Brian Whitney
This Must Be The Place

Summerfest, July 3

By - Jul 6th, 2010 10:03 am

This is the best pic of Modest Mouse I could get.

At this point, complaining about Summerfest is like complaining about airline food: we all get it. I have a truly difficult time understanding why anyone would want to see even one of their favorite bands in this setting. It’s prohibitively expensive, overcrowded, and plastered with advertisements and sponsorships. The really sobering part is that it’s probably a pretty fair representation of culture in America, 2010; tacky, conservative, and only interested in the bottom line.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t attempt to enjoy myself. There were two headliners I was moderately interested in seeing. The first was Modest Mouse, one time fiercely admired in independent circles that pretty much everyone turned away from after the single “Float On”, so much so that I’d be hard pressed to tell you anything they’ve done since without looking it up.

The other was Levon Helm, best known as the drummer and one of the lead vocalists in The Band, also the main character in one of the more dramatic musical narratives of the last 15 years (the extremely condensed version of which being that in the late 1990s, Levon was diagnosed with advanced throat cancer, yet somehow managed to avoid a laryngectomy, live and regain almost all of his legendary voice).

Modest Mouse’s set at the Miller Lite Oasis began sharply at 10pm; so sharply, in fact, that the Summerfest fireworks show was still approaching its finale as the band launched into “Dramamine” from 1996’s This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About. The audience, mostly too young to have been around 14 years ago, played the part of a good rock audience: they cheered when the song got loud, and cheered again once it got quiet, to recognize that the song had once been loud. Seeming somewhat defeated, they immediately launched into “Float On”, and everyone was satiated. It was eerily reminiscent of seeing the band Fountains of Wayne open with the song “Stacy’s Mom” at a club show several years ago, and watching 75% of the crowd leave immediately afterward. Everyone got what they wanted, except myself, maybe, but I didn’t really expect anything anyway.

Helm’s set at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino stage (yes, you have to say the whole thing) was a more spirited affair; the dreary cynicism/commercial resignation of Isaac Brock and co. gave way to Helm’s “every day is a gift” post-cancer affirmations. The crowd was a varied mix of ages/races/dispositions, who all shared the common thread of exuding positive vibes that I was a little too tired to appreciate what with all the traffic and 5 dollar beers and inter-crowd jostling in my attempts to actually see bands (to be fair, in my yearbook I was voted “Most Likely to Be Pushed Aside By a Shirtless Asshole at an Outdoor Concert Festival”). The music itself was pleasant enough but not particularly exciting, nor is it really intended to be. You either enjoy watching an old legend take it out there one more time, or you don’t, but there are plenty that do, even if said legend is surrounded by neon Miller Lite signs and advertisements to try the craps tables with 10x odds.

Ultimately, it is what it is, just like last year and the year before that, and forever forwards into history. Summerfest seems to be perfectly content taking everyone’s time and money, and most people seem equally content to give those things up in an attempt to get close to something that might matter. It’s hard to imagine that anything really could in that environment without everything changing.

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