Archive for July, 2018

in performance: saturday at forecastle 2018

Margo Price, the new Queen of Forecastle, performing this afternoon at Waterfront Park in Louisville. Herald-Leader staff photo by Alex Slitz.

LOUISVILLE – Kentucky native Chris Stapleton was the headliner. But this typically diverse Saturday at Forecastle belonged to a pair of hearty country upstarts – Margo Price and Brent Cobb. At temperatures swelled to 94 before much of the music even started,  the day eventually gave to very welcome cloud cover, a minimalist symphony, a hip hop celebration and the arrival, 40 minutes late, of the guest of honor.

Here is how this summer Saturday at Forecastle played out.

10:51 p.m.: Chris Stapleton. Here we hit the day’s only snag – a 40 minute delay due to “technical difficulties.” That didn’t detract from Kentucky native Stapleton’s rustic country allure, though. His electric works, like the show-opening “Midnight Train to Memphis,” possessed a dark, swampy atmosphere that the scratchier recesses of Stapleton’s singing brought to ominous life. Other tunes, like the bluesier “Nobody to Blame” or the more raggedly country “Hard Livin’,” were performed with a more sobering and soulful accent.

9:40 p.m.: The War on Drugs. If you didn’t see everything playing out onstage, you would have sworn a recording was slipped on the sound system as The War on Drugs played. Its music, all cleanly arranged with ample spaciousness, had the sheen of a studio album. Never was that more noticeable than when guitarist/vocalist Adam Granduciel led the Philadelphia band through “Lost in the Dream,” a work that deconstructed the ensemble’s electric preferences for largely acoustic orchestration.

9:17 p.m.: T-Pain. Want to know how extreme a culture shock can be? Try strolling from a stage where the Forecastle Orchestra was in the home stretch of its Terry Riley bliss out to the Ocean Stage where rap colossus T-Pain introduced himself with two extra-long expletives. His set, a mixture of live rapping, disposable singing and a quilt of DJ-moderated sonic stock footage, was a technical mess. But the audience went nuts over resulting tunes like “Can’t Believe It” and “I’m Sprung.”

8:45 p.m.: Forecastle Symphony. With Louisville Orchestra conductor/music director Teddy Abrams choosing to become part of the ensemble fabric by playing clarinet, this performance of Terry Riley’s still-fascinating minimalist composition “In C” was spellbinding. The orchestra’s cyclical patterns of mallet percussion, winds and strings proved the ultimate chill station for weary festival goers. Most sat on the ground as they watched, some even laid flat and let the intoxicating, textured sounds wash over them.

8:12 p.m.: Houndmouth. With its hometown of New Albany sitting across the river – and, in essence serving as a stage backdrop – a realigned Houndmouth made its case for pop stardom. With vocalist/keyboardist Katie Toupin gone but a new instrumental makeup at work that included dual saxophonists, the band stepped forever into the pop landscape with “Golden Age” (the title tune to a new album due out in August) and “Strange Love.” But older fare like “Say It” and “Hey Rose” produced a more nuanced and natural pop voice.

7:20 p.m.: Jenny Lewis. With the evening came relief by way of suddenly overcast skies, a semblance of a breeze and a wonderful pop sampler of a set from Jenny Lewis. Capable of cruising with the woozy reflection of “Happy” (from her 2005 collaborative album with the Louisville reared Watson Twins), tripping back to her days with Rilo Kiley for 2004’s “sadly still relevant” “Portions for Foxes” and returning to the crisply defiant 2014 gem “She’s Not Me,” Lewis proved she is still a daring pop voyager.

6:37 p.m.: Jimmy Eat World. In contrast to most of the acts on the four stage Forecastle roster, Jimmy Eat World was something of a pop elder. But with three of its founding members still on board, including the very amiable Jim Adkins on vocals, little has changed with this Arizona combo. Its devotion to rock solid pop melody was still as solid as its tireless performance spirit. That explains why band staples like “Sweetness” and “The Middle” sounded as bright and appealing as when they were hits 17 years ago.

5:30 p.m.: Margo Price. It took about half of the show-opening “Don’t Say It” for Price’s vocals to pop up in the sound mix. That qualified as a serious infraction, given the effortless tone, force and country zeal this Nashville renegade summoned as the set progressed. From the Nashville rebuke of “Cocaine Cowboys” (one of two songs that sent Price to the drum kit to detonate a jam) to the Kentucky themed charge within a cover of Guy Clark’s “New Cut Road,” Price earned rights to be crowned the new Queen of Forecastle.

4:40 p.m.: Pvris: Pronounced “Paris,” this very nocturnal sounding, clad-in-black troupe possessed neat, though somewhat static pop orchestration that recalled several post New Wave acts from the ‘80s. Lead vocalist Lynn Gunn served as a much as cheerleader as band chieftain, and certainly those near the front of the Boom stage responded enthusiastically to tunes like “You and I.” Everyone else seemed more modestly invested in this afternoon dose of midnight.

4:13 p.m.: Hiss Golden Messenger. This North Carolina collective fronted by MC Taylor often operates from a poetic, folkish foundation. On the Boom stage, though, it became contemplatively electric with tunes like “Call Him Daylight” and “I’m a Raven (Shake Children)” that worked off a front line of three electric guitarists that often sounded like an ambiently inclined Dire Straits. Taylor seldom sang above a grumble, making vocals serve as little more than another color in the band’s sonic fabric.

