Not a single soul in the vicinity of the Miller Lite Oasis delivered as much unfiltered intensity as Jack Antonoff did on Friday night.
At this point in his career, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is known through many avenues of the music industry. Some may know him from his mega-hits of years past with the band fun., while others are soaking up his catalogue of songs co-written and produced for the likes of Taylor Swift and Lorde. It’s an extensive list of achievements for Antonoff, but it’s hard to top when he is at his strongest: as the man behind Bleachers.
Antonoff – as animated as I have ever seen – and the rest of his New Jersey-based indie pop outfit were more than alive for the duration of their hour-and-a-half headlining set at the Miller Lite Oasis. It was a show that was only fitting for a Summerfest Friday night, as the band’s atmosphere matched that of a raucous jolt into the weekend ahead.
Kicking things off with the ballad “91," fresh off of this past summer’s release “Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night," Antonoff was illuminated with a single spotlight on stage, while his piano chops resonated throughout the youthful and very eager crowd.
The rest of Antonoff’s band stood by closely, as the minimalist piano ballad blossomed behind the singer’s crescendoing vocals, blasting into the shimmering indie pop that Bleachers are most known for. With the crowd now more than vitalized, the very shoutable love anthem “Let’s Get Married” and slick guitar riffs of “Shadow” broke out the blissfulness that, if you had been to any of the band's previous Summerfest sets, you would expect from Bleachers at the Big Gig.
The pounding emphatic drum beats of “Wild Heart” gave way to the breezy “How Dare You Want More," highlighted by a jazzy back and forth guitar and saxophone battle, with Antonoff ripping solos on his Fender Jazzmaster only to be followed by – and even topped by – saxophonist Evan Smith.
The impressive instrumentation continued into a chorus of horns that layered excellently into 2017’s “I Miss Those Days.” The longing lyrics faded out into another stripped back moment, as Antonoff finished the song soulfully in front of his piano. While he certainly has his moments to shine as a vocalist and a quite skillful pianist, Bleachers live performances clearly placed an emphasis on the vibrant jazziness of some exuberant saxophone moments. The groovy “Everybody Lost Somebody” lends itself to Smith’s solos once again.
Slowing things down a bit for the first time with what now seems to be a standard 2021 tour question, Bleachers asked the crowd if it was their first show back since the near two year layoff. Met with many cheers, Antonoff then brought out the 8 p.m. opener, Claud, for an intimate rendition of the slower paced “Secret Life,” a song that originally features Lana Del Rey, giving fans the classic phone-in-the-air concert moment.
Antonoff delighted even the less-familiar fans in the crowd and honored his Jersey roots with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Jersey Girl,” which he appropriately changed the lyrics to “Milwaukee Girl,” in what turned out to be just the beginning of the singer’s affection towards the Cream City.
This sentiment did not come as a surprise thanks to an Antonoff-curated tweet sent earlier that afternoon.
on another note. if you know my relationship to summerfest and this town you know how serious / wild / unhinged tonight’s show is going to be …… — jackantonoff (@jackantonoff) September 17, 2021
He made sure to deliver upon the statement he made in Friday’s tweet, declaring the Big Gig as “a f*cking iconic place.” However, it became very apparent before the smash hit “Rollercoaster” that the singer and multi-instrumentalist was ready to bring this crowd up another notch. Asking for the audience to climb on top of one another’s shoulders for one of the band's biggest hits was his request, but frustratingly to the singer, the majority of the crowd simply would not do it.
It was a somewhat tension-filled moment as Antonoff implored for the crowd to follow his request and asked the audience to “get it the f*ck together” as only a handful of attendees actually sat atop shoulders. You could feel his yearning as this moment carried on a little bit longer than I expected. Rebounding well from this, he instead decided that Milwaukee was feeling “precious” tonight and told fans that they had to give him everything they had.
While the crowd ended up doing just that on “Rollercoaster” and the infectious “You’re Still a Mystery,” it was clear that the bit of frustration was real prior to these hits. However, it only added to the passion and intensity that Antonoff was pouring out that night. You could tell that he truly wanted the crowd to have one of the most sensational concert experiences that they could possibly have.
The energy carried on for the remainder of the show, hitting fan favorites such as the enormous sounding “I Wanna Get Better” and the alluring “Don’t Take the Money” before finally putting the cherry on top of it all with the best performance of the night in “Stop Making This Hurt.” It was a song that blossomed into the most complete tune of the night, clearly letting Antonoff and his band shine through a massive singalong chorus and a prominently slick saxophone close out.
From the moment the lights went up, you could tell Antonoff and Bleachers was hungry to play for the Summerfest crowd, and when the lights dropped, not even the casual fan could be let down by this unhinged Bleachers performance.