pygmalion-2014

The Pygmalion Music Festival is an annual festival that takes place right here in Champaign-Urbana. With acts spanning across several mediums – from music, to literature, to local artists – Pygmalion is a huge event for the area. With the festival coming to a close, WPGU looks back at a weekend filled with great music. Here’s what we saw:

Thursday:

A Great Big Pile of Leaves

Any concertgoer can tell you that the venue can make or break a performance. While the case for this show wasn’t quite that extreme, the low ceilings and shiny hardwood floors of the Krannert Art Museum lobby made for a pretty serious sound trap. Despite the threatening volume, A Great Big Pile of Leaves brought a spectacular sound and energy to the stage. Their bright up-beat songs like “Alligator Bop” and “Pet Mouse” kept the crowd engaged, while humorous jests and interjections in between songs helped to further widen the smiles that the music left on our faces. The set was finished with their 2011 single, “We Don’t Need our Heads”, an appropriate prelude to the weekend to come, providing us with the elegantly simple mantra, “we don’t need our heads, ‘cause our bodies are young.” (Written by Justin Peters)

Elsinore

In some ways, Elsinore did exactly what an opening act should do during their Pygmalion set. They played a show that was appropriately balanced with upbeat and slower, contemplative songs, they energized the crowd before Real Estate’s show, and they played for a long-enough time to promote their work without overstaying their welcome. However, they also never let the audience forget that the band is a mainstay at Pygmalion, as well as the overall Champaign-Urbana music scene. With the festival celebrating its tenth anniversary, Elsinore celebrated its own tenth year playing the fest. Rather than seeming like a novelty, or a band that was fulfilling obligations, Elsinore communicated sincere happiness to be playing another set at the festival. With their enthusiasm, in addition to their full live sound and effective use of horn accompaniment, the band succeeded in presenting an entertaining and appreciated performance. Hopefully, they will be around for many more years to come. (Written by Claire Schroeder)

Real Estate

Thursday night wound down with a performance by Real Estate at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. I was surprised to find the band playing in the lobby instead of in one of Krannert’s many top-tier theaters, a decision which would have bothered me less if the sound for the show had been better. After finding a good mix that didn’t lose the lead guitar or put the bassist out front about 20 minutes into the set, the volume of the whole band steadily increased until the sound filled the lobby. Sound issues aside, the band played a very nice set consisting of the easy-going, guitar-driven pop that you would expect from a Real Estate show. The band and the crowd were on the same laid-back wavelength and those sun-drenched guitars made for an overall enjoyable show. (Written by Eric Holmes)

Friday:

Sun Kil Moon

Mark Kozelek and band took to the stage first on Firday night in the Tryon Festival theatre, which may be the best possible setting for the intimate, melancholy songs that Sun Kil Moon is known for. The band sounded great, with every note and word coming through with perfect clarity. Though he boasts a sizeable back catalog of great music, Kozelek elected to primarily play songs from this year’s critically acclaimed new album, Benji, as well as from his two collaborative albums from last year. As a longtime fan of the band, I was a bit disappointed by the exclusion of old classics, but the excellent sound, Kozelek’s delicate nylon strings and his heart-aching lyrics left me completely satisfied. Kozelek’s infamous sense of humor was on full display as well, referring to the festival as the “Polygamy Fest”, commenting on how much he enjoyed seeing “Asian girls with violins” walking around Krannert and complaining about the brightness of the lights until they were dimmed to nearly full darkness. Kozelek’s humor starkly contrasts his music, which is often serious, heavy and melancholy, which managed to lighten the mood and offer a reprieve from the sadness of the music, which the audience seemed grateful for. (Written by Eric Holmes)

Panda Bear

In his Friday set at the Krannert Center, Panda Bear further complicated any efforts people have made to classify him as a member of one genre or another. At times, he seemed like a meditation guru set on guiding the audience through a mind-altering experience, and it sometimes felt like he was performing the world’s most trippy lullabies. During other moments, Noah Lennox pushed viewers into less-relaxing places, intentionally creating discomfort with the partnering of harsh noises and creepy visuals. This discomfort enhanced the experience, though, as it attracted focus to the nuances of his music. Perhaps this same type of show would not have been easy to pull off in another setting, but Panda Bear benefitted from the structure of the Tryon Festival Theater. With the layout of the seats, the absence of clinking glasses and bar chatter, and with the high quality sound system, the theater offered a great space for watching and feeling a show that deserved attention. (Written by Claire Schroeder)

EMA

Despite a few years of playing shows on the festival circuit, I think Erika Anderson still does not have quite as much attention as she is due, but her performance on Friday was as commanding as I have ever seen her. At the beginning, it was unclear whether she was starting her show or finishing her soundcheck, but she quickly made her presence known with her grunge-fuzz sounds. EMA was fascinating to watch, because it is always amazing when someone who looks incredibly shy, and hides her face behind her hair, can screech and rock and take total control over the stage. (Written by Claire Schroeder)

Single Player

Local band Single Player took to the Canopy Club stage after the last minute cancellation of XXYYXX’s show and the group could not have handled the move to a bigger stage any better. Their set was filled with short, Guided By Voices-esque pop punk songs which last just long enough to get lodged in your head before getting replaced by the next catchy tune. The set was a lot of fun, the crowd was full of energy and the band looked like they were having the time of their lives. Be sure to check this band out if you get the chance. (Written by Eric Holmes)

