Forecastle Festival at Louisville's Waterfront Park, 7/18/14-7/20/14

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When people think Louisville, they might think of touchstones ranging from Muhammad Ali to My Morning Jacket and sweet Kentucky bourbon. Certainly at least two of those things were represented at Forecastle Festival this weekend.

First, we caught Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan’s latest project, the Nashville-affiliated Spanish Gold, at its mid-Saturday main-stage set and spotted MMJ singer Jim James in a VIP cocktail lounge hours later. Second, the festival boasted a Bourbon Lodge where for a fee you could sample sweet vice from across The Bluegrass State. (We tried to take advantage of that, but were perhaps already a little too soused at that point to properly figure out the seemingly convoluted ticketing and mixology system.) Lastly — yes, this is a reach, we know — Louisville’s Muhammad Ali Center is a hop, skip and a jump from Louisville Waterfront Park, Forecastle’s venue since 2010. Anyway, where else can you catch raver kids swirling glowsticks and “making some fucking noise” on command to the bro-aggro sounds of intensely shirtless, almost comically messianic EMD DJ MiMOSA at an after-party on a swankily preserved, heavily varnished 100-year-old steamboat where Fitzgerald-esque fucks probably used to dance the foxtrot?

For The Spin, though, when we think Louisville, we think Slint. The post-rock hometown heroes — revered by nerds like us worldwide as essentially indie-rock’s Pink Floyd — called it quits in 1992, and have reunited for brief tours and one-offs a couple times since. Saturday night, the band treated Forecastlers to one of only a few hometown shows they’ve done in more than 20 years.

For many, it was a pinch-self moment of undivided-attention-inspiring reverence (and definitely a life experience we’re happy to finally cross off our bucket list); for some, it was utterly off-putting and confounding. But for stoned newcomers to the band, it was mind-blowing. The 11-song set included the band’s landmark long-player Spiderland performed in its entirety (though not in order, to retain an element of surprise). “Breadcrumb Trail”? “Washer”? “Good Morning Captain”?! HOLY SHIT!

The band played those slow-building, sludgy, angular, austere songs with meditative, shoegazing intensity. But the performance element was all in the sound, which was just as we’d hoped: hypnotic, brooding, foreboding, and at times terrifying, especially coming off a side stage situated directly under an interstate overpass as the sky turned dark. The heady set flew in the face of the casual-music-fan festivalgoer mentality, where people size up bands like buffet items, sample and move on. “I don’t know if we can compete with that,” the band’s Brian McMahan sheepishly quipped as the sounds of Jack White opening with “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” wafted overhead. As it turns out, though, they could compete, with the comment inspiring chants from the crowd — who knew they were at a festival, but recognized this particular performance was a bit of a secret handshake.

Jack White, on the other hand, was as ever the showman, whipping his hair back and forth and lunging frantically across the stage playing guitar solos as if he were taming a lion. White’s set at Forecastle was a different animal than his legendary marathon Bonnaroo show last month. Though White did manage to blow past the 11 p.m. curfew, this was a leaner, more primal set, with less between- and mid-song storyteller banter and more hits — “Dead Leaves” and “Fell in Love With a Girl” among the White Stripes staples in the set this time. In Bluegrass State spirit, White also tossed in covers of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and Hank Williams’ “You Know That I Know.” If Jack White had a disastrous Kanye set to make up for at Bonnaroo, at Forecastle he had an epic-party OutKast set to live up to.

The ATLiens arrived Friday night. At this point, Andre 3000 and Big Boi are more than three months into their long-anticipated reunion tour, and they’ve got this thing down to a science. From the show flickering to life with the duo’s Stankonia backdrop, to the closing notes of “The Whole World” — which finally gave us the OutKast side of that tune, after seeing Killer Mike destroy it at Bonnaroo last year — everything was pitch-perfect. As well it should be, seeing as how ‘Kast is dropping the same 25-song hit parade on festivals across the globe.

Yes, if you’re one of the lucky jerks to get to see OutKast at multiple festivals, there won’t be much surprise in their set here. But, really, would you want it any different? Aside from some secret desires to hear more Speakerboxxx album cuts, we relished the opportunity to have our face blasted off by hits like “Rosa Parks,” “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and, of course, “Hey Ya!” — the closest thing millennials have to a generation-defining pop song (and we’ll go to the mat for that). Andre 3000 is a damn dynamo, crip-walking across the stage like the boss that he is — albeit a boss capable of saying some real inscrutable shit. (At one point he shouted, “I thought Kentucky only had horses and bitches,” which we're still trying to figure out.)

