While entering, leaving and moving around Summerfest was a chore, the night offered a nice variety of quality acts that made the traffic clusters worthwhile.
After an underwhelming Tuesday night of Summerfest, the festival picked up last night as the grounds swelled with people of all ages. The crowds were massive enough inside the gates, but even before getting in, a line of cars stretched south down Walker’s Point all the way to where on-strike MCTS bus drivers picketed, fittingly enough. While entering, leaving and moving around the crowds was a chore, the night offered a nice variety of quality acts that made the traffic clusters worthwhile.
After grabbing the obligatory beer, the first stop was at the KNE New Music Stage at 7:15 p.m. to see Milwaukee’s Cavewives. Lead singer Michael Marten slithered around the stage without shoes on as the band seared through November’s Led Zeppelin-era, blues rock resurrection Be The Dog. Not a bad way to kick things off.
A delayed start for The Living Statues at the nearby Uline Warehouse meant hightailing it alongside the lakefront path to catch a few songs from Baraboo-based folk group Phox, who played the BMO Harris Pavilion at 8 p.m. The band played tunes from their barely one-year-old self-titled album that earned high praise from the New York Times and NPR. While paying off the casual listeners with earworm single “Slow Motion” halfway through the set, the song before the band set down their instruments and let vocalist Monica Martin sing a pastoral cover J.E. Sunde’s “I Will Smile When I Think Of You” with backing harmonies as the only accompaniment.
Back at the Uline Warehouse, Milwaukee’s The Living Statues were deep into their set of infectious garage rock and broken hearts. The four dashing gents, dressed in black suits, looked to be having quite the time. They had some fun with the crowd—stopping on a dime and holding a still pose for a good minute during “Knockin’,” then later teasing the opening chords of The Strokes’ “Last Nite” only to play one of their own songs. Singer Tommy Shears mentioned that the day marked his 10-year anniversary of attending Summerfest and their performance had come full circle since the first show he saw was on the stage he was currently playing.
Well-worn traveler Brett Newski, a singer-songwriter who’s seemingly always touring across the world, headlined the KNE New Music Stage with some buddies (Jeanna Salzer and Alex Bunke of Bright Kind and Victor Buell IV of Calliope). The troubadour romanced the crowd with weary tales from the road and a welcomed Violent Femmes cover (“Kiss Off”).
A few minutes after 10 p.m. WVTV CW18 representative came out to introduce OK Go on the Uline Warehouse stage (but not before pumping up the crowd with his station’s fall programming that “including all your favorite television shows like The Flash and iZombie”) and when they played the first notes to “Upside Down & Inside Out” confetti burst out of onstage cannons. For a band that grew its audience on attention-grabbing viral music videos, the tiny pieces of paper was the only trick the band had up its sleeve all night, and they’d go back to that well (paper mill?) during almost every song. They did some things you absolutely shouldn’t do at Summerfest—like asking the crowd for questions, which started out rough (“Have you played Chicago lately?”) and didn’t get much better than there (“How many takes for the Rube Goldberg video?” “What about the car video?”). Although, overall OK Go put on a wacky power pop performance that could never impress as much as their highly-choreographed music videos but felt fulfilling nonetheless.
See photos from Summerfest’s eighth night here.
Bonus review! Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
By Sara Trimble
Frontman Alex Ebert channeled his Edward Sharpe persona with a riveting By performance Thursday night. As he hopped around the BMO Harris Pavilion stage and into the crowd asking for song favorites, it became apparent that the band (minus vocalist Jade Castrinos, who wasn’t there for the show) wanted to leave the set list to the audience.
Of course, audience participation meant that “Better Days,” “40 Day Dream,” “Man On Fire,” and “I Don’t Wanna Pray” were all top priority. And “Home” seemed to loop for about ten minutes, much to everyone’s satisfaction.
Ebert was unselfish with the mic, and udience members shared stories of love, heartache and friendship, with a couple of tears being shed in the process. And two of his bandmates got to take a stab at vocals, each proving himself worthy of the spotlight.
“The equation is just about having fun,” Ebert said.
And that’s exactly what the experience was: fun, emotional and trippy, as the big screen live-streamed the performance with hypnotic and electric visuals of the 7-plus-member group.