The Arcs at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville: It came as little surprise after watching The Arcs nearly walk away as the highlight act of the mighty Saturday bill last weekend at Forecastle how closely structured the ensemble was to the band it was born from, The Black Keys.
Obviously, both troupes share guitarist-vocalist Dan Auerbach, which accounts for much of the intersecting styles, from the steadfast pop-soul singing to the deliciously fuzzy guitar breaks that peppered the playing. But the real similarly came in intent and approach.
Ever since the Black Keys expanded their sound on 2010’s “Brothers” album and especially on the 2011 follow-up “El Camino,” their music made the leap from primal blues and boogie to psychedelic soul as it existed in the early 1970s. The Arcs, on their fine 2015 album “Yours, Dreamily” and within this stellar Forecastle set, illuminated that retro soul spirit before detonating it.
The Arcs’ twin guitar/twin drum charge emerged full blown on the show opening “Velvet Ditch.” The sharp, angular guitar hooks defined the sound, but so did a pop sensibility that sustained the groove. The sound was fleshed out further once the all female Mariachi Flor de Toloache joined in to ignite the swirling mix of soul chants, jagged guitar and ensemble might during the very Black Keys-esque “Pistol Made of Bones.” Although the trio added flourishes of guitar, violin and trumpet to the cross-cultural soundscape, it was as a vocal team that they figured most prominently, especially during the bright percolating soul stride of “Stay in My Corner.”
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Curiously, it was on a pair of mid-set cover tunes — the 1971 Undisputed Truth single “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and its pollination of fusion-esque orchestration and urban soul urgency, and the sly 1964 hullabaloo cool of The Blue Rondos’ “Little Baby” and the way it erupted into a Bo Diddley-style guitar strut — that best affirmed Auerbach’s encyclopedic command of the pop-soul caverns from which the music of The Arcs and, to an extent, The Black Keys, emerged.
Next to the evening’s volcanic finale by Alabama Shakes, this was the most fun, inventive and musically engaging set of the 10 acts I caught during Forecastle’s Saturday shindig.