Even if it's fewer days and more dispersed, three weekends spread across three weeks is still a long time to maintain one's excitement, energy and sanity – so Walk The Moon's high-caffeinated and low-calorie dance party at the Generac Power Stage made for an ideal way to bring another Big Gig to a close. The crowd wasn't as massive as the group's Imagine Dragons-esque rave in 2015 – visiting hot on the heels of "Shut Up And Dance" – the signature colorful face paint is mostly washed away, and what's old is still new in the setlist. But the dream pop rock group still drew a packed bleachers on Saturday night and still delivered a beaming musical sugar high that got fans across the Summerfest finish line this year and should happily sustain them until the next.
After the now-requisite booming Generac ad, the Ohio-born band burst out of the gates with the poppy favorite "One Foot" as well as "Quesadilla," with its glittering synths and clattering drum beats. Rocking a punky blonde mullet that I could not unsee as Captain Planet's hairdo, lead singer Nicholas Petricca energetically led the party, whether he was behind his synth – swaying, strutting, hunching and dancing in place in youthful defiance of hip and spine bones – or venturing from side to side of the Generac stage to get closer to the crowd, who followed suit moving and grooving and singing along with the dynamic band leader.
Moving past the flirty road-tripper "Next in Line," Petricca would crank the dynamism up to eleven – perhaps to compensate for some of the most oft-dreaded words in concert-dom: "here's something off our new album." In Walk The Moon's case, that would be "Can You Handle My Love??" off their 2021 release "Heights," a song featuring the group's chipper sunny dance sound though with choppy rap-adjacent verses and without some of the same past magic. The number didn't quite land as a crowd favorite, despite Petricca's most energetic efforts on stage – though even he seemed vaguely ambivalent about the new record, not even able to remember when it released (as a mild joke, but still not the most ringing endorsement). By the end of the night, they would play almost as many The Killers songs as they would from their most recent album (a whole two).
The song wasn't a complete buzzkiller, though, and things would pick back up Saturday night with another run of prior Walk The Moon favorites, ranging from the anthemic "Different Colors" – complete with Petricca cheering on Pride and pledging that, if their music made you feel comfortable being even just one percent more yourself, they did a rewarding job – to "Sidekick" and the video game-y fizzy buzz of "Tightrope." That final number would end with Petricca so rocked out he fell to the stage floor, catching his breath from the musical workout.
That gasp would be short-lived, though, as Petricca and company would continue to keep the caffeine and electricity levels high at the Generac Power Stage. After a detour into an "All These Things I've Done" cover, the band would poppily power through the jangly flirtations of "Work This Body" and "Shiver Shiver" – the falsetto-rich latter surviving a brief but jarringly loud exclamation from one of the instruments over the speakers. The song was enough of a bop that the early burp was quickly forgotten by the audience – and if it wasn't, well, what better way to make amends than with a Queen cover. So cue a quick rousing jaunt through an 8-bit-shaded rendition of "We Are the Champions."
The next song – "Fire in Your House," the second number of the night off "Heights" – somehow wasn't actually a cover. The funky dancefloor jam was a honored collaboration with the late South African musician Johnny Clegg – though live, the groove sounded more indebted to "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," so much so you could practically feel the Michael Jackson estate's fingers hovering over their lawyer's phone contact. That's legal's problem, though; as for the Summerfest crowd, the song was a certified boogie-worthy bop.
The dance party had yet to reach its peak, though. That would come shortly after as, after "Portugal" and a brief speech about finding art in hardship and art's ability to save lives, Walk The Moon triumphantly blasted the crowd into sing-along space with their mega-hit "Shut Up And Dance" – still just as bright and cheerfully infectious as it was when it debuted almost a decade ago.
The logical next step would seemingly be Walk The Moon's "Anna Sun," one of the band's breakout smashes and one that still plays ten years later. Instead the post-hit momentum halted for "Headphones," more of a deeper cut from Walk The Moon's 2017 follow-up to "TALKING IS HARD" and more of a punky rollicking rock effort as played live. Complete with a cameo from Led Zeppelin's iconic "Kashmir" riff, the jumpy hook-hunting number felt like the band reaching for a bit of rock cred – and, in concert, an odd speed bump between the two satisfying favorites of "Shut Up And Dance" and "Anna Sun," which did eventually end up closing out the night with its soaring dream pop sound.
Even with the "Headphones" intermission, the band truly saved their best for last on Saturday night – no, not "Shut Up And Dance" and "Anna Sun." (Great songs played great live, though.) Their best actually came after – for better and worse.
After taking a well-earned final bow, handing their setlist to a fan in the front and savoring the crowd's roars post-"Anna Sun," Walk The Moon walked off the stage. The hit routinely serves the band's closer – even going back to their 2015 and 2017 Big Gig shows – but the audience close to the stage managed to cheer Petricca back out for an encore: a potentially spontaneous solo a cappella sing-along of Bill Withers' iconic "Lean On Me," a chill and muted capper sending the night out in a soothed and soulful communal calm.
Or ... maybe not? As the lead singer retreated once more – vaguely vowing to return next time – a large crowd continued to cheer, hoping to make that return happen now. And with fairly notable songs like "Avalanche," "Kamikaze" or "Lost in the Woods" left unplayed – as well as a security worker popping through the back curtain to egg the crowd on more and the lack of ABBA over the speakers customarily cuing closing time – there was reason for hope. Instead, Petricca just came out to sign some autographs and take some selfies. Not to look a selfie-granting gift horse in the mouth, but it was a somewhat confusing conclusion to the night, made possible by the silliness that is the modern encore rigmarole, either needlessly forcing audiences to slap their hands together for hits they know are coming or making special genuine bonus songs awkward. Ban the fake ones, put a band's hits properly in the set and give concerts less clumsy finales – my 2024 presidential platform.
In fairness, though, maybe we were ignoring all evidence and just finding excuses to not have to leave and say goodbye to not only a great night but another great Summerfest. So, in its way, the ending made Walk The Moon's show a perfect encapsulation of the Big Gig's final night: an evening of bright blissful music that left everyone begging for more and immediately eager for a return all too far away from now.
"Next in Line"
"Can You Handle My Love??"
"All These Things I've Done" (The Killers cover)
"Work This Body"
"We Are the Champions" (Queen cover)
"Fire in Your House"
"Shut Up And Dance"
"Lean On Me" (Bill Withers cover)
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.