Summerfest 2019: Skillet, Atmosphere, more of the best and worst from the side stages on Day 10

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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On Summerfest's penultimate night, Skillet and Atmosphere thrilled overflow crowds, while Semisonic proved that a friendly approach has staying power.


Semisonic performs at Summerfest's U.S. Cellular Connection Stage on July 6, 2019.

More than 20 years after its alternative-rock peak, Semisonic didn’t sound too weathered when it was the last act at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage on Saturday. Then again, it probably helped that the band had always relied more on friendliness than on intensity.

This was especially true of guitarist and lead singer Dan Wilson, whose voice during the 1990s was charmingly thin, with a genteel falsetto and an overall warble. He hasn’t lost too much in the interregnum, and his approach to songs like “All About Chemistry” remained winsome.

So, too, did the catchy melodies and reasonably thoughtful lyrics, which the five-piece onstage version of Semisonic combined into music that was not unlike a power-pop “how do you do?” The fanbase didn’t turn out in force, so at least half of the benches were empty, but the fans who attended felt fine.

Jon M. Gilbertson, Special to the Journal Sentinel


Dumpstaphunk performs at the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage on July 6, 2019.

Closing out the Saturday run of acts at the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage, Dumpstaphunk proved how vast a gulf can be opened between the awfulness of a band name and the confident steadiness of its actual music.

With Ivan Neville (son of Aaron and nephew to some Neville Brothers, and thus a New Orleans legacy) off to one side at the keys, the other six members had plenty of room to turn a lot of different grooves — fast, slow, swampy, slick — into a single funk groove to last the entire set.

A bystander could come in anywhere — the middle of a trombone solo, at the lowest end of a bottom provided by two bass guitars — and grasp the rhythm as if handed a baton. With so much grooviness, it was surprising that more bystanders weren’t getting down as if nothing else mattered. Maybe they were still trying to cross the gulf.

Jon M. Gilbertson


Bleachers performs at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse on July 6, 2019.

The way Jack Antonoff led Bleachers at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse Saturday night, it was clear he’s been having more fun he did with Fun., the grandiose pop-rock band with which he came to prominence.

Being the leader was an undeniable factor, as he acted like a freed lab experiment that crossed the nerdiness of Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo with the Springsteen affectations of the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and the crowd-control mania of Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba. A whole lotta indie with a whole lotta ambition, in other words.

When not letting the packed audience do the singing or exhorting everyone to stand higher (on each other’s shoulders, if necessary), Antonoff did, with the help of the other four Bleachers musicians, exhale a large bubble inside which 1980s soundtracks and Boss Bruce bravado leapt for joy. The crowd did as much as he did to keep the bubble from popping.  

Jon M. Gilbertson


Skillet, featuring three members from Kenosha, performs at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard on July 6, 2019.

Skillet is not pushing any boundaries in terms of Christian rock; that spiritual umbrella has embraced far more extreme music for decades. In terms of money making in the digital age, however, Skillet reigns the Christian-rock realm.

Emerging to greet an overflowing crowd at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, the Kenosha (by way of Tennessee) outfit wasted no time in unleashing the pyrotechnics — perhaps not on an AC/DC scale, but ambitious for ground-stage Summerfest without question.

The guitarists ascended into the heavens on mechanical platforms, wailing away as if nu-metal had never fallen from grace, with the occasional Styx or Muse flourish. The band should be applauded for going its own way in a sea of potential damnation from all directions, but on strictly musical terms, everything Skillet does has been done to death already.

— Cal Roach, Special to the Journal Sentinel


Atmosphere performs at the Miller Lite Oasis on July 6, 2019, as part of the Rhymesayers Entertainment showcase.

Thousands of fans, many in newly bought Rhymesayers hoodies, filled the Miller Oasis Saturday to see Atmosphere tear down Summerfest once again. 

The fan-dubbed “Rhymesayers Day” always ends with its founders closing it out. It would seem impossible to follow Brother Ali after his spectacular performance, but Ant and Slug of Atmosphere are a different kind of monster. They are the epitome of every dad in the audience wearing cargo shorts with a little gray who had a tough life. 

Slug delivered raw emotion on stage as if “F*** You Lucy” were penned tonight. The audience, per usual, was in sync with the group's every lyric and scratch. Every song done from the group's extensive catalog dating back to ‘96 got the same crowd reaction — pandemonium. It’s good to see Atmosphere hasn’t lost its touch since the days of driving a rusted out van to Milwaukee to perform at corner bars. 

— Damon Joy, Special to the Journal Sentinel

Brother Ali

Brother Ali performs at the Miller Lite Oasis on July 6, 2019, as part of the Rhymesayers Entertainment showcase.

Minnesota Record label Rhymesayers took over Summerfest’s Miller Lite Oasis again to a fairly enormous crowd Saturday. Some fans had been here all day ingesting the hip-hop label's impressive roster.  

Before the big show (Atmosphere), Brother Ali boldly grabbed the mic and displayed why he’s at the top of the label. With a commanding yet melodic voice, Ali flawlessly flowed through his discography of underground hits. His voice never broke and he never took breaks. When he did break it was to tell the fans to yell “LOVE” — a strange occurrence at your typical hip-hop show. 

The highlight of the evening was Ali looking at the video screen displaying his face and saying “Hey, that’s me!” right before performing one of his most sobering songs, “Tightrope.” 

— Damon Joy

Thaikkudam Bridge

Thaikkudam Bridge performs at Summerfest's Johnson Controls World Sound Stage on July 6, 2019.

Summerfest may be the world's largest music festival, but throughout its 52-year history, the Milwaukee music fest has never hosted a band from the world's second-most populated country, India. 

That was finally remedied Saturday afternoon when Thaikkudam Bridge from Kerala played Summerfest's Emerging Artist Series on the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage. And the milestone was even more momentous than probably anyone could have imagined.

How good was this set? For the first time as a music critic, I didn't dare write down a single note. Unprofessional of course, and I apologize, but I didn't want to miss a moment.

Strangers were hugging. Beaming children were dancing in the aisles. Adults, on stage and in the crowd, were dancing like giddy children. I spied a Summerfest talent buyer so moved by the exuberant, harmonious sight, he wiped away tears.

And it was all made possible by a phenomenal band that showed no limitations to their imagination, that offered joy and adventure in every note. Thaikkudam Bridge took a packed audience of instant fans on a spellbinding journey, traversing across ethereal Indian folk, Bollywood-accented jam band grooves, and thunderous metal that'd make the guys in Metallica drop their jaws.

This show exemplified just how special Summerfest can be, how special music, and life, can be. Thaikkudam Bridge truly created heaven on earth.

Piet Levy,

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