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Bryson Tiller, Lil Tecca, and Summerfest 2024’s Day 8 Highlights and Lows

On the penultimate day of Summerfest 2024, it rained again. And again. But the music continued on.

Here’s the best and worst of what we saw and heard at the Big Gig on its final Friday.

It’ll almost certainly be bested by fast-rising regional Mexican phenomenon Ivan Cornejo Saturday, but R&B star Bryson Tiller on Friday night drew one of the largest crowds I’ve ever seen at the BMO Pavilion during Summerfest.

Huge clusters of people formed behind the bleachers so far back that the stage itself wasn’t even visible. And when Tiller did make his entrance, so many lit-up phones were pulled out in the lower bowl it was almost as if the house lights had been flicked on.

Tiller’s modest set-up — a couple of low-key dancers, bland visuals, no DJ — lacked the sharp visual components of his sold-out Eagles Ballroom tour stop last year. But this crowd was much, much larger, and dramatically more intense.

Standing on the folded seats in the lower bowl has been stopped at every pavilion show I’ve seen, but nearly everyone climbed onto a seat (and yes, some people tumbled), leaving security vastly outnumbered.

It helps that Tiller, a veteran at this point, has a lot of hits, and his style of trap-seasoned R&B has remained relevant through several trends, with likeminded peers like The Weeknd and fellow Summerfest headliner SZA firmly atop the A-list.

And when Tiller Friday strung together three signature songs back to back — “Exchange,” “Let ‘Em Know” and his Rihanna and DJ Khaled collaboration “Wild Thoughts” — the deafening singalongs by the packed crowd, largely made up of women in their teens and early twenties, rivaled the volume of any audience singing I’ve heard in the American Family Insurance Amphitheater this year.

Could that be where Tiller plays the next time he’s in Milwaukee?

Once Bryson Tiller’s show at the opposite end of Maier Festival Park came to a close, his entire audience sprinted to the UScellular Connection Stage to see hip-hop phenom Lil Tecca. It was exciting and terrifying to witness at the same time.

Although he was late, Tecca was welcomed with open arms by thousands of kids — my son included. While he does fit into the “mumble rap” category, Tecca is a force of his own. The energy was fierce on and off stage. He didn’t rap over his own vocals, which was crazy because this kid was jumping all over the stage. (I was out of breath just watching.) He used the wild-eyed teens as his hype man to fill in the gaps of dead air.

Tecca did perform with a live Auto-Tune effect on his voice to appear more melodic, but it worked for him. Mixed with his infectious and extremely bass-heavy beats, the Auto-Tune was almost called for.

At 21, Lil Tecca puts on an amazing show — lights, smoke and video screen included. Also, I learned that skinny jeans are out and baggy jeans are coming back, according to Tecca’s attire. I’m OK with that. My son, not so much.

The rain stopped right before The Wallflowers placidly walked onto the Uline Warehouse stage. But the crowd was massive.

After a few sound glitches, the crew got Jakob Dylan’s voice just right — unintelligible, as it should be. The vibe was mellow with a bevy of head nods and a yelp every now and again. There was not much interaction with the audience, but the latter were satisfied as long as the band kept cranking the hits out, especially from their classic 1996 album “Bringing Down the Horse.”

Overall, the band sounded great. Dylan’s voice is still gritty as ever. My personal highlight was his guitarist with a rack of at least eight string instruments. It seemed over the top, until I heard how each instrument melded into each song.

His band may be called Wage War, but closing out the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard Friday, frontman Briton Bond offered a message of unity.

“There is no you, there is no me, there is only us,” the Florida metalcore band’s singer suggested to a smallish but mighty crowd via his signature doomsday growl.

Finding a mutual admiration over pummeling drums, dense guitar shredding, Bond’s blood-curdling screams and the occasional sweetness of Cody Quistad’s melodic, emo-dipped clean vocals, band and fans quickly formed a unified front. But it wasn’t just the music that bonded them but the messages, like the anguish of mental health struggles expressed during “Low” Friday.

Internal wars like those will continue, but for an evening at least, Wage War and their fans experienced some blissful, head-banging harmony together.

Bryson Tiller may have drawn one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen at the BMO Pavilion on Friday night. But Paul Cauthen performed for one of the smallest headlining audiences I’ve ever seen at the Miller Lite Oasis at the same time. Nearly all of the benches were empty, and the people who were there (excluding stragglers on the outskirts) could have fit inside Turner Hall Ballroom, maybe even Shank Hall or Vivarium.

Then again, Summerfest’s largest (primarily) general-admission stage did seem like an odd place for such an oddball, even if he is an intriguing oddball. He’s got the richest baritone to hit country music since Johnny Cash, and with Lana Del Rey making a guest appearance at his Stagecoach set in California this past April, he’s got some cool points.

