Thursday, July 2, 2009

What Dead Confederate Tells Us about Summerfest

By Evan Rytlewski
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So here's the thing about wedding disc jockeys: They're usually right. Much as the more discriminating members of the wedding party may loathe hearing ABBA's "Dancing Queen" or an Elvis mega-mix, wedding disc jockeys play these songs because they get the biggest response. So don't hound these DJs to play R. Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)" or that old Junior Senior jam you and your friends remember from college. Despite what you think, those songs will clear the floor, so suck it up, recognize that the the guy getting paid knows what people want to hear better than you do, and live with the fact that more people will dance to "Cotton Eyed Joe" than whatever you request.

Here's where I'm going with all this: Summerfest is the wedding disc jockey of Milwaukee. There's nothing glamorous about what they do but that doesn't mean they don't know what they're doing. There's a reason why they book Foghat and Theory of a Deadman and not the indie-rock bands so many of us would prefer.

Last night's humbling Dead Confederate concert was proof of that. The concert was like having a wedding disc jockey finally honor your request, then watching in horror as the entire wedding party stops dancing and returns to their seats.

 The Athens, Ga., band played an overlong and sometimes painful 90-minute set to a sparse crowd. That's not to say they didn't sound excellent—often they did, savoring beautiful build ups only to tear them down with nihilistic guitars. But with their languishing, misery-laden, Neil Young-by-way-of-Kurt-Cobain rock, Dead Confederate was an awful fit for Milwaukee's smiley summertime festival. And that they played during happy hour was something of a cruel joke.

Later last night I caught the tail end of a set from Chicago's Hey Champ, a standard-issue, bump-and-grind electro-pop band that nonetheless had an overflowing crowd at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse eating out of their hands. Their bouyant singer, who spent much of his time on stage jumping up and down cheerfully, couldn't have been more different than Dead Confederate's stationary, introverted frontman Hardy Morris, who spent his set staring downward, his entire face hidden behind a curtain of hair. While the crowd went wild for Hey Champ, there was barely any crowd for Dead Confederate to go wild, even if they had been so inclined.

So why doesn't Summerfest book better bands? This is why.

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