Summerfest. Day #4

In one preview for fest-goers earlier this week, I told readers 'If you’re still looking for a reason to go to Summerfest on Saturday, do it just to see Guster’s Brian Rosenworcel pounding instruments as the band’s one-man percussion section ...'

Going into this year's Summerfest, there was no show I was looking forward to more than Guster's appearance Saturday night. And my anxiety was only amped up further during an interview last week with Rosenworcel.

"The live show is still very much an abusive spectacle; No one should be disappointed," he assured me during the interview.

For those of you unfamiliar with Guster, Rosenworcel, aka "The Thundergod," is arguably one of the most winning aspects of the band’s unique sound, playing a combo of bongos, cymbals, snare drums and other percussion with his bare hands.

So it’s no surprise that when Guster released its fifth studio album, "Ganging Up On The Sun" just a couple weeks ago I found message boards lighting up with long time fans lamenting the evolution of Guster from a cool college-indie band with a bongo player to a polished pop-rock act.

But while Rosenworcel still pulls out the bongos for shows, he’s not sweating the negative vibes from members of the band’s devoted followers. In fact, the drummer himself would be the first to say the decision to weed out the bongos was a music-based one the band made to ensure its growth.

"I’m aware of it, but I don’t read it," he said of the Internet posts. "I’m also aware those people are the vocal minority and are passionate about having a band sound a certain way. That doesn’t really gel with our own ability to be artists."

Starting with 2003’s "Keep It Together," the Boston quartet ceased relying on a percussion kit and a couple acoustic guitars. The band has expanded its sound with more piano, more horns and banjo.

After all, "Ganging Up" debuted at No. 25 on the Billboard Album Sales charts and has won the affection of critics who like the new sound. The album also benefits from Pisapia, who previously had joined the band only on tour.

Said one reviewer for the Boston Herald: " ‘Ganging Up On The Sun’ aspires to classic pop. With the dorky bongos gone, it’s an album that fits on the shelf between Coldplay and The Shins (or even the Beatles and Elvis Costello). It seems their migration has made the boys a little more cosmopolitan."

The Guster boys have named ’60s rock bands like The Kinks, The Beatles and The Band among their influences, but the group’s signature vocal harmonies also have induced comparisons to The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel.

"I think it’s just what happens when we get in a room as a quartet," Rosenworcel said. "... Everybody has sort of a direction they’re feeling and what ever happens happens.

"We never intended to create a seven-minute Pink Floyd epic song," he added, referring to the epic "Ruby Falls," the seventh track on "Ganging Up," which features lush harmonies and a muted trumpet. "But a chord progression happens. A lyric happens. A melody happens. There’s no pre-conceived process."

When I asked Rosenworcel what we could expect at the Summerfest show, he noted it would be just the band's second show promoting the new album (after two weeks of running around doing in-store gigs, Leno and other big-time performances) and the band still enjoys playing the songs on the new album.

"We might play some of the songs faster ’cause we’ll be excited," he said. "We’ll play a long set and give everybody what they want. There’s 12 songs on the record and I’m excited to play them live so something’s gonna have to give."

Added Rosenworcel, "I think Summerfest is one of my favorite things. I really, really, really rallied hard for us to do it … We have an incredible amount of support in Milwaukee. I don’t know where it came from, but Summerfest is like a giant celebration of that fact."

... So how could a show so anticipated, be such a let down? Let me explain ...

Coming off the Train show of the previous night and having officially dubbed it the best show I've seen at Summerfest -- I was back at the grounds at 5:30 Saturday night ... With my friend Eddie allegedly on his way to meet me, I roamed -- first stumbling across Good Luck Joes, a tight and talented little rock band inside the Pavilion. I then got over to the Miller Lite Oasis to catch a bit of Bobby Friss and survey the growing crowd for the Guster show. I had some time, I thought, so I grabbed a Chicago-style dog at Martino's and roamed some more ...

... I stopped for awhile and joined the crowd encircling a dude juggling bowling pins, knives and eventually torches while riding a unicycle ...

... and eventually got to the Big Backyard for one of the shows I had my eye on when the night started, a Prince tribute band called Perple Rain. The show started at 7, the benches in front of the stage were loaded with families and the band opened with 'Let's Go Crazy'. So I'm thinking, sweet! This is going to be a fun show ...

Think again ... it went downhill fast. I quickly remembered why I like some of Prince's music, but always hated watching his act ... and then some. To be honest, the guy playing Prince wasn't that great of a singer, although he had the getup and pant-suits down. Not only that, these guys weren't playing any of the Prince classics or hits. Aside from the opener and 'Rasberry Beret,' they played just about every song in the Prince catalog unfit for radio. Even worse -- especially for the families watching with little girls and boys, I'm sure -- the show was chock full with scantily-dressed women (we're talking women in thongs parading across the stage before each song to hand 'Prince' his guitar ...) dancing and appearing throughout the show ... Aye.

... I had also wanted to check out a Pink Floyd tribute -- Think Floyd USA -- playing at the Classic Rock stage (not to mention Pink and Toto were playing later in the night...) but decided to forego it when I took another gander at the swelling Guster crowd at the Miller Lite Oasis. So I took up a bench at the Oasis, much, much, much further from the stage than I'd hoped to be. And waited while the Willy Porter Band -- a grrrrreat little jam band (below) held the stage (One college-aged kid behind me was so enthralled with Willy Porter, he yelled 'These guys are so much better than Guster!' ... and later, 'Guster should open for YOU!)

