The best and the worst at Summerfest 2021
Piet Levy and the rest of our music writers give their take on who rocked Summerfest 2021 and who, well, didn’t.
Bill Schulz, Milwaukee Journal Sentry
Milwaukee’s first Summerfest with a three-weekend format (but not the last) called it a Saturday night, but not before some of the music festival’s brightest moments.
Being a relatively new but famous artist can cut two paths with a long hiatus like a global pandemic.
The Black Pumas fit those two projects, releasing their acclaimed debut album in mid-2019 and being nominated for Best New Artist Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards – just two months before the world stops.
A year and a half later, the soul and R&B duo of singer Eric Burton and guitarist Adrian Quesada were on stage at the BMO Harris Pavilion on the closing night of a delayed 2021 Summerfest. With a large and enthusiastic crowd filling most of the seats in the amphitheater, the Black Pumas wasted no time in making up for lost time.
Emerging from the smoky wings of the stage, Burton stood in the limelight to toast before his incredibly moving voice pierced the night over the sultry groove of “Next to You”.
“Swing with me, Milwaukee!” he apologized. “I see you swinging. Let’s swing all night.
Partly hype man, mostly soul man, Burton ran to the edge of the stage to elicit screams. On “Old Man” he counted a side shuffle that the crowd followed while Queseda chose the syncopated melody, which turned into a two-beat bossa nova.
Two backing singers and three musicians added depth to The Black Puma’s already lush vibe. Soon Burton jumped into the pit and strayed into the crowd chanting, “I want to hit him with you.” It’s been far too long!
Indeed. Milwaukee will be ready to strike with the Black Pumas at any time.
– Erik Ernst, special at Journal Sentinel
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Ten years ago, after auditioning right here in Milwaukee, Scotty McCreery won “American Idol,” with a deep country voice reminiscent of Randy Travis’ tone and style. It was an exciting time for fans of this already classic country sound.
But when you win “Idol” the pop sounds are calling and McCreery has done a good job of ranking some hit singles that have largely followed the modern country pattern. They succeeded but never artistically matched McCreery’s promise.
A decade – and a new record label – later, McCreery found his way back to a sound and philosophy closer to the big ‘hat’ acts of the ’80s and’ 90s, albeit with a baseball cap. upside down in place of the cowboy style on his now goatee baby face.
His headlining set on Saturday night at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard proved to be a perfect fit.
On “Same Truck,” the title track from his new album, McCreery strummed an acoustic guitar in front of his talented five-piece group and sang an ode to unity, regardless of our diverse backgrounds.
The tracks from 2018’s “Seasons Change” followed a similar path. On “Wherever You Are,” McCreery yearned for a distant love that is never far away on a brilliantly growling tune.
“We’re in Milwaukee tonight, baby!” ” He shouted. “We’re here together, let’s do it!” “
A steel pedal whimpered over the balance of “Holy Water and Jim Beam” on “In Between” as McCreery beamed towards the crowd. It was the gaze of an artist who came full circle and found his way home.
– Erik Ernst
Two drummers in green wigs, frontman Wayne Coyne in a bubble and a screen full of multicolored digital art – it’s a Flaming Lips show.
After some technical difficulties on Saturday night on the Generac Power Stage, Coyne cautiously exited and then jumped into his usual plastic bubble. He followed up with a short speech on the detrimental effects COVID-19 has had on his hometown of Oklahoma City.
But the psychedelic rockers still managed to achieve a magnetic performance. “All We Have Is Now” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1”, completed by a giant robot, set the tone for the more relaxed ensemble.
The only real downside was that Coyne sometimes had to draw applause from the crowd, ordering them to “keep yelling” and shout “It’s Saturday night!” To be fair, he was in a bubble; he couldn’t hear anything (a fact that he finally agreed to later in the series).
The Flaming Lips were a great ending to Summerfest. The group left everyone elated instead of amplified – the perfect amount of chill for a chilly September night.
– Damon Joy, special at Sentinel Journal
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“The queen of percussion” (and my 80s crush) Sheila E. filled the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage to the brim. The band was all dressed in white, the drummer being one of us from Milwaukee.
Beginning with a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together”, Sheila showed off her singing lineup before furiously heading into town on her little percussion set in the center of the stage. Later, she walked around with the cymbal still on the stand, hitting it successively with the group.
