A plague of proverbial tween locusts descended on Summerfest on Sunday decked out in neon sunglasses, sequined hats, knee socks and short shorts, body paint and poster boards scrawling one name: Bieber.
From when I arrived at 2 p.m. until Canadian-heartthrob Justin Bieber’s performance at 7 p.m., groups of girls infiltrated most every stage on the grounds: Potawatomi Bingo, Briggs & Stratton, Harley Davidson Roadhouse, The Cool TV Rock Stage and so forth. Metal dudes, dude bros, beleaguered parents, senior citizens, disabled people, tattooed bikers in leather vests, hippies, yuppies, and everyone in between were swallowed up in the Bieber hysteria. The girls took no prisoners: hitting the pavement with a love of Bieber like born-again Christians saving souls outside an abortion clinic.
The tween swarms shouted: “We want Bieber!” “We love Bieber!” “Go Bieber!”
The fever was instigated and exacerbated by 103.7 KISS FM, which was holding a promotional contest for Bieber’s biggest fans. Those who most outrageously and devotedly proved themselves to be the biggest Bieber fan would receive tickets in the first five rows and backstage passes. KISS didn’t announce the amount of tickets that would be given away, and judging from the amount of kids there, quite a few went home teary-eyed.
But get used to it, girls. The super cool guy with the slick hair (Bieber/capitalism) most likely will pretend you don’t exist, leave you in the lurch, or break your heart (leave-you-penniless-and-muddied-with-credit-card-debt-and-a-bad-reputation).
As you can tell, Bieber was the topic of the day. Nearly every band performing had words for the helmet-haired, apple-cheeked youngster. Zach Pieper of The Trusty Knife had the biggest mouthful, going on a tongue-in-cheek tirade while working his way into one of the band’s many happily upbeat numbers in the set. Fleshed out with trumpet and saxophone, The Trusty Knife delivered one of the most kinetic performances of the day.
Getting a handful of people dancing and moving to the front of the stage, proving that their spastic energy can win over a crowd that might be a tough sell. The Cascio stage (sponsored by the Shepherd Express and WMSE), typically a light in the dark that is Summerfest’s booking, didn’t miss a step Sunday, offering a diverse lineup of Chicago and Milwaukee bands. Chicago’s Geronimo, who got in on in the second spot, was one of Sunday’s best performances, ripping through a set of aggressive bluesy post-punk as the heat of the afternoon started scorching.
Sadly, as Kid, You’ll Move Mountains headlining set got going, Mr. Bieber’s handlers did not deliver, losing the band’s Facebook campaign to get Bieber to stop by and play drums.
Nevertheless, the Milwaukee/Illinois kids put on an amped-up set drenched in hand claps and feedback, not letting any unfulfilled brushes with fleeing stardom get them down.
Between sets at the Cascio platform, I jumped from stage to stage, taking in as much as I could, for better or worse, and at the expense of my own mental health and physical exhaustion. In the good category, Lazarus AD, a thrash metal band from Kenosha, played a 6 p.m. set at The Cool TV Rock Stage. All-out traditionalists without any pretense or cheese, Lazarus AD went
balls to the wall—double kick drums, ripped vocal-chord delivery, shredding guitars, head-banging, and a whole lot of hair—and had the crowd awash in devil horns, from the dude in a Manowar T-shirt to the carload of Japanese tourists.
Another highlight of the day was Milwaukee’s Kings Go Forth, who played the Briggs & Stratton stage in a 7:30 slot free from Bieber-ite interlopers. Despite some kinks early on having to do with getting coherent sound from the band’s multi instrument setup, Kings Go Forth ultimately delivered a set teeming with good vibes as the sun set behind the Hoan. KGF, decked out in
matching tunics, got the crowd moving with their smooth delivery and laid-back combination of funk and soul, and were an ideal choice for a wider range of festival-goers.
Those who fell in the “worse” category Dread Zeppelin ( watered-down reggae interpretations of Elvis, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles are a terrible idea!), Paper Tongues (The Killers filtered through some equally boring radio rock complete with faux-hawks and vinyl Members Only jackets), The Color Truth (bland boy-band alt-country. Yawn.), I’m still trying to burn from my memory.
And, Bieber, I’m burning Bieber from my memory too. Maybe he’ll return in a few years on his comeback tour—post-rehab, post-weight gain, post-heartthrob. However, I do hope that the next play-it-safe flavor-of-the-week has a name that sounds like a part of the female anatomy too. It might be the only way we remember them in 20 years.