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Okobos festival brings big names closer than usual

Alex Schaaf

Last Saturday night gave northeastern Wisconsin the greatest collection of musical talent it has had in a while, and it did not disappoint. The Okobos music festival in Green Bay brought us several well-known musical acts. Ben Folds, Ingrid Michaelson, Jewel, M. Ward and Death Cab for Cutie all performed at the Resch Center, and they all brought a high level of energy and showmanship to the show.
When faced with the other four names, one would not think Jewel to be the most fitting addition to the lineup, but she was not booed off the stage. Rather, the crowd treated her with respect as she put on a nice little set, performing her solo acoustic songs with enthusiasm. Jewel seems like the type of performer that my parents would like, she’s sweet and innocent enough to attract many devoted fans, and for the rest of us, she didn’t detract at all from the other acts.
Up next was the act that many, including myself, were looking forward to the most — Ben Folds. I saw him just a few weeks ago in North Carolina when he reunited with his old bandmates for an amazing Ben Folds Five show, but I have to say, he seemed much more excited about his new stuff. Folds just released his newest solo album, Way to Normal, and the set was mostly made up of these new tunes. There were also a few of the “fake” songs, the songs that he quickly recorded and leaked on the Internet to throw off his eager fans.
One of the many highlights came during “The Frown Song” when two keytar players held down opposite sides of the stage, wearing huge “frown face” masks. Folds and the band were having a great time on stage, and that energy transferred to the audience, making his set highly enjoyable. Closing with the “fake” version of “Bitch Went Nuts,” it was clear that Folds is set on making music that he loves, music that he enjoys performing, which amounts to a fantastic live show.
After Folds came Ingrid Michaelson, an incredibly charming performer who played a short set of light, acoustic songs. Her vocals are in the same league as Regina Spektor or Feist, but her personality and great sense of humor really shine through on stage. At one point, noting her keyboard’s “80’s sound,” she started noodling around, and eventually she led the whole crowd in singing Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting.”
Next on stage was M. Ward, known by many as the “Him” in She & Him, his recent project with Zooey Deschanel. His set consisted of his trademark bluesy guitar compositions, with his smoky vocals telling old parables and tales of love lost. Overall it was a decent set but it wasn’t the most crowd-grabbing, as many people took this time to go and get something to drink.
The final act was Death Cab for Cutie, the headliner of the night. This was my first time seeing them, and I was quite impressed. As exciting as Green Bay is to us, I wasn’t sure how energized these bands would be to play a relatively low-profile event, but Death Cab was very much into it, and seemed to give a top-notch performance. Opening with “Bixby Canyon Bridge,” the first song off their latest album Narrow Stairs, they went deep into their catalog and played from many different albums rather than just their newest. Highlights included the slow-building “I Will Possess Your Heart,” the acoustic ballad “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” and the show-closing “Transatlanticism.”
Overall, Green Bay finally got a show that rivals those of Milwaukee or Madison, the cities that usually have the exclusive rights on any big-name bands that come to the state. Hopefully this is a sign of more good things to come.