Well, that was unexpected.
We knew that this Thursday was going to be an Impossible Day. Too many bands, too many overlapping slots, spread out over the entire grounds and the entire day’s schedule.
It was Throwback Thursday, and beers were half priced until 6 PM. The first throwback band was the northernmost stage, a Milwaukee bunch from the 80s, X-Posed 4-Heads, a new wave outfit that had local hits like “Nice Guy” and a very fervent appreciation for the B-52s and Devo. They even did a cover of “Whip It”! They did it good!
I bought what will become my favorite shirt, from the excellent Rebel Stage:
Then we slopped down to the southern edge of the grounds to a covered pavilion for Pet Engine, a local alternative power pop band from the 90s, who put in an energetic set and even brought out Posies Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer to help out on a couple of songs. At this point I discovered that local brewpub Water Street Brewery was offering a new beer called Midnight Lager, a Guiness style concoction that was fucking delicious.
Next Up was Matthew Sweet. As I told my buddy Zelmo, there’s no way he approaches the level of when we saw him do all of Girlfriend from right in front of the stage. But he was pretty good, if a bit by-the-book and he didn’t say very much. Spent a lot of time facing his amp, shunning us like a cat.
Next we moved BACK north, just past the midpoint, to another covered pavilion to see former Milwaukee boy Kevn Kinney and his band Drivin’ n’ Cryin’. He name-checked a few passed Milwaukee musicians and landmarks, including Kenny Baldwin and the Starship; but mainly he seemed to be content to largely channel the barf ‘n’ boogie southern crunch rock stylings of his adopted hometown. I have much more appreciation for his folkish and country and punk leanings, so I was a bit disappointed.
At this point, we headed toward the Rebel stage, but since we were eight people at that point, the Physics of Summerfest (specifically the Rule of Six) took immediate effect and as soon as we left the pavilion, the group split up. And then we got to the Rebel Stage to discover that their last band started at 8, and they were breaking down. I warned these guys, but you know how people feel about experts.
BACK NORTH again. We wound up at the northernmost stage for 2 George Thorogood songs. He was….well, what do you expect from Thorogood? That’s what it was. So….on we go.
Back to the mid-point pavilion for the Meat Puppets. The place was so empty (although it filled up later, with pleasingly energetic youngsters), we felt kind of sorry for the band.
I had seen the Pups quite a few years ago, at a 300 seat club, and they were so blisteringly good, the songs filled with desert and psychedelic vocals, and the solos swooping, soaring and stabbing directly into my brain. It made me feel like I was tripping, just from the music.
This night was almost as good, the band was so tight. The rhythm section kept things completely together while Kirkwood and the keyboard player wove instrumental tapestry around each other. And the only time they properly ended a song, rather than just decaying into feedback and guitar solo feeding into a new riff, was at the end of the show, when they made about seven false stops to “Lake Of Fire”.
They played my Favorites; Backwater, Sam, Coming Down, Up On The Sun, Plateau…they tore the paint of the place, then painted it back with the colors of the desert. I had a vision of Curt Kirkwood, living in a run down ranch in the middle of nowhere, walking out onto his porch naked and playing these songs for about twelve hours at ear-splitting volume into the desolation.
And that was it for Thursday.
So here’s what was unexpected. In the course of that day, having seen six different bands at three different stages, I never expected that Matthew Sweet would be the second-most disappointing (relatively) band of the day.