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Lead singer Jesse Rutherford and the rest of The Neighbourhood struggles through technical woes during their set Sunday night.
Lead singer Jesse Rutherford and the rest of The Neighbourhood struggles through technical woes during their set Sunday night. (Photo: Summerfest)

The Neighbourhood struggles through a disappointingly short set

With lyrics like "I don’t like you, f*ck you anyway," "you suck anyway" and "you make me wanna die," it’s safe to say that glum rockers The Neighbourhood don’t really need any more reasons to be angsty and angry. But that’s unfortunately exactly what happened Sunday night at the U.S. Cellular Stage, where some apparent behind-the-scenes technical issues sent the California-based rockers off the stage in a huff and the excited young crowd home disappointed.

It seemed to open strong, with the guys starting off as black silhouettes out on the smoky white stage, rocking out their set opener "Female Robbery." There was a brief audio dip and the lead guitar seemed very low, but a few mix issues are to be expected on the first couple of songs; otherwise, it was a good start.

The band’s cloudy California beach brand of moody rock sounded good and visually, the stage looked cool, with the boys seemingly in black-and-white (even the screen showed the concert sans color) and aided by black-and-white film and cartoon clips.

Things, however, were apparently not all good in The Neighbourhood. After the opener, lead singer Jesse Rutherford told the crowd essentially that it sucked, that they weren’t quite ready and for the fans to "pause your turn up." It’s hard to say what exactly the problem was – Rutherford would later describe it as "computer sh*t" – but something somewhere was wrong.

At first, the band seemed to be handling the situation above and beyond pros. Rutherford chatted a bit with the crowd, eventually performing the stripped down rap of "West Coast" as some "story time" before heading into "Sweater Weather," one of the band’s big radio hits.

The technical issues may have left the mix sounding a tad on the empty side, but then again, it was very minor. Plus, a "Pulp Fiction" clip of Vincent Vega dancing playing on a loop on a side screen made everything better.

After "Sweater Weather," the technical snafus seemed to be fixed, and The Neighbo…

Kongos saved the hit song "Come With Me Now" for last Saturday night at Summerfest.
Kongos saved the hit song "Come With Me Now" for last Saturday night at Summerfest. (Photo: Summerfest)

Kongos proves to be mightier than one hit

At Summerfest, there’s sometimes that uneasy tension between a band with one real hit to its name and the majority of the crowd there to see it. The large chunk of the audience just desperately wants to hear the lone song they actually know and came to see, while the upstart little music group tries to postpone the inevitable, playing some other tunes while desperately hoping you’ll find some new tracks to enjoy.

At first glance, Kongos – the Phoenix (by way of South Africa and London) based band of brothers – seemed to be a strong candidate to recreate this experience. After all, the group only has the one true hit – "Come With Me Now" – so far, and the younger Summerfest crowds haven’t exactly been the most active so far four days into the festival, even for artists with enough successful tunes to put together a solid greatest hits album.

Yet, as the band charged into its first bunch of numbers at the U.S. Cellular Stage, the crowd didn’t seem to mind waiting for "Come With Me Now" at all, thanks mainly to an energetic, stomping locomotive of a rock show put on by the quartet.

The four brothers – Johnny, Jesse, Dylan and Daniel – opened the night off with "Hey I Don’t Know (Why Don’t You Tell Me?)," a good driving start slightly marred by a hollow, echoing mix on drummer/singer Jesse’s vocals. The early kinks were quickly straightened out, however, on the next song, "Sex on the Radio," where the band’s unique rock sound was on full display. And by "unique rock sound," I mean, "Johnny Kongos pulled out his accordion and played the first of several solos with it." The boys certainly don’t hide the sometimes maligned instrument, hanging it solos and making it an integral part of their sound.

