Before I start: I’ve included a list of the wildest, funniest and just plain strange moments from this year’s Summer Breeze at the end. Skip there if you want; but beware concerts are a strange, strange place.
Summer Breeze, timid victim of a rainstorm that wasn’t, involved no breezes. Not that it really needed any. When no one is dancing, it doesn’t get very hot. Poor Sam Gellaitry, the waifish Scottish first act of the show, barely perked up a small audience of stiff, self-consciously swaying UChicago nerdlings who had miraculously acquired one of the coveted green wristbands granting access to the “pit.” (“Pit” in quotations because Mandel Hall is as close to the kind of venue that would have a pit as Putin is to a kindly uncle. The last people to use the “pit”? University Symphony Orchestra, with a bigger crowd to boot). Much of the rest of the audience was sitting down —you’d think it was still the University Symphony Orchestra on stage! Cursed by an audience that seemed to be waiting for someone to say “Please initiate dancing,” Gellaitry could do little but pump his signature surreal assembly of percussion and wail through the heaps of speakers. He smiled nervously at the crowd precisely once every three minutes, gave a little Princess Diana wave, and then left.
Well, that’s not entirely fair. He finished his set with “LONG DISTANCE,” and for a brief, beautiful moment as the song built and finally dropped, the crowd moved—but just for a moment. Then off he went, defeated by the DJ’s curse: His stuff is all pre-recorded, so MC-ing well is hard. If he’d come onstage later in the evening, facing a sweaty crowd ready to dance, I would have been surprised if Mandel Hall were left standing. But hey, it was raining (or it was supposed to), and he wasn’t the headliner, so Gellaitry got shafted and no one danced.
What a change of pace D.R.A.M. was—I wonder if he was tired from a reportedly rousing performance at Northwestern's Dillo Day earlier that afternoon. Or perhaps he was just in some sort of mood, since his set was far from a conventional concert performance and closer to Marley-inspired crooning. D.R.A.M. forwent his typical half-speech and sang—actual, proper, bottom-of-the-heart singing. And then he opened water bottles and sprayed them on the crowd and walked off the stage while his keyboardist embarked on what seemed to be a…Chopin sonata? He also asked if the ladies in the crowd if they “got some good pussy.”
D.R.A.M. performed his whole show in a floppy orange beanie, riding a smile wider than a jack-o’-lantern’s, reminding us that while he might like to sing about how cute other people are, he’s pretty damn cute himself. I lost patience when he pulled the oldest trick in the concert artist’s book and saved his big hit for the moment after he walked off stage. But there was an emotional complexity to his show that was both confusing and exciting. He may not have wanted to fire up the crowd, but he sure did want us to know that he’s a man who has feelings. It was an effective presentation, moving at moments, but still, it lacked the kind of pounding momentum that a festival-style show like Summer Breeze hungers for. Gellaitry could have done it. D.R.A.M. had the power. And neither of them did.
Tinashe got a little closer. Decked out in urban camouflage crop top and leggings, she channeled the annals of powerful female pop stars, rocking Beyoncé’s regal haughtiness and blasting out HAIM-style power ballads. Accompanied by a small army of perfectly groomed backup dancers, Tinashe put on a show that oozed authority (hers), dynamism (those energetic dancers) and sex (many crotches moved many ways during the performance). She had some of D.R.A.M.’s emotional depth, delivering a billowing ballad from the stage-within-a-stage erected specially for her, but most of her fare was more familiar pop, beat-heavy fun. The crowd finally gained some momentum that fizzled whenever she turned the bass down or took a moment to reach out to the (overly) enthusiastic front row.
For a brief 30-second period, she showed us what she was capable of, blasting some eminently danceable, bass-heavy exultation. However, it ended all too soon, killing the surge of oomph that just maybe could have been the final push that we needed to really get going. She walked off the stage after playing her new song, “Flame,” and then that was that. It was over. Everyone left.
Maybe it was the audience, maybe the venue (may I emphasize: rows of immobile chairs do not a good dance floor make), but even Tinashe's stiff-lipped charisma couldn’t pull the show that wasn’t into the space where it should have been.
And what a damn shame that was. Mandel Hall hosted a huge amount of talent on Saturday night. If only we knew how to dance, or one of the artists had figured out that they were the ones expected to pump us up, or the rain hadn’t come, plenty more could have gone right.
Until next year, Summer Breeze. Even if it wasn’t perfect, it was fun.
8 Things That I Can't Believe Actually Happened At Summer Breeze:
Front row: two halves of a (presumable?) couple both pulling their pants up from around their thighs. This was before Sam got on stage. Ya get bored, I guess.
Sam really does look like he’s about 16 years old. He also truly cannot dance.
Security guard in the front ordered food from the Med about halfway through Sam. He gave me a fry. A good man.
Transitions in shows like this ought to be quicker. I know it’s hard to get the tech set up, but for the love of god, at least play something that keeps the energy going in between.
D.R.A.M. didn’t seem to realize exactly what audience he was facing when he asked if the ladies in the crowd had “good pussy.” Cringy.
Tinashe was very popular with the menfolk. See: guy in the balcony, one hand around his girlfriend’s shoulders, the other firmly grabbing his own crotch. He didn’t seem to realize that a) he was holding his own genitals or b) that, given that he was in the very front, Tinashe could clearly see.
Also see: guy in pit who, upon seeing Tinashe, stopped previously enthusiastic dancing and just stood and stared, nearly slack-jawed. Love at first sight, I think. Beautiful to see.
Finally: who threw the T-shirt at Tinashe? Who is that unknown (and kinda baffling) hero? What did you hope to accomplish? Did you accomplish it? I hope you did. Truly. Summer Breeze needed a win.