Monday, July 3, 2017

Car Seat Headrest, Ludacris, and Me: A Summerfest Review

Once the forecast cleared up early Sunday evening, I decided to embrace my inner outer creeper and plunge alone into the madness that is a weekend night at Summerfest to catch a couple of acts that I like but don’t love. This is how that went.

Up first was indie rock band Car Seat Headrest at the Johnson Controls Stage.

You know a band is small-time -- and that is almost certainly on purpose -- when they are on stage 15 minutes before showtime doing their own sound check. This is not a knock on them, merely an observation.

After a short introduction by Dori Zori from 88.9 the band took the stage to some pretentious, Bon Iver-esque vocal samplings before launching into “Vincent” from their current album Teens of Denial. Immediately apparent was the fact that the band set out to put the “rock” in indie rock. The faders were definitely pushed up to 11. Unfortunately this meant that the feedback-drenched guitars and thumping drums drowned out singer/guitarist/brains behind the band Will Toledo’s mumbly vocal delivery. He simply doesn’t have the pipes to cut through the crap.

Approximately half an hour into the set they played what was one of my favorite songs from last year, “Destroyed By Hippie Powers,” and it was excellent. Even though I think the crowd was enjoying the show overall, it also seemed like the arms-crossed, hipper-than-thou indie kids there didn’t give the song the moshpit freakout the song calls for. It is what I came to hear, though, so after it was done I bailed to see…

....Ludacris.

You know the song “Too Many People” by Paul McCartney? It was like that. By the time I made it to the Miller Oasis stage, the crowd wasn’t so much a crowd but a college kegger writ large: (nearly) everyone young, dumb, full of come. Blunts were everywhere, and so were teenagers grinding on each other to the jams.

Luda, to his credit, obliged the party scene by pumping out hit after hit.

My criticism of most modern rap shows applies here: he didn’t perform entire songs. Verses from “Money Maker” (with admittedly one of his all-time best lines: “Let me give you some swimming lessons on the penis / Backstroke, breaststroke, stroke of a genius”) blurred into “What’s Your Fantasy” which then eventually collided into “Rollout (My Business)”

Of course, nobody fucking cared.

Despite a total lack of personal space, everyone seemed to have a good time. My personal highlight was indicative of the rest of the set in that “Move Bitch” was awesome until Ludacris stopped after two verses and promptly dove into “Stand Up.” (I get it, Mystikal wasn’t in the building to do his verse, but still, it was disappointing to hear his best song cut short.)

Ultimately I’m guessing my opinion of both artists’ performances is in the minority. Car Seat Headrest is perfectly capable of rocking your socks off, if you don’t mind squalling feedback and garbled vocals. Ludacris is a legitimately fantastic rapper that has a string of unassailable party jams to his name - if only he’d perform them in whole. But I’m sure the amount of “amazing” and “unbelieveable” descriptions on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram will far outnumber the objections from old grumps like me.