Music

Forecastle Festival: Louisville, KY (Day Two)

Photos: Tom Bellos

My Morning Jacket headline Day Two, bringing hometown rock glory to Louisville's riverfront.


Forecastle Festival

City: Louisville, KY
Venue: Waterfront Park
Date: 2015-07-18

Friday night storms slammed Waterfront Park, home to Louisville’s Forecastle Festival, prematurely ending headliner Sam Smith’s set and sending festivalgoers scrambling out of the park. Evidence of Hurricane Sam was still visible in the park on Saturday morning, particularly at the main Mast Stage, which was now devoid of its banners and signs and, most crucially, its video screens. In fact, to continue prepping the area, gate-opening times were delayed for over an hour -- forcing fans to stand in blazing sun while Forecastle staffers distributed water -- and early-entry members of the media were treated to a five-song soundcheck by Saturday headliners My Morning Jacket.

The delays also played hell with Saturday’s schedule, as start times all day were pushed back at least an hour. Once Baltimore’s Lower Dens got started under the overpass on the Ocean Stage, they wasted little time forging the pop-leaning direction of their impressive new Escape From Evil. Lead single "To Die in L.A." came just two songs in, singer/songwriter Jana Hunter easing into some languid dance sways and supplying her aching vocals over the song’s defining keyboard pattern, unfortunately supplied via canned sample rather than a live player. "Feels like a pretty high dew point today", Hunter observed dryly before moving to the dark dancy pulse of "Ondine", eschewing the band’s krautrock past for something closer to the ‘80s synthpop of the Human League. "I Get Nervous" came next, which worked even better as the four-piece built to a gorgeously blurred modern-rock pulse anchored by Hunter’s dead-eyed stare and bleary genderfluid vocals.

Arkansas upstarts Knox Hamilton, named after the most rockin’-looking guy they could find in a random ‘70s-era high school yearbook, have been talking to right folks. With only one single -- the delightful "Work It Out" -- to their name, they somehow commanded a slot on the festival’s second-largest stage. With a set of well-behaved, beachy, big-chorus-embracing pop-rock, the band had no trouble winning over the crowd. "We mean no disrespect, but we’re going to play some new songs", beardy singer Boots Copeland told the crowd before launching into "By No Means", which had the crowd dancing to Copeland’s impressive falsetto and his brother Cobo Copeland’s skittering Charlie Watts drumming. With time for only one more, Boots joked, "Do you want to hear ‘Work It Out’ or something you’ve never heard before?" They played their single, of course, but the nine-year-old kid in front of the stage was going to bust out breakdance moves no matter what.

It was terribly hot for dancing of any kind, but it didn’t stop the eight-piece Mariachi El Bronx from wearing their full black charro outfits for their mainstage set. Most of the band make up post-hardcore outfit The Bronx for their day job, but they moonlight as a traditional mariachi band, a better fit for this sun-drenched all-smiles festival crowd. With accordion, violin, dueling trumpets, guitarróns, and a swinging rhythm section, the ensemble produced plump peals of danceable polkas and waltzes to a crowd challenged by serious heat. Potty-mouthed singer Matt Caughthran admitted to coming off a three-day bender for this gig, and his voice indeed sounded a bit strained, but the big band still gave the crowd plenty to zapateado to, highlights of which were the romantic "Norteńo Lights" and the Cuban-flavored "Revolution Girls".

Earl Burrows

Nashville band Earl Burrows played to a small crowd at the Port Stage, crunching through four-to-the-bar heartland rock that fit somewhere between Weezer and Foghat. A strutting cover of T. Rex’s "20th Century Boy" tells part of the story with this band, although they played a handful of tunes from Earl’s upcoming EP, due in September, including "Hey Me Israeli", with its Prince-like vocals and Les Paul squawk, that indicate that the band is full of surprises.

