Summerfest: Wednesday, June 30
Usher, The Moody Blues and Dark Star Orchestra
Amphitheater, 7:30 p.m.
Of all the teenage R&B singers spawned by the ’90s, none proved themselves more enduring than Usher, who would go on to become the best-selling singer of the 2000s. A generation of R&B fans watched Usher grow up, maturing from fresh-faced kid with impeccable dance moves into a conflicted adult (without losing those dance moves). As his celebrity grew, he met fans’ demand for details about his personal life through his albums, particularly on his 2004 soul-bearing blockbuster Confessions, an album loaded with so many hits that it plays like a best-of collection.
The title of Usher’s latest record, Raymond v. Raymond, hints at a pained
examination of the singer’s recent divorce, but it’s not nearly as burdened as
all that. Instead, it’s arguably the singer’s most club-ready record in a
decade, the work of a newly single man ready to get back in the game. Here,
Usher boasts about his many sexual conquests and revels in the opportunity for
more. Listeners clearly took to the singer’s lighter turn. Raymond debuted on top of the Billboard charts—despite formidable
competition from Usher’s own protégé, Justin Bieber—and its many singles have
been a mainstay on urban radio all year. (Evan Rytlewski)
Classic Rock Stage, 9 p.m.
When it comes to distinctive sounds,
The Moody Blues were masters at capturing the orchestral pretensions and
pseudo-psychedelia of the early-1970s “art rock” crowd. Many fans will be nuzzling
each other’s graying heads during “Nights in White Satin” when the Moodies
perform June 30 at the M&I Classic Rock Stage.
Of the core five members, only Justin
Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge remain. But the trio is enough to recapture
the lush, emotional sound of a genre-bending band named after a beer company
and whose most famous album started out as a marketing stunt.
The Moodies emerged in 1964 as just
another R&B cover band, rotating players and not evolving their trademark
sound until the 1967 arrival of Hayward
and Lodge. The name developed in 1964 as a blatant attempt to solicit a
sponsorship from M&B Brewery in Birmingham,
with a brief nod to Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” The sponsorship never
developed, but the name stuck.
After signing with Decca, realizing
limited success and finding themselves owing the record company a lot of
advance money, the band agreed to record a rock version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony to demonstrate the
audio qualities of Deram, Decca’s new subsidiary label, and as a way to
eradicate its debt. The project never materialized, but the band convinced
Peter Knight, assigned to arrange and conduct the Dvorak, to perform the
Moodies’ own material instead. Days of
Future Passed was released in November 1967 and the rest, as they say, is
musical history. (Michael Muckian)
& Stratton Big Backyard, 8 p.m.
The Grateful Dead will never die as long as an iteration of Dark Star Orchestra is able to take the stage. The Chicago-based DSO is more than just the most highly regarded Dead tribute band. Its members operate as musical historians, recreating not only historic set lists from the Dead’s 2,500 performance dates, but arranging the stage, replicating the visual imagery and even adjusting the band’s personnel to match the Dead’s own evolution over more than 30 years of performances.
DSO began performing live in 1997 when
guitarist John Kadlecik introduced the concept of historically recreating the
Dead’s music to keyboard player Scott Larned. Kadlecik used instruments and
equipment designed to replicate Jerry Garcia’s setup and sound, and other
adjustments were made by various performers to create as authentic an
experience as possible. Various performers came and went over the years, but
the band began receiving its own tributes when Grateful Dead members and alums
including Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay joined them
on stage. Even Phish’s Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman found time to jam with DSO,
such was their growing reputation.
Founding members Kadlecik and Larned
are no longer with DSO. Larned died of a heart attack while on tour in 2005. As
for Kadlecik, he left DSO in 2009 to join Furthur, a spinoff band that included
Dead members Weir and Phil Lesh. That just may be the ultimate tribute that a
tribute band member can experience. (Michael Muckian)