The most memorable piece of the show had to be the group solos when Sheila wasn’t afraid to let her group shine. What followed was Sheila who drank the wine and used the bottle as an instrument to chain on more jams.
Then there were his solos. You can feel the passion (and the Prince) in his playing of drums and guitar.
– Damon Joy
From sound coming from other stages to loud chatter from beer fans, Summerfest isn’t the best format to really soak up lyrical craftsmanship. In fact, in terms of live music options in Milwaukee, this might be the worst.
But every now and then there will be a songwriter who is so amazing, and an audience that is so responsive, that every heart-wrenching or touching word gets the respect it deserves.
Saturday afternoon at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, country artist Cam was that songwriter. And his set was magical.
Cam is not exactly an unknown entity; her tragic sweetheart ballad “Burning House” in 2015 caused a minor sensation on Music Row. But while great county singer-songwriters like Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and Ashley McBryde have become big stars since that time, it hasn’t quite happened for Cam.
And yet Cam’s 2020 album “The Otherside” may be an even stronger showcase for her songwriting than her debut on a major label.
“When it’s calm I say your name softly / In the silence you hide in silence,” Cam sings on “Forgetting You”, about an old love memory that continues to haunt her even when she’s with someone else.
“Our little house seems big and empty / Just me and my shadow, here all alone,” she sings on “What Goodbye Means”, about being about to divorce a lover you still love . “And I try to keep it the way you left it / Just in case you decide to come home.”
Cam sang these songs on Saturday afternoon at Summerfest for a good-sized crowd – made up of passionate fans and clearly many new listeners – who clung to every word. And this attention seemed to him more important than anything else.
– Piet Lévy, [email protected]
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Meditating Poi Dog
Summerfest has been applauded and ridiculed for the something for everyone approach implicit in its annual band lineup, but Poi Dog Pondering very nicely exemplified this approach when he performed at the UScellular Connection Stage on Saturday afternoon.
Leading a team of a dozen bakers, comprising a violinist, a percussionist and a few horn players (who sometimes played other instruments), Poi Dog Pondering skilfully went from an electronic Salt-N-Pepa rhythm to a folkloric simplicity. à la John Prine as backed by a tiki bar band.
The guide, rather than the stern leader, was steadfast member Frank Orrall, whose light enthusiasm softened the tone and gender shifts. After decades of personal and style changes, Orrall has actually created enough PDP music to give something to everyone.
– Jon M. Gilbertson, Special at Sentinel Journal
While the three men who got on the Generac Power Stage on Saturday night were powerful, and of course a trio, they weren’t quite a power trio. Because Thurston Moore, the guitarist, singer and supervisor of the trio, has spent decades resisting the expectations of rock ‘n’ roll.
Drummer, Steve Shelley, was familiar to Moore from Sonic Youth, a pioneering modern rock band whose echoes could be heard every time Moore turned to his amps and rolled the mojo feedback or found several different and intriguing angles on. one chord.
While songs like “Psychic Hearts” deliberately didn’t offer the satisfactions of traditional rock, they had a punk feel and intelligent musicality, and Moore’s vocals were not far from the strangely touching flatness of Lou Reed. At 63, he remains creative.
– Jon M. Gilbertson
Turkuaz with Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew
Jerry Harrison, from Milwaukee, hasn’t returned to his hometown stage – the Summerfest US cellphone stage – for any Saturday night event.
No, Harrison was there with Adrian Belew, who he said he last shared a location with around 1981, when the two were on Talking Heads, albeit with different rankings.
They were accompanied by the Brooklyn Turkuaz ensemble, whose spiky funky noisily synchronized with a revisit of the 1980 Talking Heads album “Remain in Light,” a New Wave outlier. Harrison wielded keyboards and rhythm guitar, while Belew played six-string solos with the special feeling of being a virtuoso who, paradoxically, was still learning the basics.
Belew and Harrison also revisited Talking Heads’ 1979 album “Fear of Music”, with expanding Turkuaz songs like “Cities” as well as “Remain in Light” songs like “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On). ) “and the 1977 favorite” Psychopathic Killer. “
Of course, no one could fully capture the kindly edgy nerdness of the original Heads band leader David Byrne, but everyone had fun trying it out.
– Jon M. Gilbertson