image by CJ Foeckler
words by Brian Whitney
Traditional 4th of July celebrations include some combination of parades, grilled food, fireworks, sparklers, family, and the like. Occasionally, though, an event comes along that supersedes any/all of those traditional activities. For example, when a gentleman who happened to be the frontman of one of your favorite bands of all time decides to bring his new band to an outdoor stage a few blocks from your apartment, thoughts of hot dogs and apple pie tend to take a backseat.
Such was the case Saturday, as Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (featuring former members of Sleater-Kinney and Quasi) rolled into Milwaukee on America’s 233rd birthday. I would be remiss to not discuss Malkmus’ headlining set before taking about the other aspects of the festival. The band mostly played songs off of their latest, 2008′s Real Emotional Trash, which to me was a bit of a letdown, as I much prefer the band’s work on previous efforts such as Face The Truth or Pig Lib. The songs did sound looser and more enjoyable in the live format, and many in attendance seemed to be enjoying the newer songs, so I ask that my minority opinion be viewed as such.
Setlist choices would be the whole story, except a very curious thing happened about two-thirds of the way into the set. Malkmus and bassist Joanna Bolme began discussing how to play a song, debating notes and changes for a good two or three minutes while the slightly restless audience of 2,500 (rough estimate) waited for the next song. Which turned out to be a spot-on cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue”, complete with falsetto. It was the sort of thing that made the performance less of a standard rock concert and more of a unique event (something Malkmus is known for in Milwaukee, as anyone who attended their 2003 show here can attest.) The encore consisted of two more spontaneous covers: the Kinks’ “All Day and All Of The Night” and the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On”. Ultimately what didn’t make it onto the setlist became the memorable part of the show. Adding to the greatness of the experience was my viewpoint; namely, the kitchen window of the apartment above Burnhearts, which was directly parallel from the stage. The view was probably the best possible of the proceedings, in terms of seeing the band and the people watching the band. Looking out at the sea of people gathered on Potter Street was almost like reading a Where’s Waldo book, albeit one specifically related to the time I’ve spent in Milwaukee and the people I have known here.
The main stage also featured performances from Maps and Atlases, Maritime, Rock Plaza Central and Kid Millions. Maps and Atlases, in particular, may have stolen the show a bit, as many in attendance seemed to be unfamiliar with the Chicago quartet. yet enjoyed their mix of technical prowess and melodic songwriting. The second stage (does it have to literally be a stage to count as a “stage”, in the festival sense of the word?) featured performances by local acts previously seen on this site, such as Lopan and Mike Skorcz of John the Savage.
Anyone who attended the Red, White, and PBR Fest was plied not only with excellent musical performances, but the beverage that was the festival’s namesake. The festival was stocked with 100 cases of PBR tallboys and 24 kegs; yet this seemingly insurmountable quantity of beer was wiped out by the time the headliners hit the stage. There was never a truer testament to Milwaukeeans’ ability to drink in public.