But it wasn’t just the Andre show. Big Boi can rap his ass off, as he’s shown on the handful of solo records that preceded the reunion. And ‘Kast’s band is about as on point as a backing band for a rap group can get without straight-up being The Roots. Best of all? They let us keep forgetting that Idlewild was a thing. Thanks fellas.

The Replacements

If OutKast had their show finely tuned at this point, the Forecastle bill’s other big 2014 reunion circuit get — The Replacements — was anything but. Disastrous 'Mats shows are the stuff of rock legend, and Sunday evening’s hot mess courtesy of the self-proclaimed "Replacements tribute band" (as frontman Paul Westerberg lovingly called the version of the band on stage, which featured none other than Green Day dude Billie Joe Armstrong on auxiliary rhythm guitar) was as much a series of trainwrecks as it was an onslaught of hits and fan favorites.

Maybe it was karmic payback for Westerberg ribbing the crowd by name-checking Lexington in his stage banter. Maybe it was the one show-day rehearsal since the band’s last live appearance, more than two months ago. Or maybe it’s just that even this version of the band is The Replacements, and fucking up is what The Replacements do best. Regardless, let’s take stock. Hilarity first ensued when Armstrong struck a wrong chord during a mid-song pause, derailing set-list nugget “Nowhere Is My Home.”

The version of “Color Me Impressed” that followed was, though spirited, not exactly impressive. The following version of the more aptly titled “White and Lazy” featured Westerberg crawling on his hands and knees while playing blues harmonica. Westerberg wasn’t a happy camper, even if it looked like he was halfway enjoying the debacle. “We never play this song and you’ll soon find out why,” he joked before what ended up being a decently competent version of “Message to the Boys.”

“Little Richard would be embarrassed by that shit,” Westerberg said, ripping a Little Richard button off his vest after a ramshackle cover of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene.” A song or two later, he impulsively smashed his guitar in a show of rock ’n’ roll frustration. Nevertheless, the sloppiness didn’t keep classics like “Kiss Me on the Bus,” “I Will Dare,” “Left of the Dial,” “Alex Chilton” and “Bastards of Young” from rallying the crowd in moments of fist-pumping transcendence.

Of all the reunions and homecomings anchoring Forecastle, Nickel Creek’s reemergence following a seven-year hiatus hasn’t gotten nearly the attention of OutKast, The Replacements or even Slint, who laid waste to the waterfront with their near-decade-in-the-making homecoming show the night before. Maybe it’s because it never felt like the bluegrass trio ever quite left us, or maybe that’s just the rambling nature of folk music. Whatever it is, Nickel Creek doesn’t get enough credit for being as fun as they are. Even without any indie-rock cover songs, Nickel Creek put on one of the most entertaining undercard performances of the festival, eliciting goofy grins on stage and off.

The main stages also took a turn for the folksy on Saturday afternoon, settling into a rhythm of alt-country, roots-rock and folk that started with Lord Huron on the Boom Stage. Huron’s take on folk bent towards James Mercerisms, with catchy melodies elevating the twangy folk-rock into indie-pop territory. It’s ground well trod by Grizzly Bear and others, but not a bad way to hit the midpoint of the festival.

Keeping with the rootsy vibe, all the way over on the WFPK Port Stage, a stage so removed from the rest of the festival that it might as well be its own separate thing, we caught Mount Moriah wrapping up a set of Southern-bent indie rock. The North Carolinians reminded us favorably of Those Darlins — not necessarily the Darlins’ cowpunk tone, but their on-stage presence. Our only experience to Mount Moriah had been half a single from Merge Records, but they won us over pretty easily with the extended post-rock jam that capped off the gig.

Off course, not every veteran act at Forecastle was a band reunited. Blowing funky holes in the good ship Americana from their main-stage berth, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings received one of the warmest responses of the festival Saturday afternoon, turning in a reliably sweaty set of greasy R&B rave-ups. Jones’ fairly recent bout with pancreatic cancer — which sidelined the band and forced the singer to undergo chemotherapy — wasn’t lost on the singer or the crowd. The latter responded with deafening cheers during a joyously emotional mid-song breakdown, when the former declared herself cancer-free.

