two nights before. In any case, it gave the unaffiliated (and probably bored) something to work with, although the song meandered on for ten minutes as Hermann soloed on and on like it was still 1971. “Henry Parsons Died” was a showcase for drummer Todd Nance, a workhorse all night, and the reggae-flecked “Chainsaw City”, with no time for “Drums”, was a dancer’s delight. Finally, the band returned for the New Orleans-flavored “Sell Sell”, putting the finishing touches on a steamy, action-packed weekend in Louisville, as the thousands who went the distance trudged sore-footed and sweat-depleted into the night.
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