The Marcus Amphitheater was built in 1987, and at the time was an amazing, addition to the Summerfest and it’s ability to bring in major acts. The first show I saw there was either Graceland or Sting. May have even got in for free.
But boy, is it ever showing its age. Paint is peeling, structure is rusting, the video screens are nearly defunct. The egress is narrow and constrained and the toilets look like shit. It looks especially grubby next to the BEEMO stage, which is directly adjacent. I hope they have a renovation budget ready to go.
However, the music is still absolutely superb.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros/ Avett Brothers/ Violent Femmes
We got in slighlty after Edward Sharpe started playing. They have a pretty cluttered stage; in fact, it was amusing to see the progression in stage sets. ESMZ was filled, to the point you could hardly count all the people. Then, a bunch of shit was removed, and the Avett Brothers had a mostly standard stage set with three risers, then more shit was removed, and hardly anything was left for the Femmes. Kind of the reverse of the way the Talking Heads did it in Stop Making Sense.
Edward Sharpe was pretty good, trancey hippy type music. Interesting vocals. They ended with “Home” of course.
The Avett Brothers were a revelation. One of my friends has been trying to get me to go see them for a few shows, but it’s never worked out, and now I regret it. It’s kind of a punchy mix of bluegrass, country, punk and rock. The cello player was particularly innovative, although I think they may need to add a bassoon player. The show-ending “I And Love And You” was particularly sweet.
The band rocked the amphitheater, owned it totally. And the banjo player was particularly stompey.
But, hey. Remember a couple of days ago, that big list of mine? I had one full album listed, right? Well, guess what album got played last night. Right up front, all the way through, even with a little break between side one and side two when we flipped the album.
Was it a nostalgia tour? Possible. Possibly I am the wrong guy to ask. The music is still pretty damn vital. There’s still nothing that really sounds like it. Yeah, the band, and all of us in the audience actually, have put on some hard mileage. Although some of the people in the audience weren’t even born when that first album was released.
There was a time when the Femmes changed the sound and look of music, they changed what people though about punk music, what people thought about music in Milwaukee. For a while, the band couldn’t get booked in Milwaukee clubs, so they developed the acoustic minimalist setup so they could play outside of bars and on streetcorners.
Their history in the local music scene was on display on the stage last night; they brought out local guests throughout the night, sitting in as The Horns Of Dilemma. Hilariously, Elder Dilemma Sigmund Snopek (number 3!!!) wandered out on the stage before the cue, looking for all the world like my drunk uncle wandering blurrily through the kitchen at 6 AM. But the Horns filled in with just about anything that made noise, including Sig’s Alpenhorn. In fact, the combo of Sig on the Alpenhorn and Peter Balistrieri on the bari sax pretty much fulfilled my bassoon yearnings…. and Silent Mike will be secretly pleased to know that Balistrieri has gone pretty bald.
In one of the most spine-tingling moments, Sammy Llanas from the BoDeans came out to sing with Gordon Gano on the album closer, “Good Feeling”. It was so good to hear Sammy’s voice, and the way they sang together, and when Sammy sang harmony, it added a depth and resonance to the song that wasn’t quite there before.
There was a time when the Femmes had changed music, and then music changed them. There was a time when it wasn’t fun for them anymore, and Victor DeLorenzo, the clown of the group, was the first casualty. The tensions between Gano and Ritchie grew insurmountable, the songwriting suffered (although they could still hit high points like “American Music”). But those tensions didn’t show on the stage, or at least they didn’t stop the band from pulling out all the stops on an incredible show. It seems inconceivable that they haven’t played in town for half a decade. They brought all their friends and family out to play (and Ritchie gave a shout out to his son, recovering in Madison from a double-lung transplant. Holy shit) and you could see the opening bands, watching from the backstage balconies, paying tribute to the band.
There was a time when the Femmes were the sound of teenage discontent and angst, there was a time when the Femmes were the godfathers of Milwaukee Music. There was a time when they could pack the Summerfest stage, making the crowd dance and scream and yell and spit.
Last night was a time when we could all reconnect with our younger selves, our younger friends; last night was time we could, perhaps, siphon a bit of that youthful energy.
Now, if only I could reconnect with my younger feet. Ouch. Gotta go. There’s this festival….