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Monday, 09 September 2013 15:40

Festival review: Court Yard Hounds, Tef Poe, Local Natives, Alabama Shakes, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and the Killers bring LouFest 2013 to a thrilling close, Sunday, September 8

Tef Poe and guests at LouFest 2013 Tef Poe and guests at LouFest 2013 Roy Kasten
Written by Blair Stiles
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Rain splattered St. Louis Sunday morning. The sight recalled last year, when LouFest was temporarily halted prior to Son Volt's set as a colossal storm pounded Central Field into a muddy pulp.

Regardless, that Sunday night brought forth legions of St. Louis dwellers and nomadic music folk to Forest Park. Unhampered by the rain, they went on to enjoy the Flaming Lips. We closed out LouFest 2012 a little soggy, but were bolstered by Wayne Coyne and company's jubilant visuals and bohemian waves of positivity.

It was early in the day when that volley of cloud's dew fell to St. Louis. By the time Court Yard Hounds posed the question, "All right, who walked over here because they were curious?" the rain had subsided. To Martie Maguire and Emily Robison's relief, most patrons wandered over to the Bud Light Stage not because the sister duo are also two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks. Maguire and Robison played expertly constructed country-folk numbers that mixed amicably with the drowsy heat. "Amelita" was a bright number that paired deliciously with sunshine and Schafly. So well in fact, that Robison promised the first patron who brought a beer to stage a free album.

Wafts of suffocating humidity hung around Central Field as St. Louis' Tef Poe, the sole hip-hop act of the festival, sauntered on stage. WhiteOut and RT-FaQ of Doorway opened the set, clearing the way for Tef Poe to bring on more St. Louis talent. Rockwell Knuckles would soon take over with Tef Poe's band, Downstereo, supplying live backing. Breaking into "Coming Outta Missouri" Downstereo's keys player coined perfect tones to match Tef Poe's disdain for people infatuated with affluence. With a pitchy drone just hyped-up enough with sustain, the synth buzzed with the errant antagonism in tune with Tef Poe's heated diatribe.

My friend and I left Tef Poe's set early to get third row spots for Local Natives. Without question, this was the band we went to LouFest to see. The quintet (completed by touring bassist Nik Ewing) is omnipresent in our lives. "Gorilla Manor" and "Hummingbird" are two albums we just refuse to go without. The band's emotional palette runs deeper than Silver Lake, Los Angeles' reservoir (a sight familiar to the California residents) and has become as integral to our daily rituals as locking the door when we leave our homes.

Local Natives supplied the emotional depth to make sure each song rang with the same paradoxically soulful sentimentality as on record. The troupe has a knack for using their live shows as a cathartic vessel. Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer and Ryan Hahn bleated and belted with exuberant and cohesive harmony that enraptured the audience. I have always thought of music festivals as a communal experience of separate bodies inhabiting one space for the sake of aural entanglement. A dimension of this, and arguably the most fulfilling facet of seeing live music with strangers and friends, is feeling the proximity of each individual's energy to your own. It is best exercised when an audience loses consciousness of their own self and becomes this school of rapturous eyes and ears.

During "Sun Hands," Local Natives' last song, from where we stood, giggling as we shot Instagram videos and batting starred beach balls up into the sun, we commenced to become one amebic mass of thrown voices and enchanted witnesses. During "Sun Hands" final chant of "And when I can feel with my sun hands/I promise not to lose her again" -- the moment when Rice, Ayer, Hahn, Ewing and drummer Matt Frazier scream with the feral frenzy of rabid lovers sworn to succeed in their promise of regaining love -- the entire audience screamed with them in full-bodied possession of the magnificent, galloping percussion and chivalrous declaration. I have never been a part of anything so visceral and, ultimately, fulfilling.

The performance was Local Natives' first time in St. Louis, and the end of its summer tour. They played a myriad of songs from both albums; each showcased an aspect of each member's gifts. "You and I" allowed Ewing to sow a bassline which harvested the quiet despair of Kelcey Ayer's heartbreak. Ayer sang as though he was just putting the vocals on wax -- a believable triumph of relived emotion. Frazier's drum pad hits during "Columbia" were plump enough to burst from the restrained tension his percussion elicits on record. Rice and Hahn's vocal were just too gorgeous. Each man's pipes are fixed to opposing ends of the vocal spectrum. Hahn's tenor was calculated and was mixed just loud enough to be honed in on, but never over Rice's pliable upper register.

Being my first time seeing Local Natives live, and having the expectations and hearing the word-of-mouth praise the band has received from friends lucky enough to have seen them before, I can attest that it was the most full I have ever felt after watching a band play. It was like a dream becoming tangible and better than expected, because it was real and everyone around us felt it.

As we did our best to regain our emotions, Icona Pop and Wild Cub zipped through sets wherein the latter did not fail to gain fans, and the Swedish duo Icona Pop failed to inspire as their neat beats were played on a backing track as they meowed their dance-floor catchwords like a Karaoke script over the backing track.

Alabama Shakes played after Icona Pop and exemplified why live instruments trump backing tracks. Vocalist Brittany Howard's voice is unlike anyone's and the rest of Alabama Shakes appear to know that. Howard held her own as Heath Fogg, Zac Cockrell, Ben Tanner, Steve Johnson abstained from the limelight. During "Be Mine" Howard all but screamed her heart out with the same level of unabashed desire that Nina Simone summoned for "By My Husband." It was unscathed by the LouFest patrons who swarmed around the Bud Light stage to take in the Shakes' combustible, crackling blues.

The nights co-headliners, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and the Killers brought out the most human beings I think I have ever seen within the boundaries of Central Field. It was enough that my inner C-3P0 became anxious. Thankfully, we were all there to witness something a little strange and something built to end the weekend. The loveable circus of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros saw a dozen members on stage. Vocalist Alex Ebert added to their line-up when he brought an audience member on stage for "Home" to tell a story. Was it cloying? Yes. But was it what was desired from a band that sparkles like flecks of sunlight in a child's eye? Of course.

To round out LouFest, the Killers had a job to do: close out LouFest with a litany of well-known songs and showcase frontman and cultural lightning rod Brandon Flowers' rampant machismo. Flowers pounced from his keyboard (which was built with a light-up lightning bolt that pulsed with the band's tricky stage lighting) to the monitors to galvanize the fatigued but enthusiastic audience with a variety of radio staples like "Mr. Brightside," "Somebody Told Me" and "Human." The latter off "Day & Age" still did not make any fucking sense when it asked if we are human or dancer, but it did a damn fine job causing the audience to, well, dance.

The Killers also played fan favorites like "Smile Like You Mean It" and closer "When You Were Young." But the true gem of their set came just before that one: "All These Things That I Have Done." The show-stopper was the audience's clear beloved. When the band paused prior to the inescapable mantra of "I got soul, but I'm not a soldier," the audience refused to wait and called the lyrics loud enough that they could be heard from the far side of Central Field.

It was another LouFest moment where the audience seemed possessed by music, a benevolent and beautiful demon if there ever was one.

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