Summerfest Daily Highlights: Thursday, June 30
Kanye West, Owl City and Wanda Jackson
Marcus Amphitheater, 7:30 p.m.
Nobody has a higher opinion of Kanye West than Kanye West. For a guy with such a big ego, though, West also has very thin skin. On 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the rapper internalized the blowback from his Taylor Swift “Video Music Awards” debacle (an incident that had even President Obama calling West “a jackass”), channeling it into a record that's at once self-aggrandizing and self-flagellating.
Like the four Kanye West albums that came before it, it is a masterpiece, a record that doesn't just push the boundaries of rap music but redraws the maps altogether. Kanye skirts genre conventions left and right, stretching tracks past their breaking point, letting guitar solos run long and handing hook duties over to Bon Iver folkie Justin Vernon. Yet unlike 808s & Heartbreak, the 2008 West album that boldly did away with rap verses almost entirely, Fantasy is a true rap lover's album, rich with prime guest verses from Raekwon, Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj, as well as some of West's fiercest rhymes yet. West may not be one of the most technically talented rappers—and he just plain rubs a lot of people the wrong way—but he has proven himself to be one of the greatest album artists of his time. (Evan Rytlewski)
Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, 10 p.m.
Adam Young's surprise No. 1 pop hit "Fireflies" and the album from which it came, Ocean Eyes, catapulted him and his Owl City one-man band into an object of adoration. Audiences have been drawn to the 20-something Minnesotan Young's fanciful imagination, which makes many of his lyrics read like the rough drafts of unfinished fairy tales. Some critics have compared the sound of Owl City (the most prominent name among the several under which Young records) to The Postal Service. But with his psychedelically cutesy couplets, gentle voice, and guest instrumentalists and vocalists, Young is his own man. Plus, his laptop musicality befits his occasional forays into explicit expressions of his faith, such as the Internet-only rendition of Stuart Townend's praise and worship hit "In Christ Alone," not to mention his work on soundtracks including Tim Burton's iteration of Alice in Wonderland. Expect Young to focus on material from Ocean Eyes and this year's follow-up, All Things Bright and Beautiful, at Summerfest. (Jamie Lee Rake)
Potawatomi Bingo Casino Stage & Pavilion, 10 p.m.
At 73 years old, Wanda Jackson still sounds like a wild kid, thanks in part to producer Jack White, who gives her rockabilly sound a 21st-century punch on her latest album, The Party Ain't Over. The unusually compelling blend of brassy urban blues and country in overdrive includes songs by Johnny Kidd (“Shakin' All Over”), Bob Dylan (“Thunder on the Mountain”), Amy Winehouse (“You Know I'm No Good”) and Jimmie Rodgers (“Blue Yodel #6”). The collection maintains a consistently precarious and quirky unity—one that never loses its Salvation-Army-band-gone-mad uniqueness.
Jackson was a rockabilly pioneer in the 1950s. Had times been different, she could have been as popular as Elvis Presley, with a whooping delivery that chased her country music roots into the danger zone. Today Bob Dylan rightfully calls her “An atomic bomb in lipstick—The Queen of Rockabilly.” Although she often shared concert bills with Presley, a Capitol recording executive told her, “Girls don't sell records.” It was an idiotic comment on the surface, since women had been selling records in the blues era of the 1920s and the swing era that followed, but during the rock 'n' roll upheaval of the '50s, girls like Jackson and fellow rockabilllies Janis Martin and Brenda Lee were at the margins. Jackson scored one Top-40 hit with “Let's Have a Party” in 1960—and with this album's feisty, brawling production, the party's still on. (Martin Jack Rosenblum, David Luhrssen)