(A to Z has several writers and photographers covering LouFest. Reviews and photos of the other bands from the first day are coming in separate posts.)
Day one of LouFest is in the books. Guys, don't tell the St. Louis naysayers and boo-birds who like to bitch and moan about how much the city sucks and how lame it is, but [drops voice to a whisper] it was kind of awesome. No, really. The weather was pleasant (for St. Louis in August, that is), the beer was cold and cheap, people were behaving themselves and the music sounded great.
I was waiting on a cart to get me from my car to the gate during So Many Dynamos' set, so I missed seeing the band in the flesh. What I heard, however, was predictably solid - funky, spiky electro-tweaked rock. The quartet played a new song (title, anyone?) that was somewhat more abstract - catchy because of textures and repetition instead of mere hooks -- and brought out the Funky Butt Brass Band horns-for-hire troupe for "Search Party."
Adam Reichmann was up next, and his set unfortunately suffered because of its timeslot. After the high-energy set by the Dynamos, his solid, working-man rock tunes felt like a bit of a comedown. This isn't a reflection on the actual music, though: Reichmann's new(ish)ly formed band, the Ghosts of Electricity, features long-time community staples Jason Hutto, Mike Apirion and Steven Bunck - all veterans who know their way around a chord or three.
Reichmann's new songs are bulked-up twang, with an eye toward rock radio. Roy Kasten described them in a recent review as being "as indebted to Bryan Adams as [they are to] Alex Chilton." That's not too far off a comparison, although the Cars -- a band Reichmann mentioned
and covered but didn't cover -- is perhaps a better overall touchstone. (At one point or two in the LouFest set, Boston's riff-happy classic rock also felt like an apt descriptor.) Reichmann did play a song from his old alt-country band, Nadine - and its mournful melancholy suited the growing beer buzz of the audience. Had this set taken place in a cozy bar late on Saturday night, the emotional suckerpunch would have been great. At mid-afternoon under the blazing sun, though, it was pleasant background noise.
Later in the night, as the sun started to set, Built to Spill took the stage and reminded everyone why it's one of the more well-respected live acts around. The band started its 75-minute set in a mellow way, with some breezy, Pacific Northwest-styled indie-rock. (The band's not the "Death Cab for Cutie of beard-rock" for nothing.) As is its wont, though, Built to Spill soon cranked up the snarling guitars to augment its moody, '80s alt-rock vibes and pure pop undercurrents.
Vocalist/guitarist Doug Martsch - whose trembling voice always quavers on the edge of pleading, in a charming way -- dedicated a song to his mom (who he said was in the crowd?) and repeatedly joked that the band had too many songs for its timeslot. (Really, with seven studio albums under its belt, Built to Spill could have played for hours more.) Highlights included "Twin Falls" (which was popularized by Ben Folds Five), "Kicked It in the Sun" and a set-closing "Carry the Zero." The band's difficult to pigeonhole - it's not sprawling enough for jam-band fans, not traditional enough for pop fiends and not abstract enough for noiseniks. But its songwriting is impeccable and inventive - and that came through most at LouFest.