When the official Summerfest lineup was unveiled in spring, one of the biggest surprises was that Semisonic would be returning to the Big Gig after an absence of nearly two decades. The 2001 edition of Summerfest had been the last time the trio had played in Wisconsin, coming at the tail end of when they were touring in support of their third album, All About Chemistry.
On Saturday night, the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage hosted what was dubbed during the show as the “trio plus,” consisting of the lineup of Dan Wilson, John Munson, and Jake Slichter, with additional assistance from Andy Thompson on keyboards and guitar, and Ken Chastain on percussion, keyboards, vocals and effects. After only playing a limited number of shows since 2001—with almost all of them taking place in the band’s home state of Minnesota—Munson acknowledged the long absence. “We’re happy to be back here in Milwaukee. It has been a while and we have missed you!”
The majority of the show consisted of songs from their first two albums. Since an expanded version of their platinum-selling Feeling Strangely Fine was released last year, it was plausible to assume that the show would center around cuts from that album. Instead, right from the start with “F.N.T.” and “Across the Great Divide,” the album that was most represented on Saturday night was their debut effort, Great Divide.
The first major surprise of the evening was when the band played “Ordinary Life,” a song that didn’t make the U.S. cut of All About Chemistry, but was included along with “Girlfriend” on the version of the album that came out in the UK and Japan. A few songs later, Semisonic presented a brand new song called “You’re Not Alone.” After consulting with the rest of the band, Wilson announced that this was the first time the band was performing the song live. “Alright, you’re the first, you’re the guinea pigs…or maybe we are.” The song featured a riff reminiscent of “In The Veins” from their early Pleasure EP along with the chorus “You’ve always known, there’s someone out there watching you as you go, just a feeling, you’re not alone.”
Semisonic also performed two covers that have been in their repertoire since the late ’90s. Their joyous rendition of Prince & The Revolution’s “Take Me With U” from the Purple Rain soundtrack got everyone dancing. Afterwards, Wilson paid tribute to Prince and shared his appreciation for the crowd’s enthusiasm. “Thank you guys for giving us a happy night with you tonight. Whenever we do that song, we have of course some sadness, but that fucking guy was so great and so inspiring. It’s nice to be able to enjoy that with you guys.” The second cover was “I Got You” by Spit Enz, another staple from when the band toured behind Feeling Strangely Fine.
Later, Semisonic played another recent song called “Basement Tapes” which made its premiere a couple years ago when the band played a 20th anniversary show for Great Divide at First Avenue in Minneapolis. For this song, Thompson and Chastain briefly left the stage, ceding the space to Wilson, Munson, and Slichter. This was appropriate, as the song reflects on the early days of the band.
Thompson and Chastain would return for “Closing Time,” in which Wilson encouraged the crowd to sing along. It was the second singalong of the night. Earlier, the crowd had participated in the “woohoo, woohoo, yeah yeah yeah” portion of “Delicious.” However, with “Closing Time,” every lyric of the hit song was sung by the crowd. The famous Clearmountain Pause at the end lasted for 20 seconds before the band dropped the final “I know who I want to take me home”s of the song. After a brief instrumental reprise, the band left the stage with many assuming that the show might be over.
However, after reemerging and joking that they had played so long that they didn’t have many songs left to play, Semisonic finished the 90-minute show with “Singing In My Sleep.” The band has been in the news recently as one of the performers that had master recordings destroyed in the Universal Studios fire that also engulfed the King Kong ride. During the encore of “Singing in my Sleep,” Wilson alluded to this by changing the lyrics from “my soul to keep” to “my masters to keep”.
On a cool, windy night with the end of the festival looming on the horizon, Semisonic offered both a greatest hits show and a preview of what might be coming. Assuming that another album might be in the works, hopefully that means another tour down the line. With any luck, it won’t be another 18 years before the band returns to Milwaukee. Until then, Semisonic left their fans at Summerfest completely pleased.
Across The Great Divide
This Will Be My Year
In Another Life
You’re Not Alone
Take Me With U (Prince & The Revolution cover)
I Got You (Split Enz cover)
Down In Flames
If I Run
Singing in My Sleep
For those keeping score at home, that’s six songs from Great Divide, five from Feeling Strangely Fine, two from All About Chemistry, two new songs, and two covers.