Milwaukee's Whips delivers an excellent performance and Whitesnake was completely over-the-top. Plus: Meg Myers, The Tossers, Flogging Molly and Gogol Bordello.
I’ll admit, even though last night was my first time attending Summerfest this year, nothing about the line-up enticed me—judging by the crowd, this seemed true for others, as well. It was ranked dead last on my Summerfest power rankings, in which I graded each day based on a selection of the bands playing, and that wasn’t really close. The day earned a measly 93 points while the second worst day scored 104 (by comparison, the best day, June 27, had 122). But an unalluring bill and brisk temperatures (upper 50s) Tuesday night proved to be great time to get reacquainted with the festival grounds, as the lack of attendance made cruising from stage to stage a breeze.
The first stop was to see local post-punk four-piece Whips at the KNE New Music Stage, who provided perhaps the best set of the night. Scorching through cuts from last year’s fantastic Turn It On, debut EP Year One and a new slow-burning anthem, Ashley Smith’s fierce vocals and Christen Hansen’s searing guitar cut like glass throughout the night, but especially on the wild go-to set closer “Right On.” The KNE still suffers from sound bleeding from the nearby Uline Warehouse, which was especially bad last night and could possible derail a set that wasn’t as loud as Whips. With the stage becoming more and more popular—there was a big crowd watching Whips—this problem needs to be addressed.
From here on, constant movement seemed like the best plan. At the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, Nashville-by-way-of-L.A. pop star Meg Myers played a bass through the infectious “Adelaide” as girls in their late teens rocked their heads back and forth singing all the lyrics. With only two EPs under her belt, expect Myers to break out in a big way soon. She could be headlining the Marcus Amphitheater in a few years. She already boasts a big following, as closer J. Roddy Walston and The Business drew a paltry crowd. The piano-driven, roots rock band was actually pretty good, in a ramshackle sort of way, but any empathy immediately washed away after spotting the t-shirts at the merch tent were on sale for $35.
Over at the Briggs & Stratton Stage, T. Duggins, lead singer of Celtic punk band The Tossers, took a drag of a cigarette before their version of the classic, fast-paced Irish song “Tell Me Ma.” That scruffiness was certainly appreciated amongst the crowd. Later, a jovial Dave King of Flogging Molly kept things light during his band last show on tour. Before going into Swagger tune “I’m Selfish” the singer said: “Normally, I’d dedicate this song to the guy in the front row with the Mohawk, but I’m going to dedicate this one to myself; because after all, Milwaukee, I’m selfish.”
The gas light on Whitesnake’s car is on and it’s been on for a while. The ‘80s hard rock band headlined the Uline Warehouse and felt like the most out of touch act all night. David Coverdale began and closed the 8-minute opener with indecipherable screeching and spent much of the remainder of the song propping up his mic stand by his, um, mid-section. The whole performance was completely tacky and over-the-top, which, you know, was absolutely the point.
At the BMO Harris Pavilion, Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hütz opened show simply with an acoustic guitar on “Illumination” before the rest of the rag-tag band of ruffians joined in the fun. Their performance is less of a “show” than a big party, one filled with circus tricks and accordions.
Tuesday night of Summerfest probably will never be remembered fondly (or more likely, at all), but it is particularly nice to move around the festival with ease and speed. That way you may stumble upon something new, unexpected and entertaining. Or you may just gaze mouth agape at Whitesnake for a few minutes before quietly moving on.