The Revivalists

Back on the Boom Stage, The Revivalists defended their reputation as one of America’s hardest-working live bands. Throwing a full-scale New Orleans-steeped soul-rock bash, singer David Shaw, all lean musculature and Sideshow Bob hair, sprinted around the stage and belted out jive that made the crowd nearly forget how dehydrated they were. The Revivalists are the kind of musical powerhouse in which the organ player takes trumpet solos, so the Dixieland grooves stitched to jam-minded rock are built for go-big festival sets. At one point, Shaw even divided the crowd in half, Paul Stanley style, for a giant sing-off. By the way, did we mention that it was hot? Estimates in the park were that each festivalgoer was producing enough sweat every hour to fill a galvanized washtub. In fact, a reporter could be forgiven if he had to, say, go back to the media tent and pour ice-water over his head to avoid heatstroke, as a result missing planned coverage of mainstage act Desaparecidos.

Chris Stapleton

Once recovered, that reporter could take in throwback country killer Chris Stapleton on the Boom Stage. Touring behind his solo debut Traveller, Stapleton comes off like a hell-raising good-ol’-boy who wears his hair down to his nipples and sleeps in his jeans. But there’s no mistaking either Stapleton’s burly badass vocals -- a combination of throaty power and Big-Four-Bridge-rattling range -- and his remarkable songwriting prowess, both on impressive display in Louisville. Opening with three straight tunes from the new album, Stapleton sang with chainsaw timbre on top of Ronnie Turner’s pedal steel and his wife Morgan Stapleton’s rose-colored harmonies. Stapleton hit the covers halfway through -- "You are My Sunshine", Rodney Crowell’s "I Ain’t Living Long Like This", Tom Petty’s "You Don’t Know How It Feels" -- before finishing with the thunder jam of "Outlaw State of Mind" and "Might as Well Get Stoned", advice which many in the crowd took to heart.

The Word

It was Forecastle in full swing on the Mast Stage as The Word -- the sacred steel supergroup featuring Robert Randolph, the North Mississippi Allstars, and keyboardist John Medeski. An almost entirely instrumental set, this was music that many in the crowd let wash over them, a few thousand of them seeking shade under the overpass a few hundred yards away from the action. Even more lay supine on tarps and blankets on the sprawling main stage lawn. On the other hand, hearty hippies packed close to the stage, bending knees and oscillating necks to the busy jams pouring forth. Randolph, at center stage in customary black do-rag and red pedal steel, anchored most of the tunes, while Medeski burpled and shimmied through the grooves. Things got extra-trippy when Cody Dickinson broke out the electric washboard, playing a spacey soundscape solo ideal for flashback induction and heat hallucination.

Shovels and Rope

On the Boom Stage, folkacana duo and PopMatters fave Shovels & Rope locked into formation -- Cary Ann Hearst on her tattered Gibson acoustic and her husband Michael Trent on a three-piece drumkit and harmonica. It was the penultimate show of their current tour, and the band drew the crowd in like rustic Southern storytellers, opening with "Swimmin’ Time", which evoked the flooding river waters just behind the stage, followed by "Stone River Blues", the kind of drum-’n’-strum stomper that got them here. The duo switched places on "Bridge on Fire", with Hearst simultaneously playing drums and doo-wop piano, and a John Hartford-nicking "Evil" rose to a screamy, clashing finish. The set hit a peak when Hearst addressed the tragedy in their hometown of Charleston, referring to the "sorry son of a bitch" who "cracked our heart in a thousand pieces" and expressing relief that South Carolina "finally took down that tacky-ass flag". They dedicated "The Thread" to the victims, an emotional moment that held a massive audience in rapt attention.

