Summerfest Day 2: Frankie Flowers, Klassik, and Talib Kweli
- MONDO LUCHA! celebrates fifth anniversary in high-flying style at Turner Hall
- David Sedaris goes off book, shines at Pabst Theater
- Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck offer glimpses of greatness at Riverside Theater
- John Hodgman, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman give Pabst Theater three shows for price of one
- Top 5 musical moments from Kenosha’s 2013 Ride of the Living Dead
If local rock bands have historically had a hard time at Summerfest, try being a local hip-hop act. Hip-hop and the Big Gig have always made for strange bedfellows, with Summerfest brass typically sticking to the same roster of predictable big-name acts (Atmosphere, Lupe Fiasco) instead of looking for anything remotely daring. But give credit where credit’s due: Summerfest has been giving local hip-hop groups some terrific top-shelf slots over the past few years, especially on the equally top-shelf Harley-Davidson stage. 2011 saw Milwaukee’s own Prophetic opening for Wiz Khalifa on the Harley stage, while 2012 found AUTOMatic opening for Common. Thursday night at Summerfest 2013, Milwaukee’s Frankie Flowers and Klassik both found themselves on the Harley stage—Talib Kweili would headline later that night—with both finding various degrees of Big Gig success.
Flowers has been releasing a new (and free) song every day online for the past month or so, and his impressive work ethic was on full display during his sometimes spot-on, sometimes meandering set. Playing to a too-small (but dedicated) crowd, the local MC used his time as more of a storytelling session than a proper show, switching between nimble socially conscious rap and ramblings about love and personal identity. But when Flowers did play, it was hard not to get sucked in. Local jazz outfit Three Stacks Eliot served as his backing band, giving songs like the excellent “Don’t Give Up” a visceral kick.
Klassik, meanwhile, has been riding high on the local critical acclaim of his 2012 album In The Making. The record’s ambitious production is only matched by the rapper’s live band: three female backup singers; three violin players, one DJ; and one guitar player. Unfortunately, the crowded stage led to a show (and more specifically, a sound) that felt similarly overstuffed. Promising an impressively large crowd a “crash course” in In The Making, Klassik opened with the second track of the album, “Running 2.” But when the time came for the beat to drop, little happened; whether by sound issue or design, the beat was lost in the mix and barely audible, leaving the crowd a bit lost at sea. Klassik’s vocals, meanwhile (and the vocals of his backup singers), were extremely high in the mix. The beat vs. vox ratio eventually evened itself out around the time the rapper launched into the terrific “Forever Whatever,” but what played as acerbic on record continually came off as loose and shambling live. Still, the vibe was a good fit for Klassik’s dense and jittery art-rap—his songs aren’t exactly party jams—and it was thrilling to watch him continually run from one end of the stage to the other, barely in control of his body. That lack of control, however, didn’t serve his music quite as well. [Matt Wild]
The title of Talib Kweli’s new Prisoner of Conscious is sort of a loaded one, alluding rather pointedly to both his vocal left-leaning politics as well as his frustration with being pigeonholed, presumably unfairly, into a genre which he did much to define. The release does find the rapper stepping outside his comfort zone towards a more contemporary, commercial feel, but the title suggests his tendency to tell rather than show, to spell it all out for you. And besides, if Kweli’s been put in a box, it’s one of his own construction. He’s still an excellent MC, and he proved that Thursday night at Summerfest, but sometimes you just feel like he’s trying too hard to be this or that.
But again, when the beat is kicking and he’s doing his thing on the mic, it’s easy to forget about all that. He sounded fresh and energized on the new material, like “Push Through” and “Upper Echelon”, older stuff such as the Kanyne West produced “Get By” from his 2002 solo debut Quality, and even the obligatory nod to Blackstarr’s “RE: DEFinition”. But while he put on a good show, the real story here is probably the fact that nobody turned up, at least by Summerfest standards. The crowd was thick as thieves for Dropkick Murphys and even REO Speedwagon, but at Talib Kweli, you could’ve taken your pick of empty picnic tables to drunkenly dance on, were you so inclined. [Thomas Michalski]