Jon Bellion leaves the Summerfest crowd on an all-time high
Before the lights even went up Friday night at the Miller Lite Oasis, electro-pop performer Jon Bellion and his bandmates seemed to know they were in for quite the night, muttering, "This is ridiculous," into his mic in the pre-show darkness as the crowd roared in anticipation. And things got only wilder from there during Bellion's vigorously entertaining 75-minute headliner set – an impressive feat considering the evening's starting point was the previous act breaking his foot flinging himself into the crowd.
More on that later, but first: Jon Bellion.
It's been a big year for the New York native and hip-hopping pop star behind the radio hit "All Time Low" (as well as quietly behind Jason Derulo's 2014 single "Trumpets," serving as the song's co-writer and producer). As Bellion informed the crowd after his electric opening number, "He Is The Same" – featuring the frontman and his backup vocalist/hype man Travis Mendes brightly bounding back and forth across the stage – his album, "The Human Condition," had just gone gold, and "All Time Low" was still setting impressive marks, sung back to him now by heaping audiences of fans rather than the "about 150 people" he'd played for the first time around. As a nice almost thank you, he then quickly treated the raucous Summerfest crowd to his big hit – complete with a little bonus breakdown at the end.
Bellion kept the wild vibe going with, fittingly, "Run Wild" and then "Guillotine," in between the two tunes noting that this was "one of his favorite shows he'd done, period." Sure, it was probably standard concert interaction flattery, but judging by the relentless energy and joy hurling itself around the Miller Lite Oasis stage – from doing a cute little two-step boogie with Mendes during "Guillotine" to flinging towels and water into the audience and even merely the brief looks in Bellion's eyes as he looked humbled out into the rowdy crowd – it was hard not to believe him at his word.
Even the ballad-esque "80's Films" had an excited electricity to it – that is, at least, after the electricity returned to Bellion's mic, which briefly died just before the song in one of the show's lone faux pas.
The energy wasn't limited to skipping across the stage and excitedly leading arm bobbings. After his latest radio hit "Overwhelming," for instance, Bellion talked with the crowd, lamenting the lack of "groove" on the radio and then, using "Luxury," talking the audience through the creation of a song – starting with the foundational bass line to finding a sweet sample.
It was an intriguingly inviting moment, followed up shortly after by inviting the crowd to sample some of his hometown's hip-hop vibe in "New York Soul – Part II." Between those conversational interludes (the follow-up "Hand of God" featured a short sermon pointedly preaching the virtues of kindness, moving past our differences and the nation's youth) and his overall stage presence, from springing across the stage to subtly gyrating with the throbbing bass grooves, Bellion's a remarkably polished party starter and a smooth showman. And even if some of the higher vocals – especially the soulful backup singer Mendes – seemed occasionally lost in the mix with the bass, the resoundingly dedicated crowd was there to help pick up the lyrics, loudly.
Bellion wrapped up the set with the reggae-infused "Jim Morrison," stretching the number out with special spotlight moments for each member of his band – including a three-way beatbox battle with his drummer and his bass player – and bringing the night to a close with a crazy final "wild the f*ck out" jam session (giddily teased twice before officially going nuts with water bottles gushing out into the bleachers).
It made for a wild, spirited ending ... except it wasn't the end.
While Bellion and the band left the stage and the crew took apart the set, the fans didn't go anywhere, staying put and chanting for more. And after about ten minutes, that's what they got – even though most of the instruments and mics were packed and unplugged. "You made us come back out here," the frontman told the crowd, and it truly felt that way: a true, genuine, earned encore, unexpected and unplanned. And, as a result, totally thrilling – even if the encore was largely just Bellion free-styling a few verses (complete with a jab at music mogul L.A. Reid) and a mostly a cappella rendition of "Simple and Sweet."
It was exactly what you go to a concert for: a moment you won't forget.
And speaking of unforgettable moments, Barns Courtney made quite the impact on Summerfest in his opening 8 p.m. set – or perhaps Summerfest made the impact on him.
His brand of sawmill rock (think a more raw, authentic and just generally better Phillip Phillips) would seem to be an odd match with Bellion's light hip-hop pop sound. However, the two musicians' energy levels were about the same – which is to say through the roof. And even though the crowd was ready for dance pop, Courtney got the crowd fully into his set, stomping through terrifically catchy, growly anthems like "Glitter & Gold," "Hellfire" and finally "Fire," which he topped off by attempting to leap over the front VIP section into the crowd.
Whether it was his microphone cord or the cruel forces of gravity, he came up short, toppling to the ground and rolling up to the crowd in the photo area. He quickly got up and roared out the final chorus, before crumbling to the ground either exhausted or broken. As it turns out, according to the radio host introducing Jon Bellion, it was the latter: Courtney had broken his freaking foot.
(PHOTO: Carolynn Buser)
So a bad night for Barns Courtney's bones – but a good night for fans of a good time, great music and some one-of-a-kind memories.
"He Is The Same"
"All Time Low"
"New York Soul - Part II"
"Hand of God"
Encore: "Simple And Sweet"
"Never Let You Down"
"Glitter & Gold"
"I Think I'd Rather Die"
"Hard to Be Alone"
"Attractions of Youth"
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