Summerfest Day 7: Local, live
- 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
Summerfest may be the most diverse music festival in the country, but it didn’t feel like it on the Fourth of July. Most of the evening was spent wandering from bland to bland, with very little musical excitement. The one major takeaway from the night was that practically all of the highlights came from Milwaukee artists.
One of the sets we’d been most looking forward to was from Milwaukee’s elusive Centipedes at the Cascio Stage, but when we got there, the band was nowhere to be seen on the schedule. Instead, it was a band called The Living Statues playing a crappy cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Goin’ Down.” As it turned out, the band had some original stuff too, which wasn’t nearly as bad—straightforward, upbeat rock, though frontman Tommy Shears has a heck of a voice.
Ben Caplan And The Casual Smokers were slated next at the U.S. Cellular Stage, but it was just one dude with an acoustic guitar. We thought perhaps “The Casual Smokers” was a clever way to refer to the audience, but there actually is a band, and they couldn’t make it. Caplan filled space between songs with humorous shtick that wasn’t altogether endearing, but his singing and playing were impressive. His songs are pretty much what you’d expect from a lovesick folkie, and they were good enough solo to make us wonder how they’d sound with a full band.
Milwaukee band Calliope came on next at the Cascio Stage. The set started off a little shaky, but the guys quickly found their feet even as they injected more and more different styles into their music. Initially, they sounded like raucous Americana, but there were also elements of funk and jazz (in a jam-band sort of way), strong rockabilly flavor, and even synthesized pop. It was a fun and musically substantial set featuring good songs, humble grooves, and a group of guys who take an obvious delight in the variety of sounds that can be made with electric instruments.
Aside from a very brief detour to watch a couple of songs by the awful Tom Fuller Band (when Fuller expressed his gratitude to the crowd, some guy in the back vigorously shouted “YOU STILL SUCK!” and got no argument), it was all Cascio Stage for the rest of the night. Animals In Human Attire were definitely worth the wait. These guys are clearly from the same spastic-pop scene as The Fatty Acids, but with a more overt prog influence, somewhat reminiscent of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. There were some terrific songs and some impressive guitar work that all came off much more engaging live than evidenced on the band’s 2011 self-titled debut; this is definitely a band that’s best experienced in the flesh. [Cal Roach]
For over a decade, King Solomon has been the Milwaukee area’s preeminent homegrown reggae band, pouring a lot of energy into building a local scene for Jamaican music and culture. On Wednesday, the band was bringing that same level of energy to setting the stage—or, as gravel-voiced chanter JD Rankin put it, “setting the fire”—for Ziggy Marley’s 10 p.m. performance at the Miller Lite Oasis. In fact, seemingly everybody at the grounds was sporting either a Bob Marley shirt or an Iron Maiden shirt (except for those two 311 diehards we spotted).
Musically, King Solomon’s bread and butter is crowd-pleasing roots reggae, but it spices it up with a decent amount of up-tempo dancehall flourishes and dub-wise effects. The band is as tight as its many years together would suggest, and it has an almost evangelical enthusiasm for the music, which the sizable crowd certainly picked up on and reciprocated.
If you’ve ever heard Milwaukee music scene staple Paul Cebar spin records on WMSE or the old WYMS, you’ll know that his selections channel music from all over the world. Cebar brings that same kind of diversity to his own musical projects, including his current group, Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound. The band, whose latest release is 2007’s awesomely entitled Tomorrow Sound Now For Yes Music People, distills pop, soul, blues, calypso, ska, and any number of other styles into one easygoing, accessible sound.
Of course, that accessibility comes at the price of shaving off some of the rough edges that make his varied influences so interesting, but it’s perfect for a sunny, low-impact evening at a festival. The band was in fine form at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard as it ran through a good chunk of TSNFYMP (even as an acronym it’s a mouthful), as well as some other Cebar material like “Didn’t Leave Me No Ladder,” with each member getting their turn to shine, including Reggie Bordeaux on an extended drum solo. [Thomas Michalski]
Sat. Nite Duets had their work cut out for them as the headlining act on the Cascio stage, but as usual, they delivered. The ramshackle slacker-pop band was in fine form; these guys have perfected the illusion of ineptitude that makes each successful twist and turn seem miraculous, but in fact, they’re just really good songwriters with a unique live chemistry. The seat-of-pants nature of the band means that no two shows are quite the same, but the constant is a joyous release. Songs like “Genghis Khan,” “Don’t You Love Me Baby,” and signature anthem “All Nite Long” only get better with repetition. But possibly the most perfect moment of the set, given the date and the anagrammatic nature of the band’s name, was the visceral cover of “Fortunate Son.” Don’t let the lackadaisical image fool you; bands this good aren’t driven by apathy. [CR]