Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summerfest 2011 review

I generally get to Summerfest a few days every year. There was no one there this year that I just absolutely had to see OHMYGODICAN'TMISSTHISCONCERT! but there were still a few acts that seemed like they would be a good time. This is my review of those shows.

Third Eye Blind Delivers The Hits; Somehow Still Underwhelms

Friday, July 1 – Briggs And Stratton Big Backyard, 10PM

Call it heightened expectations: Third Eye Blind's self-titled debut is one of my favorite albums from the 90s, yet I'd never seen them live before. There was nothing wrong with the set list, nor was there anything wrong with the sufficiently lubricated crowd.

Third Eye Blind opened up with easily my favorite song of theirs, “Motorcycle Drive By.” This was perhaps a microcosm of why I was underwhelmed by the set as a whole. On record the song starts as a gentle acoustic song which then explodes into a full-band rockout about halfway through; live, it started out as a full band song right away. It sounded less like the powerful moment it should have been and more like soundcheck run-through.

The set wasn't a disappointment though. The band ran through their catalog of hits from the first album, and some lesser hits from subsequent discs. “Never Let You Go,” from their second album Blue, sounded particularly good. The large crowd danced throughout, many beers were consumed, and a good time was had by all. However, Third Eye Blind were never anything more tonight than what they always were – a solid pop-rock band from the late 90s. This was enough to deliver a decent show, but it's nothing I would describe as mind-blowing or amazing.

Standout song(s): “Never Let You Go,” “Graduate”

Should've played, but didn't: N/A

Fitz and the Tantrums A Good Match For Summerfest

Saturday, July 2 – Miller Oasis, 8PM

Probably 99% of the overflow crowd at the Oasis wasn't there to see Fitz and the Tantrums – that honor would fall to headliners Maroon 5. But after their hour-long set, I think they might have won some new fans.

The neo-soul of Fitz and the Tantrums is reminiscent of Motown and Stax, with a 21st century polish. They have a clean, tight sound that just sounded good. Lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick danced and sang like no one was looking. Co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs implored the crowd several times to get it going, and by the end of the set many were eating out of the palm of her hand.

The set list drew heavily from their new album “Pickin' Up the Pieces,” but they did throw in a couple of terrific covers: The Eurythmics' “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” and The Raconteurs' “Steady, As She Goes.” The album tracks were mostly straight-ahead readings, but the band did jam on a couple of songs, such as the funky “L.O.V.”

By the time they closed their set with the hit single “MoneyGrabber,” a few more asses were shaking, a few more people were clapping along. It's true that the people weren't really there for Fitz & Co., but the band did a damn good job of making it seem like they were.

Standout song(s): “MoneyGrabber,” “Pickin' Up The Pieces”

Should've played, but didn't: N/A

Country Legend Doesn't Disappoint

Saturday July 2 – M&I Classic Rock Stage, 10PM

I can't say I knew many, if any, songs that “First Lady of Country Music” Loretta Lynn played to a medium-sized crowd on Saturday night, but this being a classic country artist I was instantly familiar with the subject matter: a steady diet of heartbreak and loss, defiance and pride.

And make no mistake about it, this show was classic country through and through.

The show started 15 minutes late, with her son coming out and singing – a dead ringer for Larry the Cable Guy, vocally – Toby Keith's “As Good As I Once Was” and one other song before giving way to Lynn's daughters who sang a few more numbers. Finally, at maybe 10:35 or so, Loretta strolled onto the stage in a ridiculously sparkly dress and opened with a couple of country standards: “They Don't Make 'Em Like Daddy Anymore” and “You're Lookin' At Country.”

Other highlights included “Don't Come Home A'Drinkin' (“With Lovin' On Your Mind”) and a wonderful medley of Patsy Cline songs. But what set Lynn apart from her peers – aside from writing a lot of her own songs – is that some of those tunes took an at least slightly feminist look at things, which was unheard of back in the 1960s. “Dear Uncle Sam” was her look at the price of war, while “The Pill” examines sexual liberation. She sang those songs and more with class and with a voice that defied her 79 years.

