In Festival Guide Reviews

Bebe Rexha played a personable and passionate - if not the most pretty - set at Summerfest Day 4. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi)

Bebe Rexha performs a personable, if not the most pretty, Summerfest set

I'm sorry; Bebe Rexha's Summerfest set at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage was not the most pretty.

The pop star committed the sin of starting late and wrapping up early – with no encore. The audio mix was often uneven, with her vocals occasionally getting lost, and she spent a lot of the set chatting – sometimes with the whole audience and sometimes seemingly to just a particular person near the front that got her attention. Beloit got resoundingly booed for reasons no one could explain to poor confused Bebe. Even the Macarena made a brief appearance.

So yeah, it was a very odd night – loud and intimate, rushed yet casual, club-approved pop bangers standing right next to emotionally heavy personal tributes and PSAs. But while Rexha's endearingly unpolished evening may not have been what you can technically call a good concert, it still qualified as a good time.

Starting on time would've certainly helped. The pop star didn't end up taking the stage until over a half an hour past her 10 p.m. start time. From the crowd, it looked like the culprit was a faulty keyboard that the audio crew continually tinkered with and then eventually just replaced completely during the wait. Luckily, there was a DJ spinning radio hits to help keep the young, well-attended crowd distracted. But as the clock moved to 10:30 p.m. with still no sign of Rexha, irritation began to set in, with a smattering of boos mixed in with those sending positive vibes and cheers the pop star's way.

Coming up 35 minutes after 10 p.m., however, Rexha popped out from the behind the curtain and quickly took her place on stage, back turned to the audience, posed for the start of "Bad Bitch" and its slinky pre-packaged moves. It was a concerning start for a brief moment; would we get the pop star diva treatment Saturday night, a late start followed by an aloof, disinterested and impersonal show?

Luckily, the results couldn't have been more the opposite.

Shortly after "Bad Bitch" and into song number two, "Me, Myself & I," Rexha went on to have a story or anecdote for seemingly every single song of the night, whether explaining the origins of "The Way I Are" as a "f*ck off" song to a former label that dropped her, or asking around for a boyfriend before "In The Name of Love." If anything, especially considering the short setlist, Rexha could've spent less time settling quick debates about whether the Ambassador Hotel is haunted, setting up rap battles for the Nicki Minaj verse on "No Broken Hearts" or talking about whether this was night one or night two of Summerfest (night four, Bebe, but no worries).

Some of these chats ended up awkward, in some cases having easily distracted conversations with individuals in the front rows that nobody else could hear, needlessly polling the crowd on their age and schooling, and having to clarify to her rap battlers that if they could avoid the n-words in Minaj's verse that'd be great since they were both white (probably something to have thought about before setting up the battle). A Kenosha boy started with most of the crowd support, but a Beloit girl – booed originally for being from Beloit, which, huh, OK – obviously won the contest, both on skill and cheers.

But even if few of the chats could classify as polished concert interactions, they made it clear that Rexha was actually invested in the show, and her heart was firmly with her fans – something made obvious when she repeatedly brought up fans from the earlier meet-and-greet, either for a rap battle or especially for a brief tribute ("I'm Gonna Show You Crazy") to a fan's battle with depression.

It may have come off a little sloppy in places, but it was real and endearingly sincere. You normally don't get this much personality and genuine interaction from a Top 40 star, where it's normally groomed out into blandness. She may need to hone some of it – at least while the setlist is short and when the show starts late – but I hope she never completely loses that spontaneous, sporadic and overall personable approach to her shows.

As for the actual music in between the conversations, Rexha busted out most of her popular radio bangers – from her collaboration with David Guetta and Nicki Minaj, "Hey Mama," to the Cash Cash single "Take Me Home" – excitedly twerking, grinding, jumping and slinking around the stage for each number. Considering the apparent technical delays in getting started, it wasn't a huge surprise that the mix ended up a little uneven, with some vocals lost in the wall of sound and an audio guy having to sprint out to tinker with Rexha's mic box.

But Rexha gave her all to each song, blasting out her parts and her compatriots' contributions – though a few required taped bits from her collaborators, like Lil' Wayne on "The Way I Are" – in her equal parts tart and sweet voice, while the crowd had a blast singing along and bouncing on the bleachers with the hits.

So, no, the show was not the most pretty – but it was still a pretty good time. And like that hit preaches, it's the imperfections that made the gig its own weird, eclectic, special thing.

Setlist

"Bad Bitch"
"Me, Myself & I"
"No Broken Hearts"
"Small Doses"
"The Way I Are"
"Hey Mama"
"In The Name of Love"
"Take Me Home"
"I'm Gonna Show You Crazy"
"I Got You"

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