"You guys like sad songs in the sunshine, right?" Cory Chisel asked the crowd before beginning "So Wrong For Me," three songs into the Wandering Sons' late-afternoon set. The song was quiet and acoustic, and it only became sweeter and sadder when Adriel Harris' backing vocals and synths -- which sounded like pulls on violin strings -- joined.
The Appleton, Wisconsin-based musician didn't linger too long on what he referred to as "lullaby type" songs, but moved into a darker mixture of soul and folk. Chisel introduced "Angel of Mine" with a story of how a couple of fans played it at their wedding, but that it's actually "a song about murdering someone you love." (He wished the couple luck.) Indeed, the swampy bass and slightly unhinged skittering organ cast a black spell over what might have been a simpler honky-tonk tune.
From his rasp-twinged voice to his dark hair, slim stature and old-fashioned banded hat, Chisel reminded one of an unfussy Jakob Dylan. The comparison resonated especially when Chisel played "Never Meant to Love You," a song he wrote while drunk and making up new lyrics to Bob Dylan songs. Chisel threw in his nasally Dylan impression (everybody has one), but with lines like "I never meant to take you to the party that night," "I can feel the blood rushing under your skin," and chorus, "I never meant to love you, but it's too late now," his interpretation of modern love stands on its own.
After highlight "Born Again," Chisel commented that this was "the quietest, most respectful and sober-looking festival crowd." If St. Louis gets the chance to see the Wandering Sons again - say, at someplace like Off Broadway - Chisel may see how raucous this town's music fans can be.
The Fruit Bats started off early with "The Ruminant Band," which sounded like an update of '70s AM Gold. With jangly guitars, Eric D. Jonson's high, winding voice and what someone nearby referred to as "Velvet Underground drone," this is the sound of beardy and pleasant post-folk.
The five-piece out of Chicago/Portland drew mostly from its fourth album, 2009's Ruminant Band, in a set that mixed pedal steel, a little surf guitar and laid-back indie sensibilities. The band drew out the songs, allowing easy-going country shuffles such as "The Blessed Breeze" to move from Guster earthiness into a mini-Broken Social Scene tornado.
Johnson closed the show solo with "Singing Joy to the World," a pretty, wistful song with storyteller details that the crowd loved. For fans of indie folk, no matter the decade or genre the band is sampling, there's no substitute for good lines -- and Johnson delivered.
Fruit Bats setlist: Primi (Primitive Man) Rumi (The Ruminant Band) Goosey (Tegucigalpa) Canyon (Canyon Girl) When U Love Somebody Bitta Blessed (The Blessed Breeze) Union (Union Blanket) Wharf
Flamingo Unusual (My Unusual Friend) Singing Joy to the World (Eric Johnson solo) (not on written set list)