Forecastle Festival returned to Louisville, Friday-Sunday, July 13th-15th.
The “Friday sundown” set at the main Forecastle “Mast” stage is always a coveted spot. It comes at the crossroads where the “took Friday off” crowd reaches the throes of festival weekend bliss, and the “watched the clock as it seemed to tick backward until 5pm sharp” acclimates to the tenor of the evening. As the sun began to sneak behind the bridges of the Ohio River, relenting from the vengeance it annually exacts on the Forecastle faithful, Father John Misty poured himself into the set, moving the masses into a beautiful, coordinated swoon. If his persona gives the impression of a traveling revival evangelist, his performance provided more of a big tent sing a long, the fire and brimstone set aside in favor of the sheer unconditional love, man.
Modest Mouse was the Mast Stage closer for Friday night. Isaac Brock emerged in a Puma training jacket, which I like to imagine was one of the many indicators of the sheer brilliance of this year’s World Cup. Naturally, lasted all of opener “The World at Large” before he theatrically tossed it aside, seemingly taken aback at the absurdity of the climate. Unabated, their set left nothing of their two decades plus of material ignored, moving from 2004 (“Black Cadillacs”) to 1996 (“Dramamine”) all the way back to 2015 (“The Tortoise and the Tourist”) and back to 2007 (“Dashboard”) with seamless vigor. And “Float On”. Of course, “Float On”. The people left happy. Allez les bleus.
The long-dormant early ‘00s emo kid in me was giddy to see Jimmy Eat World at the Mast Stage. I’m happy for them that history has been kind enough to grant them the audience a main stage festival slot offers. I’m impressed that the 17 years since Bleed American have been much kinder to Jim Adkins than they have to me, if energy levels are any indicator. I’m heartened that they still play “Lucky Denver Mint”. I’m giddy “Hear You Me” gets as spirited of a rendition now as ever. And I’m incredibly hopeful that the multiple photocopies of 30-somethings wearing the same Vin Baker Celtics jersey missed their favorite band, a reunion with a long lost friend, or a chance at true love, all thanks to having spent 45 minutes shouting “PLAY THE MIDDLE!!!”
They’re going to get to it, you absolute clod.
How does the rolling, energetic blues-jamming of Hiss Golden Messenger fit into Gods plan for Saturday at Boom Stage, said plan being, of course, to murder a sizable chunk of his creation via heat exhaustion (with a river in sight for that extra touch of spiteful panache)? Shockingly well. The rolling grooves of MC Taylor and his entourage seemed to urge the crowd to persevere, to keep chopping wood.
It should be said of the Forecastle organizers that they go to great lengths to incorporate local Louisville and greater Kentucky acts into the festival in ways that go beyond an obligatory booth or gesture. The West Louisville Showcase at Port Stage was emceed and conducted by Louisville musician and community organizer Jecorey “1200” Arthur, this set was an inspiring celebration of the rich culture of West Louisville through dance, song and the most lock-step youth drum line I’ve ever witnessed. This was one of the most fun sets of the weekend, and by some distance, the most poignant, made all the more so by a snide, backhanded comment by the state’s governor, for whom such insensitive oafishness is unfortunately very on-brand. More people needed to see it, but the hope is that the experience resonated within those who did.
By dusk, the sun had, in a move completely against the grain of Forecastle canon, given way to an overcast ceiling that remained for the rest of the weekend without overstaying its welcome. Closing out the evening at the Boom Stage was The War On Drugs, a band which, on record, somehow manages to both invite and defy comparison. Adam Granduciel leads through every contour, every hinge (the triumphant turn in A Deeper Understanding’s “Strangest Thing” is somehow even thrilling in person), the best place on the journey to shout defiantly and/or meditate on the toll of the miles past. The beauty and the pain. A sound that filled every inch of the generous riverside expanse without once seeming to have to stretch to do so. This was the set of the weekend.