Cauthen Friday showed he’s got plenty more of them, his firecracker five-piece band kicking things off with a medley that flowed from Ennio Morricone’s theme from “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” into Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2,” before he busted out his deep and smooth voice while twitching across the stage for “Hot Damn.” If some singing voices can be likened to butter, Cauthen’s voice is Alfredo.

But it’s definitely not a mainstream country voice, nor is a song like “Country as (Expletive),” performed for that scant Summerfest crowd Friday, a mainstream country song. No country song with an expletive in its title ever will be, and Cauthen, uncompromising to the core, is no doubt just fine with that. But when he extended his mic out to the crowd Friday so they could sing the song’s mic-drop line “Real cowboys don’t rock to Kenny Chesney,” Cauthen was greeted with complete silence.

“This is my first (expletive) Summerfest,” DC The Don screamed from the UScellular Connection Stage late Friday afternoon, emphasizing a few minutes later that Milwaukee was “my (expletive) city.”

But there were a few moments there that I worried this also would be DC The Don’s last Summerfest.

He shot onto the stage like a bullet, and hopped down into the security barricade, all in the first 10 seconds.

Not even five minutes later, the rapper — whose cinematic, emo-friendly sound made him one of the only Milwaukee natives ever named to XXL’s prestigious ones-to-watch Freshman Class list — hopped over the barricade to rage with fans in the front. I even saw one bro rip his tank top in half, Hulk Hogan style.

He was off the stage and among the people for most of the set after that, posing for selfies and accepting hugs the brief moments he caught his breath.

But about 23 minutes in, security had had enough. After a brief consultation with his DJ, DC told the fans, “They said I can’t go back in the crowd no more,” prompting angry chants of “(Expletive) that (expletive).” DC pleaded near set’s end to jump in the crowd one last time, but it was a firm no. So, raging behind the barricade was a sufficient compromise, judging by the energy from the rapper and the crowd.

“I’ve been waiting on this moment my whole (expletive) life,” DC said at one point. Despite the security scare, his crowd-thrilling set suggested it won’t take long for him to be asked back.

The afternoon rain on Thursday proved to be fortuitous for Milwaukee alternative-pop band Reyna at the covered Aurora Pavilion — but the timing was slightly off for Reyna Tropical, playing the same time slot at the same stage Friday.

A heavy downpour roared through late Friday afternoon, only to leave clear skies and cool temps in its wake before the Mexico-born, Portland, Oregon-based Tropical (stage name for Fabi Reyna) started her Summerfest set. It was her second Milwaukee show since May. It wasn’t a massive crowd, but Reyna’s lush, dancefloor-suited sound — inspired by music from Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Congo and other Latin and African countries, and performed by a DJ and Reyna’s live vocals and occasional guitar — was a pretty irresistible draw.

And Reyna’s stage magnetism, an extension of her songs’ hippie-like perspectives, ensured that her crowd, many seemingly new fans, stayed put — whether she was grooving on guitar for “Niña,” dancing and waving her cowboy hat in the air for “Calor” or unleashing a boisterous grito for “La Madrugada.”

Reyna’s got star power, but she made it clear Friday, through her words and accompanying videos, that her set was “honoring the Afro and Afro-Indigenous people” that inspired her music. She also gave a shout-out to the LGBTQ + community, expressing excitement to learn that Milwaukee, as she put it Friday, was “gay as (expletive).”

PrideFest talent team, start making some calls to book Reyna Tropical for 2025 — although at this rate, Milwaukee may be lucky to see a few more shows before then.

Supergroups frequently disappoint — but maybe the term is all wrong.

It’s the word used to describe bands made up of famed musicians from other acts. But the trouble is supergroups rarely come close to reaching the peaks of those musicians’ primary projects.

And, technically, that’s the case for The Baseball Project, which performed for a modest crowd at Uline Warehouse Friday afternoon. The band’s Peter Buck and Mike Mills will always be most admired for their work in R.E.M. Scott McCaughey, too, is best known for his R.E.M. contributions and for leading the Minus 5 (which also features Buck), a band that also includes fellow Project player Steve Wynn, leader of the Dream Syndicate. Linda Pitmon, Wynn’s wife, rounds out the group on drums and vocals.

But the Baseball Project has no grand aspirations. It’s primarily an outlet for these accomplished musicians to hang out and play bar-ready rock songs they wrote about America’s national pastime. The freedom of low expectations allows for some fun curveballs like “Stuff,” a strange song about a pitcher putting a little extra juice on their throw, with Mills supplying quirky vocals and Wynn a feverish guitar solo at Summerfest.

And in addition to McCaughey’s nod to the Brewers with his baseball cap Friday, the band offered a little Milwaukee baseball history lesson via their song “Harvey Haddix,” recounting the tale of the under-heralded Pirates pitcher who, on May 26, 1959, threw 11 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves at County Stadium but wound up losing the game anyway. Maybe the Baseball Project can write “The Ballad of Craig Counsell” for their next album.

Source: USA Today