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Summerfest: Friday, July 2

American Idols LIVE!, N.E.R.D. and O.A.R.

Jun. 10, 2010
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American Idols LIVE!

Marcus Amphitheater, 7:30 p.m.


“American Idol” owes its long run as America’s top-rated television show in part to its willingness to embrace change. The show initially gave priority to big-voiced singers, but as seasons passed it opened its doors to country and rock singers as well. By its most recent season, the show’s ninth, it demanded more from its contestants than just singing skills and star quality: It sought studio-ready artists with the vision to rearrange songs and make them their own.

Perhaps it asked too much. The season’s 24 finalists included plenty of acoustic guitarists and pianists in the Starbucks/Ingrid Michaelson/Jason Mraz mold, but few of them had the voices, stage presence or consistency to impress week after week.

Even the season’s top 10—who perform at the Marcus Amphitheater as part of the show’s annual tour—were unusually spotty, including deer-in-headlights teenagers Katie Stevens and Aaron Kelly, and one-note guitarists like Andrew Garcia. At least the season spotlighted a few memorable personalities, including “Vote for the Worst” favorite Tim Urban, screeching weird girl Siobhan Magnus, bar-band blues-rocker Casey James (the shirtless guy) and, of course, the dreadlocked troubadour Crystal Bowersox, who emerged early as the season’s uncontested front-runner. (Evan Rytlewski)


Miller Lite Oasis, 10 p.m.


It’s hard not to view N.E.R.D.’s carefree new single, “Hot N Fun,” as a response to the critics who dismissed the group’s last album as too shallow. “People don't want to think no more,” Pharrell Williams sings over a chipper disco groove. “They just want to feel/ they want to let go.” His message is clear: This is music for the body, not the mind, and if you don’t like it, don’t blame him. He’s just giving the people what he thinks they want—which, in this case, is the most Black Eyed Peas-esque song N.E.R.D. has ever recorded, right down to Nelly Furtado’s Fergie-channeling guest vocals.

You can’t completely accuse N.E.R.D. of chasing the charts, though. The band is a side project in the truest sense of the term, formed by a couple of guys who could be making far more money sticking to their day jobs. As the Neptunes, N.E.R.D.’s Williams and Chad Hugo were the most ubiquitous, successful rap production team of the last decade, and they remain in demand. This year alone, their work is set to appear on more than two-dozen albums, from artists like Ludacris, The Game, Lupe Fiasco and Cassie.

N.E.R.D. was initially the Neptunes’ outlet for less commercial sounds—their 2002 debut, In Search Of…, paired righteous rap-rock with boldly uncool nods to Steely Dan’s soft-rock—but the group has grown more dance-minded over the years. Their 2008 album, Seeing Sounds, took a more club-friendly approach, one that their upcoming fourth album, Nothing, seems set to continue. (Evan Rytlewski)


Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, 10 p.m.


It’s not much of a stretch to state that the musicians in Of A Revolution—more commonly known by the acronym O.A.R.—started their own revolution 14 years ago at Ohio State University. The band’s reggae-tinged roots-rock caught on with jam-band scenesters, who turned O.A.R. into a must-see live outfit, fueling a rabid fan base that initially relied on Napster and other forms of Internet piracy to spread the music. By 2005, O.A.R.’s single “Love and Memories” was on the Billboard pop, modern rock and adult-contemporary charts.

This modern-day success story—rooted in communal experience, not corporate marketing—recently culminated in Rain or Shine, a four-CD, 37-song live set recorded during two nights in June 2009 at the Charter One Pavilion in Chicago. The second evening’s performance was almost scrapped, due to heavy rain and lightning. But voracious fan chants encouraged the band to eventually take the stage after the lightning let up.

“People often tell me that they relate to us and our music, not just with the words, but with the general manner in which we act and perform,” O.A.R. vocalist/guitarist/co-founder Marc Roberge says on the band’s website. “I tell them that may be because there is no ‘act.’ We are just five friends playing songs we love to play and enjoying every minute of it. The audience can relate because we are having just as much fun as they are. And we are writing about many of the same life experiences they are living or have lived.” (Michael Popke)


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