Meanwhile, over at The Ocean Stage, Animal Collective art-rocker Avey Tare and his Slasher Flicks side project were churning out a markedly different show of abrasive, experimental industrial Afro-beat, the polyrhythmic cacophony of which was almost unbearable as it echoed ear-splittingly off the overpass above. We weren’t sure what exactly to expect from a live performance by British electronica pioneer Nightmares on Wax, who appeared on the Ocean Stage with two rappers and a drummer in tow the night before, but it wasn’t the reggae vibe that they started to settle into. We mostly just wanted to hear “Ethnic Majority,” but getting to see George Evelyn in the flesh was novel enough to keep us interested — at least for a while.

On Friday evening, with Action Bronson out of the picture due to “unforeseen circumstances” — which, by the way, was the biggest damn bummer of the festival — Britt Daniel and Spoon were given full reign over Waterfront Park for their set of jangly indie-rock hits. Spoon set the tone for the weekend by throwing hit after hit after hit at the swelling crowd of Forecastlers. The new tunes we caught sounded great, but hearing “I Turn My Camera On” followed by “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” was exactly what we wanted as the sun began to set.

Before that, we caught Local Natives on The Boom Stage. We missed the band when they swung through The Ryman in April, and while we can imagine that the acoustics of that room did wonders for their melodic folk-rock, the festival environment of Forecastle allowed them to cut loose a little more and lean on their more experimental tendencies. It’s not like we saw a Jandek show up there or anything, but for a band that we’ve always written off as being a bit too Grizzly Bear for our tastes, Local Natives sure rocked a whole hell of a lot harder than we were anticipating.

Unfortunately, hangovers and breakfast tacos prevented an early arrival to the festival grounds on Sunday, forcing us to miss a well-attended (or so we heard) early-afternoon Boom Stage set from local rockers The Weeks. We did, however, manage to catch locals Natalie Prass and Megan McCormick, on keyboards and guitar, respectively, rocking out on the main stage in Jenny Lewis’ indie-country backing band.

And we did arrive early enough Sunday to catch Murfreesboro ex-pat Sharon Van Etten, who along with her backing band was dressed fully in black in sweltering mid-day heat, and sardonically delivered begrudgingly sincere stage banter about life, love and the ups and downs of world travel in between wistfully sad indie-pop favorites like “All I Can” and “Don’t Do It,” the latter of which captivated as one long slow-to-crescendo chorus.

Over at the Ocean Stage, ambient duo Blue Sky Black Death set the tone for Sunday with a set of vibe-y electro beats that gave the lightest hip-hop touch to a mellow dance party. As the day progressed, the party ratcheted up with the progressive electronica of Chrome Sparks, the loopy freak-folk of tUnE-yArDs, and, finally, the full-scale rager with Australian producer/DJ Flume. Unlike Bonnaroo, which caters to the dubstep-loving bassheads, Forecastle’s EDM choices bent toward the atmospheric and hip-hop-inspired. It’s a shame that Flume was wedged between Replacements and Beck, as we would’ve loved to have gotten down to his righteous rap-game electronica styles — especially after we dug his debut record so much last year.

To close out our Forecastle 2014 adventure, we took in our second Beck show in less than a week. (Hey, it’s a good life!) Luckily, for variety’s sake, this time around we got the festival-ready, frontloaded-with-hits party set the alt-indie renaissance man’s been touring lately. Until hitting the one-man harmonica-vocals-only dirge “One Foot in the Grave” 10 songs into the set, it was all Beck bangers (such a thing?) like “Devil’s Haircut,” “The New Pollution,” a call-and-response-milking romp through “Loser,” a short cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and “Novacane.”

With the singer-sometimes-rapper — not to mention his top-notch alt-funk-on-steroids backing band — hamming it up in front of a vivid video screen flashing vivid psychedelics, the set succeeded in keeping the party going, even if waning energy is a hallmark of any Sunday-night festival crowd. People stayed attentive during more songwriter-y Morning Phase cuts like “Blue Moon” and “Waking Light” and proceeded to dance their asses off to a last-hurrah encore trio of “Sexx Laws,” “Debra” and “Where It’s At.”

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