Monday, July 09, 2007

It's direct from Lhasa.

Summerfest turned 40 this year and I went down to Milwaukee Saturday to take part in some of the festivities.

I met up with a good crowd, including my good old buddy Andrew who (like a total jerk) moved to Chicagoland a couple months ago, thus depriving me of crashing quarters every time I'm in Milwaukee. Funnily enough, however, he was also at the wedding last week, so even though he now lives further away, we saw each other twice in the same week which says a lot considering that when he lived in Milwaukee, it'd usually be about 1-2 months between visits.

The problem with an 11-day festival is that you never get the bands you really want to see all in one day. Steely Dan was the big opening act this year, and Andrew and I both sat and debated about going, but ultimately never pulled the trigger to call the other and say "Okay, I'm going, should I get you a ticket?" If one of us had made that call, we both would've gone, but laziness... you know... Steely Dan will be around again, right? Right...

Then Spoon played on Thursday. I would've liked to have seen them, but (like most people) I had to work everyday last week barring the 4th. Unfortunately, state and local governments didn't. Which meant writing stories about them was next to impossible. Last week was frustrating. I'm sure Spoon would've soothed my jangled nerves. But driving from Madison to Milwaukee at 5:00 would've agitated me more than necessary. Spoon will be around again, right? Of course...

The Old 97's played Saturday, so that was a good enough reason to go for me, plus Andrew & posse said that'd be the day they make it up, and Summerfest is always better with a gang of cohorts, so I took off early Saturday afternoon to meet the gang in Milwaukee.

Saturday was hot as the dickens and we decided that at Summerfest prices, spending the whole afternoon there incurring beer and water tabs would probably lead to catastophic credit card debt. So Andrew said we should tour Lakefront Brewery. Fair enough. At least we'd be drinking in air conditioning. We stood in line and then some dude came out and informed us that the group that was standing in front of us would be the last admitted. That's kind of a kick in the pants. It sucks to be turned away, but it sucks to be behind the last people to get in. You just can't help but feel like you're up against Steve Rubell and all you've got is a really crappy shirt on. Fire code, shmire code... we were turned away, 'cos they didn't like us.

So we went to a pub where we ordered a load of appetizers and almost $50 worth of beer. When the check came around I debated whether our earlier logic that running up a beer tab at Summerfest was now rendered moot, but I decided it was still a good call. Going this way was about $2 cheaper in the end and we got to spend the hottest part of the day in air conditioning. "Hooray air conditioning!" I could be heard to exclaim as Live Earth concerts were going on around the world.
Par for the course.

We finally started shuffling down to Summerfest grounds at about 4:30 p.m. Andrew started putting on a bunch of sunscreen, and I was talking to someone else, and thought "Oh, good idea." This is the problem with me trying to hold a conversation with someone and analyze something being done by someone else. I'm not really processing the fact that I'm putting on sunscreen in the evening. Had I not been engaged in conversation, I probably would've given Andrew a lot of ribbing about that brutal evening sun Milwaukee gets and the inadequate amount of shade the trees, stages and pavillions cast over the Summerfest grounds. Instead I thought "Oh, good idea!" and greased myself up for no good reason.

Andrew got adamant about checking out the alternative stage that would host Papa Roach later that evening. With absolutely no affinity for any member of the Roach family, much less their opener's opener's opener's opener, I begrudgingly followed. When we got there, there was no one on stage, so we bought some beers and sat and waited for awhile. No one came on, but they had a big screen next to the stage that you could text message for everyone who looked up at it to see. There were a lot of marriage proposals going on and "Magz is the best friend eva! XOXOXO!" type stuff going on display. The 2nd grader in me really wanted to text "boobs" up there for a half-second chortle, but I decided not to waste my dime. The joke would've been a little too high brow for Papa Roach fans anyway. (Oooooh!)

I started getting a little annoying to the rest of the group about how great the Old 97's are and what a show they'd put on that night. None of 'em besides Andrew had ever heard them before, so I kept going on about how much of a treat is was going to be, and literally making an announcement every 15 minutes that "The Old 97's are gonna be playing in ___ hours and ____ minutes!" I did that for about three hours. By the time I made the 1 hour and 15 minutes announcement, none of them wanted me to talk at all anymore.

We got our seats in the Potawatomi Pavillion about an hour and a half before showtime, which I got a good chiding from everyone else for, but then they ended up being glad we did it because the pavillion was PACKED an hour before showtime. Barring the group I came with, everyone else got pretty excited when I announced that "The Old 97's will be going on in 0 hours and 15 minutes!"

Two girls in front of me were asking if I'd seen 'em before. I gave them the whole "Pshaw, I've hung out with Rhett and Murry and interviewed Ken" supreme a**hole treatment, which actually seemed to impress them. They asked if they'd play "Barrier Reef." "Oh, pff... of COURSE!" was my reply.

It was the fourth song played.

Old 97's - Barrier Reef
I really respect all the different styles the 97's take on their albums, and I can name great songs off all of them. Too Far To Care is the popular favorite and it finally hit me at Summerfest why people keep imploring them to write more albums like Too Far To Care. "Timebomb," "Barrier Reef," "Big Brown Eyes," hell... even "W. TX Teardrops" always go down best. Fun, fun music. You can't help but love singing along to a lyric like "I went through the motions with her -- her on top, and me on liquor."

Pictured: Headband, red Fender bass. Not pictured: chick magnet.

Observations? Sure, I have some. Rhett wore a headband, which I can only gather was to limit sweat showers on stage and the front few rows when he starts jumping around during solos. It didn't last that long, it was gone for the second half of the set and just as well, cos he looked kind of silly in it. Murry wasn't playing the old Guild semi-hollow body bass, which was kind of a disappointment for me as I'm a traditionalist, and that guitar is just... him. A red Fender bass? Sure it looks great, but... With haircut, soul patch and "Chick Magnet" t-shirt, Ken Bethea is trying to look about 20 years younger than he is, and Philip Peeples all the sudden just looks very middle aged.

But that's all okay. They rocked. They weren't allowed an encore which actually had everyone in the pavillion booing. That was kind of cool. Nice to see such an impassioned group get such an impassioned audience.

I didn't stick around too long after. My options that night were Live, Papa Roach or Panic! At the Disco, none of which tickled my fancy. Plus I had to drive back to Madison. So... I left before congestion got too bad and called it a night a tad early. S'alright. At least I got to see an act I came for. Two years ago, I went to see Hall & Oates, who cancelled cos Hall had Lyme disease. So we saw David Lee Roth instead. I still don't like to talk about it.

I might not be seeing Andrew for awhile now, so here's a mutual favorite of ours in his honor... by the band we really SHOULD'VE seen.

Steely Dan - Time Out Of Mind
Even though Andrew always calls this one "Chasing the Dragon" -- which sometimes makes me wonder about his personal habits -- I do know he is a big Dan fan, and this cut from 1980's Gaucho has poured from many a speaker in car and apartments where we've dwelled. And will probably continue to do so.


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