Summerfest Day 6: Hydrated with beer
- Bill Cosby delivers lighthearted enlightenment at Riverside Theater
- Satan for the masses: Ghost B.C. brings spooky Swedish metal to Turner Hall
- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club deliver bombastic, potent show at Turner Hall
- Joe Bonamassa falls into familiar blues groove at Riverside Theater
- Milwaukee Psych Fest delivers variations on a tripped-out theme
“Summerfest: Hydrated With Beer” is not the official new Summerfest slogan, but it should be—that’s what clever people shout out when a musician asks if everyone is staying hydrated, which musicians tend to do on hot days. Touring bands were probably already aware of Milwaukee’s affinity for beer, but now they’ll know that we’ve adapted our digestive systems to resist the dehydrating effects of alcohol. Welcome to Brew City!
If nothing else, Summerfest is a great opportunity for local artists to get their music out to a larger crowd than usual, and Milwaukee’s Herman Astro made the most of its evening slot at the Rock Stage. The band was augmented by a three-piece horn section that made its case to be added permanently to the lineup; Astro’s funky, slightly jazzy rock works better with horns than without. The group has a bit of a jam-band sound, only without all that mind-numbing improvisation, so luckily the songs are good enough to stand on their own. Electric guitarist Eric LeMieux has stepped up his game in the past year or so as well, showcasing a more eclectic, edgy style, and helping Astro sound less like Dave Matthews Band and more like its own entity.
We wouldn’t be seeing any full sets Tuesday night, partially because there were too many good bands playing at the same time, and partially because the Lakefront Beer tent was a pretty long walk from most of the best music. We happily caught some of Trapper Schoepp And The Shades’ family-friendly twang-rock show, and might have even voted for them via text message like the big screen suggested if it had also told us what it was we were voting on. It takes a true showman to be as energetic onstage as Schoepp on a sweltering evening like Tuesday, and the band’s slick tunes were tight and packed a punch. The only thing missing was a modicum of originality in terms of the brief guitar solos, which sounded more calculated than written.
Next up was Alberta Cross, a Brooklyn-based band that started out in London but certainly doesn’t sound like it. Although there may be a touch of Britpop bounce in a couple of songs (particularly new track “Crate Of Gold” from the forthcoming album Songs Of Patience), the overall effect is like if Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers played Sunny Day Real Estate songs. The group is a good, traditional rock band, with a great album (2009’s Broken Side Of Time) under its belt, but coming out late was the first bad sign, and through a good 45 minutes of the set, the sound mix was awful. This is not usually a big issue at Summerfest, but somebody at the Rock Stage bungled things so badly for so long that we had to walk away.
Next, we were able to catch a chunk of Greg Koch And The Tone Controls’ set. Koch is probably the most iconic blues-rock guitar hero in Milwaukee, but it can be tough to stomach some of his blatant Stevie Ray Vaughan-isms, particularly since he’s much more versatile than that. He has the ability to channel the likes of George Thorogood and Gary Moore, and make some very unique sounds doing it, but the SRV-sounding stuff probably gets more claps and whistles than his more original efforts.
Bob Mould was probably best known for his work with Hüsker Dü until recently, when it became hip to like Sugar better, and nobody under the age of 30 has any idea who Bob Mould is anyway. But anyone who didn’t know or was just curious and happened to be at the U.S. Cellular Stage on Tuesday night was probably just as blown away as any of the diehard Bob Mould fans who were there. Mould and his band played the Sugar album Copper Blue in its entirety, and while it sounded unmistakably like a product of the early ’90s, Mould’s performance suggested it still means an awful lot to him. In a word, it was fierce—the driving punk rock of “The Act We Act” and “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” and, well, most of the tracks, contrasting with the bright pop of “Hoover Dam” and the bristling, slow-burn interlude of “The Slim” walloped us in the face in all the right ways. It was easily the best set of the night.
Mould followed up Copper Blue with some great-sounding new material from a solo album that’s due out in the fall, which gave us the opportunity to slink off sheepishly to the Miller Oasis in hopes of catching “Funk #49” and “Life’s Been Good” played by the old weirdo who wrote them, Joe Walsh. As it happened, he played those two songs back to back, and they were pretty good. The rest of what we heard was crap, especially the Eagles tunes. Was it worth it to miss the end of Mould’s set? We’re sure to find the answer in the comments section.