If there’s one thing Summerfest does well—and let’s be honest, it does a lot of things well—it’s stock its overstuffed schedule with plenty of hidden gems. Take Wednesday night, for instance, which found Illinois rock duo Local H headlining the KNE New Music Stage. Yes, the idea of the 25-year-old band playing a “new music” stage was laughable, but the unlikely pairing gave the multitude of fans who showed up for the 9 p.m. gig a chance to see their heroes up close and personal. Hundreds of people surrounded the small-ish stage for Local H, and the band didn’t disappoint.
There may be those who know the group only for its 1996 buzz-bin nugget “Bound For The Floor”—a.k.a. the one where singer-guitarist Scott Lucas says “copacetic” a lot—but they certainly weren’t at this show. Instead, the crowd was strictly adoring die-hards, chanting along to old tracks like 1998’s “All-Right (Oh, Yeah)” and providing the “I don’t give a shit!” refrain to 1996’s still-funny “Eddie Vedder.” Lucas was in fine, pissed-off form (he defiantly spat onstage at one point), and along with recent-hire drummer Ryan Harding, he injected new life into vintage deep-cuts, and convincingly sold a handful of new tracks from 2015’s Hey, Killer. “The Misanthrope” played like a long-lost Nirvana song, while “Gig Bag Road” chugged along with like a classic-rock lighter-hoister. And yeah, they played “Bound For The Floor” early in their set, and it sounded fucking great.
Summerfest is typically unkind to encores, but Local H dished one out anyway, tearing into the fuck-the-man grunge-era classic “High-Fiving MF.” “This is it folks, we’re not kidding,” Lucas said, warning the crowd that the encore would be one song only. Judging from the delirium and makeshift mosh pit that followed (at the KNE New Music Stage, no less!), the band could have played well into the night, and on any other stage on the festival grounds.
If there’s one thing Summerfest doesn’t do well, it’s control the weather. Wednesday evening was already brisk and cool, but by the time Omaha synth-dance outfit The Faint took the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage at 10 p.m., temperatures had dipped into the low 50s. Toss in a lake breeze, and you had a downright chilly night.
So perhaps it was the weather that kept folks away (or perhaps it was the Milwaukee County Transit System 72-hour “work stoppage”), but the crowd for The Faint was criminally small. Not that it bothered the band much: Pumping out a laser-and-strobe-filled light show more suited to an arena than a sea of ill-stocked bleachers, the group dove into its 15-year-plus discography in characteristically frantic and brooding fashion. “The Geeks Were Right,” from 2008’s overlooked Fasciinatiion, was up first, followed by the decadant sweep of the excellent “Desperate Guys,” from 2004’s Wet From Birth. Frontman Todd Fink spun and tripped across the stage a la the dancer on the original cover of 2001’s Danse Macabre. Plenty of songs from that album made their way into the band’s setlist, including “Let The Poison Spill From Your Throat,” “The Conductor,” and the infinitely awesome “Your Retro Career Melted.” It was an uncharacteristically frigid night at Summerfest, but for the Faint faithful that bundled up and braved the autumn-like weather, it was a memorable one.