CAGE THE ELEPHANT
The first show we went to was Cage the Elephant. They were loud, obnoxious, young and pretty ragged, sound-wise. Of course, that fits their punkish persona and it worked well. The lead singer told us he was spaced out on pain pills due to a tooth extraction a couple days previous, but it didn't show. He was nuts, all over the stage and screaming his lungs out. We listened to about 8 songs, including "In One Ear," "Around My Head" and "Aberdeen" before departing to catch the end of Everclear's set the next stage down.
I'll never claim to be a huge fan of Art Alexakis and company, but I did enjoy several of their songs from the late 90's and early 00's. I can't say Everclear sounded especially enthused Friday night, but the band was tight and Art's voice sounded good. It was a greatest hits set-list, thankfully leaving out some of their dreadful cover songs. Curiously, their sound was a lot lower than other bands we heard and the mix was kind of flat. Still, they did a solid job with favorites like "Wonderful," "Everything to Everyone" and "Santa Monica," which Art said had bought him a couple of houses and a couple of divorces.
We took a beer break after Everclear, not caring to journey back down to see MGMT or B.o.B. and far from enthused by Slightly Stoopid. However, Stone Temple Pilots, the night's headliner was after the aforementioned stoner band, so we eventually pushed our way through beardy hippies and smoke-clouds to get a good spot for STP. While obviously a musically talented band, as evidenced by a couple of rocking songs, including a spot-on cover of Nirvana's "Territorial Pissings," Slightly Stoopid stuck to the Sublime-meets-jam band sound that they've obviously built their career on. I'm sure for tokers and diehards, the band is great, but I didn't care for their set at all.
STONE TEMPLE PILOTS
I'm an unabashed fan of STP. They weren't exactly on my "must see bands" list, but still, I don't see them as the faux-grunge garbage band as many rock snobs do. I didn't know what to expect from the recently re-formed group, given Scott Weiland's sketchy history on and off-stage. I'm happy to say they rocked Tom Lee Park. Sprinkling three songs from their newest self-titled album in with a ton of hits like "Plush" and "Interstate Love Song," STP was tight as they could be and sounded great. Scott Weiland was pleasantly weird, dancing around like tribesman by a fire and interjecting odd statements and prayers at a moment's notice. And despite a couple of audience members trying to bait him into a meltdown, he maintained his composure and vocals throughout. I'd have to count them among the best live hard-rock bands I've seen.
True to the rep of the Beale Street Music Festival, the rain came Saturday. Not much, but it continued a streak.
This was my first highly anticipated artist of the festival and Paul did not disappoint. He was funny, humble, soulful and a helluva entertainer. Peppering in self-deprecating jokes and homespun wisdom, Paul had the crowd engaged for the full set. Besides being a great singer and songwriter, he came across as a genuinely down-to-earth guy with an almost innocent appreciation for the attention he was being given and the artists he was sharing the stage with. His set included my favorite of his, "Love Scar," along with others like "A Lot of Good Reasons" and "I Have a Good Day." He and his band tore the place down with the rollicking closer "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand," leaving everybody wanting more than an hour and a half festival show could give us.
JERRY LEE LEWIS
Do I really need to write anything else besides his name? The man's a freaking legend. While frail of body, a bit weak of voice and fairly rambling between tunes, The Killer put on an awesome show, proving there's still plenty of fire in the tank. He did all the favorites, a few classic covers and, of course, he ended with "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin'." He even summoned up the strength to do his trademark "playing while standing up" towards the end. Wonderful and unforgettable.
MUMFORD AND SONS
The band sounded great, performing nearly their entire debut album along with 2 or 3 new songs from the album they're about to record. They were tight as hell and very engaging with the crowd. Their performance is not so much the story here as their audience. It was by far the biggest crowd of the entire event, massive even. A friend of mine who'd seen Dave Matthews Band at Beale a few years ago said it was far larger than DMB's audience. Also, the crowd seemed to know every word and reacted to the songs like The Beatles themselves were on stage. I had no idea they were so popular. In a day and age of segmented tastes and fan-bases, this was the one act that seemed to bring everyone together. We'll see how that holds up in the fickle wind of pop culture.
Lucinda was in great voice and her band was tight. Her song selection, however, mirrored my general impression of her most recent work… it was tepid for the most part. She did "Joy," "Can't Let Go" and "Buttercup," among others, which I enjoyed. The rest was fairly bland; certainly not providing much excitement. I wasn't thrilled with the set.
John sounded awesome and his band was even better. They were thoroughly impressive. The theme of his set seemed to be flipping songs on their heads. The songs from his recent stripped-down album were played with bombast and vigor by the full band, bringing life to tunes that to me were just okay on record. The hits were played either stripped down or with completely new arrangements. It was very cool. The crowd ate it up, and John was funny and conversational. A side-note: I saw the well-known liberal and environmentalist the next day climbing into a massive black SUV to leave his 5-star hotel :).
The rain came in sheets Sunday, and the river was up another foot or so, now lapping at the sidewalks just beyond the side retaining walls of the park. Despite the weather and the impending flooding, the festival thankfully went on mostly as scheduled.
Farce the Music's house band started without the benefit of a soundcheck due to a tornado warning earlier. I and my listening party had hunkered down in a trolley stop, but we made it safely, but muddily to the concert on time. Ben Nichols admitted the sound was a "clusterf*ck" but it really wasn't bad at all. They were as solid as ever despite the lack of preparation and the weather-diminished crowd. They ran through what Ben termed as "our greatest hits…. or at least uh, local favorites" including "My Tears Don't Matter Much" and "Sixes and Sevens." They also threw in one new tune that will be on their next record called "Women and Work." It was even more in the Memphis R&B direction than most of the songs on their last release. Good stuff. Horn section and everything. Lucero NEVER disappoints.
Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of Gregg nor the Allman Brothers, but this was a nice show. He performed solo tunes and legendary favorites alike, including "Just Another Rider," "Whipping Post" and an especially moving rendition of "Melissa."
Some girls started mud-sliding during the end of Allman's show. It was very entertaining and some people even started a tip cup for them.
THE AVETT BROTHERS
Another huge crowd for another hot band. The Avetts were loose, loud and awesome. The longest soundcheck I've ever endured yielded the best sounding set of the weekend. Seriously, I'm a fan, but The Avetts blew me away. They were energetic and lively and the crowd ate it up. Selections included "Shame," "Will You Return?," the Prine cover "Spanish Pipedream" and the lovely closer "I and Love and You." If you like bluegrass or newgrass or indie-folk, you owe it to yourself to catch the bros. Killer, killer show! (Another side-note: During the set, the crowd gasped as a river boat rolled by virtually right beside us - see photo.)
I'm assuredly on the Farrar side of the Jay or Jeff argument. However, Wilco this Sunday night made me stand up and realize the utter talent of the more commercially successful splinter of Uncle Tupelo. They were amazing. Forgive me for not knowing the guitarist's name, but he was stunningly good. I've seen some 80 live acts in my life and I'd count him as the best guitar player I've ever seen live (ahead of the likes of Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Kirk Hammett). Wilco, despite a nearly 7 month break from playing live, confidently crushed a set that included "Shot in the Arm," "Monday," "Jesus, etc." and probably the best tune I've ever seen played live, "Impossible Germany." I'm not a big fan of the band's recent releases, but I'm now a huge fan of Wilco. Tweedy was great, in excellent voice and in harmony with the crowd. His best between-song line of the night was regarding the scent of barbecue and sausage wafting through the air, "We may become the anti-Morrisey after this. We won't play a show unless we smell burning meat." All hail Wilco.
Jeff Tweedy and crew