Summerfest final weekend: Two turntables and a reasonably faithful Prince tribute band
- 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
While Atmosphere may not have made the most of the momentum generated by 2008’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (its first album to make the charts), the group is still a major name, and the Minneapolis rap scene it helped put on the map is arguably stronger than ever. Which is why it was weird that Atmosphere wasn’t playing the Miller Lite Oasis on Friday night in the headlining slot, but at 6:30 p.m., a time usually reserved for local acts and unknowns. Weirder still was why the band took the stage 15 minutes before that already premature start time; it was blamed on a “technicality,” but while there are any number of conceivable logistical glitches that would cause a show to start late, the kind that gets it going early remains rather mysterious.
Not that the strange scheduling kept people from showing up. On the contrary, the turnout would have been impressive at any hour. After quickly and correctly sizing up their audience as the kind that liked “the old shit,” Slug, Ant, and the handful of live musicians they’ve added over the last few years were happy to give the crowd what it wanted, working in plenty of classic cuts like “Guns and Cigarettes,” “The Woman With The Tattooed Hands,” and “God Loves Ugly” in between standout newer material such as “I Don’t Need Brighter Days” from last year’s The Family Sign. Since they started early, they found themselves with a bit of extra time at the end (seriously, what the hell?), which they filled with “Shhh,” an ode to the Twin Cities that’s usually reserved for Minnesotan audiences. Apparently, Milwaukee made them feel at home.
Quality electronic music always seems to be somewhat underrepresented at the Big Gig, but if you’re going to book a token DJ to appease the dance set, you could definitely do a lot worse than Paul Oakenfold. Since coming to the fore during Britain’s acid-drenched “Second Summer of Love” in the late ’80s, Oakenfold has been an in-demand spinner, producer, and remixer, quickly becoming one of the most prominent of the “superstar” DJs. At the Miller Oasis Friday night, he waved off applause befitting that stature as he stepped wordlessly up to the (sigh) CDJ turntables and dove into his set, which included plenty of shimmering surfaces and hard four-on-the-floor.
Some time into a deep, mostly instrumental playlist, Oakenfold brought on a guest singer, Chicago’s Mike S., for a couple of songs. After that, the tone of his selections seemed to change. More elements of popular, recognizable club hits started to pop up (hello, LMFAO), but it was still just a bass line here or a break there until he climaxed the set with an extended mix of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ mega-hit “Otherside.” The crowd loved every minute of it, but its enjoyment was, at least in part, aided by some good old-fashioned substance abuse. Of course, it’s not at all uncommon to catch of whiff of some reefer, or spy someone furtively sipping from a flask at Summerfest, but these folks were going all out. One group of friends was freely passing around an unconcealed, and enormous, bottle of cheap vodka. How did that one get past the Summerfest entrance? Whenever we go through, those things are like military check points staffed with the jumpiest teenagers and senior citizens in town.
After 25 years as the torchbearers of Brewtown Ska, local legends The Invaders still have a lot of spark left in them, especially considering the style itself has been more or less stagnant since its latest heyday in the mid ’90s. That’s in part because ska, even corny ska, is at its core fun music, but mostly because The Invaders have brought a lot of personality to it (not many bands in the genre have a violin player). On the other hand, that personality is more than musical, and includes a fair amount of zany humor. It can be a little bit groan inducing, as when they threw stuffed simians into the crowd during the obligatory cover of “Monkey Man” during their set Saturday night on the Cascio Interstate Groove Stage, or adopted Liverpudlian accents to introduce a skanking rendition of the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” in honor of Ringo’s birthday.
The Invaders are at their best on originals such as the bouncy “Brewtown Ska” or “Scootering,” their love letter to the preferred form of Mod transportation. They could probably stand to pare down the number of covers in their set list, keeping the ones that work—like the funky combo of Toots And The Maytals’ “54-46 That’s My Number” and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”—and ditch the ones that don’t—like the superfluous version of Harry Belafonte’s “Jump In The Line” and a suspect Sublime medley.
Speaking of covers, over at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino Stage & Pavilion, Gabriel Sanchez and his “Prince Experience” tribute act were trying to recreate the magic of His Royal Badness’ classic Purple Rain-era performances. The whole affair, with its costume changes and props, aims for lavish, but can’t help coming off as cheesy—although at least it’s clear that a lot of thought and love went into the show’s conception. They even went so far as to cast a phony Morris Day and Jerome to do “Jungle Love” and “The Bird,” and a Sheila E. lookalike for “The Glamorous Life.”
The moderately sized, mainly middle-aged crowd was clearly enjoying itself, but alcohol and nostalgia are a powerful concoction, and it obviously doesn’t hurt that Sanchez and company’s source material are some of the best songs in the history of pop. It’s sort of hard to assess the quality of this kind of performance; it was a detailed enough facsimile considering its inherent limitations, but in the end it was rote and hollow almost by definition, like fancy-pants karaoke. And when you’re dealing with Prince, those are some awfully big fancy-pants to fill.