Summerfest Day 3: Tom Petty, P.O.S., Matt & Kim, and more
- 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
With a dozen or so visits to the Big Gig in the past decade, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers are as Summerfest as they come. “My schedule is free for hours,” Petty told the cheering crowd at the Marcus Amphitheater Friday night as he and the Heartbreakers quickly settled into the familiar surroundings. The band seemed inspired by its recent residencies at cities like New York as they pulled out some deep cuts (“A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)”) in addition to the proven hits (the giant sing-along of “Free Fallin’”). Unlike previous visits, the stage setup was simple, but Petty and company are good enough that they don’t need flashy lights to succeed.
The band opened with a cover of The Byrds’ “So You Want To Be A Rock ’N’ Roll Star,” and soon added their own bluesy twist to Them’s “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” Guitarist Mike Campbell, per usual, was busy creating all kinds of mouthwatering riffs, while keyboardist Benmont Tench proved once again how gifted he is at his instrument. The slowly building folk-rock song “Melinda” has become a great opportunity for the band to jam out, and Tench plunked away at his keys with glee.
During the band introductions, Petty referred to Ron Blair as the person that would “smoke” back in the day, prompting laughter from the crowd. “I didn’t say what,” Petty drolly replied. Other highlights included a rousing version of the Traveling Wilburys’ “Tweeter And The Monkey Man;” a powerful acoustic-driven rendition of “Rebels;” and the heavy charging of “I Should Have Known,” off the band’s last album, Mojo. Petty and company ended the show with “American Girl,” with the singer telling the crowd, “We’re going to leave you where we started.” [Joshua Miller]
For a second consecutive day, hip-hop ruled Summerfest, but our first stop was the U.S. Cellular stage for a performance by “Madison-by-way-of-Baraboo” band Phox. The group came seemingly out of nowhere last year and quickly generated a lot of buzz, and it was easy to see why based on this set alone. For a seven-piece band that’s only been playing together for a year and a half to emerge with such a full, cohesive sound is remarkable, but the key is a handful of good songs and singers. It’s rare to find a ragtag bunch of folkie/indie-rock dudes who can actually sing proper three-part harmonies (yes, yes, Fleet Foxes), but lead vocalist Monica Martin was the real stunner. An all-male band usually takes a secondary role to a charismatic and powerful female singer, but Phox gave the impression of a very equitable and democratic group consciousness onstage, with a sound that was truly all its own and an ability to create occasionally breathtaking swells of energy to punctuate its quirky, atmospheric rock. It’s hard to imagine this band not finding success well beyond the middle of Wisconsin.
Set times were flipped around a bit from the printed schedule on the Harley stage, so rushing there to catch the end of P.O.S. turned into being early for The Uncluded. The duo of Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson seems a bit strange on paper, although the two did collaborate on a couple of tracks for Dawson’s most recent solo album, 2011’s Thunder Thighs. Still, the pair actually work quite well on record, and Rock’s constipated rapping is both a harsh sonic contrast and good-natured enough to complement Dawson’s nervous, childlike reminiscences. The album is cute and clever and even moving at times; live, however, it came off a bit like a two-week-old MIAD project that the two vocalists were forced to perform before it was ready. Dawson isn’t renowned for her perfect pitch, and there were times when her vocals bordered on unlistenable, although she was so clearly shy almost to the point of petrified that it was easy to cut her some slack. Everything came together perfectly for standout track “Delicate Cycle,” the irresistible ode to community that’s been making the rounds on non-commercial radio in town, but otherwise this was a pretty awkward if still endearing display.
Stefon Alexander (aka P.O.S.) came onstage around 7 p.m. and almost immediately showed why he is one of the most respected live performers in hip-hop, electrifying the crowd with his bristling blend of smart wordplay and punk-rock attitude. His style fits in nicely in the Rhymesayers stable, but he sets himself apart from the rest of the pack with a more guttural, gritty delivery, and a sense of barely contained violence forcing his words out. “We’re not supposed to swear at this show,” he claimed, prior to busting into “Fuck Your Stuff” and demanding that the crowd belt out the curse-laden choruses. Alexander muttered a few F-bombs under his breath but showed restraint for the most part, and when the rain began in earnest, his performance only intensified.
By this time, the scarcely protected K-Nation/Cascio stage had shut down due to weather, so unfortunately, Bright Kind (the new moniker for the much-loved Jeanna Salzer Trio) didn’t get to play. But aside from the half-hour downpour around 7:30 p.m., the precipitation was limited to scattered drops for the rest of the night. There were at least four enticing options for ground-stage headliners; we opted at the last minute for Matt & Kim and were not disappointed. Strangely enough, the bubble-gummy duo reminded us somewhat of Wednesday’s twenty one pilots set: frivolous, super sugary pop music with random bursts of weird edginess. Only Matt & Kim are the grown-up version, and although they’re clearly putting on an act, it’s not nearly as cloying and manipulative. The packed crowd for this set was amazing, a bit hyper perhaps, but overflowing with genuine goodwill and positivity, and the manic, Ani-DiFranco-meets-Tommy-Lee energy of Kim Schifino on drums and, um, various gyrations was a constant source of massive grins. Singer/keyboardist/MC Matt Johnson was the straight man to be sure, although he did climb into the rafters after setting in motion a mini-jam on Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It,” and of course there was the a capella “Blister In The Sun,” basically performed by the audience with Johnson conducting.
The spectacle and ebullience of Matt & Kim was on the level of a breakout performance, the kind that creates legends at hipper big festivals. Even if Summerfest is the lamest of the bunch in the eyes of discerning music fans, performers don’t necessarily see it that way. It’s a chance to perform for an unusually large audience and see what you’re made of, and there was a lot of rising to the occasion Friday at Summerfest. We even got to catch John McCrea of Cake reveling in what is surely his band’s final frontier for big festival crowds as he soaked up the adulation for “Never There,” “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” and “The Distance,” proclaiming at the end, “We’ll see you…in exactly one year.” We’re counting on it, John. [Cal Roach]