Two very different bands took the stage to bring Summerfest 2015 to a close.
There goes another year of Summerfest. In a flash, the 11-day festival concluded Sunday night, leaving behind a trail of empty beer cups, cashed vaping pens and plates that once held Saz’s delicious deep-fried combo platter. Summerfest is continually praised for its musical polarity so it was fitting that the final night featured two bands that couldn’t be more different.
The Championship settled into its roots rocking chair on the porch (err, the KNE New Music Stage) at 9 p.m. The performance counteracted the band’s shimmering guitars by staying mostly in gloomy places. Singer Joe Crockett frequently delved into themes of alcoholism, small town struggle, and heartbreak. While the mood remained grave, the dark brooding folk tunes seemed to resonate with the toe-tappin’ crowd. The band, which hasn’t put out an album since 2012’s majestic High Feather, picked from across its three album catalog, offering up a good primer on one of Milwaukee’s most seasoned Americana bands.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum was SmashMouth, the 10 p.m. Miller Lite Oasis headliner. Before the show, curiosity spread on how the crowd would handle singer/party-dad Steve Harwell, who chastised an audience that kept throwing bread onstage at a street festival in Fort Collins, Colo., a few weeks ago. But there were no food fight incidents or heckling. In fact, even though many complained beforehand about the lack of popular songs, many younger fans were surprised that SmashMouth actually had such a bevy of radio staples and a back pocket stuffed with solid covers.
Harwell, sporting dyed blonde hair, sunglasses and a sleeve tattoo, emerged after a hard rock intro (that started with a drum solo, for some reason) to sing Astro Lounge closer “Can’t Get Enough of You, Baby,” which might seem mighty presumptuous sung any later in the set. After a three-song run of lesser-knowns, Smash Mouth livened up spirits with 2001’s self-titled single “Pacific Coast Party” and a ska rendition of War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” from critically-acclaimed debut, Fush Yu Mang. A few minutes later, a direct homage to Henry Winkler’s Happy Days character seemed to go past everyone’s head at first, but they eventually picked it up during the second verse of Harwell repeating “’Cause you’re the fonz/ You’re the fonz.” Smash Mouth would throw in two satisfying Kinks covers, as well, “All Day And All of the Night” and “You Really Got Me.”
You’d think that if there was one song that everyone came to sing along to it would be 1999’s ubiquitous radio hit “All Star.” But based on the green painted bodies, small green ears, and the giant inflatable green monster in the crowd, it was obvious that Smash Mouth’s lasting popularity will be a song that appeared in Shrek. Everyone lost their collective minds when the first notes were hit to their cover of the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer.” If “All Star” hadn’t come on immediately following, there might even have been a drastic loss in attendance. But nonetheless, it’s hard not to believe that Smash Mouth changed a lot of younger minds last night with its oft-forgotten hits. Next time they roll through town, expectations will certainly be higher.