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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

Sun
Hi: 54
Lo: 41
Mon
Hi: 41
Lo: 20
Tue
Hi: 28
Lo: 17
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Femi Kuti played to a solid yet slim crowd tonight at Summerfest.
Femi Kuti played to a solid yet slim crowd tonight at Summerfest.

Femi Kuti reigns a Positive Force

What do you even begin to say about an artist like Femi Kuti? Born in London to Nigerian afro-beat pioneer, Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti has become a legend in his own right, shining light on Nigerian politics through a danceable, global sound.

Femi Kuti stepped onto the Potawatomi Rock Stage with his nearly 15 piece "Positive Force" backup band for one of the best Summerfest shows I have seen thus far.

Taking the stage right at 10 p.m., Femi Kuti and The Positive Force maintained high energy for the full 90-minute set. A horn section, pianist, drummer and others joined Kuti on stage as he alternated between vocals and piano.

A three woman dance team provided sheer booty bumping energy, keeping the audience on its feet and in motion.

A scarcely attended show, especially in contrast to other side stages like Guster or Matisyahu, fans who navigated their way north to see Kuti were by no means disappointed.

Tradition exuding from every element of the show, Kuti follows in his father's footsteps, proclaiming the pride of Nigeria through band's dress, lyrics and overall emotion.

Kuti, known for his ability to saddle dub reggae right up to African beat, defines a new genre more specific than world music but more abstract than simply "reggae," "hip-hop" or "funk."

The crowd reiterated the dance-ability of Kuti's sound as swarms of people moved into isles and open areas to take advantage of space to truly get down.

As expected, Kuti's show followed in his father's afro-beat footsteps, but consciously layered elements of dub, hip-hop and electro-funk for a heavy bass-ridden sound. Combining hits from both old and new recordings, Femi played a classic collection of songs that kept the audience's attention straight through the evening.

"The Definitive Collection," a compilation released in 2007 highlighted Kuti's hip-hop influences with collaborations with Common, Mos Def and D'Angelo. His most recent recording, "Day by Day," includes…

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Grace and Julian took to the Miller Oasis with a full band.
Grace and Julian took to the Miller Oasis with a full band.

Gracing us with a stellar Summerfest set

Wauwatosa native Grace Weber and Julian Pollack made the trip from New York to Milwaukee for a Summerfest show. But for Weber, it was simply a trip home. They played on the Miller Lite stage at 2 p.m. despite looming dark clouds and a threat of heavy rain.

Weber, the vocalist, and Pollack, on the piano, were joined on stage by a drummer, guitarist and saxophone player. The duo, which recently became a five-piece band, comes from New York where its members met as students two years ago at New York University's School of Music.

Weber's voice is both smokey and strong, sultry and light and Grace and Julian occupy the stage with comfort and class.

With two recorded albums under their belt and a third to be released within the coming months, Grace and Julian revealed a sliver of their musical talent with renditions of original songs and classic favorites.

Both Weber and Pollack interacted with the crowd as natural entertainers, turning the expansive Miller Lite Oasis into a family style small show.

Able to transition between genres as only truly skilled musicians can, their hour-long set included a mixture of jazz, funk, rock and singer/songwriter staples.  Self-penned songs like "Hi Mom," "Leave the Light On," were interspersed among sing-along favorites like "Let it Be" and "Tell Me Something Good."

Grace and Julian perform tonight at Jazz in the Park and again on July 9 at the Milwaukee Ale House.