Another Pygmalion over. With the festival getting better and better each year, let’s take a look at what made last weekend standout from the rest.
Coolest Venue: The Red Herring
Maybe we chose the Vegetarian restaurant because we’re glad to have it back in the music scene, or maybe it’s just because the shows there last weekend were so great, but The Red Herring was definitely a great host to Pygmalion. Peoria’s Jared Bartman broke it in Friday evening with his Andrew Bird-esque performance ornamented with mandolin, flute, ukulele, and clarinet. The night got louder as student band Tall Tale and Wauconda’s Dr. Manhattan finished off the set. Pygmalion returned to the Herring Saturday night, filling the floor with hip-hop from Krukid and Treologic. With some great guest appearances and guitar solos from Champaign’s own Connor Grant, hopefully the shows were enough to further convince the Red Herring to house more music throughout the upcoming year.
Best CU Homecoming: The Living Blue
While their previous show downtown Champaign over the summer was less flattering (their sound is just too big for Mike ‘n Molly’s upstairs loft), thank god the band keeps coming back. The Living Blue graced Pygmalion with two performances this weekend, one at Canopy on Friday, and an encore at Exile on Main the next day. The group has made many adjustments since their last return using new equipment, experimenting with new sounds, and performing with a new attitude. The addition of the thermin and saxophone diversified their sound, and the new tunes from Walk, Talk, Rhythm, Roam couldn’t sound fresher.
Best Out-of-Town Band Performance: High Places
Coming all the way from Brooklyn, New York, the duo wowed their audience in Krannert’s lobby after the Yo La Tengo show. High places produced a sound both ethereal and grounded, fusing primitive, tribal beats with spacey, extraterrestrial echoes and reverb. With footage of aquatic scenes and frolicking children projected onto the lobby’s brick wall, Mary Pearson and Robert Barber created an atmosphere of low-grade, postmodern performance art. While the groups visceral, hyperkinetic performance seemed out of place at Krannert, all the more reason for them to be invited back to CU at a venue where a standing audience can fully participate in the duo’s impressive sonic collage.
Best Collaboration: Carl Hauck and Luis Bellorin with Butterfly Assassins
Headlining Thursday’s show at the Union’s Courtyard Café, the Butterfly Assassins started their set off strong playing “Down in Mexico” with local singer-songwriter Carl Hauck on acoustic guitar. The energy was great as the Butterfly Assassins brought out a side of Hauck that you’d never get to see during one of his acoustic sets. If that weren’t enough, Ocean’s Luis Bellorin took the stage for the last few songs, filling the void of Kate Wakefield’s absence while ornamenting the band’s encore with violin lines.
Best Cover: “Paper Planes”
The Girls Next Door found their indie-alt-prog-post-pop side Friday evening, closing out part 1 of Canopy’s 13 hour marathon. The a cappella group was a refreshing act amidst all the bands and jams that day, and debuted their cover of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” for the eager audience. Great execution, and this rendition didn’t get annoying. Or overplayed.
Best Spectacle: Dark Meat
With trumpets, leaf blowers, cheerleaders, confetti, and face paint, Dark Meat couldn’t be any less than ridiculous. Just short of a dozen members flailed onstage, making more noise than Canopy could handle. Just warming up the crowd for Deacon …
Biggest Disappointment: Dan Deacon
Not because of the body surfing. Not because of the awesome Flintstones shirt. Not because of the engaged crowd (understatement). Not because of the broken stage. Not because of the dance off’s. Okay, Deacon’s show was a great time … but the music? We were expecting more. Dan Deacon was a party, not a concert, and while the two usually go hand in hand, we had a strange feeling that the Canopy crowd couldn’t even distinguish one song from the next. It was a crazy concert, but it just gets hard to press buttons and twist knobs with the required refined technique when the floor from under you collapses due to the high blood alcohol content weighing it down. Plus Deacon’s set finished 15 minutes earlier because things got too out of control. Either way — a great night.
Best Bargain Show: Exile on Main Street
While there were many free shows throughout the weekend with great acts and happening crowds, Exile on Main Street not only pleased with a diverse lineup Saturday afternoon, but surrounded whoever came with great deals. Free pizza from Jupiters. Free soda. Buy 3 used albums, get the fourth free. The store was stocked with albums from all your favorite Pygmalion 2008 bands, giving the concertgoers a perfect opportunity to bring some of the festivals best sounds back home with them.