Every now and then the War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel punctuates his lines with a cleansing "Whoo!", a sentiment echoed by the crowd gathered for the night’s pre-headliner slot. His band opened on the main stage to "Arms Like Brothers" from 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues before the band turned its attention to last year’s Lost in the Dream, playing the bulk of that album. Granduciel strangled out guitar leads as the steady bass figure wove within the guitar riff, creating the band’s signature heartbeat. The elegant blend was embroidered with bass saxophone and mellophone for "An Ocean in Between the Waves", and "Suffering" called to mind ‘85 Dylan with its slow-simmering harmonica and vocal register. The band lets the songs settle into a good long groove, with an arrangement of instruments and melodies that your uncle would have no problem with, and The War finished its winning set with a final witching-hour run of "Red Eyes", "In Reverse", and "Under the Pressure", promoting communal euphoria from a grateful crowd. Whoo!

Sturgill Simpson

First Chris Stapleton earlier in the day, and later Sturgill Simpson, making for a trucker-craze-era country party for the ages. Comparisons to Outlaw legends are inevitable, and Simpson, one of this summer’s most ubiquitous festival figures, sang hard-twang versions of "Long White Line" and "A Little Light", brimming with Telecaster snap and organ swamp. Sturgill dug out "Medicine Springs", an old Stanley Brothers song, to play some bluegrass for Kentucky and took some hare-footed runs on his acoustic. Sturge slowed things down on his cover of "The Promise" which had folks reaching for the bourbon flasks because, hey, When In Rome. And a falcon-fast run through "Railroad of Sin" was spitting chicken-pickin’ guitar and Sister-Bobbyesque piano runs everywhere. The last third of the set was a jammier, druggier affair, stretching out "Some Days" with bass lines that suggest Waylon Jennings playing Electric Zoo, before capping the set with "Turtles All the Way Down" for a crowd who knew all the words and a final bluegrass rip through the Osborne Brothers’ "Listening to the Rain".

My Morning Jacket

Hometown heroes My Morning Jacket played to the weekend’s largest crowd. The homecoming excitement for these guys was palpable in both the audience and on stage as an epic setlist was a guarantee, and only the city’s hard midnight curfew held Jacket to a 2.5 hour running time. Kicking off with "Believe", which also opens this year’s The Waterfall, Jim James jogged around the stage with arms raised in the triumphant gesture of fellow Louisvillian Cassius Clay. Members of the Louisville Orchestra supplied strings on a handful of songs, as MMJ went on a barnstorming tour of its career, getting to "Mahgeetah" just two songs in, sounding like the Ohio River is where power pop, hair metal, and Skynyrd all meet up. "Off the Record"’s reggaeton grooves gave way to a long psychedelic outro that led to another Z track, "Wordless Chorus", which prompted coordinated glowstick chucking during James’s dogwhistle-high falsetto shrieks. James was a force in Fly shades and Gene Simmons hair, teased to flyaway splendor, and brought all his best guises -- the cape-wearing vamp, the hooded oh-how-they-danced druid, the towel-topped sound-fx wizard. (All which made the lack of video monitor on Saturday one of the weekend’s only bummers; why they never went back up was unclear and frustrating.) James offered some spread-the-love platitudes, just as guest vocalist Conor Oberst ambled out for a snuggly duet on "Wonderful". "Gideon" found the band starting to rock even harder when drummer Patrick Hallahan pulled out his biggest, city-quaking hitting, strong enough concussions to threaten to evacuate the grounds once again.

The slow build of "Circuital" was a wonder, featuring James’s acoustic strumming and some of his best singing of the night. A main-set-closing "Lay Low" was a nod to old fans, with James in full hood-up Flying-V mode and second guitarist Carl Broemel playing searing leads. A long, five-song jam-heavy encore was a Louisville special as the band brought out former guitarist Johnny Quaid (who left in 2004), making for a triple-guitar attack that had fans reaching for their loved ones. Both "Steam Engine" and "Phone Went West" crossed the 12-minute marks, while "Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2" brought waves of shroomy reverb guitar ambiance into a final, thrilling "One Big Holiday", a crazy three-way guitar cage match that finally sent the audience to the showers, rocked to ear-splitting exhaustion after a long, sweaty day on the banks of the Ohio.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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