REVIEW: Bleachers At Summerfest

Bleachers, the post-fun. project of frontman Jack Antonoff, has a special connection with Summerfest. The band played one of their first official gigs at the previous iteration of the U.S. Cellular Connections Stage in 2014, and according to Antonoff, that was the show where the band truly found itself. With that said, the band hasn’t really played out much this year, intent on putting together a new album instead. However, they made an exception for The Big Gig, and released this video to talk about their love for the festival:

That’s a pretty special connection for Antonoff, who hails from New Jersey, and seemingly has no roots in the area outside of that 2014 performance. Needless to say, the band brought the energy that they were talking about in the video on Saturday night, and a fairly large crowd at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse seemed to give it right back to the band.

In many ways, the Saturday night set felt like a cathartic release for Antonoff, who seemed absolutely giddy at times to be in front of people. At times, the conventional set didn’t seem like just songs from their debut “Strange Desire” and their last studio release, 2017’s “Gone Now”, but rather a modified rehearsal session with some new tweaks, and possibly some teases of what is coming out of the studio in the future. It’s rare to say that a concert was more for the band than the fans, but on Saturday night, it was. Thankfully, the fans didn’t seem to mind, bopping and bouncing at every song.

There were, however, some small signs of rust, but they went largely either unnoticed or unacknowledged by the crowd. Antonoff played conductor and producer throughout much of the night, having fun instructing the band on when and how to come in at times, as well as directing the crowd and sometimes the light technician on how he wanted things to go down. He even playfully refused to start a song until fans sat on each other’s shoulders on the bleachers, in order to “make it look like a proper European festival would”. Between that and the chilly, swirling winds that was at one point carrying the sound away from the crowd, it should have made for an unpleasant experience. Rather than that, however, it felt like the Summerfest crowd was part of one big experiment; in some ways, we were watching Antonoff construct his ideal show piece by piece, in an effort to take that home with him to work on the rest of the upcoming record.

Saturday night’s setlist also did feature some modifications. While we didn’t get any new music, we were treated to some alternate tweaks on songs, including a stripped down version of “Like A River Runs”, and a guitar-only take on fun. track “Carry On”, which for a short bit seemed like Antonoff suprised himself by having to relearn the part on the spot. There was also a cover of what Antonoff said was his favorite song, Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”, which with dueling synths and drums, made for a fun atmosphere near the end of the show. Other songs had some short, modified intros that sounded like they could perhaps be teases of, at the very least, lyrics from the new album. We’ll have to wait to find out if that’s true, though.

Seemingly the biggest release came when the band dropped into the piano intro to breakout hit “I Wanna Get Better”, erupting the crowd, including a healthy number of Billie Eilish fans that had run over following her show at the American Family Inusrance Amphitheater. This was the special moment for Antonoff and co., as he moved all over the stage with a big grin, and ultimately jumped out into the crowd, standing on the barricade with his people, before throwing the microphone back on stage and running through the crowd slapping hands. This was it. This was the connection that it seemed like Antonoff was looking for, and he was appreciative the second that he got back on stage for closer “Don’t Take The Money”.

If Bleachers were struggling in any way to make a new album happen, Saturday night’s set should have reinvigorated them to remedy that. Antonoff had joked that they were “fucking bored of New York City because nothing happens there” and that he would “love to live in a city with a festival like this”. Milwaukee will always welcome Bleachers, and that was proved wholeheartedly on Saturday night.

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