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Femi Kuti rocked the house at the Johnson Controls World Soundstage.
Femi Kuti rocked the house at the Johnson Controls World Soundstage. (Photo: Mark Stewart)

Femi Kuti delivers at summerfest

Slotted alongside crowd-pleasing acts like Tom Petty, Atmosphere and Switchfoot, Nigerian-born Afrobeat superstar Femi Kuti took the stage Friday at 10 p.m. on the Johnson Controls World Soundstage.

While the size of the crowd in attendance couldn’t compete with some of the other big name artists performing, the small yet dedicated audience was likely treated to one of the highlights of Summerfest.

The son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, Femi created his own band and musical identity in the late 1980s and has since garnered the respect and recognition as a phenomenal musician and bandleader that exists independently of his father’s accomplishments.

The rotating group of musicians that backs him is known as "The Positive Force," and the most recent incarnation brought an energy and attitude to the stage that put fans and festival attendees into a trance.  The band emerged in sections. 

The drummer, bassist, keyboard player and guitarist emerged first and immediately laid down a driving Afro groove that set the mood for the evening.  A horn section that featured two saxophonists and trumpet player emerged next and they stepped into sync flawlessly as the layered polyrhythms expanded into frenzy.

Following the horn section came three dancers/backup singers in heavy blue and white makeup and exposed mid drifts.  They moved with a deep sense of rhythm and intense understanding of the musical environment that they were expressing with their bodies.  Finally, Femi walked out onto the stage carrying a trumpet and two saxophones.  He picked up the microphone and fell into a deeply engaging melodic theme that contrasted in a perfectly engineered syncopation with the polyrhythmic foundation that had been laid down by the rest of the band.

Drawing heavily from their most recent album, "No Place for My Dream," Femi lead the group of musicians through an acrobatic set of complex yet deeply soulful songs.  Clocking in at just under two hours, the set proved the grou…

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Producer and DJ Diplo headlined the Miller Lite Oasis on the opening night of Summerfest.
Producer and DJ Diplo headlined the Miller Lite Oasis on the opening night of Summerfest. (Photo: Summerfest)
From the get-go, Diplo's execution and track choices proved his vast understanding of electronic music, and showcased his ability to read and adapt to a crowd.
From the get-go, Diplo's execution and track choices proved his vast understanding of electronic music, and showcased his ability to read and adapt to a crowd. (Photo: Summerfest)

Diplo gets Milwaukee moving

Through a sea of flat brim Monster Energy hats and grape swisher cigar smoke, an assault of masterfully curated and chest-rattling bass music emerged that perfectly set the tone for Summerfest 2013 on its opening night.  Los Angeles-based producer and DJ Diplo took the stage at 10 p.m. at the Miller Lite Oasis in front of an ecstatic crowd of festival attendees who were eager to kick the summer off with a bang. 

From the get-go, Diplo’s execution and track choices proved his vast understanding of electronic music, and showcased his ability to read and adapt to a frenzied crowd.  His ability in this sort of environment should come as no surprise based on the eclectic roster of producers and artists that he’s collaborated with over the course of his career.

He’s worked with prolific and acclaimed artists such as M.I.A., Das Racist, Azealia Banks, Skream and Santigold, who have all consistently produced sounds that push the boundaries of what is possible within the popular spectrum of hip-hop, pop and electronic music. 

He’s always been a producer who doesn’t necessarily fit within the confines of a particular style of music, and this genre-jumping mentality was in full effect on Wednesday night.  Over a two-hour period, Diplo navigated through dozens of tracks from all corners of the music world and flawlessly implemented climactic transitions and exciting remixes that stirred a capacity crowd into a state of sheer insanity.

Over the course of his headlining set, he managed to jump from massive club-bangers like Drake’s "Started From The Bottom," to a bass-crunching remix of Daft Punk’s "Get Lucky," to a sped-up version of "You & Me" from London’s up and coming 2-step/house savants, Disclosure. 

Another highlight was a massive Summerfest edition of the "Harlem Shake" which just about caused the stage to collapse.  The show served as a huge release for young Milwaukee residents who’ve had a pent-up dance rage over a long winter and unusually …

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Portugal. The Man rocked The Pabst Theater on Friday night.
Portugal. The Man rocked The Pabst Theater on Friday night. (Photo: Erik Ljung Photography)

Portugal. The Man delivers high-energy performance

Originally started as a side project for frontman John Baldwin Gourley, Oregon’s Portugal. The Man has risen to prominence and gained a reputation as an ever-evolving experimental rock band over their near decade long career.

Their most recent album, "Evil Friends" has pulled back some of the stretched out ambient jams and psychedelic interludes in favor of more tightly constructed pop songwriting and elegant, polished production. This is due in part to the inclusion of Grammy award-winning studio wizard Dangermouse (Gnarls Barkley, The Black Keys, Sparklehorse) as executive producer on the album.

This shift in approach was evident on Friday although the band managed to maintain their niche for periods of fuzzy ambience while still seamlessly transitioning into driving sing-along anthems.

Opening band Guards got things started with an entertaining yet derivative set of mid-tempo songs that seemed to excite the crowd into an early frenzy. Apparently, it’s been doing too good of a job of this on tour, as lead singer Richie Follin announced that the audience in Chicago the previous night had been too tame for Portugal. The Man’s performance after an explosive Guards opening set. As we later found out, this would not end up being a problem in Milwaukee.

There was an unusually long set-up period after Guards finished and the crowd was starting to get anxious after waiting nearly an hour for Portugal. The Man to take the stage. Ultimately, the wait would prove to be worth it.

As the house lights dim, the crowd erupted as panned keyboard loop launched the band into its great new single, "Purple Yellow Red and Blue" and saw everyone in attendance singing along instantly. While the band was incredibly tight, and the house mix was perfect, animated sketches and choreographed lighting helped make the performance visually stunning, as well.

Portugal. The Man predictably relied heavily on its new album cuts but managed to work in the thrilling echoe…

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Tulip had beautiful decor, but I was underwhelmed by the food.
Tulip had beautiful decor, but I was underwhelmed by the food.

Tulip wilts my appetite

In support of last week's Downtown Dining Week, I decided to visit the Turkish restaurant Tulip, 360 E. Erie St., in hopes of discovering my new favorite Mediterranean eatery. I am in a serious and long-term love affair with hummus, so I couldn't resist a chance to eat a meal complementary to my favorite ethnic flavor.

Tulip is located in the old Gas Light building in the Third Ward. As I walked in, I was taken with the original light fixtures over the bar casting a soft light over the restaurant. The atmosphere was muted and warm.

Although I was enamored with the decor, my expectations quickly fell after the food began to arrive. I ordered the Downtown Dining $20 dinner menu, which included an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. I, of course, ordered hummus for the appetizer.

Although I was content with the warm pita bread, I was disappointed that the hummus wasn't particularly flavorful. I had expected some garnish or additional spice, but it was very much plain hummus.

More alarming than the basic yet satisfactory hummus was my chicken kebab entree. The mild chicken and the underwhelming rice served to create a dry, unexciting dish. It was close, but it was as if the chef stopped short of completing the plating. The kebab needed a sauce to bring up the quality.

I ordered the baklava for desert, and it thankfully ended my meal on a high note. The baklava was flaky, sweet and delicious.

Although I wouldn't qualify Tulip as a complete failure, it was definitely overpriced for the quality of food provided. My hunt for the perfect Mediterranean meal continues.