Summerfest Day 3-5: Who’s afraid of Girl Talk?
- 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
Day 3: “Don’t start no shit, / it won’t be no shit”
Friday night was not one for the casual concertgoer as Milwaukee welcomed Girl Talk and Dynasty Electric to Summerfest’s Miller Lite stage. Both came ready to party, and while the intensity of each act was fantastic, the crowd could have used a crash course in Concert Etiquette 101.
While the antsy audience awaited the headliner, Dynasty Electric frontwoman Jenny Electrik emerged in a blue leotard, sheer black tights and tasseled boots, and a flowing, green shawl that slipped off her shoulders a mere 20 seconds into the first song. A bassist and drummer supported the electro-pop-meets-psychedelic-rock duo Friday night, making the band’s sound more powerful on the outdoor stage. The band warmed up with a poppy cover of Van Morrison’s “Comfort You,” and then launched into its electrifying track “Something Good.”
Dynasty Electric was full of energy, though the same couldn’t be said about the audience. It would have been different if the group failed to give a solid performance or didn’t attempt to engage the crowd, but neither was the case. Audience, this one is on you. Really, who doesn’t clap along when the lead singer asks you to? That’s just rude.
It was only as Dynasty Electric neared the end of its set that people started getting into the music. The band closed with our favorite song by the group, “Electric Love,” which transitioned into a remix of Ke$ha’s “Blow.” As the duo danced off the stage, Electrik yelled, “Thank you, Milwaukee! Thank you, Summerfest! And thank you, Ke$ha!”
After about an hour, Girl Talk’s signature low, distorted voice started chanting, “Girl Talk. Girl Talk. Girl Talk.” As Gregg Gillis took the stage, the sweaty crowd members surged, awkwardly trying to find a suitable way to get their rave on while balancing on the skinny metal benches. The lucky group Gillis brought onstage with him rocked it the whole night, but the constant bouncing, mini-mosh pits and lack of any actual dancing from the crowd got old pretty quickly.
We all know how many Journal Sentinel readers warned of the kind of crowds Kanye would attract to the Big Gig. Well, not only were they wrong, but the behavior most feared by JS commenters was all too common during Girl Talk’s set. Things got so crazy that people had to be lifted over the fence and out of the crowd by Summerfest security, and we watched two fights break out as “Don’t start no shit, / it won’t be no shit,” of Girl Talk’s “Still Here,” blared from the stage. Ironic? Maybe just a little.
That being said, Gillis’ set was loud, high-energy, and generally a great time when you weren’t being punched or “unintentionally” groped. Gillis told the audience he had been off all week and was feeling good, and it showed. He continually upped the intensity and played over his set time, to the obvious annoyance of security. It was a party all right, but definitely not one for those who weren’t prepared for what they were getting themselves into.
Day 4: Scenes from a local stage
Summerfest annoyances have been well documented, but there’s one that doesn’t get enough play: morons smoking cigars. Seriously, hasn’t the cigar-smoking thing been dead and buried since the ’90s? What is it about Summerfest that drives otherwise normal men (and women) to plunk down hard-earned cash for shitty cigars? Are good, old-fashioned cigarettes just not Big Gig-y enough?
Fortunately, there was little smoke to be had near the Cascio stage, which is where we spent most of our Friday afternoon. Trent Fox And The Tenants sounded great during their 4:30 p.m. slot, though the oppressive heat kept the otherwise attentive audience members glued to their bleacher seats. That was too bad, since the band’s old-school punk sounded great in the open air. Summerfest: magically turning club bands into festival-friendly acts since 1968.
Testa Rosa was up next, much to the delight of the growing—and adoring—crowd. Frontwoman Betty Blexrud-Strigens looked resplendent in white, and sounded just as blinding. Her strong vocals were bolstered by Dixie Jacobs, who sat in with the band and added spot-on harmonies. Some bleed-over from the nearby Rock Stage raised some eyebrows near the end of the set (Thanks, Wheelie Bar!), but the band members soldiered on like pros. We had to cut out immediately after Testa Rosa’s set. (Sorry, The Danglers/The Invaders.) Though, we did catch a whiff of a cover band rocking out to “Born To Run” on the way out—oh, and more than a few whiffs of cigar smoke.
Day 5: The Jayhawks bring the hate
Like our Saturday, our Sunday ended up being dominated by local acts. The first thing that caught our ears was a post-rock din generated by Juniper Tar during a high-profile afternoon slot on the Leinie’s stage. Between the band’s performance at Locust Street Festival a couple of weeks ago and this well-attended set, 2011 is beginning to feel like a breakout year for Milwaukee’s folk-rock heroes.
We arrived at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse expecting De La Buena to be setting up, but Madison-area jamsters Steez were still playing. The band is best experienced much later at night in a dark club, but the late-afternoon grooves were a funky enough warm-up for the eclectic lineup at the stage, which would be headlined by Ben Harper. Counting on the 45-minute lag time, we scooted over to the Cascio Stage to catch another Locust Street highlight, Crooked Keys. The band sounded much tighter and beefier than it had two weeks prior, due in part to a superior sound system, though the confidence level also seemed ratcheted up for this show. A cover of Gillian Welch’s “Look At Miss Ohio” fit in well with the group’s palatable, piano-driven rock.
Things took a downturn next, however. Union Pulse was certainly dressed for success in the modern no-frills Americana landscape, but unfortunately, its music was even less memorable than the earth-toned button-ups and black vests. Next, Willy Porter had his usual spotlight set under the Potawatomi pavilion, but his set was rote and nearly lifeless. The only hope is that Porter’s penchant for reinvention rears its head soon.
Fortunately, the reliable swingin’ sounds of The Uptown Savages saved the evening. The crowd at the Cascio Stage had a ball as Johnny Z and his smartly dressed cohorts cranked out their manic mixture of neo-swing, rockabilly, and old-time R&B. Some of the couples’ dancing during this set bordered on domestic abuse, but luckily no limbs were torn from their sockets. We stuck around for the first half hour of the egregious fireworks display that followed, but could only take so much sitting in one spot staring upwards and headed to the Briggs And Stratton Backyard.
The Jayhawks are one of those the-frontmen-hate-each-other-but-make-it-work bands, and while this current reunion appears relatively stable, the tension between Gary Louris and Mark Olson was obvious. Olson cast uneasy glances at Louris frequently throughout the first half of the band’s set, and Louris appeared typically grouchy and aloof as he often struggled to provide timely vocal harmonies. The lyrics to “Blue” (“It’s hard to sing with someone / who won’t sing with you”), from the band’s 1995 classic Tomorrow The Green Grass, never rang more true. But strangely, the two stars seemed to warm up to each other as the set went on, and the performance got tighter and more dynamic. Before long, Louris and Olson were all smiles, the ramshackle harmonies got sweeter, and any melodrama was forgotten; it was just a great rock ’n’ roll show.