Wednesday, Day 1 of 5!
Common Loon. [Canopy Club, 8:00 PM] Local act Common Loon left me with a feeling of greed: all I wanted was to hear a little bit more from Champaign locals Robert Hirschfeld (guitar, vocals) and Matt Campbel (drums, vocals). The set was short but it was definitely very sweet, the super chill vibe of Common Loon was an almost too perfect way to kick off Pygmalion weekend. The guys played all their jems from 2010’s The Long Dream of Birds and some haunting tunes that are not on the album, of which a huge standout for me was “Only War”. The natural stage presence of Common Loon is one that can only be fostered by an exclusive few. Not many artists (if any at all) can say that they’ve opened up for Pygmalion four years in a row. I’m going to cross my fingers and say that next year will make for year number five, and with a new album in the works every Common fan will need to be there. – Natalie Wontorczyk
Viva Voce. [Canopy Club, 9:00 PM] Every female (and probably every male) in the crowd at The Canopy Club wanted to be Anita Robinson. Her guitar finesse in combination with her soaring coo of a voice, commanded everyone’s attention and applause. Not to mention the beautifully melodic interplay with her hubby, Kevin. Their on again, off again harmonies on the title track to their most recent album The Future Will Destroy You couldn’t have been more perfectly executed. Their entrancing mixture of sounds completed a masterful layering of melodies — one after the other like a flawless composition. Kevin gracefully thanked the crowd for being “civil” at the end of their last song. And they quickly made their exit, but not without leaving a huge impression on a very pleased crowd, wanting a tiny bit more from the husband-wife duo, Viva Voce. – Courtney Yuen
Explosions In The Sky. [Canopy Club, 10:00 PM] Reverb. Screaming guitars. Explosions entranced a packed Canopy Club with their larger than life sound that left everyone feeling like they were in a stadium. And rightly so, with Munaf Rayani, Mark Smith, and Michael James all toting a guitar. The guys are super nice too. After saying they haven’t been in the midwest for years they went on to talk about how Pygmalion has been treating them like kings. Almost ironic, since the release of their latest Take Care, Take Care, Take Care garnered the boys some buzz. The guys absolutely rocked it, playing lengthy tracks from their latest but also drawing from 2007’s All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone. The beautiful thing about Explosions is that you didn’t need to be up front to swim in their layered sound, even the people in the back of the crowd were blissfully surrounded by music. – Natalie Wontorczyk
Thursday, Day 2 of 5!
The Leadership. [Channing-Murray, 8:30 PM]Talk about quality live, local music. Jonathon Childers vocals are near perfect, steely but not overly rough and sexy in a gravely Drive-By-Truckers kind of way. When the guys played “Little Black Book” off of their debut album Frontiers I was pretty much enamored. The crowd was loving it, totally feeding off of Jared Park’s (guitar) huge stage presence and the clean sound of Matt Novotny on drums and Jack Huffman on bass. As an individual The Leadership has it together quite well. Childers made a comment about the strong whiskey and coke’s but they definitely didn’t affect their set negatively. When they slowed it down with “Bring It Back (to the Beginning)” all the bodies in that place were swaying. Their sound is greatly distinct, and Childers really has vocals that give The Leadership a huge leg up. – Natalie Wontorczyk
Youth Lagoon. [Canopy Club, 8:45 PM] Trevor Powers didn’t say so until he mentioned he was about to play “Bobby”, a song about his older brother, but his music was like a door to his personal diary and memories. There was some kind of clearly nostalgic indication from the instrumental side of the music — not even necessarily the lyrics — that indicated to the audience that Powers was telling us about something personal. The songs had a somber tone, as many of them are about Powers’ personal struggles, but they all encapsulated a kind of uplifting and heartening fervor that was inspiring to listen to. Since Powers uses a lot of looping pedals and programming to add in multiple layers of sound, the overall product of a performance from Youth Lagoon sounds a lot bigger than just two guys from Boise — Powers on keys and synth with his friend Logan Hyde on guitar. They were a powerhouse of emotions, that mixed in just the right amounts of honesty, courage and eloquence. Pick up a copy of Youth Lagoon’s debut full-length The Year of Hibernation on September 27th, 2011 — this breakthrough artist has a lot to share. – Courtney Yuen
Toro Y Moi. [Canopy Club, 9:30 PM] Toro y Moi’s performance had everything you could have ever wanted. Chaz Bundick took you through it all — he presented the crowd with the mellow bliss of his debut album Causers of This, all the way through to the funkier beats of his most recent EP Freaking Out. He also treated the audience with the entrancing “I Will Talk To You”, which was released on a split 7″ with Cloud Nothings on Record Store Day 2011. Despite Bundick’s somewhat shy interaction with the audience, all the musicians behind Toro y Moi easily succeeded in getting the entire audience to dance. But, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it was your typical, electronic “dance music”. More beautifully so, Bundick creates a kind of electro-pop with undertones of R&B, hip-hop and a sprinkle of funk (and maybe even some disco). I couldn’t see a single person in the crowd who didn’t have an enormously wide grin on their faces — it could have been the pretty lights swirling together behind the band that was making them smile, but it was more likely how effortlessly everyone was able to fall in love with Toro y Moi, over and over again as the set went on. – Courtney Yuen
Friday, Day 3 of 5!