Last summer, the Sunday main stage midday slot (for any number of reasons, the toughest sell of this festival) was occupied by the late Charles Bradley, who threw every ounce of himself into a set that made even the most lethargic, sunburned, festival-fatigued in his presence rise to meet him. This year, another fantastic scheduling decision brought us Louisville’s own White Reaper, who elicit through vastly different means than Bradley the same visceral compulsion to rise to attention from those in their direct presence. There’s a lot to be said for a band that just enjoys the hell out of what they do.
2017’s The World’s Best American Band (QRO review) honed their craft of power pop meets early punk into it’s sharpest point yet, every track making a fresh, convincing argument to just mash the damn gas pedal. The White Reaper live show has always been a thrill ride, but the narrative of the splendor of youth (all under age 25) falls away when one sees the sheer confidence with which they conduct themselves, never losing the plot, never losing control of the direction of the crowd, the fact the laconic shout of “yall wanna hear a cover” was delivered in the form of Greg goddamn Kihn Band. Seriously. “Judy French”, their closer, is just an immaculate gem of a rock song, restrained and explosive in just the right ways, almost unfairly intoxicating. If you missed it last summer, damn, seek it out and thank me later.
The Ocean Stage of Forecastle resides atop a sand pit, under an interstate bridge. A creative use of space, yes. Easy on the consumer? Hardly. But this setup always surprises in how well it serves as a backdrop for wildly different stylistic acts (Run The Jewels, Slint, Vince Staples and Purity Ring, among others). How can something so utilitarian and brutal also be so intimate? I dunno, it just works.
Khruangbin was the ideal counterpoint to the dopamine assault of White Reaper. The perfect breather. “Pleasant” seems like such a backhanded compliment, but really, that’s how it feels. There’s a friendly ease, a calm with which their intricate grooves wrap around the atmosphere, making you completely aware of their presence without once feeling the impulse to announce themselves. The perfect palate cleanser.
We’re five years and two critically-lauded albums down the road from when “Southeastern” revealed to a wider world the titanic songwriting prowess of Jason Isbell, and a lifetime beyond his three album stint in Drive-By Truckers. I should have something far more current to say about his magnetism and power as a performer at the Mast Stage. But two moments really stuck out to me as what was left of the sun began to barely reveal itself mid-decent to the Indiana side of the Ohio River.
This was the first time I have seen him perform “Cover Me Up” live. The resonance of that song certainly doesn’t really require further analysis at this point. I’ve listened to live cuts several times. Everyone knows when and why the crowd responds. But the weeks leading up to this festival marked three anniversaries of sobriety to people I care about. As a result, I’ve been pondering a lot on the permanence of that fight for sobriety for them, the never-ending nature of that fight, the psychological labor it demands, and the trauma that struggle leaves just beneath the surface. I felt that for every person in the crowd watching this set who felt, who lived every single word of this song. I felt that because Jason Isbell made everyone feel that, not by direct order, but by telling that story with every ounce of the aforementioned feelings that must have existed in him from the second he wrote it. It’s still so real to him because it has to be. Ton of bricks, that one.
It was then that he brought out 2005 DBT ripper “Never Gonna Change”. As far from those days as he is, as completely established as his own entity as he has become, there’s just something really admirable about still coming back to that material just because he loves the fucking songs.
Courtney Barnett brought the curtain down at the Boom Stage amid a cream-colored sunset to an overcast day that invited everyone in, the perfect ambience for her live set, the logical extension of her music, defiantly vulnerable. Those who didn’t queue up an hour early for festival closer Arcade Fire absolutely got the more vital, the more energetic and raw of the two sets, and responded in kind. She closed proceedings with a trio of tracks from 2015’s Sometimes I Just Sit and Think…, culminating with an earth-moving version of “Pedestrian at Best”, a closer that just really selects itself on a setlist, and on this night, probably rendered that stage useless for future events.
This is what the majority of the crowd came through the gates to see, and those people certainly surely got what they came for at the Mast Stage. This set was the Arcade Fire’s stock and trade: high production, energy, precision, and theatrical presence such that their placement as the featured act of the entire weekend was difficult to second-guess.
-words: Jon Psimer
-photos: Jon Psimer & Matt Simpson