All the while ... Eddie's finally arrived at the grounds. Actually finding each other would be a whole other task ... He calls my cell phone (how people ever survived at Summerfest without them now baffles many of us younger Fest-goers ...) but with the loud music and crowds, neither of us can make out anything the other is saying ... long, looooong story short: the two of us spent the next 90 minutes screaming into our phones with me trying to direct him to where I was standing (for the hundreth time, Eddie ... I'm on the benches, on the left side of the stage, just to the right of the bar, by the number 6 on the pole. I'm dressed in all red, you can't miss me! ... there was no way I was leaving, risking giving up the terrible but decent spot I had ...). We exchanged more text messages than either of us had sent in our cell phone careers, in between more ill-fated attempts to try speaking over the phones, which often resulted in hanging up on each other out of extreme frustration ...

By the time Guster stepped on the stage at 10 p.m., I was wiped ... not to mention, surrounded by disrespectful teenie-boppers and frat boys (my least-favorite crowd to be around ...) and a guy standing next to me who I swear had smoked about two-dozen packs of cigarettes, single-handedly putting me in the hospital with a lung cancer diagnosis for sure by next week ...

The band opened with a song off their new album 'The Captain,' and quickly began entertaining the crowd with their between-song banter. Said lead singer Ryan Miller, sporting a Kenney Chesney tour shirt, no less: "If you guys are unfamilar with us, we are Carrie underwood, season four American Idol winner. And we are doing everything to avoid the Ruben Studdard curse..."

From there, they went back a couple years to my favorite Guster album ('Keep it Together') and played a great 'Careful.' Then it was back to the new stuff, as they ran off 'One Man Wrecking Machine' and 'The New Underground' and then, off the Goldfly album, 'Airport Song.'

The band was just going into 'Hang On,' when I got yet another text from Eddie saying 'We're at Pink'

I wrote back. 'I'm coming over.'

Sorry, Guster ... They were amazing when Kates and I saw them a couple years ago. And they're albums are sooooooooooo good ... But -- given the rambuctious crowd, my terrible view (it wasn't even fun to watch the video boards) and the fact I was subconciously hoping to top that amazing Train show from the night before -- Guster just weren't doing it for me Saturday night ... And that's when you gotta suck it up and enjoy the fact that you're at the World's Largest Music Festival and you've got a dozen other top-notch acts to choose from ...

So -- as though I was giving into the world -- I sighed and stepped off my spot on the bench and began walking toward the Big Backyard stage to see Pink. ... I was met by another bulging, but much more manageable crowd. Still, Eddie was nowhere to be found, but I somehow managed to slither through and land atop a picnic table with a great view. ... And there was Pink, looking as beautiful as ever in her bleached blond hair and a long black skirt with blue trim; she was playful with the crowd and totally fun to watch ... (the picture here doesn't do the scene any justice ...)

A couple minutes later, she had the crowd rocking out to a dynamite 'Don't Let Me Get Me' (my personal Pink fave!). Then she pulled out one of the great, early hits I'd almost forgotten, an awesome 'There You Go' And she followed that with soaring, crowd-energizing, sing-a-long covers of 'What's Up' and 'Blister In the Sun' ... watching Pink dance around the stage, singing to her songs and getting a chuckle out of the two starstruck gay guys standing in front of me, a huge smile was spread across my face and it was easily the most fun 20 minutes I had all night ...

... seeing all I wanted, and knowing Toto was playing a a few strides away, I decided to keep with the bounce theme and leave Pink for yet another stage. ... I walked up to a modest crowd at the Classic Rock stage just as Toto was finishing up on Rosanna ... Doh! that's the one I really wanted to hear from them ... Nonethless I stuck around, sent a couple more voice mails and text message to Eddie who was till missing in action, and enjoyed the classic sounds of Toto ... I did get to hear 'I Won't Hold You Back' (ah, the memory of my mother's easy listening radio stations ... ) and then 'Africa' for the finale, which ended with the band hanging up their instruments one by one and the drums fading out just like the original recording. Pretty sweet!

... so now, with my night seemingly over, I started heading to the exits, but decide to take one last look at the Tiki stage for Eddie. The last I'd heard from him, 15 minutes earlier, that's where he was ... So I'm looking, I'm looking ... And there he is, sitting on a picnic table, nursing a beer and looking Ed-blivious. I walked up, stood smack in front of him, and stared back, not saying a word.

He laughs in his own Eddie way, throws up his arms in his own Eddie way and shouts 'Mark!' in his gravely Eddie-voice. And then gets off his picnic table and gives me a hug. Nice to see you too, Eddie -- finally!!

'Are you going to be here for awhile!?' I ask. He nods. 'Good!'

... I walked briskly back to the Miller Lite Oasis out of curiosity ... and to my delight, Guster was still playing. There last song, in fact, a lovely (if I remember right ...) 'Backyard.' ... the entire night had been such an utter frustration mixed with a small collection of surprisingly enjoyable moments, and suddenly here I was back where it all started. Finally being able to look back and enjoy it all ...

I did go back to the Tiki stage to meet Eddie ... Finally we could catch up. We closed the place down. I crawled in bed at nearly 3 a.m., and somehow dragged myself out of bed this morning to do all of it one more time.

Gosh, I love Summerfest.


a My Summerfest preparation: 'It's here baby!!'
a Summerfest Day #1
a Summerfest Day #2
a Summerfest Day #3

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ha! Perfect Ed description. That traitor.

He's out of the group!

(I didn't know he was out til 3. When did he have time to go to the ER?)