1:42 p.m.: LOUISVILLE – “How are you fine people in Kentuckiana doing this afternoon?”
That was the greeting Pokey LaFarge gave as Forecastle’s main entertainment (on the aptly christened Mast Stage, no less) got cranking this afternoon. With the storm threats of the previous evening at bay and a blast of mid-July sun beating down, the answer from the audience was openly affirmative.
Forecastle’s secondary Boom Stage actually got underway first with the mother-and-son Americana duo of Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear and its brief serving of folk blues infused by son Madisen’s ringing falsetto and matriarch Ruth’s rugged, rootsy harmony. A lean duet version of “Modern Day Mystery” opened the set, but the band quickly grew into a full quartet to incorporate meaty elements of juke joint R&B, blues, ragtime-drenched folk and more.
LaFarge similarly mined vintage sources for a more revue-oriented, dance hall-derived set that allowed his animated tenor singing to serve as ringmaster for the gospel soul swing of ‘Something in the Water’ while the castanet clicking, clarinet moaning stride of “Goodbye, Barcelona” solidified the slow broil of the Waterfront Park environment. But it was the suitably border town feel of the Warren Zevon classic ‘Carmelita’ that best suited Forecastle’s summertime, riverside feel.
4:08 p.m.: Bridging multiple folk generations was Sarah Jarosz. Her all-too-brief Boom Stage set with guitarist Jedd Hughes and bassist Jeff Picker began with the banjo-led clarity of “Annabelle Lee” and sifted through the years to the fragile, autumnal reflection of “Built Up from Bones’ before reaching the gorgeous, atmospheric glow of the new “Green Lights.” To show she had not forsaken her roots, Jarosz delivered Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells” as an affirmation of lovely poetic ambience.
Austin song stylist Shakey Graves placed less emphasis on dynamics and more on course immediacy. While he traveled down an acoustic sideroad early on with “Word of Mouth” (offset by an introductory claim of being “the first person to tell you the wrong thing to do”), Graves specialty was summoning waves of one-man-band electric guitar frenzy delivered with hootenanny style glee. Though appealing thanks to its raggedly spontaneous intent, the set ultimately fell victim to its own senses of weighty static and indulgence.
6:11 p.m.: By the time Something Corporate/Jack’s Mannequin songster Andrew McMahon (under his newest performance moniker of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness) took the stage around 4:30, the audience sized at Forecastle had doubled. A tireless McMahon responded with the anthemic and chirpy piano based pop of “High Dive” and more. Despite his limitless onstage energy, though, the sheer brightness of McMahon’s melodic drive didn’t offer much variance, making his set’s sea of good vibes sound a touch stagnant.
The Arcs, the psychedelic soul leaning side project of Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, delivered a carnival sound anchored by the sharp R&B grooves instigated by the band’s twin guitar/twin drum charge. “Velvet Ditch” started the fun, but by the time the all female Mariachi Flor de Toloache joined in, the sound became a swirling, orchestral mix of soul chants, fuzzy guitar and orchestral might that shifted from the very Black Keys-esque “Pistol Made of Bones” to a fascinating, neo-fusion makeover of the forgotten Motown hit “Smiling Faces Sometimes.” Highlight set of the day so far.
8:09 p.m.: If The Arcs opened up a psychedelic soul vortex, Dr. Dog took the reins and sent the festival down a psychedelic pop alleyway. The pop element was key here. While all kinds of trippy, proggish turns surfaced in the Philly band’s evening set, there was also a melodic precision where the pop elements took over. Bassist/guitarist/vocalist Toby Leaman led the more spacious, exact and often patient melodies of “Cuckoo” and especially “Bring My Baby Back while the ensemble push behind “Be the Void” settled into fascinating keyboard and percusssion chatter before surrendering to silence and, after a few bewildering moments for the audience, a volcanic coda that affirmed the song’s – and the band’s – panoramic pop vision.
The Los Angeles troupe Local Natives delivered a considering more elemental and yet still appealing pop sound with a decidedly ’80s slant that owed to bands like U2 in its chiming, riff-fortified sound. It was a good natured set with layers of bright, atmospheric harmonies and a few surprises – like the guitar outbursts that erupted out of the new “Past Lives.”
10:36 p.m.: The Boom Stage’s Saturday bill ended rather unceremoniously with the self-described “livetronica” duo Big Gigantic. Playing sax and drums over set-in-stone pop-soul beats, grooves and even vocals, Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken were ringmasters for this party platform. The crowd loved it and danced along fervently. But given the makeup, someone could have hired a rudimentary DJ and produced the same effect.
The headliner, though, did not disappoint. The only act of the day to take the stage in darkness, Alabama Shakes designed an earthshaking kaleidoscope of soul sounds that used the piercing falsetto of Brittany Howard and the resulting “Future People” as its commanding greeting. From there, the set was all atomic testimony, from the locomotive gospel-soul of “Always Alright” to the vocal coo and lurch of “Miss You.” It was nothing for the Shakes to shift from R&B chill to grudge match intensity that let the love and fury of Howard’s singing run loose. But the killer was Heartbreaker, a take-no-prisoners torch song that began with Howard lit alone onstage amid waves of purple and blue. What she summoned from there was churchy in its conviction and full tilt monster soul in its patient, potent delivery.