LouFest: The five best shows of Saturday
One problem with seeing primarily electronic acts is the lingering feeling that you essentially spent money to watch a really intricate disc jockey set. (Girl Talk, I’m calling you out here.) A relative newcomer to the music industry, Robert DeLong completely blows away this pre-conception with a high-energy blend of EDM beats, unique vocals and incredible drum performances.
Rising to prominence with the release of his single “Global Concepts” earlier this year, DeLong successfully brought a late-night club feel to his set without needing gimmicky laser lights and strobe effects. Deftly switching between manipulating joysticks and drumsticks, DeLong brought a physicality to his performance that isn’t easily expressed in his recorded work. The crowd seemed to get into the spirit as well with the aid of DeLong’s crew, who painted his signature orange ‘X’ onto the faces and arms of the fans.
And, to answer the rhetorical posed in his single, yeah, I f—— danced. With pounds and pounds of camera gear—a feat unto itself. – Leah Kucera
Ra Ra Riot
Syracuse natives Ra Ra Riot, consisting of lead singer Wes Miles, bassist Mathieu Santos, violinist Rebecca Zeller, guitarist Milo Bonacci and drummer Kenny Bernard, brought its brand of strings-infused indie to LouFest in a sweaty afternoon spot full of jumping and dancing. It played cuts from all three of its albums, from the one that put it on the map five years ago, “The Rhumb Line,” to its more synth-heavy third album of this year, “Beta Love.” Both the cello and the violin sounded amazing; it’s achievement enough to be able to hear these instruments over synths and guitar, and their crisp sound only added to the set. Its best song was “Run My Mouth,” a rollicking good time with a cello that dips and dives along with Miles’ vocals. Other highlights included “Dance With Me,” an upbeat song that got the crowd going, especially a group of girls holding a “Dance with US” sign, “For Once,” which showed off Miles’ skillful falsetto, and “Too Too Too Fast,” an infectious tune that features the titular lyrics, said, yes, too too too fast. Perhaps due to the heat and the early set time, the crowd was small and sparse. The sweltering sun did not affect those there, though, and at one point, a giant dust cloud rolled through, but they kept on dancing. At the end of the set, Miles reminded everyone to stay hydrated. It was solid advice after a solid set that should have been better attended. It certainly got me to dance with them.
- Georgie Morvis
It’s no secret that My Morning Jacket’s live show is an essential experience for any dedicated concertgoer, but I had doubts as to whether Jim James could capture the same magic with a new backing band. Looking particularly dapper in a black suit and tie, James quickly put any doubts to rest with a set that favored his soulful side more than My Morning Jacket’s expansive southern rock. The songs from his new solo album, “Regions of Sound and Light of God,” are decidedly funkier than all but MMJ’s wildest experiments (see 2008’s inconsistent “Evil Urges”), but James’ band had no trouble locking into its grooves. Relying heavily on sample loops and the bass guitar that often gets drowned out during MMJ shows, it got the crowd, even toward the back of the Forest Park Stage, moving in ways The National and Wilco couldn’t.
For much of the performance, James’s signature v-shaped guitar remained perched at the front of the stage, teasing fans hoping for a solo or two. Yet within minutes, James won the crowd over with his impeccable showmanship, ambling about the stage like some sort of festival shaman. And let’s not forget his now-legendary voice. Booming as ever, it stretched to the very furthest reaches of Forest Park, blanketing everyone in earshot in its billowing warmth. If I learned anything Saturday, it was never to doubt Jim James. He’s a true master of the festival circuit, able to please regardless of circumstance.
– Mark Matousek
Although it wasn’t filling the Saturday night headline slot, The National certainly played like it was. The New York-based band walked on stage to uproarious applause, setting the tone for its hour-long set with “I Should Live in Salt,” from its most-recently released album, “Trouble Will Find Me.” The band played faultlessly, its characteristic, mesmerizing layers of sound coming alive on stage in a way that is impossible to capture on record. One of the best songs of the night was “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” with lead singer Matt Berninger’s husky baritone fueling the frenetic rhythm and crescendo of the song, the haunting horn section flourishing in the live festival setting. The song proved to be a highlight of the act, which was composed mostly of The National’s more restrained songs. This simplicity is where the band is most comfortable, and it shows—the quietness allows the different instruments, be it piano, guitar or violin, to shine as they fold over each other. However, after all the musicality on display, Berninger’s vocals truly held up his band’s show on Saturday night, alternating between a deep, almost enchanting whisper and a scratchy shout when the song called for it. The National closed out its set with “Terrible Love” from 2010’s album “High Violet.” Maybe an odd choice for the grand finale, but it worked perfectly at LouFest as the slow build allowed the band to showcase its signature styles—the quiet minimalism of its softer songs gathering into a gut-punching close with Berninger chanting the refrain “It takes an ocean not to break” and the chorus of the band harmonizing behind him. It may not have been the end of the night, but for many, The National’s show would prove to be the highlight.
– Kayla Hollenbaugh
I’d seen Wilco twice before its headlining set Saturday night, and both times I was left content, if not blown away. Since I’d heard it’s among the best live bands when it’s performing at its peak, I had a nagging feeling I wasn’t seeing it at the top of its game. Its performance at LouFest affirmed that feeling as the band tore through a quasi-greatest hits set with charisma to spare. Beginning with a one-two punch from sophomore album “Being There,” it hit all but one of its studio albums, playing through each era with an intoxicating vigor.
At my two previous Wilco shows, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the band was a little stiff, leaving much of the fun to the audience. This time was a considerably looser affair, carrying the feel of a particularly spirited rehearsal. Perhaps it was LouFest’s relatively modest size, but Jeff Tweedy and Co. appeared to be comfortable where they had previously seemed overwhelmed.
The best live acts make an effort to add new flourishes to their recorded work on stage, thus providing the audience with an experience distinctly different than listening through headphones. Wilco has become a master of transitioning into and out of extended jams without missing a beat, a skill it displayed on multiple occasions Saturday night, namely on crowd favorites “Impossible Germany” and “Handshake Drugs.” It also has a tendency to unleash its dissonant side live. The occasional drum explosions on “Via Chicago” and the raucous outro to “Misunderstood” added a welcome hint of aggression to their heartbreaking melodies and surely roused those whose exposure to Wilco was limited to “Jesus, Etc.”
Leaving Forest Park Saturday night, I was exhausted but exhilarated, having finally experienced one of my favorite bands at the height of its power.
– Mark Matousek