On September 19th and 20th, central Madison played host to the inaugural Forward Music Fest. Prior to the fest we cooked up a little pre-show guide. Seven venues, two days, and seventy-two bands later, we feel ready to digest our experience.
Overall the fest was a success. Things were well-organized, technical snafus seemed to be at a minimum, and the promoters were quick on their feet, making last minute decisions to push back showcases to prevent overlap with headliners Neko Case and Mason Jennings. The shows M|H stopped by were well-attended but not overly crowded, making for an enjoyable show-going experience.
Though the scales definitely tipped toward satisfaction for most of the concert-goers, there were two complaints popped up a few times over the course of the weekend. One was that Project Lodge and the High Noon Saloon were just far enough away to be annoying and inconvenient enough to trek back and forth from unless you wanted to see more than one band. The other was that the VIP badges that were to be “created by a local artist” appeared to be stock photos photoshopped into a general template and run off on colored paper. Ten-dollar objets d’art they were not.
The good thing for Forward Music Fest is that when it comes down to the music, Madison couldn’t have asked for more.
Though we fully stand by the M|H Guide to Forward Music Fest, we decided to ignore much of our own advice and check out some new stuff. Live vicariously through us on this chronological journey.
Opening for Neko Case, this 4-piece somehow blended lounge, jazz, and honky-tonk without sounding like an iPod on the fritz. Though I wouldn’t go out of my way to see them again, frontman Howe Gelb’s Shawn Mullins-as-William Shatner persona kept me from repeatedly checking my watch as I lay in waited for Ms. Case.
Neko Case somehow managed to exceed all expectations. Her voice is even more magical in person than on record. Her band was tight, and her backup vocalist could easily stand on her own. The band played a lengthy set, and easily made FMF’s $40 passes worth it. Keep an eye out for Case’s new album, Middle Cyclone, in March.
Much like Case, Monotonix went above and beyond what I could have hoped for. When previewing their music I was generally underwhelmed, but the promised spectacle led me to their show. Much to my delight, the band actually sounded rather good, and their ‘stage’ show didn’t let you take your eyes off them for one second. I use the term stage loosely in that the band preferred to play down in the pit, run throughout the venue, and perch from the balcony as opposed to playing from the actual stage. Things were best summed up in my notes where I scrawled, “[this is the] craziest shit I’ve ever seen.”
LESLIE & THE LYS
Blame Leslie Hall’s booty for all the rump-shakin’ going on during her set. Texas mom hair, gold lame, and neon fringe served Hall’s 80s-dance-move-busting self well whether she was rotating in a harness or extolling the wonders of the Bedazzler.
Deacon’s super-posi electro beats riled the Majestic as he roused the crowd into group participation and hypnotized them with the neon-green flashing skull that hung above his massive mixing rig.
Night two headliner Jennings played a good mix of songs in his signature style, including some oldies like “Butterfly” and new material inspired by his recent trip to Chile such as the song “Black”. In the words of one attendee, the song “sounds like Al Gore asked Johnny Cash to write a song about the environment.” Though the newer material didn’t seem to be as popular as older cuts, the set was by and large fun and energetic.
STARS LIKE FLEAS
For me, Stars Like Fleas was a total miss. Slow and boring, it seemed like the band was too far back in their own heads striving for avant garde and approaching things from performance as art rather than performance as music. Also, their weird structure and odd aesthetic made it difficult to tell whether they were off-beat and off-key on purpose or by accident. The end of the set had some beautiful elements, but the overall experience left much to be desired.
I only caught the end of their set, but the Madison-based band offered up an alt-country sound that could appeal to fans of Ryan Adams, Gavin DeGraw, and everyone in between.
Solid Midwestern rock. Their Minneapolis roots shine through in their sound, nodding at acts like The Replacements and Motion City Soundtrack.
THAO WITH THE GET DOWN STAY DOWN
Probably my favorite find of the fest. I’d never listened to TWTGDSD before seeing their set, and I was immediately endeared. Talented and teeming with stage presence, the set was all-around awesome. Quirky indie-pop and whisky-fueled swagger met to create a near-perfect live show. Don’t miss them if they come your way.
The only drawback to Thao’s set was that it ran almost completely to the end of Flosstradamus’s. I did catch a couple tracks and saw the mash-up kings work the crowd. An excellent way to cap off the weekend.