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Los Angeles-based Saint Motel.
Los Angeles-based Saint Motel.

Crooning Saint Motel checks in at the Big Gig

The Summer Festivals Guide is presented by Pick 'n Save, Where Wisconsin Saves on Groceries. Pick 'n Save is Wisconsin proud, and excited to help promote and feed the great Milwaukee summer that includes festivals and fun nearly every day. Click to save here!

If you’re into pretty-boy pop masquerading as indie rock, you might have found yourself at the Saint Motel show Sunday night at Summerfest.

Frontman A/J Jackson and company brought their pop-indie sensibilities to a dancing, teenaged and 20-something crowd at the U.S. Cellular stage (a dreamscape for any buyer who works for either Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie).

Ever-gracious and seemingly genuine, Jackson talked with his fans and sprinkled "Milwaukee" into as many crowd interactions as possible.

For starters, he announced that it was the band’s first time in Milwaukee, so "What should we do?" He noted that he had visited the Milwaukee Public Museum earlier in the day – he declared it "awesome."

Around the third song in, Saint Motel pulled out "Benny Goodman," clearly a crowd favorite.

It’s tough to predict this sleek-sounding band’s staying power. Sure, the individual members have their street cred (made their way to Los Angeles, went to film school, worked in a sushi restaurant, yada, yada, yada), but there’s something about them that seems fleeting. That said, they have two major assets that could certainly work in their favor: Jackson’s clear, clean, big vocals (that bring to mind ‘80s Simple Minds and ‘90s Franz Ferdinand lead singers) and some killer riffs from the sax and trombone. ("That’s hot," as Paris Hilton, who DJ’d just a few stages away the same night, would say.)

Before launching into "Daydream / Wetdream / Nightmare," Jackson once again thanked the crowd for being so welcoming, noting, again, his band’s first time in Milwaukee.

Saint Motel wisely leverages the musical sound of virtually every recent decade that precedes them. The rich, brass…

Journey's 46-year-old frontman Arnel Pineda brings a youthful vibrancy to the classic rock band.
Journey's 46-year-old frontman Arnel Pineda brings a youthful vibrancy to the classic rock band. (Photo: Erik Ljung)
Journey served a steady stream of its classics Wednesday night at the BMO Harris Pavilion.
Journey served a steady stream of its classics Wednesday night at the BMO Harris Pavilion. (Photo: Erik Ljung)

Journey brings a new face to vintage rock

Perhaps because the band formed the year I was born (1973), Journey has always held a soft spot in my heart. Hearing the band perform the songs that shaped the soundtrack of my youth with hundreds of other people on a balmy September night on Milwaukee’s lakefront affirmed my love affair.

Journey opened its hour-and-a-half set at the BMO Harris Pavilion on the Summerfest grounds with "Be Good to Yourself" and served a steady stream of its classics: "Separate Ways," "Any Way You Want It" and "Only the Young."

No one can ever truly replace "The Voice" Steve Perry, but sound-alike Arnel Pineda comes damn close -- and, at age 46, he brings his own youthful vibrancy to the band’s current line-up.

While Pineda’s energy supply is seemingly boundless -- punctuated by twirls, jumps, kicks and spins -- the pint-sized Pineda lacks a certain gravitas and presence onstage.

But he does own a fascinating back story, which is the subject of the documentary "Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey." It’s a must-see for anyone who loves music, in general, and Journey, in particular, as well as for anyone who appreciates the timeless tale of overcoming the odds.

The documentary tells the story of how Journey found Pineda -- who spent several years living on the squalid streets of Manila -- and follows the band on the road for a year.

Sprinkled throughout Journey’s set at Wednesday night’s show were some sideshow attractions, including a tricked-out version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Neal Schon; "Mother, Father," sung by drummer Deen Castronovo; and a piano medley by Jonathan Cain.

A few newer songs were masterfully woven in among the iconic hits that everyone sang along to and swayed with.

The show ended particularly strong with the last three songs of the set, "Wheel in the Sky," "Faithfully" and "Don’t Stop Believin’," which featured blasts of confetti on the final note.

