Summerfest Day 2: Never mind Kanye, here’s REO Speedwagon
- 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
A lot has changed on the Summerfest grounds since last year’s Big Gig. The first thing that greets patrons entering from the north is a new Wendy’s stand, and the south gates have been moved to make way for a shiny, new box office and sparkling restrooms. Even the giant guitar/piano/drum setup has been transplanted and surrounded by oddly clean new blacktop. “Don’t tell me they’ve taken away the giant screen at the U.S. Cellular Stage where I can distract concertgoers with my dumb text messages!” you’re thinking to yourself. Relax; it’s still there.
Pezzettino certainly seemed happy to be up on that particular stage, and Margaret Stutt’s peculiar stage act was more likely than most to keep the audience’s attention on the band instead of on texting. The welcoming hometown crowd wasn’t up for much dancing, but folks were dialed in for “You Never Know,” as well as a great new song about “the citadel of New York.” If the accordion is ever going to be integrated into heavy metal, Stutt will be the one to play it.
A curious thing happened a short time later: Funeral Party was scheduled to perform, but instead, out came Chicago guitar-and-drum duo Fort Frances. Nobody in the crowd seemed to notice, and nearly everyone kept to their seats. Whether out of extreme politeness or apathy (it was hard to say), we found ourselves glancing at the text screen too much and decided it was time to leave. Wamsley was playing at the Cascio Stage nearby, and thankfully, Fort Frances wasn’t making enough of a din to compete. No surprise, the sound mix at this small stage was by far the best of anywhere on the grounds, but competing noise from both sides occasionally ruined quieter portions of local artists’ sets. But with nobody playing at the Rock Stage, Wamsley pulled off its mid-’90s-Radiohead act without a hitch.
Next up was Chicago’s Death Ships, who have improved markedly in the past year and a half since we’d last seen them at the Cactus Club. The band has taken its garage-y Americana in a more indie/power-pop direction, and the result is a punchier sound with slick hooks, but still rough around all of the right edges. The guitar interplay worked particularly well, and Jamie Cassedy’s lap steel interludes were impressive.
We caught a bit of Vic And Gab’s set before partaking in some delicious German food courtesy of Usinger’s. (Are Reuben rolls the most perfect festival food ever invented?) If there’s one thing that Summerfest has above all other festivals, it’s the plethora of food, beer, and bathrooms within easy reach, no matter where a person is on the grounds. No need to hike a mile for a portable toilet and a $7 Budweiser. Bellies full, we intended to see something hip and relevant, but some irresistible force was tractor-beaming us toward the Classic Rock Stage. Hey, it’s the 30th anniversary of Hi Infidelity, the album that paved the way for a decade of power ballads. We got our “Keep On Loving You” fix only two songs into REO Speedwagon’s set, and were able to walk away happy.
That wouldn’t be the last classic FM cheese we’d encounter. Back at the Cascio Stage, The Jeanna Salzer Band was kicking out a heartfelt cover of The Outfield’s 1986 hit “Your Love” to a small but enthusiastic group of fans. We couldn’t stay long, though, because the Queen Of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson, was about to start at the Potowatomi Stage. In old-fashioned revue style, her band came out first, rambling through Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” and Link Wray’s “Rumble.” The easy highlight of the set was her 1956 (!) classic “I Gotta Know,” but her heartfelt tribute to Elvis Presley was moving as well, and her cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” worked amazingly well. The influence of Jack White’s invisible hand on the direction of Jackson’s career was evident, but there’s something timeless about rockabilly that makes the modernization of another ’60s pioneer seem appropriate. Jackson was full of energy and warmth, her band was excellent, and the crowd was rapturous.
Before leaving, we saw Panic At The Disco’s encore, an astoundingly faithful cover of Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son,” which seemed appropriate. When frontman Brendon Urie threatened to get naked, however, we decided it was time to go. We even caught wind of the chainsaw solo from Jackyl’s “The Lumberjack” as the sounds of Summerfest faded away: a perfect ending.