words by Cal Roach
Hey Milwaukee. You probably know what we’re going to be talking about this week, eh? We know that you know that Summerfest is happening, but the damn thing is so big and overwhelming, maybe you don’t know which bands to catch or what day they’re playing. Rather than pore over the lengthy schedule and get stuck staring at the Northwestern Mutual Children’s Theater & Playzone by accident, we just give you the highlights, the essentials, if you will. Plus, as luck would have it, there are lots of other non-Summerfest things going on this weekend. Read on to find out what those things are.
First things first. You’d be silly not to get yourself down to the world’s largest music festival at some point, assuming you don’t suffer from extreme agoraphobia or acute hipsterism. Today (Friday) is definitely one of the days we’d recommend, and it’s all (well, primarily) about the hip hop, as you can pack in the likes of LL Cool J, P.O.S., Brother Ali and Atmosphere. But there’s also local stuff like PHOX and De La Buena to keep you dancing through the afternoon, and the ever-popular Cake for a nightcap! That’s unless you snagged tickets for Tom Petty at the Marcus, who’s been digging up lots of rarities and old favorites on tour this year, plus of course he IS the king of Milwaukee…
Saturday, you might wanna go to Summerfest too. Nice of them to schedule a bunch of cool stuff on the weekend, eh? You could start your day pretty early with The Zombies (Hey, who knows?), get the dance party started around 5 with Yeasayer (seriously, see this band), be sure to catch Elusive Parallelograms at all costs, maybe swing by the Meat Puppets set and then choose either alt/country/rock (Cracker) or beats, beats, beats (Pretty Lights). And we should mention that we’re sponsors of the K-Nation/Cascio stage as usual, which features tons of amazing local music every day of the fest, so stop by there any time you’re stumped for something to do and discover a new homegrown fave!
It’s not just about Summerfest this weekend, though! There’s an equally exciting festival going on in Riverwest Saturday and Sunday: the inaugural Breadfest! It’s being hosted by the Bread King Collective, a loosely-defined Milwaukee music community you should probably look into, and features lots of bands who are members of said collective as well as a wide range of other local artists. As far as who we’re already familiar with, there ain’t a stinker among ’em, but just to throw out some sure-fire highlights: Fahri, Temple and Animals In Human Attire for Saturday, and Old Earth, Outside, Like Like The The The Death and Midwest Death Rattle for Sunday. Shows start early both days; check here for the full schedule.
Starting even earlier (noon!) on Saturday: the 6th annual Burnhearts/Pabst Street Party (aka the party formerly known as Red, White & Pabst Blue Ribbon), taking place in Bay View at the corner of Logan Street and Potter Avenue. It’s your chance to squeeze in some great music (as well as alcohol, and food provided by Honey Pie and Classic Slice!) even before the other festival options; Space Raft (loud psych rock) goes on at 12:30, and then it’s Fable & The World Flat (unpredictable funky pop) and The Championship (atmospheric folk rock), all before dinner time. Plus, there’ll be a bunch of arts and crafts on display and for sale, and the event is a benefit for the Bay View Neighborhood Association this year, so you can feel good about where your Pabst/Schlitz/Korbel slush money is going! This party is always a blast; check here for the full lineup of talent and such.
In addition to festivals and such, there’s a terrific show going on Saturday night at the Riverwest Public House. The Scarring Party went on hiatus for a bit (not a completely bad thing, which you’d know if you’ve listened to Little Otik), but the band is back in action this year, and because of this, we rejoice! There’s no other band like it in Milwaukee: drums, accordion, banjo, upright bass and tuba make up the meat of the music, and the lyrics, sung in a rather sprightly tone, are generally quite morbid in nature, making for an interesting dynamic of fun and creepy. It was always tough to think of an appropriate act to share the bill with Scarring Party, but during that time off, a perfect one emerged: Hello Death. The two bands are sort of similar on the surface in terms of instrumentation and quirkiness, although the overall mood and execution are very different. However you look at it, this is a Milwaukee pairing that totally needed to happen. Plus, Jon Mueller will be your between-sets DJ; could this bill get any more perfect?
Next week looks like a good week for…more Summerfest? Yeah, most venues wisely cool it for the majority of the Big Gig’s run, but lucky for us, there’s plenty of cool stuff to check out by the lakefront (and hopefully not so much rain?) all week. Tuesday night welcomes perennial visitors from Chicago, Umphrey’s McGee. You could say this band dove headfirst into the jam-band scene and gradually removed all of the infamously lame tendencies that most of those bands have, injecting a healthy dose of metal and ending up with a technically astounding prog-rock sound rife with pointed, dynamic improv. Or, you could always check out Styx!
Wednesday night features a couple of potentially killer options in terms of ground-stage headliners: MGMT came out swinging with that inescapable first album (2007’s Oracular Spectacular), then suffered that dreaded sophomore slump with the uneven Congratulations in 2010. The band’s live shows have been equally hit-or-miss, so with a third, self-titled album due in September, this slot at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse could be amazing, but it could be crap. Nevertheless, we figure curiosity is a worthy impetus. Otherwise, you could choose a slightly more known quantity, The Go-Go’s, America’s new-wave sweethearts. We can’t make any guarantees about how good the 80s icons are today (Belinda Carlisle is 54, if you need a bit of perspective), but can you imagine hearing “We Got The Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” live and not having a blast? Come on. Plus, there’s some chick named Brandi Carlile playing this night too, how weird is that? And the Cascio stage features, among others, Body Futures and Midnight Reruns, and we wouldn’t recommend missing either of those bands.
Thursday is the anniversary of our nation’s departure from the British empire. There will be fireworks. And also, a Canadian band called Rush will play the Marcus Amphitheater (speaking of prog-rock). This might be one of those bands that you’ve already made your mind up about one way or the other; either you dig the relentlessly complex rhythms and multi-part song suites and super-high vocals and daunting individual instrumental prowess of the three members of this band, or you don’t. Maybe it’s kind of a geek thing, but if you’re somehow still undecided or not familiar with Rush, we recommend taking a chance. Against all odds, the band put out a really good album last year (Clockwork Angels); how many non-Paul McCartney artists are still putting out really good new music after four and a half decades in the rock and roll business? We can name maybe five. And believe it or not, Rush’s last appearance at Summerfest (in 2010) was one of the best performances we’ve ever seen by the band, so chances are there’s some life in ‘em yet. Oh, and don’t miss Twin Brother and Into Arcadia earlier in the day for your local fix!