It was an excellent set, and a fascinating look at one of country music's all-time legends.

Standout song(s): The Patsy Cline Medley, “You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)”

Should've played, but didn't: N/A

The Get Up Kids Transport Me Back to College

Saturday, July 9 – Miller Oasis, 8PM

It's been seven years since a proper full-length album, so no one can really begrudge them for wanting to play the new stuff for their fans. However, it was evident from the get-go that the fans didn't want to hear it. Unfortunately the set was structured – at least for the first half – new song/old song/new song/old song, so as soon as the Kids kicked into an old favorite like the anthemic “I'm A Loner Dottie, A Rebel” the crowd woke up, only to have that momentum sucked out by a new tune right after.

Of course, when old songs were played the crowd ate up every second of it, and naturally the band fed off of that energy. “Shorty” and “Don't Hate Me,” from debut album Four Minute Mile drew good reactions, and set closer “Ten Minutes” may have had the best pop of the night. Overall, the band seemed to be having a good time on stage, joking with each other and the crowd. Not being the headliner (they were supposed to headline at The Rave before being moved to Summerfest) didn't seem to bother them in the least, nor did the crowd's lack of reaction to new material.

Even though I disagreed with their insistence on playing new music, that isn't all I'll take away from the show.

I got into The Get Up Kids in college perhaps a little late in the game – emo classic Something To Write Home About came out my junior year of high school – so the music certainly took me back to those years in my life. The lyrics might be a tad on the whiny side – though not as overwrought as headliners Dashboard Confessional – but they did speak to me in a way that few bands had up until that point.

It may have been weird, ironic even, to hold hands with my fiancee while they sang lines like “As much as I'd like to, I can't put my hands all over you,” but that was at the heart of what The Get Up Kids meant to us, or what any band means to anyone. Music has this uncanny knack for bringing people together, whether its because of shared pain, loneliness, pleasure, anger, or what-have-you. New songs aside, The Get Up Kids succeeded in that regard.

Standout song(s): “Ten Minutes,” “Shorty”

Should've played, but didn't: “How Long Is Too Long” and “Michelle With One 'L'”

Dark-Humored Alkaline Trio In Good Spirits on First Day of Tour

Saturday, July 9 – US Cellular Connection Stage, 10PM

Alkaline Trio warned the crowd early that this was the first show of the tour, so there might be some mistakes. They did make a few – a flubbed line here, a false start there – but that didn't prevent the band from having a great time and delivering a 90-minute set of mostly early material.

I can admit that I was lukewarm at first about seeing Alkaline Trio because I haven't really liked any of their new material since 2005's Crimson, and even that record wasn't quite up to snuff. After opening with a song from 2008's Agony & Irony (“In Vein”) all fears were allayed when they kicked into “Snake Oil Tanker” and proceeded to play songs from their first few albums.

Alkaline Trio charged through 20 of their particular brand of dark pop punk, including “My Friend Peter,” “Cooking Wine,” and apparently the first Alk3 song he wrote, “'97” from the self-titled EP collection. They also visited their first LP with “Clavicle” and “Nose Over Tail.” Pretty much everything went over well, even the jokey “Olde English 800,” which singer Matt Skiba claims he actually sent in as a jingle for the famous malt liquor.

I went in with limited expectations and left with them met and even exceeded. They sent the crowd off into the hot July night with their traditional closer, “Radio.” If they're going to play a bunch of old songs about drinking and girls – the songs that got me into the band in the first place – they are more than welcome to play in our fair city any night... even if they pandered to the Chicago members of the crowd.

Standout song(s): “Bleeder,” “My Friend Peter”

Should've played but didn't: “This Is Getting Over You,” “You've Got So Far To Go”

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