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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summerfest Daily Highlights: Saturday, July 9

Britney Spears, The Flaming Lips and De La Soul

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Britney Spears w/ Nicki Minaj
Marcus Amphitheater, 7 p.m.


It was only several years ago that Britney Spears was locked in a tailspin of drug abuse and personal problems that threatened to cost her not only her career but also custody of her children. Following a pair of involuntary institutionalizations in early 2008, though, Spears pulled herself together, depriving the tabloids of any more sensational head-shaving incidents as she returned to music. At this point in her career, she's completed ceded what little creative control she had over her music to her producers, though that certainly hasn't hurt the chart performances of her latest album. Her newest, Femme Fatale, is a compilation of producer-driven dance-pop that compensates for Spears' inanimate voice with stylish, hard-pumping club beats.

With her fierce individualism and boundless verve, opener Nicki Minaj is a bit of an unlikely tour-mate choice for the robotic Spears—both artists are women and Top 40 staples, but that's about all they have in common. After a slew of scene-stealing guest verses on other hits for other artists, Minaj last year released her debut album Pink Friday, which featured plenty of her signature hopped-up raps and crazy accents while putting an unexpected emphasis on glossy, crossover pop singles. (Evan Rytlewski)

The Flaming Lips
Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, 10 p.m.


The Flaming Lips first found commercial success with their 1993 album Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and its novelty single “She Don't Use Jelly,” but it wasn't until a pair of oddly heartwarming albums about mortality, 1999's The Soft Bulletin and its 2002 follow-up Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, that they hit their critical stride. After those uplifting records, the band's latest, Embryonic, comes as a shock. It's a chilling record, driven by the most menacing, psychedelic freak-outs the group has attempted in nearly two decades. This time there are no Yoshimi-styled warm and fuzzies or escapist fantasies about galaxy surfing or time travel. Instead, in a frail, frightened voice, frontman Wayne Coyne sings of decay and desolation, resigned to his fate as the music closes in on him.

The Lips didn't set out to make an album so overtly bleak. They pieced Embryonic from long jam sessions, hoping that if they recorded long enough they might capture something powerful.

“A lot of music and art comes from your subconscious, and you have to let those ideas seep out,” Coyne told the Shepherd last year. “That's how Embryonic ended up so strange. It's about some element of the dark and unknown deep within ourselves that we're not aware of, or that we're not sure we want to be aware of.” (Evan Rytlewski)

De La Soul

Potawatomi Bingo Casino Stage & Pavilion, 10 p.m.


No list of hip-hop's most important albums is complete without De La Soul's 1989 introduction 3 Feet High and Rising, a 66-minute carousel ride of left-field samples with an unmistakable ideology that completely changed notions of what a rap album could be. It is a remarkable album, but one that has unfairly overshadowed everything De La Soul has done since. By 1991's De La Soul Is Dead, the trio had already distanced themselves from the sometimes-naïve sloganeering of their debut. Every record they've made since has been heavy with nuanced social commentary, inner conflict and tough truths, yet they'll always be best known for that record they made fresh out of high school, the one that said positivity could cure society's ills.

De La Soul has aged with rare grace. Though the pace with which they've released albums has slowed over the years, they've never made a bad one, and on records like 2001's AOI: Bionix and 2004's The Grind Date, they've shown a willingness to embrace modern sounds and new collaborators. Later this year they'll release their first proper album in seven years, Art Official Intelligence III, the belated final installment of a three-part series they began in 2000. (Evan Rytlewski)