Set up in the shadow of downtown, sandwiched between the Ohio River and the picturesque Louisville Slugger minor league ballpark, the three-day eco-urban Forecastle Festival hosted one of the most high-profile lineups in its low-key nine year existence this weekend.
With a new location in a 70-plus acre riverside park that aimed for a mini-Lollapalooza vibe, the weekend kicked off on Friday night (July 9) with Forecastle faves Widespread Panic, followed by the reconstituted Smashing Pumpkins on Saturday (July 10) and the always-explosive Flaming Lips closing things out on Sunday night (July 11). With temperatures in the brain-melting upper '90s down south, we opted to just check out the final day’s activities and when we arrived it looked like plenty of three-dayers were running on fumes (and from the looks and smell of it, some other gases and solids) after 48 hours of music from a variety of DJs, lesser-known jam bands and national acts like Devo, Cake, Manchester Orchestra, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Bassnectar and the New Deal.
Most of the afternoon was about beating the heat, as sweaty modern primitives strapped hammocks between trees in the waterfront park and gently swayed near the Ocean Stage to a DJ spinning hacky sack-friendly techno.
One of the first big names of the day was duo She and Him, who opened a pleasantly perky set with the summer swayer "Rave On," during which actress/singer Zooey Deschanel busted out an electric ukulele. When she wasn't singing, partner M. Ward added a smoky croak to her high and tight vocals on the band's country shuffles, playing a series of slide solos with an assist from a bottle of local microbrew.
Deschanel, dressed in a 1960s vintage Nashville cowgirl singer blue dress with white frilled piping, brought a delicious longing to "Thieves" and bopped along while strumming her uke on the Hawaiian pop "Get Along Without You Now." With the sun finally fading behind some clouds, a crowd gathered near the main stage for the girl group singalongs "In the Sun" and "Don't Look Back." The set ended with a rousing cover of "Roll Over Beethoven" with Ward on lead vocals as Deschanel pounded away on her keyboard.
Spoon appear to be spending time in dingy dance clubs, as half of their strong set felt like it had gotten a remix from Chicago avant-rockers Tortoise. Along with straight-ahead rockers like "The Beast and Dragon Adored," they added a six-piece horn section for the secret agent rock of "Rhythm and Soul" and trippy, echo-laden dub effects for "Don't You Evah." A cover of the punk icons the Damned's "Love Song" was stripped of its pop sheen and reworked into a spare, spooky drone while "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" sounded like a Motown-via-Elvis-Costello swinger, accented by the low fart of a bass saxophone.
As the long lines for free water from the fountains near a child's playground overrun by hipsters covered in body paint began to ease up around sunset, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists blasted away a set of blitzkrieg punk to a sparse crowd near a canal larded with party pontoon boats. Nearby, an anarchist marching band was firing up their instruments again to signal the final show of the day for Los Angeles' underground answer to Cirque du Soleil, the tattooed and pierced Cirque Berzerk.
With the typical amount of last-minute duct tape surgery and shenanigans, the Flaming Lips finally took the main stage after 10:30 p.m. with singer Wayne Coyne bouncing out onto the crowd in his plastic hamster ball before the band busted into "She Don't Use Jelly," which was accompanied by a shower of streamers and blasts from Coyne's homemade hand canons.
Realizing the crowd needed a pick me up after a long, hot day, Coyne cranked the energy up even harder for "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song," which featured throbbing marital drums and a wall of trippy visuals on the giant round digital screen at the back of the stage. Looking around, there was, for no apparent reason, a guy in a full cow suit dancing next to me waving a glow stick, and next to him a glassy-eyed hippie dude in a home made fur-lapelled glittery Chinese tunic over a gold lame cocktail dress. And just in front of him, of course, was a dude wearing a gas mask just 10 feet from a horned guy in a dusty harlequin costume waving a giant black and white cane.
"With all your power!" Coyne shouted in a his cracked howl as thousands of fists shot up in the air to punctuate the anti-Iraq war song. The sedate "In the Morning of the Magicians" was accompanied by images of a calming sunset as the day's first cool breeze blew through the throng as hugs, arm waves and sunburned swaying broke out spontaneously.
Coyne, playing an acoustic guitar with his hand strumming underneath a giant plastic bubble over the sound hole, convinced the audience to call and respond with helicopter, finch, jaguar, monkey, tiger and tornado noises during the gentle acoustic song "I Can Be a Frog," and then transformed the usually rousing "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" into an unplugged folk ballad sing-along as two enormous disco balls threw shards of light into the night sky.
The weekend came to a close with the apocalyptic rock of "The W.A.N.D." and a "Give Peace a Chance"-like moment during "Do You Realize?" where the crowd got their fifth wind and revelers who were literally so passed out they were being nudged awake by security just moments earlier jumped to their feet and danced with reckless abandon to Coyne's paean to universal love and living in the moment.
Well, except that one guy, who just didn't get the message at all and had to loudly be escorted away by six security guards after threatening to pummel a volunteer who had asked him to leave.