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Tuesday, 31 August 2010 08:09

Concert review: LouFest closes out the St. Louis summer, Sunday, August 29

Zooey Deschanel at LouFest Zooey Deschanel at LouFest Dana Plonka
Written by Liz Taylor
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For those of you who don’t know, Sunday was Jeff Tweedy day in St. Louis. Local devotees gathered in Forest Park to mark the momentous occasion and celebrate with a day full of diverse music and good beer. Judging from reports of the first day at LouFest the crowd and vibe seemed fairly equivalent for day two — even if festival-goers were looking a wee bit more sunburned and stiff from all the time spent rocking in the park. It was an interesting scene to be sure. Hipsters mingled with hippies and there were plenty of adorable little kids on hand to twirl ecstatically to the raucous sounds of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and back up Jeff Tweedy on the harmonica.

A big part of the pleasure came simply from taking advantage of one of our most important community resources, Forest Park. There’s something about the shared experience of soaking up sun and music in equal measure to create a nice feeling of camaraderie, however tentative. Obviously this isn’t a new concept, but it’s always refreshing to encounter the phenomenon personally.

Sadly, I missed all but the last five minutes of Kim Massie. She seemed to be getting a good response from the small crowd who were happy to make requests when needed. Magnolia Summer followed Massie with a nice set tailored to the hometown crowd. Although lead singer Chris Grabau’s voice was eclipsed at times by the large backing band, the group was able to find a steady groove on the faster songs. The Funky Butt Brass Band made another appearance at LouFest – the band backed up So Many Dynamos on Saturday — joining Magnolia Summer at the end of its set.

Carolina Chocolate Drops offered up their gifts as virtuoso musicians and storytellers/music historians. Perhaps the most fascinating piece of information shared was a brief discussion tracing the musical through lines from early string band styles to current forms of hip hop and rap, a proto hip hop as it were. Beyond their extensive knowledge and obvious love for their musical niche, the Carolina Chocolate Drops know how to play a wicked jam. I’m now a believer that nothing elicits such a happy response as the sight and sound of a well-played jug. Other highlights include, Rhiannon Giddens fiddle-heavy cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style.”

Next, Gentleman Auction House took the stage, but seemed a little unorganized. Granted, it must be difficult to play a keyboard with the sun shinning directly in your eyes, but the set felt schizophrenic. I like what they are trying to do, but at times the sound verged into the tortured side of power pop and I’m not sure the band has the verve to pull it off. The players did try to mix some unique elements and instruments, but the music failed to coalesce into a truer sound.

Corey Chisel and the Wandering Sons played a refreshing set of paired-down, beautifully mellow rock. Chisel described the event perfectly as, “sad songs in the sunshine.” Perhaps it was the juxtaposition with the previous awkward performance (sorry Gentleman Auction House), but Chisel and the Wandering Sons had a naturally relaxed vibe which translated into some nicely rendered performances.

As promised, Fruit Bats mixed some new material in as they ran through the bulk of their latest album. They also snuck in a Grateful Dead cover (“Wharf Rat”) and a Harry Nilsson cover (“Jump Into the Fire”), which worked surprisingly well when paired with their own work. Eric D. Johnson closed with what seems to be a festival favorite, “Singing Joy to the World.” It’s one of those sparse ballads that practically begs you to sing along while also prodding you into some not altogether unpleasant if melancholy end-of-summer reveries. Despite the band’s fondness for the summer festival circuit, I’m not sure its music works quite as well as it could in the larger outdoor setting.

Alejandro Escovedo moved effortlessly into the relaxed flow of the long summer evening. He is fond of talking (and the Ramones) as we found out during his set, but his songs go down easy. I may have been starting to feel the effects of a long day in the sun, but Escovedo’s music had a sort of soporific pull, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The sun began to sink as Jeff Tweedy turned in a lovely acoustic set full of fan favorites including “Via Chicago,” “Jesus Etc.” and “A Shot in the Arm.” It was the perfect time of day to listen to the gentle strummings of the master songsmith even if so many of his tunes leave you feeling emotionally raw. Tweedy was at his charming best demurely acknowledging the mayoral proclamation for his day of honor. The crowd seemed happily subdued.

It was hard to turn away from Tweedy at the end of the night, but She & Him made for more than pleasant company. Zooey bounced around the stage in all her indie darling glory, belting out the sweetly turned sounds of their brand of hipster/country doo-wop. Although the crowd thinned out near the end, those who stayed were treated to a high energy, yet still oddly soothing performance. This is one hard-working band. The night ended appropriately enough with a dose of Chuck Berry. Many performers had mentioned Berry throughout the day, but She & Him gave us the full treatment. It might not have been the cleanest or fleetest version of “Roll Over Beethoven,” but it was hard not to be won over by the bands’, especially Matt Ward’s, enthusiasm.

Here’s to many more LouFests to come.

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