By Rachel Casey
This year’s Forecastle Festival boasted a lot of hometown bands (and Louisville has plenty to choose from), but I think few represent the city quite so well as the folk-rock ensemble Houndmouth.
Over the past year of casual listening to their first album, From the Hills Below the City, the group’s sophomore outing Little Neon Limelight had me sold on their unique mix of roots, rock, and varied vocals. What I find most appealing about the band is their versatility; their sound is one that will never leave you thinking you may have heard that song before. Yet that led to one of my biggest fears going in – can they translate such variety into an interesting and cogent live show?
I should never have doubted them. They opened with my favorite single from their new album, “Black Gold,” followed by a couple of their more upbeat songs to snag the audience’s attention. Then they took it down a notch with “Palmyra,” a slower tune that stood out because of its simplicity. Next up was the groovy, blues-inspired “Casino (Bad Things)” to get the crowd dancing and singing again. The whole show continued like this, alternating more up-tempo songs with slower ones, a repetitive but effective method for showcasing the variety that I was talking about earlier.
What struck me the most about this show, and what made it one of my favorites all weekend, was the way the group was able to connect with the crowd. Playing a hometown show is always special (Houndmouth is from New Albany, IN but claims “Louisville is really more of our home, you guys have been so good to us.”), but this one had a little something extra to it. The audience was huge, one of the largest I’ve seen for the Boom Stage at Forecastle, and nearly everyone was engaged in the set, most even singing along. The vocals from Matt Myers and Katie Toupin seemed to cut more clearly through the muggy Louisville air than they do on record as the sun set behind them on the Ohio River.
Houndmouth’s hour and a quarter set felt like a lightning-in-a-bottle moment; good people listening to good music in the city that brought them together in the first place. They closed with a cover of Dion’s “Runaround Sue” that they’ve been performing throughout their tour, leaving the audience with a perfect end to Friday evening (Sam Smith’s headlining set was cut short an hour later due to the threat of severe weather). I think this performance solidifies Houndmouth as more than just one of Louisville’s most successful musical products – they’re a group with the potential to be anything they want to be.