By Melinda Cooper
LouFest is finally happening! With 40-some acts converging on St. Louis' Forest Park for the two-day festival, St. Louis' music fans have plenty to keep them singing and dancing throughout the weekend.
RFT Music has several operatives in the field, watching and listening and cataloging and reviewing the festivities for you, dear readers. Click here to see our full coverage!
Although the group was just here not long ago, I have never seen Washed Out live, not for a lack of interest. There's this endearing and ever-present theme with their sound, akin to that moment when the girl gets the guy at the end of a John Hughes movie, circa 1987. I prepared myself for a laptop-band situation for this set, as all I knew of the band is that it is mainly Ernest Greene, singer/songwriter/producer, doing everything. I was not right about this.
Imagine looking into the input hole of a loop pedal, or maybe lifting the lid to some sort of synth-pop music box and watching the gears grind, working hard to showcase the sum of their parts. It was so different from what I knew Washed Out to be that it felt very exposed and very much like a completely different band.
In addition to the shock of this five-person effort, there was also my immediate environment to consider. Clouds of marijuana smoke wafted through the air as a large cardboard cat head bounced up and down on a pole as clusters of future lawyers, accountants and IT guys danced shirtless and barefoot throughout the duration of the set. "Surreal" doesn't even quite explain it.
Overall, Washed Out was more than just right: It was perfect. The bass held down the roots with small bits of flair while crunchy guitars carried the melody on beyond the singing. We all watched as Greene's creations manifested themselves as real-life living things, one whole from five parts, with huge swells that led to the comfort and familiarity one would expect from a group that defines its sound as "chillwave."
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The 1975 was the only game in town when its members took the stage at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, with no other bands scheduled to play during that slot. I'm pretty sure the bulk of the Loufest crowd would have migrated over to that particular stage regardless. These four guys in this indie rock band from Manchester, England, know how to get people to move, even with no major hooks, no complicated compositions and overall no real musical money shots. Maybe it's the eager-to-please kicks on the quarters, or maybe it's the mad-mod haircuts. There's no way to know for sure.
At no point during the set was I not surrounded by people bouncing and freaking out. The girl to my left was lifted into the air only to promptly fell down four rows up during the middle of "So Far (It's Alright)." A few minutes later the girl to my right vomited into her hand, then got right back into the groove, rinsing her mouth out with the same lukewarm Budweiser that was likely the root of the problem in the first place.
There's a certain air of cheesy-Gap-ad mixed with new school sincerity that totally works for the 1975. Unfortunately, the band's recordings don't really do the live show justice. If I had to make comparisons, I would say it's like watching Noel and Liam Gallagher's sensitive, less hooky little brothers. Frontman Matt Healy struts across the stage with all the metro moxy of Placebo's Brian Molko, while drummer George Daniel holds down the very simple, very comfortable Chvrches-esque beats.
The members of the band did all the rock star things. They chugged champagne, they cussed in the microphones, they said "St. Louis" several times and they coordinated their outfits. Mostly what I gathered from this set is that this band makes everybody really, really happy, including me.
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I hadn't thought about this band for about 100 years until I saw Bo and the Locomotive kill a Cake cover set at An Undercover Weekend a couple of years ago. I'd kind of written the group off as a late '90s cheap thrill. But hey, the group apparently has enough staying power to play late on the bill for Loufest -- why not check it out?
I happened to run into some random friends just as the set was starting, one of whom was hit in the head by a flying Cake-fan shoe, and two others who were thrilled when "their song," "Stickshifts and Safetybelts," came early on in the set. This set the tone for the whole performance for me.
The next hour came with all the things one would expect from a Cake performance. John McCrea's signature deadpan vocals and Vincent DiFiore's smartass, unapologetically tinny trumpet blended perfectly with the group's pitchy guy harmonies and lazy hip-hop beats. Two different backward ballcap bros were half-humping their girlfriends to the beat of "Frank Sinatra" on either side of me while parents lifted their kids up on their shoulders to soak in the full Cake experience.
The band played some from Prolonging the Magic, Comfort Eagle and several from their ultra-popular Fashion Nugget. Its members had no problem getting some call-and-response action going with the crowd, but when they played their fourth consecutive song from their most recent, least-known album Showroom of Compassion, the crowd began to dwindle. After a long day of festivaling, everybody seemed tired and/or drunk, and there just wasn't enough sincere energy coming from the stage to sustain.
The swagger and sway was there, but it felt somewhat like the heart was missing. Not to say that this performance didn't probably satisfy steadfast Cake fans, but mostly just to say that this seemed like an act from a band who might have been just a little bored with the situation.
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