Sunday’s Monsoon at Forecastle 2013: Purity Ring, The Forecastle Incident and Robert Plant

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Sundays are the parts of music festivals caught in a calendar limbo. The die hards are trucking through head pounding Sunday morning hangovers and those with regular jobs are busy trying to cram in as much music as they can before hitting the cubicle on Monday morning. Some are already calling in sick to avoid returning to cube life. Things are all wrapping up, trying to pull the knot on top of the parcel tight.

Refraining from having all the stops pulled too early, Sunday’s line up comprised heavy weight headliners like Grace Potter and Robert Plant along with supergroup The Forecastle Incident. The Forecastle Incident was the perfect marriage of Grisman worshipping dawg music with its electronic counterpart jazz fusion. Award-winning musicians including Sam Bush and Ronnie McCoury were pickin’ and grinnin’ with a full rhythm section and the String Cheese Incident. In total there were three mandolins, a banjo, guitars, keys, two drummers and a fiddler. It was a musical summit with String Cheese holding the gavel regulating the exchange of musical ideas. Some of the sounds coming from the stage were akin to sounds from the likes of the Mahavishnu Orchestra of the 1970s. It was a once in a lifetime band lineup experiment where the results tested positive for good times and tasty grooves. To make the experience even more unique, Sam Bush revealed a tune he has had in his quiver for over thirteen years, still left there from when he first tried to teach the song to the String Cheese incident long ago. Messianic mandolin-ing erupted into a forward and heavy composition. They finished their set with a cover of Weather Report’s “Birdland,” paying tribute to the legendary jazz fusion phenomenon.

After heading over for a bit of Robert Plant and his Sensational Shape Shifters we were all told to take shelter under the I-64 bridge due to inclement weather. Roadies scrambled to pull black plastic tarps over all of the stage equipment and the LCD screens were lowered. Everyone quickly ran for cover as monsoon style winds and torrential rain fall came down from the heavens. These kinds of happenings at gatherings this large always have a silver lining with how close it brings festival goers together. I must have run into three or four of my friends from town while getting sprayed by sideways style rain and watching crazies bathe in mud puddles. Purity Ring had already begun setting up their stage under the bridge, so I was relieved to hear that everything would be running right on schedule.

Purity Ring has come quite a long way since their festival debut at last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. Since last summer they have been keeping busy by touring almost everywhere, picking up legions of fans as they go. After a high profile set at Bonnaroo, Purity Ring has been picking up even more momentum. This rapid ascension can be reflected in their live energy, going from a grandiose yet meek performance at Pitchfork 2012 to a pounding aural assault at this year’s Forecastle. The production half, mastered by producer Corrin Roddick has filled out, making each of the tones fatter and more resonant. Singer Megan James has obviously spent some time on her singing skills, which have sharpened (and stayed more in key). It’s a rare opportunity to see a band mature so rapidly in a year’s time. While many groups keep a consistent bar of performance quality, Purity Ring has obviously invested a good work into the fundamentals.

The visual aspect of the show is what makes this odd electronic pop duo a pariah in the world of electronic music. Where most groups would be pounding NPCs or working with drum machines, Purity Ring have developed their own instruments around their ethereal sound. Instead of playing on a laptop with an NPC, Roddick uses custom percussive orbs that not only control the sounds but all of the glowing cocoons adorning the stage. Colors change and lights glow alongside the oscillations of the synthesizers as he strikes his trademarked glowing orb instrument. Considering how much tighter the music has become in just a year’s time, who knows what the next visual installment will be like. Perhaps doves being released at the bass drop in Odebear? Whatever they come up with next, I am all for it.

With Purity Ring’s set at a close, it is my time to leave. Still dumbfounded by the fact that this all happened in Lexington’s backyard, the road home will be filled with dreams of next year’s Forecastle.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters

by Alex Sardam

Robert Plant Presents the Sensational Space Shifters jammed out the Mast stage, celebrating both classic Led Zeppelin songs as well as the “sensational” new tunes created by the tight playing band.

Plant’s ability to still hit those Led Zeppelin high notes and carry them out with the demeanor that he did was a pleasant surprise. Something even more surprising is that he and the Space Shifters opened their Sunday set with Zeppelin hit, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.”

The Space Shifters came out first, dressed all in black and took their spots. The monochromatic-looking band stood and played a sweet intro while an insane anticipation built up as every eye on the Waterfront Park awaited the arrival of Plant. Then it happened. The tall, lion-looking man with ferociously wildly, curly blonde locks stepped into the sight of thousands, graciously accepting the blaring applause.

Robert Plant

Plant wasn’t shy at all, telling random anecdotes in between songs. While not all the stories made complete sense, the stories fit into Plant’s image of mega rock star.

“We’re about to give you something you’re never going to forget,” said Plant.

Mid set, the guitarist proceeded to play an intricate solo leading into, “Going to California.” It was a beautiful tribute to the song that had become famous so long ago. While Plant didn’t try to recreate his time with Led Zeppelin in his performances, he didn’t shy away from the fact that he had once been apart of something greater than him.

The clouds began to roll over the intense sun that had burned many bare backs earlier in the day, creating an ominous filter that acted as a very dramatic backdrop to the set of the band. It was almost as if Plant had struck a nerve with the gods of weather, awakening the brew of a great storm.

Robert Plant Presents the Sensational Space Shifters literally rocked the house down-or at least the mesh net attached to the left part of the Mast stage. It wasn’t clear if the tour manager decided to call it quits early because of the unruly precipitation or if it truly was there time to part with the audience. The Sensational Space Shifters obediently took cue from conductor Plant as he nodded with the quick whip of his finger at the conclusion of, “Black Dog.”

It ended all too quickly, much like a dream, but it was a perfect conclusion to an hour of musical bliss.

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