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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: June 5, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

    Review: Forbidden Fruit – Day Three

    Laurence Mackin

    Day three was all change – there was a change in the temper and the tone of the musical line-up, but much more important was the dramatic change in the weather. The sun burst upon Kilmainham, and the muddy stretches and slippery slopes of Sunday night were transformed by Monday afternoon into dusty, solid ground and grassy hills, perfect for passing away a rock-oriented afternoon of musical magic.

    Throughout the festival, those who made it in early were rewarded with some cracking performances, but Chairlift put in an exceptional shift. All eyes were on lead singer Caroline Polachek, who seemed to seduce everyone in the tent with a magnetic performance (and who says leather trousers aren’t cool?), backed by a band firing on all synth-pop-rock cylinders. This was an absolute belter and anyone who wandered into the tent towards the end was left rueing that they may have missed one of the best performances of the entire festival. Come back soon then, yes?

    Back on the main stage, a large crowd was getting sucked into summer afternoon somnambulance as Andrew Bird let loose with his sun-splashed tunes. The multi-instrumentalist’s songs have plenty of folky charm that draws a blanket over their complexity, and it was perfect fodder for those looking to gently ease themselves into a third afternoon of music. Had this set happened in the drizzle of the weekend, it would have taken a tenacious band of hardcore fans to muster a decent atmosphere, but in these circumstances, Bird got a great reception and no doubt won more than a few new fans with an upbeat, musically adept performance.

    Back on the Undergrowth stage, Liars were unleashing their dark, ragged industrial electro rock in sheets of unrelenting volume and bass. The band have a tendency to shroud everything they do in mystique, and have just released their new album, WIXIW, which band member Angus Andrew describes as “a familiar and universal sentiment of longing and hope, but when misspelt becomes uniquely shrouded and difficult to interpret, which in many ways is representative of our music and the songs we wrote for this album … the word being a palindrome offered us some comfort, and came from superstitious behaviour that was the result of extreme uncertainty and doubt. The word and spelling struck us because it seemed to exude a special quality or power.”

    Personally, I’m unconvinced by their music, and muddy sound did them no favours here. They certainly attack their set and their instruments with energy and commitment, but more craft in the writing and slicker playing would pay better dividends, and with the largely excellent standard of electro fare on offer throughout the weekend, Liars’ set came up short.

    Beirut have a fine festival reputation, and for good reason. The band’s folksy set up of horns, double bass and accordion with a more standard rock and roll line up is a sure fire slow burn that wins around a crowd, particularly when the audience can bask in the cheery, brassy energy bouncing off the stage and into the blue skies. So many bands at Forbidden Fruit drove an atmosphere with electronic beats and swathes of bass, but Beirut bossed a crowd into happy submission through pure musicality and gifted, elegant songwriting. On record there is a quiet melancholy to their music, but live its rhythmic textures take over and, hell, it makes a wry old time of it. A pleasure to listen to on a main stage setting and guaranteed to raise a crowd of smiles and whoops of approval.

    There were few men happier to see the sun shining than James Vincent McMorrow, who played what must be his biggest show to date on the main stage, and delivered an utterly charming performance. McMorrow took his time between songs, and had more than a few gambles, none more so than going to solo piano and vocals to play Steve Winwood’s Higher Love – but it paid off handsomely, and had all eyes on the stage. It was easy to see with this performance alone why McMorrow’s star has risen so rapidly, and as he moved between delicate beauty and upbeat rugged ensemble numbers, he proved his ascendancy is far from finished.

    If it was charm from a frontperson you wanted, then Mazzy Star’s set was the wrong place to be – but then anyone who knows anything about the arch-miserabilists was hardly expecting lead singer Hope Sandoval to break into a dance routine. That said, her almost wilful refusal to acknowledge the audience in any capacity grated on more than a few nerves.

    But people don’t come to see Mazzy Star to be charmed. They come to lose themselves in mountains of shoegazey noise, churned up from fuzzy guitars and eerie sound effects, intricate drum work and the unmistakable dreaminess of Sandoval’s vocal. And when the band played the closest thing they have to a mainstream hit, the four chords of bliss and beauty that is Fade Into You, their lo-fi fans all but melted with pleasure. At that stage Sandoval could have slapped the front row in the face and they would still have asked for more – an encore was duly demanded, and they were one of the only bands to deliver it.

    And then it was time for the headliners of Sunday night, bluesy rock specialists Wilco, who can always rely on their expert musicianship, deeply impressive songwriting, Jeff Tweedy’s distinctive vocal, and that guitar playing by Nels Cline to ensure a decent crowd. The shift in music programming between this festival’s first and last days also marked a shift in age group, with what seemed like most of Dublin’s 35+ male music fans making the trip to Kilmainham to worship at the Wilco festival altar. The band didn’t disappoint, producing a feel good fiery set of rock, and tweaking subtly with their arrangements and familiar tunes to deliver something new and fresh even after almost 20 years of recording and playing music.

    If you left Wilco early, there was enough time to catch the closing set of the evening from electro rock band Chromatics, who were more indicative of what was generally on offer at this fantastic little festival. This band have been on the make for more than 10 years and the chaotic nature of their earlier work has resolved itself into something altogether more considered and powerful. The band sent the festival off in fairly spectacular style, a real treat for those who stuck it out to the very end. This bass heavy electro blitz hypnotised the last pack of music fans before blowing them away with surges of polished pop explosions, and a tricksy cover of Neil Young’s Hey Hey, My My was an unexpected parting shot.

    This was a terrific set that energised a crowd enough to have plenty of people talking about hitting up the last after party, a free gig in the Button Factory by Le Galaxie and Little Green Cars.

    All in all, this was a fantastic festival. Facilities and queues were almost never a problem, and even two days of cold and rain couldn’t dent the warm atmosphere in Kilmainham. Getting to and from the site was a breeze, clever curating gave each day a different tone and flavour, and the addition of the cheap or free aftershows in the city centre meant the party didn’t have to stop once Kilmainham went dark.

    Forbidden Fruit never seemed so tempting.

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