The world's largest music festival occurs for 10 days every summer in the heart of downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. All the clichés you have heard about Milwaukee ring true during the week and a half: beer is aplenty, fattening food is everywhere, and Green Bay Packer jerseys are still found in excess. Ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about none other than Summerfest. The annual celebration features about 7 or 8 ground stages' worth of music beginning at noon and going until midnight, and one headliner that plays in the Marcus Amphitheatre located on the grounds. Diversity is pivotal as well, to keep the throngs of attendees satisfied and happy: For instance, one night this year featured Story Of the Year, Ben Folds, Robert Randolph And The Family Band, Bret Michaels of Poison, and Lewis Black. The other essential aspect to Summerfest is indeed the alcohol; the beer flows like water, and drunken festival-goers consistently remind you of it. Attendees often flock to the band name they recognize, regardless of how much they may actually enjoy the band. And this, ladies and gentlemen, set the stage for indie rock darlings Death Cab For Cutie to invade the Harley Davidson Road House on a gorgeous Thursday evening.
Guitar-pop master Devin Davis took the stage with his backing band and immediately tore into his set. Playing selections from his recently released Lonely People of the World, Unite!!, Davis captured the crowd's attention by sounding close to the cover bands prior to him. Alas, the flowing acoustics that made Davis' album tracks sound like a work of pop beauty were instead replaced by electric guitar. As a result of this, Davis' set probably did not accurately represent the indie pop beauty this man is capable of composing. Regardless of these factors, the set was still entertaining. The musicianship made up for the lack of energy put forth by the band members, but with such songs, a high energy performance is not exactly expected. The half-hour of music was highly enjoyable, as a nice toe-tapping selection of songs was chosen for this set. If Davis comes to your town, check him out, for it will be a good night of rock music.
Following Devin Davis was supposed to be New Line Records signees Paris, Texas. Since early June, word had been flying around the Milwaukee streets that the boys had called it a day. Despite pulling out of a few local shows in the weeks prior, Paris, TX was still listed on the Summerfest website...until two days before the show. Disappointed, I wondered if Summerfest could find a suitable replacement for the high energy pop-rockers.
Filling the void was Madison's Sunspot. Pardon my French, but, this band fucking sucked. Allow me to paint this portrait: Two fat upper 20 something’s sharing vocal duties, with a chick on drums that made Meg White resemble Josh Freeze. You know those pop-punk bands that played every local talent show possible in 2000 while Blink-182 was hitting it big? Well, Sunspot sounded exactly like those bands. The following crimes were committed: (1) Asking the audience if they had ever "felt left out" and dedicating the song to all those who ever had, (2) inserting completely unnecessary guitar solos in the vein of AC/DC, and (3) writing a song about Scott Bakula from "Quantum Leap." This song was so stupid lyrically, it made these fucks look like these guys. Having these two old guys preach to me about my 13-year-old problems made me want to stab my eyes out with a diseased spork instead of listening to more of this band's set.
The night got back on track as supergroup Maritime adorned the stage. Featuring two members of the Promise Ring, one member of the Dismemberment Plan, and I believe (don't shoot me if I'm wrong) one member of the Benjamins (at least for that night), the stage was a wealth of indie rock history. After opening to a very disenchanted Dashboard Confessional crowd last year, Maritime decided to give the Summerfest scene another go-around. Davey von Bohlen even made it clear that the Fest was not really their ideal venue, with this quote: "I'm not really politically minded enough to get a festival crowd pumped up. I could stand on the PA and yell, or we could synchronize jumps, but that's not really our thing. We're just going to keep playing our songs." No complaints here. Maritime played a very tight 45 minutes of catchy pop tunes, pulling songs from 2004's Glass Floor and a wealth of new songs from their upcoming album, due out on Halloween. The band exerted as much energy as possible, and overall just looked like they were having a good time. The songs appeared to catch the ears of the Death Cab crowd, and hopefully will turn a bunch of the young "OC" watchers onto a very talented band. Then maybe I won't be the only one laughing at the jokes Maritime was making, such as when Davey said "You should've caught me 5 years ago, I was fucking funny back then." I wish I could have, Davey, but for the meantime, the catchy and earnest pop of Maritime will have to suffice.
As the night sky had finally taken full shape over Lake Michigan, Death Cab For Cutie took the stage. The band launched into the haunting guitar line of "Title Track" and proceeded to draw the crowd in with their atmospheric melodies. The band held the crowd in its grasp for the duration of the song, let the closing notes ring out, and then launched into "The New Year." At this point, the crowd lit up, and the singing along increased tremendously. Death Cab For Cutie had fully reeled in every pair of ears surrounding the Roadhouse, and proceeded to hold them at attention for the rest of the set. Drawing evenly from the DCFC discography, all fans of the band appeared to be satisfied with the selections, as the band tore through "Title And Registration," "For What Reason," "The Sound Of Settling," "Photobooth," "Expo 86," "Tiny Vessels," "We Laugh Indoors," and a few other songs I can't recall. They also played one new song from the upcoming major label release Plans entitled "Crooked Teeth." The song sounded like a more upbeat rock number, with lyrics such as "You're cute when you're slurring the speech, but the bar is closing and they're asking us to leave." The encore consisted of "We Looked Like Giants," and one more song. I ducked out so as to avoid the mass of people exiting the stage at one time. Death Cab For Cutie had a stage presence all their own, playing their guitars with intensity and fervor, yet delicately enough to compliment Ben Gibbard's signature vocals. The captivating and often soothing sound that is Gibbard's voice was in full effect, as the listener was drawn into the performance easily. In short, Death Cab gave a stunning performance, and hopefully will convince the mass of kids who showed up at the stage simply to hear "The Sound Of Settling" inspiration to delve into the back catalogue of this talented band.
Although I despise the Summerfest scene and would have much rather experienced Death Cab in a club setting, it was definitely worth the $12 admission. And was definitely better than seeing the night's other headliners: Skid Row, Night Ranger, and the Ohio Players. If you live near one of the select Death Cab dates occurring this summer, find yourself a nice comfy spot and let the band enchant you. It's easier to give in than it is to fight.