Summerfest Day 3-5: The Hives go all out, The Walkmen go big, Robyn goes nuts
- John C. Reilly And Friends go underground—literally—for first-ever show at Miller Caves
- Scenes from the 2013 Locust Street Festival
- Gogol Bordello and Bombino electrify Pabst Theater
- Twin Shadow delivers too little too late at lackluster Turner Hall show
- They Might Be Giants please die-hards and newcomers alike at Turner Hall
Day 3: Gigolos get lonely, too
Though the band was clearly listed as “Morris Day And The Time” on the Summerfest schedule, it was a little unclear as to why. Since “The Time” name is owned by Prince, the man who launched the group’s career, Day and company have had to rebrand themselves as the Original 7ven, a bit of sensational spelling a la the Purple One that really doesn’t make any goddamn sense. (Is it seven-ven?) Since the name change, they’ve been at least nominally active, releasing the unfortunately zeitgeist-chasing single “#Trendin.” (Sample lyric: “Ya’ll Tweetie-pies gonna post it in your blog / Some of ya’ll say I’m hot, which one of ya’ll say I’m not?”) But Friday night, the focus seemed to be on the classics, including the Day solo track “The Oak Tree” and the Prince-penned “Gigolos Get Lonely Too.”
You got pretty much you’d expect here. At one point, Day donned a floor-length white fur coat; at another, a lackey hauled a mirror onstage so he could get in some additional primping. But their performance did prove a couple of things about the new BMO Harris Pavilion. Firstly, that reserved seating at Summerfest ground stages is an exceptionally bad idea; and secondly, that the structure doesn’t have the best acoustics, with the rhythm section and the keys continually overpowering the vocals and the guitar.
Over at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, Jimmy Cliff was throwing himself into some of his classic roots reggae, along with a number of covers. His version of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” was something of a foregone conclusion, but the skanking take on Rancid’s “Ruby Soho,” which Cliff released as part of last year’s Sacred Fire EP, was a bit of a surprise.
At 64, Cliff obviously still gets a kick out of performing, dancing along to each number as if it was the first time he’d heard it. While his band proved completely able to back up the legendary star of The Harder They Come, it was a bit curious that they were all white and relatively young. It seems like there’d be at least one player direct from the islands, right?
While the turn-of-the-millennium garage-rock revival that brought them to fame has long since faded, The Hives are admirably still kicking. The just-released Lex Hives is their first since 2007’s The Black And White Album (that one where they had the Neptunes produce some songs for some reason), and the new material slots nicely alongside their high-energy classics.
Live, part of their charm is their Swedish foreignness, as when lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist implored the crowd for help pronouncing “Wisconsin.” But the real draw is their sweaty, all-out performances. Aesthetically speaking, they’re still sticking with the two-tone black-and-white color scheme, although Friday’s variation on the theme (white shirts, black ties) made them look strangely like off-duty waiters. [Thomas Michalski]
“Restraint” is a term music writers have all but permanently tattooed on The Walkmen’s chests by now; however, it’s one that’s definitely appropriate. Incorporating the sparsest instrumentation on songs that leave listeners on the edge, the band’s bare-bones approach seems antithetical to Summerfest’s grandiose-rock ethos, but in their 8 p.m. slot as darkness descended on the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, The Walkmen delivered an explicably raucous set (albeit relative), which mostly culled tracks from the band’s latest effort, Heaven.
The new record might employ themes of growing old and having kids, but as evidenced from Friday night, there’s no sign of settling down. The Walkmen steamed through their new material, including searing renditions of “Heartbreaker” and “The Love You Love,” as the band was rarely overpowered by a nearby stage. The only song that felt out of place, oddly enough, was the outfit’s biggest hit, 2004’s scorcher “The Rat.” Here’s one that’s supposed to sound lively and full of emotion, but that just wasn’t the case on Friday. The tune’s lackadaisical formula seemed tired when placed in between such dynamic songs. No one minded that it was buried in the middle of the set. [Kevin Mueller]
Day 5: Robyn goes nuts
After tasting success in the ’90s as a rather conventional teen-pop singer (albeit one who wrote most of her own songs), it briefly seemed as if label complications and underexposure would conspire to cut Robyn’s promising career short. Instead of calling it quits, however, she regrouped and made another go of it, this time on her own terms, ditching her latest home, Jive Records, in favor of launching her own label, Konichiwa, and re-imagining her sound from the ground up.
And we should all be glad she made the effort, because the artist who emerged from the other side is something to behold, one as at home on hyperactive dance floor bangers as on soaring ballads. Onstage, she’s like a tiny engine that, contrary to all appearances, puts out an astonishing amount of power. She didn’t stop dancing once during Sunday’s show at the Miller Lite Oasis, unless she was doing one of those tension building freeze-frame pregnant pauses before the beat dropped (those are cool), which is not an easy thing to do in platform boots. We’re not talking choreography either, more just going nuts.
Since there’s not really a dud to be found in her post-resurgence repertoire, song selection wasn’t much of an issue. Starting with a slow build through “We Dance To The Beat,” Robyn and her band (two drummers, two keyboard/synth/whatnot players) burned brightly through every highlight of 2005’s self-titled reintroduction, and 2010’s epic Body Talk trilogy before capping off an encore with a rousing “Call Your Girlfriend.” Then, in something of a twist ending, she came back once more, this time for a throwback rendition of “Show Me Love,” one of the charting singles from 1997’s Robyn Is Here. It’s probably still too early to call it the best of the fest, but this one’s going to be hard to beat. [TM]
There seems to be two schools of thought regarding the Tune-Yards aesthetic. It basically comes down to one side that reveres ukuleles, saxophones, face paint, weird hair, and a general quirkiness, and another side that despises those traits vehemently. It’s tough to say whether the band’s 8 p.m. performance at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard on Sunday converted anybody across either line; it probably depended on where your allegiances had been previously laid.
“Do you want to live?” Merrill Garbus howled during her call-and-response opener. If there’s one thing both sides can agree on, it’s that the Tune-Yards singer commands attention. Moments like this helped captivate the overwhelmingly large Summerfest crowd that would patiently wait as Garbus ardently looped her drums and voice to construct each song’s backbone. The thunderous “Gangsta” and “Powa,” along with “The Bizness,” garnered the biggest reactions, but much of Tune-Yards other material wasn’t terribly interesting. That’s why it’s so necessary that Garbus forcefully grab attention. Her method and attitude throughout the night could be considered “fierce,” but in its most playful form. Think cushiony stuffed animal and not vicious, coniferous beast. [KM]