The Championship and She & Him @ Verge
Friday marked the beginning of the Verge Music Festival, the newest festival to join Milwaukee’s ever growing summer music scene. With a mix of local and touring bands, some fairly well known, some not so much, Verge was a smaller version of Summerfest, geared towards a younger audience less inclined to see 80s cover bands.
Tired as I was from the Jacuzzi Boys show the previous evening, I got to the festival about an hour or so after it had started. The two bands I was mostly there to see were the Championship (hailing from Bayview) and She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s musical endeavor). I got there a little bit after the Championship was to start, so I quickly made my way to the Fringe Stage (one of three stages) to see them. Having never seen them before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with what I saw. The Championship embodies Americana, strong country and folk influences, but with a modern twist. Fronted by singer/songwriter Joe Crockett, the Championship was exactly what I was in the mood for. They played dreamy folk rock, with Crockett’s soulful, whiskey hoarse voice crooning about life and love. All of the musicians were incredibly talented, and any group that uses harmonica and the slide guitar is a-ok by me. Veterans of the Milwaukee music scene, the Championship is tight, all of them layering the sounds in perfect harmony with one another. They’re a band that I want to listen to on a porch as the sun is setting, with a cold beverage in one hand, and the company of good friends. The audience was a mixed one, with friends, old fans, and new ones. A lot of people were floating in and out of the space, while a dedicated group of She & Him fans had lined up at the front of the stage, waiting for the headliners.
After the Championship’s set, I walked around to check out what this new festival had to offer. Next to the Fringe stage was a half pipe set for BMX and skate competitions they were having, sponsored by Scion and the Four Seasons skate park. I am forever perplexed by Scion’s sponsorship of the underground scenes. For a number of years now, Scion has been in cahoots with Vice, most recently sponsoring garage rock shows and festivals. It seems somewhat…pointless to try to gear advertising of vehicles to a group that probably doesn’t care too much about what sort of car they drive. Maybe Scion just has good taste in music. Who knows. Anyways. There were a lot of younger kids sitting around. I started to feel old and walked away.
I wandered over to the Verge stage, the main stage of the festival, in time to hear the Crash Kings. I had never heard of them before. I don’t care to listen to them ever again, either. For the brief period of time I was in the general vicinity, they reminded me somewhat of Maroon 5. They were to be followed by the Eagles of Death Metal, and the headliner on that stage was Three Days Grace. Joy. Well, I kept moving on, checking out the merch stands (who pays $60 for a Three Days Grace sweatshirt? Seriously!?), and noticed the tables that were set up were, as well, more geared toward a younger (slightly more hip?) crowd. Starship Tattoo had a table close to the Four Seasons table, as well as a smoke shop table. As I was wandering around by the rocks, trying to decide how to kill the time I had left before the She & Him set, I fortunately ran into my dear friend Jordan (the lead guitarist of the Championship), and we were able to catch up whilst he waited to load equipment and I waited for She & Him. There was another performer on the Fringe stage at the time, Reni Lane, who I had never heard of, and truth be told, I was not really in the mood to check out. By the time Jordan and I parted ways, I only had another 20 minutes or so to wait till She & Him went on, so I went to find spot to perch myself on for the concert. I finally found a spot to the left of the stage, and fortunately ran into another dear friend, Jon, right before the show started.
We were discussing Zooey Deschanel’s ex-veganism and the confusing nature of her relationship with Ben Gibbard (confusing in that she is the cutest girl ever and Ben Gibbard….was cool maybe ten years ago?), when finally She & Him took stage. They started of their set with “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today,” which sort of kills me a little bit (in a good way, of course). I couldn’t stop thinking about how adorable Zooey Deschanel is and what a perfect concert for a date it was. There were a number of cute girls in the audience dressed in adorable dresses a la Deschanel, but overall it was an extremely varied crowd. For anyone not familiar with She & Him, they make the most adorable, sweet music ever. It is delightful twangy pop goodness, with two albums (Volume 1 and Volume 2) under the belts. Originally just a fun musical endeavor, She & Him is now playing shows, with M. Ward and Deschanel backed by a group of talented musicians and adorable back-up vocalists. The quality of sound was a bit underwhelming, but the band was still on point. They played a few songs from their first album, including my favorite “I Was Made For You,” during which Zooey began jumping and dancing with her tambourine. Honestly, she is truly the most adorable woman. They started playing some songs off their latest album, which I’ve only listened to superficially, but I thoroughly enjoy all of their new material. There was very little stage banter, expect for Zooey saying how hot it was, but she and M. Ward were both incredibly enigmatic, and I couldn’t take my eyes of them. I DID keep getting distracted by this couple next to me that somehow managed to dance provocatively (read: “inappropriately”) to the cutest band in the world. At one point, the male half of the couple threw rock horns up. (What??) It was more comical than anything, though, and honestly, they were having a good time, so good for them. And that’s the thing—everyone was having a good time. I do think that She & Him is probably better suited for a venue like the Pabst than an outdoor concert on the Summerfest grounds, but regardless, I think you’d have been hard-pressed to find people that weren’t smiling and tapping their toes. I think my favorite part of their set was a ROCKING cover of “Roll Over Beethoven,” at which point EVERYONE started dancing. Had I been less tired I would have jumped down from my spot to REALLY boogie. They played a few more songs, and their set was over, with M. Ward and Zooey running off stage before the rest of the band. The audience sort of waited around for an encore but it became immediately clear that that wasn’t going to happen as the roadies began to dismantle the drum set. Overall the set was fun. Not the most engaging show I’ve been to, and I had the vague feeling that Zooey didn’t want to be there, but maybe she was really that uncomfortable due to the heat (it was a particularly warm day/night). Either way, it didn’t detract much from
their musical performance, and I would definitely go see them play again.
As I had no interest in watching Three Days Grace, which was the final band of the evening, I decided to call it a night, and thus ended the first night ever of the Verge Music Festival. Though I was unable to attend the second day, with acts like Milwaukee’s Jaill, the Raveonettes, and Weezer, I think the Verge festival is great and I can’t wait to see what they do with it in the future. For those of you who didn’t attend, there’s always Summerfest, but it will probably be more crowded and filled with many, many…many more drunk douchebags.
Reviews of Day 2 at Verge coming tomorrow from Jeff Moody and Dan Agacki! Catch it!