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz replaced XXYYXX at the Canopy Club for the late night Friday show. The indie-rockers from Boston made a lot of noise, mixing ferocious playing, intricate and dissonant guitar lines and sly vocal melodies to get a nostalgic 90’s alt-rock sound. For a band that leans so heavily on lyrics and vocals, it would have been nice to have the vocals turned up higher during the show, but Speedy Ortiz still put on an excellent show and not even the exclusion of standout song “No Below” could keep this show from being an absolute blast. (Written by Eric Holmes)

Saturday:

Twin Peaks

This Chicago band knows how to put on a fun show, and how to be as punk as possible without turning people away. They represent an unfortunately small minority of musicians who act like they do not have a care in the world, but can still display notable instrumental talent. Their show was the best of both worlds: a punchy, loud rock show that mobilized the audience, and a showcase of catchy and well-written songs. (Written by Claire Schroeder)

Miniature Tigers

I was not too familiar with this band prior to their Pygmalion performance, but left the show feeling pleasantly surprised. They carried a light sound, evocative of a summer festival vibe, and the easygoing atmosphere of the show fit in comfortably with the rest of Saturday’s lineup. (Written by Claire Schroeder)

Tycho

Tycho turned out to be one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the festival this year. Playing in front of a backdrop displaying expansive landscapes, space and other psychedelic imagery, the instrumental downtempo band put on an excellent show. The music was mellow and expansive, but surprisingly danceable and the crowd was really connecting with the band. While Tycho’s recorded output has a tendency to drift into the background, their live show was particularly engaging and the whole set was a lot of fun to watch. (Written by Eric Holmes)

The Range

After seeing The Range at the Pitchfork music festival earlier this year, I had a pretty good idea of what his set was going to sound like: hypnotic, repetitious beats with spoken word samples occasionally layered on top. Imagine a less eclectic take on whatever it was the Books were doing. The Range’s breakout album, Nonfiction, is an interesting listen and well worth checking out. His show, featuring mostly tracks from that album, was a lot of fun. It’s still early in The Range’s career, so be sure to keep an eye out for what’s ahead. (Written by Eric Holmes)

CHVRCHES

Despite being a relatively new band, Chvrches pulled easily the biggest crowd of the entire festival. And after seeing their set, I can see why. Their songs are tailor-made to be as explosive as possible in a live setting and their flashy back drop displaying the same symbol as their album cover only served to further electrify the already buzzing crowd. To top it all off, the band performed their songs with an almost surgical precision. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry sounded exceptional and the music was perfectly on-point. The only drawback was the overall brevity of the show. The band has one album which they played through and that was it. They played a little under an hour of what was supposed to be an hour and a half set which left the crowd wanting more. Overall, the show was a blast and I expect big things from this band in the future. (Written by Eric Holmes)

Sunday:

Ex Hex

This trio gave one of the most entertaining performances of the festival. They were quickly successful in getting the crowd to move along with their music, which was impressive considering they played an early show on the last day of Pygmalion. While most concertgoers tend to take the final day of a festival a little easier than the days before, Ex Hex pulled a decent crowd out during prime afternoon-nap time. In short, their show rocked and the experience was well worth getting to the Highdive early to see. (Written by Claire Schroeder)

Liturgy

Though they have not released an album since 2011, Liturgy attracted a fair amount of attention on Sunday. Their show carried just enough energy to make me feel ready for their next album, which is supposed to come out in 2015. Black metal may not be what everyone is looking for on a Sunday evening, but those who most-intently gathered to watch Liturgy seemed to want nothing else. The band displayed their raw instrumental power and head banging endurance, reclaiming a spot among bands to keep an eye out for. (Written by Claire Schroeder)

Deafheaven

If you went to Deafheaven this weekend expecting it to be anything besides completely animated and theatrical black metal, then you were in for a rude awakening. Many people are not huge fans of angrier music, but I myself am a semi-secret fan of metal and can easily say that this band pretty much blew me away. Their intimidating stage presence summoned the masses together for a performance of awe and power that was at the same time both so mesmerizing and terrifying it was hard to walk away. Although George Clarke’s vocals have more presence in their recordings, but the most rowdy and active crowd of the Pygmalion weekend more than made up for his lack of volume. (Written by Alleya Weibel)

Maserati

Having never heard of this Athens, Georgia post-rock outfit, I was immediately intrigued by their unique staging-the drum set was front-and-center. After a spacy reverb and delay-laced intro by the guitars, the rest of the band (drums and bass) took the stage. A fast, pulsing, disco-inspired drum groove kicked in, as the guitars continued their heavily delayed riffing. The balance of sounds worked nicely, with a comfortable blend across the ensemble, however there was a sense of monotony between their songs. The melodies were never quite catchy enough to hold their own for a full song, and the constant driving drums had me wishing for some kind of variation. Perhaps the additional tone color of a vocalist would have held my attention more, but the sound was like a less engaging Circa Survive. Overall, the music worked for what it was, but begged for a change to make it something more. (Written by Justin Peters)

American Football

If you did not wake up to a barrage of “Never Meant” lyrics on your Facebook timeline, you’re doing it wrong. American Football took the stage last Sunday night, commencing their reunion tour. Their performance at The Pygmalion Festival ignited a night of pure nostalgia that I’m sure will be the talk of the Champaign-Urbana music scene for a long while. Somber and soothing melodies and sounds became a surprising alternative to ending this years festival with a ‘bang’. The interesting thing about American Football is that they are almost timeless to our local scene. Attendees of all ages have waited years to see this band, whether they be 18 or 30 or more. Even so, this band is more than just some local heroes. Their talent as musicians truly shows through in emotional moments like their trumpet features and slow intense builds which really bring the audience together. I am honestly not sure if I can explain the experience that occurred in Downtown Champaign this weekend, you really just had to be there. (Written by Alleya Weibel)

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