A.V. Club Milwaukee – Violent Femmes and Avett Brothers at Summerfest 2013

ViolentFemmes

Summerfest Day 1: Violent Femmes, Avett Brothers, and Edward Sharpe

ViolentFemmes

Throughout the history Summerfest, there have been many memorable opening day performances that got the world’s largest music festival off to a strong start. But few (if any) have held as much meaning to the city and had as stacked (and intriguing) a bill as Wednesday night’s Marcus Amphitheater show. Not only did it feature several of today’s most exciting and active bands in the The Avett Brothers and Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros, but the Violent Femmes made their triumphant return to their hometown for their first show here in years.

“Hello, we’re the Violent Femmes,” Victor DeLorenzo told the crowd as the band fearlessly kicked off with “Blister In The Sun.” DeLorenzo, as always, was an animated drummer, thrusting his drumsticks in the air with glee during “Kiss Off.” Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie weren’t as active, but were still clearly excited. Vocally, Gano hasn’t lost a step. As he began singing the first verse of “Add It Up” by himself, his vocals were clear and crisp, and filled with emotion. Ritchie’s playing was great as well, especially when he hopped over the xylophone for “Gone Daddy Gone.”

One of the pleasant surprises of the show was the support the band got from many of their contemporaries. In the middle of “Confessions,” as Gano sang about being lonely, the Horns Of Dilemma and other local musicians like Jeff Hamilton and John Sparrow joined group. Sigmund Snopek III played alphorn on “Black Girls,” and former BoDeans singer Sam Llanas joined on backup vocals for “Good Feeling.”

Near the end of the set, Ritchie explained that the word “encore” is Italian for again, prompting the band to return to run a victory lap with “Blister In the Sun.” Whether Milwaukee sees the Femmes again is uncertain, but there was certainly plenty of good feelings at Wednesday’s show.

Like the Violent Femmes, The Avett Brothers and Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros know a few things about being underdogs and achieving success through hard work and a little luck. Over the past few years, both bands have played Milwaukee a few times, giving the city a front row seat to their growth in popularity.

Last year, The Avett Brothers found success at the nearby BMO Harris Pavilion. This year was no different, and the band delivered their finest show to date. The Americana-folk tinged group played many songs from last year’s excellent The Carpenter—like “Live And Die”—as well as songs from various other albums. One of the highlights of the set was when Scott and Seth Avett and bass player Bob Crawford huddled in the center of the stage for “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” a traditional folk song that had gospel-like qualities. As their set ended, the Summerfest fireworks began, prompting Scott to tell the crowd that “the fireworks are messing with my rhythm, or helping.” The band ended with “I And Love And You,” and the fireworks seemed perfectly timed to the song’s climax.

While it seemed strange that the 10-member Edward Sharpe group were relegated to openers, they made the most of their opportunity. Their set was a mix of their first two albums, including songs like “40 Day Dream” and “Man On Fire.” During the latter, frontman Alex Ebert came into the crowd and walked about halfway up, enjoying the company of fans. Another highlight was “Fiya Wata,” which featured Jade Castrinos taking over vocals. “I see so many Led Zeppelin shirts,” Castrinos said. “It makes me so happy.” [Joshua Miller]