Summer vacation, day 7: Happy 50th, Summerfest

Seven days into our summer vacation and I finally got to join the Summerfest party tonight.

The Big Gig is turning 50 this year, and I was determined not to miss it. Living eight hours away and having a growing family has made it more difficult in recent years. Due to the girls' summer activities this year and our travel schedule for this vacation, tonight was the earliest I could get here.

After Summerfest announced this year's headliners in the spring, I was whining out loud to Kates about all the great bands I was going to miss during the first half of the festival. The Moody Blues. Toto. Hanson. My beloved Guster. Paul Simon played the Marcus Amphitheater.

"We could move back to Wisconsin," Kates said. And my whining stopped right then and there. I love my job too much and am not ready to have that conversation yet.

Sunday night we were in town, and I debated coming down to the festival to catch Steve Miller Band. But I opted instead for a quiet night with the girls and several episodes of "Fuller House."

So tonight was the night. I really wanted to see Tegan and Sara. I've enjoyed their stuff for more than a decade now and, after a few missed opportunities, wanted to be a part of their Summerfest stop this year.

I left Kates and the girls this afternoon with Kates' parents on the other side of the state. I met rush hour traffic in Milwaukee, found a parking garage near the art museum and was on the grounds around 6:30.

I went true Wisconsin for dinner and got myself a Usinger's Italian sausage covered with marinara sauce and grilled onions. With a Mountain Dew, of course.

From there, I explored the grounds. I passed through the Summerfest store to see if I could pick up anything unique to mark Summerfest's big 5-0, but the merchandise was way overpriced - $50 t-shirts! $30 for a commemorative guitar pick! I paged through the commemorative book, and it also was a major disappointment, filled with large photos and little written content. It lacked any creative design and looked like some kid made it by importing Summerfest's photo collection into some Shutterfly photo book software and clicking the order button.

Further lowering my expectations of any interesting or attention-grabbing output from Summerfest's creative or archiving staff was the "Summerfest 50" history exhibit, which I should note was created in partnership with the Milwaukee County Historical Society - and you'd think that partnership would help raise the bar. ... But it was nothing more than a series of banners printed with photos and some captions, mostly copied straight from the commemorative book. The exhibit was meant to be a chronological history, but some of the photos - based on my own Summerfest history knowledge and what I had just seen in the book - were clearly out of order. No Summerfest memorabilia either. My history faculty friends at the university and their students would have put that exhibit to shame.

I explored the grounds a little longer. I saw a bikini-clad woman hipping a hula hoop while playing a saxophone.

A woman painted in gold and wearing a suit, performing as a statue in the middle of the lakeshore walking path. And a young man repeatedly juggling for a minute or so before turning into a statue, a sign on the ground in front of him asking passersby to drop money in his bucket to see him come alive.

I also heard two covers of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" within my first hour on the grounds. ... The crowd was noticeably sparse tonight, compared to most Summerfest nights, though. After all, the ground headliners were lightweights, with REO Speedwagon being, arguably, the major draw at the BMO Harris Pavilion, while Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers was playing at the Marcus. There were Plenty of good seats available for Tegan and Sara.

A semi-cool guy rock band - King Washington whose sound reminded me of the BoDeans - played at 8.

It was Tegan and Sara's turn at 10, and what can I say? They were a pleasure to see and hear.

Rainbow lights moved over the stage - which was set with three huge beachy inflatables spelling out T-&-S - as the band came on to the sound of Le Tigre's "I'm So Excited." I'm not sure that was planned, but it was a fitting introduction.

The show took on a relaxed, chilled vibe as their synth pop and layered vocals filled the space. The girls - conceding they are 37 years old, though they still look like 18 - bee-bopped and twirled around the stage while they sang. They were cute. And genuine with the crowd as they shared about their exploration of Milwaukee earlier in the day and complimented the crowd on having a beautiful city. At one point they gave a shout-out to all of the single people in the crowd and tried playing matchmaker - "90s-style." They proclaimed their open support for the LGBTQ community without getting political. "There's lots of love to go around at a Tegan and Sara concert," Tegan said.

The show really hit its stride when Tegan moved away from her Korg synthesizer, strapped on a guitar and the band banged out the thumping "Northshore." They followed it with an equally thunderous "Living  Room," which is one of my favorites. Here's a snippet ...

In honor of 10 years since releasing "The Con," they announced plans to perform the full album and stripped-down version of those songs during upcoming shows. They proceeded to go acoustic on their next three songs, "The Con," "Call It Off" and "Nineteen."

The acoustic set was just enough of an interlude before they got back to their electronics and turned the volume back up with a series of songs from their latest album, "Love You to Death," including "Hang on to the Night," "BWU," "Stop Desire" and "U-turn."

Of course, they ended their set with "Boyfriend" ...

And "Closer" ...

Two of their biggest hits, there was no other way out. And they sounded great.

And that was it. An efficient exploration of the best material in their catalogue that lasted barely an hour. But it was a pleasure.

Here's the setlist ...

1. “Back in Your Head”
2. “How Come You Don't Want Me”
3. “I Couldn't Be Your Friend”
4. “Goodbye, Goodbye”
5. “Drove Me Wild”
6. “I Was A Fool”
7. “Shock To Your System”
8. “Alligator”
9. “Northshore”
10. “Living Room”
11. “The Con”
12. “Call It Off”
13. “Nineteen”
14. "Hang on to the Night"
15. “BWU”
16. “Stop Desire”
17. “U-turn”
18. “Boyfriend”
19. “Closer”

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