By Bill Foster, Matt Miller and Matt Rankin
All photos by Bill Foster
At this point, the BLANK staff is such an experienced, tight-knit unit when it comes to covering music festivals that sometimes we tend to take for granted an annual event that routinely comes off so smoothly and is so excellently organized that we fail to recognize its significance until we are well within its midst and confronted with all of the goodness that it has to offer. Such was the case on Friday, July 13, the first day of Forecastle 2018.
On a scorching day that only the elevated interstate running over a narrow portion of Waterfront Park provided shade to the underlying masses populating the festival grounds (an alluvial plain sloping down to the banks of the Ohio River), the torrid intensity of the afternoon and evening’s performers rivaled the harsh weather conditions. Summers in Louisville can be brutal, but the combination of a cloudless sky and a heat index topping the 100-degree mark made for an especially oppressive and arduous start to the weekend. Yet the music was robust enough to pull the most dogged of festivalgoers through to the end of the night.
Another winner on the day was youth. With the relocation of the Port Stage to the southwestern edge of the park opposite the Boom Stage and the resultant expansion of Party Cove (as well as its close vicinity to the similarly rap/electronic-friendly Ocean Stage), the youngest Forecastle attendees were provided a sanctuary that didn’t necessitate their leave from the eastern side of Waterfront. And in abundance they were there, flocking to Ocean in droves whenever the relentlessly pulsating beats emanating from the Cove or the relatively normcore offerings on display at the Mast Stage didn’t quite strike their fancy.
Needless to say, so far we have had a grand time at one of the best regional music festivals around. The following blurbs recount our experiences on a very special first day of Forecastle 2018. – Matt Rankin
The BLANK crew likes to see shows together, but there’s no lack of divide-and-conquer amongst the group. An early arrival was necessary to catch Nashville transplant Devon Gilfillian kicking things off at the Mast Stage on Friday with a blistering set of finely tuned R&B that created a buzz throughout the festival grounds. Gilfillian’s style is truly unique, blending many elements of soul, blues and rock to create a large, intriguing sound that brought passersby into the sun to discover this up-and-coming talent. He has an energetic yet modest stage presence, and his vocal range and clarity are impressive. Every member of his current lineup is extremely talented, and he’s a very skilled guitarist, as well, with each guitar solo growing the crowd even more. In the age where we are always looking for something different in music, he has an art of bringing together everything we know so well into a sound that’s retro, modern and new. Gilfillian is a must-see if you ever have the chance. – MM
When Lucero was named to this year’s Forecastle lineup, we were intrigued to see how their version of gritty, Southern rock that flourishes in smaller venues would translate to the big stage. Even after 20 years, one of the hardest-working bands in the industry continues getting better, on this occasion showcasing songs from their upcoming album, “Among the Ghosts,” which will be released on August 3. Their loyal fanbase packed close to the Boom Stage, singing along to every word and obviously loving the band’s new work. Ben Nichols and Brian Veneble still have great chemistry, using their impressive, guitar-driven musicianship to create tunes about struggle and survival that have resonated with both dedicated and casual fans for years. Lucero performed a career-spanning set with many new songs thrown in, proving once again their loyalty to dedicated fans and pursuit of rock ‘n’ roll greatness. – MM
Rainbow Kitten Surprise
From their eclectic style of indie/hip-hop/folk to the massive stage presence and (of course) the band’s name itself, Rainbow Kitten Surprise commanded attention from the diverse demographic that came together at the Mast Stage. Sam Melo, the group’s lead singer and brainchild, is an incredible performer, leaping across the stage and engaging with bandmates and crowd members alike to create an authentic, enthusiastic atmosphere. Songs such as “Cocaine Jesus” and “Fever Pitch” are even stronger live and serve as evidence of their rapid success amongst a wide spectrum of music lovers. There’s much to be said about the cohesiveness of the group, perfectly in tune with one another while still appearing to be just a group of friends doing what they love. RKS is bound for more primetime festival slots, and we are excited about the prospect. – MM
A late arrival to Waterfront Park on Friday, as well as said location’s newfangled arrangement, warranted a perusal of the grounds prior to fully settling in for a full set. My inspective walk led me first to the common area separating the Port and Boom stages, then to the media tent. Along the way toward the latter, I was able to catch a segment of the hometown band’s performance on the local-centered Port Stage.
It’s unfair to designate Wax Fang as just a local entity, though; the group’s recorded material is excellent, but its live rendering on this late afternoon was nothing short of revelatory. “Do the Math,” a song that started out as a retread of “Sister Morphine,” completely transcended my initial expectations as it progressed, the ghostly falsettos of its closing complementing the taut basslines and thoughtful piano stabs that preceded them. – MR
Kurt Vile & The Violators
The last time I saw Vile, he was performing an admirable, mostly reserved set at the Bijou Theatre. This time out, however, the Philly singer-songwriter was in better voice. He was in a more experimental mode, as well, slightly altering arrangements enough for them to be heard in new ways. He exuded a calm confidence, too, that I don’t recall having seen before, lending the cerebral material even more gravity and emotional weight.
Murky, muddled and obtuse on record sometimes due to reverb and other mic effects, Vile’s vocals were decidedly cranked up for this show. A standout cut from the 2015 effort, “b’lieve i’m goin down…” began the proceedings, and “Wheelhouse” proved to be a most interesting choice for an opener. The introverted, introspective lyrics pierced the dry heat, offering relief in their promise of mental escape even if no physical one was to be found until after sundown. The song was somber yet gripping, and it laid the groundwork for what would be a moving performance.
A jazzed-up rendition of “I’m an Outlaw” followed, transitioning to a mellower suite of tracks, the notes of each meandering jam floating up above the crowd before disappearing into the ether. Vile jumped from album to album with ease, as his musical style has remained fairly consistent through his career thus far. However, “Wakin on a Pretty Day,” a clear set highlight, was one of the biggest surprises in that this version varied so much from its studio counterpart. Phaser squalls punctuated the conclusion of the deviant take, the solos bubbling up and taking off at warp speed before coming to an abrupt conclusion and being met with squeals of approval from an adoring audience. – MR
Vance Joy is the kind of guy that cynical, pudgy, 50-year-old music critics like me are supposed to hate. His songs are Air Supply for the newest generation: lighter than air fluff with standard-issue lyrics about being in love and her body being a wonderland. And, yet, listening to the packed front rows of hundreds of teenage girls singing every word, one can’t help but feel happy that someone is making music – actual, real music with a real band – that young people love. Us old dudes can be impossible sometimes. We decry the younger generations’ love for music that consists of a light show and someone pushing buttons on a MacBook, but when a talented songwriter with a great voice comes along, we call him “pop” (as if that’s a dirty word). Vance Joy isn’t for me, but he isn’t trying to be. He has his own audience, he put on a great show and, for my part, I enjoyed feeling like a 14-year-old girl watching an incredible talent. – BF
Father John Misty
Father John Misty (Josh Tillman) is a conundrum. He has risen to become the face of his generation, possessed of tremendous songwriting chops, a fascinating stage presence and the magnificent ego that allows one to see him leading a cult in Central America or running for political office. And, yet, for all his sincerity and heart-on-his-sleeve emotionality, there is an irony – a winking “I’m in on the joke” pretense – to his live performances that seems to prevent an emotional connection with his audience.
Both sides were in full effect as Tillman led a nine-piece band through 16 songs drawn from all four of his albums. His band is, simply put, magnificent. Replete with multi-instrumentalists, the band can switch on a dime from a five-keyboard, synth-wash quiet storm to a double drummer, four-guitar powerhouse. As Tillman sweated through his oversized suit jacket in the 95-degree heat under an unrelenting sun, the band never faltered. Songs like “Pure Comedy” were reinvented onstage as slower but more powerful versions of themselves. “Comedy” showcases Tillman’s musical courage; with its brave lyrics, ostentatious baroque melody, its wordiness and its slowness, it’s a stunner of a song and an example of a style of music that no one else in the world is capable of making. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” saw Tillman strap on an electric. “I Love You Honeybear” led to a crowd singalong and Tillman dropping to his knees and rolling around the stage. Closing with “The Ideal Husband,” Tillman leaped around the stage and seemed to consider jumping into the crowd before changing his mind. Was he afraid the crowd would see it as a joke? As irony? It was a spectacular, spellbinding show, but at the end, one can’t help but wonder just where the joke is and if we are supposed to laugh with Tillman or at him. – BF
There’s always skepticism leading up to a Modest Mouse festival performance (except from die-hard fans, of course). This year’s headlining Forecastle set was no different, as talk around the festival grounds was very mixed. However, if one thing is certain, Modest Mouse intrigues music lovers and can draw a headliner-size crowd. Isaac Brock and company ran through a very eclectic set, visiting crowd favorites such as “Float On” and “Dashboard” while staying true to the dedicated fanbase, highlighting both popular tracks and deep cuts from the albums preceding 2004. Although only two founding members remain, this group of musicians assembled by Brock is extremely talented and take the band to a higher level musically than ever before. Brock’s energy is contagious to both the crowd and those around him, as both seem to rise and fall with him. Closing with “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” Modest Mouse proved once again their status as one of the greatest true indie/garage rock bands of the last couple of generations – if not of all time. – BF