Guster 'nother night at Summerfest

A few weeks ago I was listing to my library of Guster music and mourning the idea that I was going to miss Summerfest again this year. And now, here I am, having just finished a second night of this year's Big Gig.

With Guster.

I ventured back to Milwaukee on my own this afternoon, driving the two hours across the state to get here. Once again, Orrin and Kelli provided me with a ticket to tonight's festivities and a place to rest my head before I head back to The Farm tomorrow morning.

It was good. ... It's been wonderful being back here again, and so many of the memories of our glorious 2011 summer vacation in the Third Ward have come back.

As I approached the Summerfest gates this afternoon I heard a band playing Chicago's "Make Me Smile" -- one of my all time favorite songs -- blasting from the Miller Lite Oasis, horns and all. Immediately, I thought, That's where I'm heading.

I walked up to the stage to find a classic rock cover band, aptly called The Tons O' Fun Band. They followed "Make Me Smile" with another Chicago hit, "Beginnings." Other than the brass section murdering the classic instrumental section that makes the song's finale, this band's sound was pretty decent.

Compare Chicago's original, to this ... 

I walked the rest of the grounds to see what else I might be missing and soon returned to hear Tons of Fun dole out "Superstition," "Play That Funky Music White Boy" and "Power of Love." Eventually, the band ended its set with "25 or 6 to 4." Turns out the band includes Terry Luttrell, the original lead singer for REO Speedwagon.

When I began walking the grounds again, JoJo's Martini Lounge caught my attention. There, a simple outfit called Jesse's First Time was doing more classics. I heard them do "Suite Judy Blue Eyes," "Mrs. Robinson" and "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'."

After grabbing a cheeseburger at Miss Katie's Diner, I stumbled on the Comedy Sportz tent and caught a couple sketches. In one, the comics selected a little girl from the audience -- she was maybe 4 or 5 years old -- to supply the sound effects for their skit. She was adorable and the crowd loved her no matter what sounds came out of her mouth.

Then I settled into my spot at Guster.

Matt Pond was on the stage. A bunch of douches smoking cheap cigars moved in around me. When Matt Pond finished and his groupies moved out, I promptly moved to a better spot. Closer to the stage. At the center of the seating area.

It barely hit me that it was the Fourth of July until I took notice of the people sporting red white and blue around me. There were a lot of T-shirts with slogans like Team USA and 'Merica, bandanas and hats. The Rush T-shirts also were out in full force with that certain band playing at the Marcus tonight. I wore my blue Milwaukee Air Guard T-shirt and my red baseball cap with a "G" that on this particular night stood for Guster.

They say Summerfest has something for everyone. I've seen so much over the years that the outrageous fashions and people watching hardly fazes me anymore.

ZZ Ward opened for Guster as a co-headliner. I hadn't heard of her before tonight, but clearly she had fans in the crowd, especially the ladies who seemed to know every word.

Her souful rock sound, fused with R&B and hip hop elements, reminded me of Toby Lightman. But her non-stop wide smile and long blonde hair, capped with a fedora, reminded me only of Taylor Swift. Not to mention her multiple songs about breakups.

She led the crowd in a sing-along on "Home," and she played a mean harmonica on "If I Could Be Her." She had the crowd thoroughly rocking on her last song, before an encore of "Blue Eyes Blind." I really enjoyed hearing and watching her perform.

Next up, Guster ...

There was a disappointedly small crowd. Which sort of makes me wish I had tried to see Barenaked Ladies at the BMO Pavilion at 8. But I've seen BNL twice, and by not seeing them a third time, I got to see a new artist in ZZ Ward, so it's all good. (Check out this entertaining backstage interview with Barenaked Ladies at Summerfest.)

Guster's performance did seem to start a little slow tonight, but that's forgivable. They're touring this summer with Ben Folds Five and Barenaked Ladies -- oh, how I'd love to see one of those package deals -- and lead singer Ryan Miller made light of the fact they're used to playing 40 minutes each day, making it "the easiest tour ever." After Guster performs, he told the crowd, he goes backstage and eats cheeseballs. Tonight, they had to play "a real concert."

And those of us who showed up were thankful for that.

Here's one of my favorite Guster tunes, "Manifest Destiny."

Soon enough, the Guster boys were buzzing through their songs, three minutes at a time and cutting across most of their albums from "Goldfly" to the most recent "Easy Wonderful," chipping fan favorites from each. By the time they rolled into "Do You Love Me," the show had turned into a good 'ol Summerfest party with beach balls being bopped above the crowd, dancing on benches and smiley people singing everywhere you looked.

Brian Rosenworcel was the usual dynamo on the percussion, while Miller, Adam Gardner and Luke Reynolds took their turns on guitars and keyboards. Miller put on a harmonica for "One Man Wrecking Machine."

Gardner pleased the crowd with his trumpet solos on "What You Call Love" and the epic "Ruby Falls" -- also one of my favorite Guster tunes. ...

And "Happier" gives me chills every time I hear a live version of it and the crowd sings along.

It was classic Guster.

For the encore, Miller started it off by giving the crowd a choice: "Parachute" or "I Spy." Judging the crowd's noise level on each choice, they went with "I Spy."

Saving the best -- sort of -- for last, Miller yelled "We're going to play this once, and you will never hear it again!" Then Rosenworcel stepped to the center mic at the front of the stage and belted out Katy Perry's "Firework." His vocals were atrocious, but no one cared because it was the Fourth of July and Guster was doing its thing.

The setlist
1. What You Wish For
2. Manifest Destiny
3. Architects & Engineers
4. Homecoming King (Capped with a quick take on the theme from "Chariots of Fire.")
5. Demons
6. One Man Wrecking Machine
7. What You Call Love
8. Come Downstairs and Say Hello
9. Do You Love Me
10. Happier
11. Ruby Falls
12. Ramona
13. The Captain
14. Barrel of a Gun
15. Hang On
16. Amsterdam
17. USA Rap/This Could All Be Yours

18. I Spy
19. Satellite
20. Airport Song
21. Firework

No comments: