Summerfest: Thursday, June 24
Tim McGraw, Sheryl Crow and Passion Pit
Amphitheater, 7:30 p.m.
Contemporary country kicks off Summerfest’s 2010 Marcus Amphitheater lineup tonight. With more than 20 years in the music business, opening-night headliner Tim McGraw continues his run as an audience favorite. As half of country’s power couple—his wife is Faith Hill—McGraw has polished his enigmatic persona with masculine, modern-day cowboy looks that belie his smooth vocals.
McGraw is joined by two supporting acts
that formed in 2006 and have found considerable success since. Lady Antebellum
is riding high on the charts with its second studio album, propelled by the
group’s most recent crossover hit, “Need You Now,” and the earlier smash “I Run
to You.” The trio, fronted by Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood and Patrick Kelley
(younger brother of singer-songwriter Josh Kelley), has been a regular at
Summerfest in recent years, opening for Kenny Chesney as well as headlining
Love and Theft borrows its name from
the 2001 Bob Dylan album, but its music is all original country. Also a trio,
this group stands out for the ability of each musician (Brian Bandas, Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson) to
handle lead vocal and guitar duties. (Harry Cherkinian)
Lite Oasis, 10 p.m.
Though she first caught the music
industry’s attention as a backup singer for Michael Jackson during his 1987
“Bad” tour, Sheryl Crow resisted early offers to record as a dance-pop artist,
waiting until 1993 to release her first album, Tuesday Night Music Club, which established her as a
something-for-everyone singer-songwriter. Crow’s singles have found her
straddling the line between Lilith Fair folkie (“If It Makes You Happy,”
“Strong Enough”), pop starlet (“Soak Up the Sun,” “All I Wanna Do”) and, more
recently, covert country-crossover singer (“Picture,” “The First Cut Is the
Deepest”)—all hats that she has worn to considerable commercial success.
Crow’s relationship with musical genres
continues to be polygamous. On 2008’s Detours,
a record inspired by her breakup with cyclist Lance Armstrong and her victory
over breast cancer, Crow re-embraced the confessional folk and roots-rock that
first gave her a taste of fame in the ’90s, but her upcoming seventh studio
album, 100 Miles from Memphis, which is scheduled for a July 20
release, promises a departure from her comfort zone. Recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s
famed Electric Lady Studios in New York, it
pays homage to the earthy soul and R&B of Nashville. (Evan Rytlewski)
U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, 10 p.m.
Passion Pit released their 2009 debut
album, Manners, through the modest
independent label Frenchkiss Records, but the record didn’t stay underground
for long. The album swiftly spread from indie music blogs to major music
publications, from college radio to commercial alternative stations and then on
to MTV. Even John Mayer was rocking the damn thing.
That so many listeners took to Passion
Pit so swiftly was particularly impressive considering that bandleader Michael
Angelakos’ strained falsetto can make for an off-putting first impression.
Everything else about the band’s sound couldn’t be more inviting, though, from
the opulent synthesizers and the indulgent, Elton John-sized hooks to
Angelakos’ disarming, heart-on-sleeve songwriting. His gift is transforming
dark thoughts into bright music. “I scream and I beg and I sigh, just to prove
I’m alive,” Angelakos sings on the album opener, “Make Light,” “and it’s all
right, ’cause tonight there’s a way I’ll make light of my treacherous life.”
In concert, the group makes a more literal kind of light. At their sold-out show at the Riverside Theater in April, they brought a blinding light show that underscored the epileptic energy of their dance songs. On Summerfest’s opening night, they’ll perform for an even bigger crowd at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, then this fall they’ll play their first arena shows, sharing a tour with Muse that will return them to Milwaukee once again on Oct. 6. (Evan Rytlewski)