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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summerfest Daily Highlights: Wednesday, July 6

The Black Keys, Florence + The Machine and Danny Gokey

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The Black Keys w/ Florence + the Machine and Cage the Elephant
Marcus Amphitheater, 7:30 p.m.


The Black Keys recorded 2010's Brothers after a period of inner-band turmoil that threatened to permanently send singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney their separate ways. It's a good thing they regrouped: Brothers turned out to be the blues-rock duo's most successful record yet, scoring the band a couple of hit singles (“Tighten Up” and “Howlin' for You”), a “Saturday Night Live” appearance and five Grammy nominations (including two wins). After 2008's psychedelic-leaning album with producer Danger Mouse, Attack & Release, Brothers marked a return to the gristly rawness of The Black Keys' early records, but it's also catchy like nothing they've recorded before. It's easy to see why it became their commercial breakthrough.

British openers Florence + the Machine can credit much of their stateside recognition to a Cinderella moment: The art-pop group was picked from relative obscurity to perform among much bigger names at MTV's 2010 Video Music Awards. The smartly choreographed performance of the group's joyous soul-stomp “Dog Days Are Over,” which surrounded singer Florence Welch with frolicking modern dancers, sent the band's debut album Lungs, already more than a year old at that point, shooting up the charts, and radio programmers scrambled to add the song to their playlists. (Evan Rytlewski)

Danny Gokey

Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, 10 p.m.


Danny Gokey, Milwaukee's first major “American Idol” contestant,” having finished third on the show's 2009 season, surprised his followers when he announced that he would record a country album. His hard-sung performances of staples by Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations on “Idol” had given him a reputation as a soul singer, but country has proved a logical match for him, too. Gokey cut his teeth singing in church, so he clearly shares the faith and understands the down-home values of contemporary country's core audience. In just a single line from “It's Only,” a ballad from his 2010 RCA Nashville debut My Best Days, Gokey manages to make the case for God and take a swipe at the stimulus package, singing of an unemployed worker questioning his faith, “He needs a hand up and not a handout.” The rest of My Best Days is similarly rich with inspirational red meat for the country crowd. After his July 6 performance at Summerfest, Gokey will further prove his country bona fides when he joins Taylor Swift's tour, opening for the megastar 10 nights through the end of the month. (Evan Rytlewski)

Tonic
U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, 10 p.m.

Expect plenty of post-grunge flashbacks when Tonic takes the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage. After all, “If You Could Only See” was rock radio's most-played song of 1997, and “Open Up Your Eyes” was pretty ubiquitous, too. The band also nabbed a pair of Grammy nominations in 2003 and penned songs for the Scream 2 and American Pie soundtracks.

Last year, a reunited and rejuvenated Tonic released its self-titled fourth album, and the good news is that if you liked 1997's Lemon Parade, 1999's Sugar and 2002's Head On Straight, you'll love how Tonic sounds today. In fact, Tonic seems to have picked up right where it left off during a self-imposed four-year hiatus, making sharp, hooky and wall-of-sound music for the masses.

“I don't think we ever considered it over; we all wanted to take time off to do our own things,” vocalist/guitarist Emerson Hart told Billboard.com last year. One of those things, for Hart, whose sensitive, soul-baring lyrics separated Tonic from its peers, was to record a solo album, 2007's Cigarettes & Gasoline. Don't be surprised if Tonic plays a song or two from that record; it's that good. (Michael Popke)