311 easily puts bounce back into soggy fans

311 easily puts bounce back into soggy fans

SUMMERFEST SPECIAL SIDE STAGE SNAPSHOTS

311 easily puts bounce back into soggy fans

Sunday, July 4, 2004

311

Freely channeling the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone and the Clash’s looser dub experimentations, 311 made the wait worth it for a capacity crowd Saturday night at the Miller Oasis — an audience that, security guards reported, had been camped out through the rain since early afternoon.

There’s an obvious reason 311 inspires such loyalty among the under-30 (and in most cases, under-20) set. Some 14 years after banding together in Omaha, Neb., that hotbed of ska-infused funk- punk, the quintet still sounds fresh and eager, whether wooing fans with mellow reggae riffing that came perilously close to the feel- good vibe of a jam band or starting a “Bounce! Bounce!” epidemic with the infectious “Freak Out” — a song early in the set that reached back all the way to the band’s first disc, 1993’s “Music.”

— Gemma Tarlach, Journal Sentinel staff

Taj Mahal

With his Hawaiian shirt, broad-brimmed white hat and shades, Taj Mahal looks halfway between a bluesman and a coast watcher these days.

That fits, because he’s operating as a sort of musical Discovery Channel, mixing the blues with world music in a kind of free association. The first three tunes in his set Saturday at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino Stage with Sprecher Brewery were “Good Morning Miss Brown,” “L.A. Women” and “Going to Wainau,” which is a literal cross-pollination of the blues and Hawaiian string band music.

If anything, Taj Mahal is a kind of professor emeritus and roaming ambassador for American roots music in all its glorious and diverse forms.

At 62, he has evolved beyond boundaries and travels with a bunch of seasoned pros used to following his whims. As the band includes steel guitar, sax, mandolin and drums, the musicians are equipped to leap down just about any musical rabbit hole the boss takes a liking to.

— Dave Tianen, Journal Sentinel staff

The Roots

Saturday night at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse with Miller Genuine Draft, Philadelphia hip-hop crew The Roots played the best show this reviewer has ever seen at Summerfest.

Irritatingly transcendent guitar riffs screeching forward like classic Public Enemy. Drums funkin’ on the one and three, rockin’ hard on the two and four. Superlative MCs at the helm. Folks, this is how not just live hip-hop but all live music should be heard.

It’s not as if the group copped to a more organic feel just because live musicians were playing. They adhered to hip-hop’s compartmentalized constructions and repetitive nirvana. But they made sure the beat constantly slammed into the pocket even while paying homage to Jimmy Castor and the SugarHill Gang. The guitarist was wearing a Miles Davis “On the Corner” T-shirt, and that album was clearly a model for the non-stop urban voodoo funk the band cooked up. An absolutely jaw-dropping performance.

— Kevin John Bozelka, Special to the Journal Sentinel

Medeski Martin and Wood

The three men of Medeski Martin and Wood tend to disassociate themselves from the jam-band scene, and their show Saturday at the Piggly Wiggly MusicMarket with Leinenkugel’s demonstrated that they’re right to set themselves apart.

Rather than jam, keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood were more inclined to vamp, investigate and double back — and the difference between that and jamming is the difference between John Coltrane ascending toward musical enlightenment and Dave Matthews losing his way between chord progressions.

Medeski Martin and Wood thought and played like a jazz trio, in other words: fully in command, whether considering its back catalog or introducing material from its forthcoming album, “End of the World Party (Just in Case).” Fortunately, that impressive control didn’t keep anyone present from simply bopping — bebopping, even — to the rhythm.

— Jon M. Gilbertson, Special to the Journal Sentinel

Rick Springfield

Who knew there were enough Rick Springfield fans out there willing to stand on picnic tables in the pouring rain and huddle under beer tents Saturday night at North Shore Bank Landing with Miller Lite?

But hundreds got soaked, cheered the sound check and chanted (briefly), “We want Rick,” all for the Aussie and former “General Hospital” hunk known for early 1980s hits such as “Jessie’s Girl,” “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “I’ve Done Everything for You.”

Touring to promote his recent album, “shock/denial/anger/ acceptance,” Springfield tore into his rock tunes with aplomb and made even his rain-soaked fans smile.

— Meg Jones, Journal Sentinel staff

Otis Taylor

The most riveting addition to the blues community in recent years isn’t Susan Tedeschi. It isn’t some apprentice guitar god such as Jonny Lang or Kenny Wayne Shepherd. It isn’t even Shemekia Copeland.

It’s a former antiques dealer in his mid-50s named Otis Taylor.

As he demonstrated Saturday at the Hyundai Big Easy Club with 94.5 WKTI & Miller Lite, Taylor is nothing less than electrifying. His musical vision of the blues incorporates the electric cello into the basic band. And when he’s in the mood he’ll pick up the electric mandolin himself to spike the mix just a bit more.

He brings a political consciousness to the music that goes well beyond the norm. Saturday’s set opened with his daughter Cassie singing lead on an Otis original, “Buy Myself Some Freedom.”

But he’s also respectful of where the music started. His version of Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” wasn’t a literalist take; there was a swath of menace when Taylor made his plea. You got the sense his baby might want to think twice before sashaying down to New Orleans.

— Dave Tianen

Dread Zeppelin

Tortelvis, the Elvis impersonator who fronts reggae-metal-comedy act Dread Zeppelin, didn’t let the rain dampen his fashion sense Saturday at the MusicMarket.

The zaftig entertainer came onstage dressed in a red slicker cape, which was appropriate attire for the inclement weather. Topping off the outfit was an oversize heart belt buckle that he detached and brandished for the audience members to worship.

Tortelvis announced a song that went back to 1956. Not quite. The lyrics were courtesy of Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel,” but the crunching guitar riff came from the 1970s — Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker,” to be precise. Put them together and you have Dread Zeppelin’s early ’90s breakthrough number, “Heartbreaker (At the End of Lonely Street).”

You have to hand it to the band for milking such a dumb joke for so long. That chutzpah is what broke down all defenses during its set.

— Kevin John Bozelka

Mindi Abair

Saxophonist Mindi Abair keeps insisting that she’s not a smooth jazz player, and smooth jazz fans keep trying to claim her as one of their own.

But as she proved Saturday night at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard with Miller High Life, Abair isn’t a smooth player, at least not in the vaporous style defined by Kenny G. She paid her dues playing behind the Backstreet Boys and Mandy Moore, and on her own she shows an R&B grounding.

The most obvious comparison is with Candy Dulfer, who had a flirtation with pop success while working with Dave Stewart. The women share the blond-babe-with-a-horn thing, but they also have the same affinity for a light rock groove on tunes such as “Save the Last Dance” or the old Cannonball Adderley hit, “Work Song.”

— Dave Tianen

Jem

Get Jem to a coffee shop. The Welsh singer’s performance Saturday at the MusicMarket was too pensive and tame for such a large venue.

It was a challenge for the Dido sound-alike to rouse the crowd with her songs about lost loves and lost lives. Even her take on the Stevie Wonder hit “Master Blaster” was sapped of any spontaneity.

In spite of her sleepy performance, Jem really does have a pleasant voice. Though her band tried, it wasn’t able to overwhelm her whiskey-coated vocals. Her melancholy tone suited the songs — just not the setting.

But don’t cry for Jem. Surely she’s just one duet with Eminem away from making it big.

— Andrew Green, Journal Sentinel staff

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