Summerfest 2018, take 2

As disappointed as I was in the Summerfest lineup this year, I decided to take a gamble tonight. We had been settled in at Kates’ parents since Sunday night and I nearly decided to stay put, doubting it was worth the 2 ½ drive over to Milwaukee, essentially to hear two songs.

But Foster the People was playing, and I really wanted to hear two songs live and have the unmatched Summerfest experience. A night to myself, to be me.

So I went. I dropped my stuff at Orrin’s and Kelli’s house – which has become our de facto Airbnb when we visit the state each summer. I rolled into downtown around 6 p.m., found a parking garage and began my walk to the grounds.

With the lakefront fireworks set to launch at dark, a crowd was filling the grounds surrounding the art museum. It was a festive and gorgeous night downtown. But what night at Summerfest isn’t?

I took my time strolling through the grounds tonight, more so than usual, wanting to soak up the sights and sounds. As I told my mom the other night, I live for being in that atmosphere every summer.

There was a lot of great music coming from the side stages tonight. I caught a long-haired rocker at the Tiki Lounge doing “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Better yet, I walked up to another stage where a classic rock cover band had a crowd of people dancing to a spot-on version of “Melt with You,” and they followed it with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell.” Further down, a male duo was wielding their guitars on a grunge-style original.

I passed through the marketplace. Gazed at the Ferris wheel. And grabbed a cheeseburger at one of my favorite Summerfest eating spots, Miss Katie’s Diner.

I settled in at the Miller Lite Oasis to hear Attica Riots last song, “Blood, Sunshine and Hysteria.” And I liked it.

Drax Project, a New Zealand outfit, came on at 8:30 and announced they were playing their first U.S. show. The crowd immediately jumped to their feet on the benches as the band opened with “Toto.”

The jazz-pop band’s hour-long set featured a mix of songs off their newly released EP and unreleased tracks, including “Hollywood.” They kept the atmosphere light and fun and were a perfect warmup for Foster the People. … I liked them, too, and have already downloaded their EP, along with a few Attica Riots tracks. Summerfest did me good tonight.

As if it was planned, Drax Project left the stage and Milwaukee’s lakefront fireworks began lighting up the sky behind us, providing an entertaining interlude while the stagehands went to work to set the stage for Foster the People.

Rarely off schedule at Summerfest, the clock struck 10 and the stage began filling with fog. It barely let up the rest of Foster the People’s set, a flashy showcase –literally – of punchy electronic rock.

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
As white clouds enveloped and sometimes obscured Foster the People, I couldn’t help wondering about the indie-pop band’s smoke budget. Must be sizable. 

Not that it was needed. Foster the People has enough hits, including “Pumped Up Kicks” and “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” to attract an overflow crowd at the Miller Lite Oasis Tuesday night. Plus a light show that competed with and sometimes complemented the fireworks over Lake Michigan.

Lead singer Mark Foster played guitar and keyboards and commanded the stage in a Hawaiian shirt while powering through “Helena Beat,” “Coming of Age” and “Don’t Stop.”
Commanding indeed.

But seriously. The sole reason I went to Summerfest tonight – although, once there, I found several other things to enjoy – was to hear “Pumped Up Kicks.” It was the song of the summer in 2011, and it felt like everyone in the crowd was there last night to hear it. It helped that “Sit Next to Me” is hot on the radio this summer – it might be my favorite song of this season – and I like “Don’t Stop,” too.

I played Foster’s three albums a couple weeks ago to re-familiarize myself with the band’s work, but still nothing about them excited me like the songs I named above. Tonight was one of the rare occasions I went to see a band perform without a broad admiration for their whole catalogue. Tonight was all about discovery and hoping to find a deeper appreciation.

It turned out to be the right decision. With a youthful crowd cheering them on, every song seemed to begin with a roar of synthesizers. Foster bounced and slid his feet across the stage at times like he was channeling James Brown. The flashing lights combined with the pumping electronic beats made it a full-fledged party. I couldn’t sing any of the songs word for word tonight, but it didn’t matter. I just listened let my eyes soak up the spectacle surrounding me.

One of the highlights included a romping cover of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

To close out the set, Mark Foster, who hadn’t spoken more than a few words to the crowd all night, offered up a rallying statement about the issues dividing our country – something I was expecting before “Pumped Up Kicks” – and then glided into a smooth-sounding “Sit Next to Me.”

The band had barely left the stage and the crowd started a fist-pumping chant of “Pumped Up Kicks” when Foster returned. They fired off “I Love My Friends” and then their signature hit – which the band seemed to play hastily as if they just wanted to please the crowd and get it over with.

The setlist:
  1. Houdini
  2. Are You What You Want to Be?
  3. Pay the Man
  4. Helena Beat
  5. Coming of Age
  6. Waste
  7. Don't Stop (Color on the Walls)
  8. Lotus Eater
  9. Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones cover)
  10. Pseudologia Fantastica
  11. A Beginner's Guide to Destroying the Moon
  12. Doing It for the Money
  13. Loyal Like Sid & Nancy
  14. Sit Next To Me

  15. I Love My Friends
  16. Pumped Up Kicks

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