Summerfest Day 8: Mark Mallman, secret tiki huts, and no Katy Perry
- 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
You eat a hearty breakfast and a late lunch, drink plenty of fluids, and get a nice workout en route to the festival grounds. Then you see someone eating cheese curds and catch the sweet aroma of Reuben rolls, and all you can think about is fried food and beer. Such is the nature of Summerfest. There are probably relatively healthy options somewhere in the Ethnic Village, but you can’t smell them.
With all of its modern amenities, mainstream pop headliners, and proximity to home, it’s hard to think of Summerfest in traditional festival terms. But the organizers are shrewd—every year there’s a day devoted largely to hippie-friendly music, and this year it was Thursday. To start our afternoon off properly, we took in a bit of Boney Fingers’ set along with a delicious Fixed Gear from Lakefront Brewery. Comprising perhaps Milwaukee’s most well-established jam band, these guys are pure Dead worship right down to Dennis Flink’s vocals, but they pull it off well, and we were particularly impressed with Kevin Schultz’s moog-isms during a cover of the Dead’s “Eyes Of The World.”
The other theme of the day—most likely coincidental—was bands with “king” in their names. As such, we felt obligated to check out York, Pennsylvania’s Kingsfoil, a decent pop-rock band that might have found more success in the late ’90s than today. Likewise, Appleton’s Sunday Flood played catchy post-grunge from the innocent pre-nu-metal period, just caustic enough not to be emo, and just math-y enough not to be Chevelle. Nothing really jumped out at us until the final song of the set, which centered on a fantastic, zombie-fied, Green Day-ish riff that made the whole set worthwhile.
Mike Mangione And The Union were next at the Potawatomi Pavilion. Mangione has quickly become a mainstay in the Milwaukee scene, and it’s easy to see why. While he’s perhaps not quite as impressive a songwriter or guitarist, shades of Willy Porter are evident in Mangione’s style and performance. The set started strong with a heartfelt cover of Tom Waits’ “Down There By The Train,” and the sound in the Pavilion was actually okay (for once).
Following this set of slick folk-pop, we happened to be wandering down by the lakefront when we stumbled upon the secret “Tiki Hut” stage, located straight back from the main entrance. Apparently, this has been here the whole time, but today was an especially good day to spot it, as Roster McCabe was in the midst of a mesmerizing early evening set. Look for plenty of improv-based local and regional talent here over the weekend as well.
We hadn’t seen Mighty Blue Kings since our college days, so it was fitting that Angelo’s Pizza was situated adjacent to the Miller Lite Oasis as they played. It was a bit strange to see almost the entire crowd seated for the set, but the band’s blend of swing, blues, and rock sounded essentially the same as it did in our hazy memories of its late-’90s heyday. We also caught a good chunk of the Sam Roberts Band’s set, and while there’s nothing mind-blowing about the band itself, Roberts’ superb lyrics alone were enough to carry the performance. His 2008 hit “Them Kids” still packs a punch.
Kings Go Forth was one of our most anticipated sets of the day, but it was a bit of a letdown. The band’s 2010 debut The Outsiders Are Back is deservedly one of the highest-profile local releases of the past decade, but the band appeared strangely stiff onstage for cranking out such smooth, propulsive grooves. Maybe it was the stark white clothing, but other than lead singer Black Wolf, the band members looked like they’d left the clothes hangers in their shirts. Everything sounded great, but the art of performance was largely absent.
Luckily, Mark Mallman more than made up for that with his outrageously entertaining set at the Cascio Stage. For a man who once performed for 26 hours straight, this was probably nothing, but for the audience, it was a rousing spectacle. We like to think of Mallman as a cross between Sigmund Snopek and Meat Loaf, with all the melodrama of a makeshift Rocky Horror cast, but also with a fierce cyber-punk quirkiness and buzzsaw guitar accompaniment. This was easily one of our favorite sets of the entire festival.