But Journey saved the best for last: Pineda led the crowd through the swee…

They want you to want them.
They want you to want them. (Photo: David Bernacchi)
From Rockford ...
From Rockford ... (Photo: David Bernacchi)
... Hello, Wisconsin.
... Hello, Wisconsin. (Photo: David Bernacchi)
And Summerfest is a wrap!
And Summerfest is a wrap! (Photo: David Bernacchi)

Vintage Cheap Trick never grows old

Milwaukee wrapped 2014’s Big Gig with one of its biggest loves: Cheap Trick.

The perennial favorite hit the BMO Harris Pavilion stage Sunday at 9:50 p.m. and proceeded to knock out its hits with a wall of guitar-heavy sound.

An audio collage of Cheap Trick references (yes, including Homer Simpson reminding us that he’d "prefer to listen to Cheap Trick") served as a prelude to the show.

From there, the band played what you’d expect, opening with "Hello There," followed by "Big Eyes" and "California Man."

The obligatory shout-out to Milwaukee came after about the sixth song, namely, "That '70s Song." Of course. They continued with the usual hits, like "The Flame," "Dream Police" and, yes, "I Want You To Want Me." Just like they always do.

The crowd responded accordingly but just couldn’t seem to muster a true fan’s enthusiasm. Perhaps blame the end-of-the-party vibe. Maybe attribute it to the rain that washed out most of the crowds standing outside the covered portion of the Pavilion. Or chalk it up to the fact that Cheap Trick has been a Summerfest staple since, well, as long as this 41-year-old Milwaukee native can remember.

To their credit, the members of Cheap Trick don’t take their adopted hometown for granted. They delivered a show with big, grateful showmanship, a wardrobe of guitars and enough glitz to make Elton John a bit envious.

If the rain or the prospect of a Monday morning alarm clock kept you from the 2014 Cheap Trick show, don’t worry … you know there’s always next year.

Led Zeppelin tribute band No Quarter opened the show.

Set list:

Hello There
Big Eyes
California Man
Hot Love
She's Tight
Ain't That A Shame
That '70s Song
Need Your Love
Ballad of TV Violence
I Know What I Want
The Flame
I Want You To Want Me
Dream Police
Never Have A Lot To Lose
Auf Wiedersehen

Farm Aid, as seen from a Miller Park suite.
Farm Aid, as seen from a Miller Park suite.
The baseball diamond sat empty like perfectly preserved homage to all-things American.
The baseball diamond sat empty like perfectly preserved homage to all-things American.

Farm Aid merges "Austin City Limits" vibe with down-home grit

Miller Park has likely never seen as much flannel as it did Saturday night, when it played host to Farm Aid 25. I had the pleasure of witnessing the iconic event from the perch provided by a suite.

When my host and I arrived just after 5 p.m., a fedora-and-flannel clad Jason Mraz was on the stage. He introduced a song he had "written for the farmers," which was essentially an ode to his grandfather -- and to all men of a certain generation who have the skills to be self-sufficient in a world without wi-fi and AAA.

Mraz inserted into his set a plea to everyone in the audience to vote for environmentally conscious legislators in the upcoming, November election.

Just to the left of the stage, the names of "green" event donors scrolled on an LED screen: Goodness Greenness, Organic Valley, Horizon Organic and Natural Events of Manitowoc.

When Norah Jones took the stage around 6 p.m., she opened with her own "Come Away with Me," then went into the Johnny Cash country classic, "Cry, Cry, Cry."

Flanked on the stage by just two guitarists, Jones left her jazz inflection by the wayside for the night and opted for a decidedly steel-string guitar sound -- and red cowgirl boots. Willie Nelson joined Jones for "Lonestar."

During a set break, I took an amble through Miller Park and decided the scene was "Austin City Limits" meets "UW-Stevens Point." Composting collection bags took their place next to trash cans, and food and beverage kiosks displayed signs giving products the official Farm Aid, "Homegrown Approved" designation, where applicable.

Back in the suite, I caught Kenny Chesney onstage, who brought his version of urbanized country to the mix. Admittedly, I'm no Chesney expert, but the audience seemed to embrace his hits and welcomed him warmly, despite the fact that he was wearing a trucker-style Saints baseball hat. (None of his handlers secured a Packers or Brewers hat for him? Asleep at the wheel?)

The view from the suite afforded me the opportunity to reflect …