Accordion or no, it’s a fun, diverse sound at that, one with a kind of tribal stomp that manages to sound heavy and hard while at the same time playfully springy and bouncy, driving rock songs with the occasional soaring grace. Take for instance …

Old school hip-hop artist Atmosphere took the Miller Lite Oasis stage Friday night.
Old school hip-hop artist Atmosphere took the Miller Lite Oasis stage Friday night. (Photo: Summerfest)

Atmosphere still entertains despite sluggish crowd

Three days into Summerfest, an unfortunate theme has quietly bubbled up to the surface at a number of significant shows: sleepy spectators. The crowd at Arctic Monkeys’ opening night performance could barely be bothered to cheer for an encore, and judging from some of the reviews, even Lady Gaga had to continually implore the Amphitheater crowd to get up and get moving.

Unfortunately, that theme carried into day three, as old school hip-hop artist Atmosphere powered through – and eventually mostly won over – some feeble fandom Friday night at the Miller Lite Oasis.

The show marked the third straight Summerfest appearance for the Minnesota-based duo of Ant (DJ Anthony Davis) and Slug (rapper Sean Daley), who came out and opened the set with "January On Lake Street" off the group’s latest album.

At first glance, Daley looks more like a 40-year-old dad – which he is – than the frontman of a hip-hop group. However, he has a sneakily good flow and beat, and he’s an energetic performer, spitting out his personal lyrics and stories with heartfelt enthusiasm.

Going into the second number "Puppets," Daley called the crowd a "pity party," and judging by the lukewarm response near the beginning of the show, it wasn’t an inaccurate statement. It wasn’t for lack of effort on Daley’s part, who threw in all sorts of requests to get the crowd hands up and moving (like asking for people to put their "scissors up" on the third song, "The Loser Wins") and a Milwaukee shout-out for seemingly every song.

Not that there weren’t a few technical issues for Atmosphere during the show as well. "Scapegoat" seemingly started off with no lights at the beginning – an odd moment – and periodically throughout the show, Daley’s vocals seemed a little quiet, briefly fading out and almost disappearing into a difficult whisper on numbers like "God Loves Ugly," "Sunshine" and the poetry slam-like "The Woman With the Tattoed Hands."

Still, the core of the music – flowin…

Indoors or out, Pentatonix puts on a show of impressive musicality and pure entertainment.
Indoors or out, Pentatonix puts on a show of impressive musicality and pure entertainment. (Photo: Matt Mueller)

Pentatonix mesmerizes through the mist

When the Summerfest headliners were originally announced, wildly popular a cappella group Pentatonix was one of the most intriguing names headed to the Big Gig. I knew I wanted to see the show, partly because, back in college, I was in a cappella group and partly because I saw the band back at its first show in Milwaukee at The Pabst Theater – and even further back when they won NBC’s "The Sing Off" – and was rather impressed.

The main reason, however, was simple fascination. I wanted to know how a five-person a cappella group, one that relies on insanely tight harmonies and arrangements, would fare in an outdoor festival environment, not exactly a place where perfectly tuned mixing and ideal audio conditions are common.

Would they be able to keep those tight harmonies? Would their music be lost, buried underneath the rest of Summerfest’s noise? And am I going to be able to see them through this Stephen King-like misty fog that’s squatted on top of Milwaukee for the past week?

As it turns out, I and the massive, ecstatic young crowd gathered at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard Thursday night had nothing to worry about, as the incredibly talented quintet put on a complete show of totally in-tune entertainment. Indoors or outdoors, sun or mist, there seems to be little to stop Pentatonix’s climb to the top of the a cappella world – and possibly the pop world.

The group opened with its Daft Punk medley, one of several YouTube covers to go viral for the Texas-based singers. The mix was a little on the bass heavy side, though I was very close to a stage speaker, which may have distorted my personal take. When I went further back a song later, it seemed as though the audio leveled out perfectly and stayed that way for the rest of the night. Even with the bass on high, though, the unique and unpredictable arrangement still stood out, and the band’s choreography sells a song well, energetically bounding and dancing all across the stage.

Pentatonix con…