3:35 p.m: The Spencer Lee Band. And just like that, the ceiling caved in. Kansas-born song stylist Lee led off the lineup on the primary Mast stage with a pop-soul band augmented by brass but also a self-involved stage and vocal presence. The mood nicely cooled for the candid and patiently paced “River Water.” Then came something called “Best Sex,” which was as sophomoric and pretentious as its title suggested.

3:02 p.m.: Brent Cobb. Forecastle’s secondary Boom stage got underway with an expert set by this unassuming South Georgia songsmith and compositions that blended an authentic sense of country songwriting, albeit with a few unexpected twists (like the sly “Down in the Gulley,” where a grandfather’s pump house is mistakenly raided for being a moonshine distillery) and a sleek sense of Southern soul (suggested within the Little Feat-meets-Sturgill Simpson charm of “When the Dust Settles”). A fine kickoff.

in performance: chuck prophet and the mission express

Chuck Prophet. Photo by Karen Doolittle.

“You’ve got your problems, I’ve got my problems,” remarked Chuck Prophet last night in the midst of a rock ‘n’ roll excursion full of joyous involvement at Willie’s Locally Known. “But I’ve got the microphone.”

That was merely a cordial reminder that the San Francisco song stylist was still the ringmaster of his own concert circus. But it was also a measurement of Prophet’s own investment in the art of performance, which last night was considerable. Armed with a broad love of pop sentiments, from the massive ‘60s hullabaloo pageantry that propelled the show-opening “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins” to the West Coast garage rock glitz within a cover of the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action,” which ended the evening, Prophet inhabited fully the jubilant, immediate musical landscape he staked out with his long running Mission Express band.

At times, the mood became revivalistic, as during the mock self-pitying sermonizing that oddly brought a snippet of the 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival hit “Lodi” together with the hapless 2014 Prophet original “Wish Me Luck.” In other instances, the show luxuriated in pop’s bottomless sense of fancy, as in “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp),” which alternated between a chorus of deceptively dismissive playfulness (“Who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding dong?”) and lyrics of more unsettled introspection (“Wake me up if I should drift away; I don’t want to miss a thing”).

The Mission Express, bolstered by Prophet’s wife, Stephanie Finch, on keyboards and harmony vocals, more than matched the vigor the bandleader was detonating during songs like “Run Primo, Run,” “Rider or the Train” and “Killing Machine.” But what made the entire performance so vital and fun was just how tirelessly present Prophet was. This wasn’t a veteran artist playing favorites and running through the motions. This was a session of live rock ‘n’ roll lit up like fireworks.

Who else could have sung an ode to “the greatest centerfielder of all time” (“Willie Mays is Up at Bat”) and made it sound like the salvation cry of an eager rock ‘n’ roll generation? Then again, Prophet had the microphone. It was entirely his game.

in performances: the pretenders

chrissie hynde of the pretenders. photo by jill_furmanovsky

Anyone doubting the current vitality and validity of Chrissie Hynde should have stuck around for encore time last night at the Louisville Palace. Armed with her current batch of Pretenders, the singer ripped into “Thumbelina,” a 1983 gem that roared with a monstrous, percussive shuffle (courtesy of the band’s only other surviving original member, drummer Martin Chambers) and an electric bravado that sounded like a cross between Merle Haggard and Iggy Pop (courtesy of Son Volt/Pogues alum James Walbourne, possibly the most animated guitarist to pass through the Pretenders ranks).  But it was Hynde that lit the fuse by singing the lyrics in a kind of sly howl where post punk urgency and neo-country narrative crashed head on. Does that sound like an artist going through the motions to you?

Hynde looked the part, too. Dressed in black t-shirt, jeans and thigh-high boots, the 66 year old “proud grandmother” looked fit enough to take out the front row of the Palace with just a few punches. One can only imagine, then, how an audience patron near the front of the stage felt after breaking the performance dictum of no camera or cell phone use to earn a personal rebuke from Hynde during “Down the Wrong Way.” There was no further confrontation, though. None was needed. Hynde succeeded in letting everyone know who was boss.

Beyond that, she was an enthusiastic, spirited and fearless chieftain. It took the show-opening “Alone” and “Gotta Wait” (both 2017 tunes) for her voice and the sound mix to find a compatible balance. But by the time “Back on the Chain Gang” commenced five songs in, the familiar – and, frankly, ageless – clarity of her singing surfaced.

What gave the 90 minute performance such spark was the same thing that has made the Pretenders, despite scores of personnel changes, such as an enduring act. Last night, it sat in Hynde’s stylistic prowess. The post punk vigor of the band’s initial albums was still in abundance, especially in a riotous “Middle of the Road” that plowed along like a locomotive with a culminating harmonica break by Hynde serving as a train whistle. But the singer also revealed repeatedly a well-schooled degree of pure pop smarts. You heard it in the sleeker, slower reflection of “Let’s Get Lost” (another tune from 2017’s “Alone” album), the summery stride of the 1986 hit “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and especially in the evening’s biggest surprise, “Hymn to Her,” an affirmation Hynde sang with only Carwyn Ellis’ church organ-like keyboards as support.

But when it came to rock ‘n’ roll, Hynde was equally in command. On the Bo Diddley style “Break Up the Concrete” as well as the effervescently chunky “Precious” (tunes cut over 35 years apart, but performed as encore tunes last night), her sense of drive never waned. In short, Hynde confidently showed, as she has for four decades, that the Pretenders are the real deal.

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