Cut Copy. [Canopy Club, 8:45 PM] Canopy was packed to the brim to see the rather adorable Australians that comprise Cut Copy do their thing. Like a bolt of hopefully and dreamy energy Cut Copy was so lively that the crowd was jumping around from song one just to keep up. The crowd was loving tunes off of 2008’s In Ghost Colours and once the guys kicked it into high gear with “Feel the Love” the crowd busied themselves with singing along to the chorus. “Hearts on Fire” was another insanely fun tune that had the entire crowd groovin’ to the music. It wasn’t until front man Dan Whitford announced they would be playing off of their latest record Zonoscope that pure madness really ensued. “Need You Now” was one of the many tracks they played and at one point Tim Hoey on guitar came to the front of the stage and orchestrated the crowds outstretched hands. Cut Copy played like their pants were on fire, in the best way possible. – Natalie Wontorczyk
The Dodos. [Channing-Murray, 12:30 PM] It was already at capacity during The Dodo’s opener, The Luyas, and people trying to buy tickets at the door were out of luck. The Dodos has already sold-out, now everyone was hoping the festival pass and ticket holders queuing up would get in. But, our fretting was soon relieved and it seemed everyone who wanted to get in, got to see The Dodos. Even though it was rather steamy inside, no one really seemed to mind — the intimacy of the room made for an up close and personal performance. Their opener, The Luyas’, also joined them during some of their set. Jessie Stein sang back up vocals (replacing Neko Case, as heard on the band’s latest LP No Color) and Pietro Amato lent his some of his french horn talents as well. The Dodos’ set had an untamed kind of feel to it– maybe it’s the unique way Logan Kroeber plays the drums, or just the rawness that comes from a band who’s a little bit unorthodox. Whatever it is, I think it’s what makes them so alluring. The combination of Meric Long’s dreamy and deep vocals mixed in with shouting, rapid plucking on his guitar and Kroeber’s rhythmic genius created sounds that were about to burst through the walls. The crowd especially dug “Red and Purple” and of course “Fools” from their second album Visiter. Before leaving the stage, Long threw his sweaty towel into the crowd and quickly came back with the rest of the band for the encore. Long giggled his way through “Undeclared”, forgetting the words a few times and then went on to play “The Season”. It was like they were our good friends, playing a private show for us — a feeling their audience certainly won’t forget. Hopefully, we’ll see them back here in C-U soon. – Natalie Wontorczyk
The Hood Internet. [Canopy Club, 1 AM] You know it’s a party when a) you’re at Canopy for a early morning show and b) the Hood Internet is playing. Outta Chicago this duo specializes in mashups of the Hip Hop and Indie genres. Within minutes of Hood kicking off their set people (mostly female) began jumping on stage to dance. Modest Mouse’s “Float On” mashed up with Rihanna’s “Rude Girl” created total dance chaos, sending one of the Red Bull mini-fridges on the stage almost falling into the crowd. Almost. I was very content when the duo played one of my favorite of their mashups “I’m Shinin’ Like A Crystal”, which features The Pack and Crystal Castles. Basically, if you want to have a good time and you love to dance The Hood Internet can never let you down. – Natalie Wontorczyk
Saturday, Day 4 of 5!
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. [The Highdive, 3:20 PM] Polyvinyl Record Co. has nothing but great artists under its belt and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin is no different. What made this set (and whole day) so great was the rawness of playing an outdoor stage. Phil Dickey (vocals, guitar, drums), John Robert Cardwell (vocals, guitar, bass, drums), Will Knauer (lead guitar) and Jonathan James (bass, drums, backing vocals) were all absolutely flawless considering some early slight hiccups due to technical difficulties. But, it was a song about three missing women from their hometown that stole the show. “Yellow Missing Signs” off of Tape Club, a compilation of songs that never made it to an album, will be released October 18th and it is not only inspiring but probably the best thing since “Think I Wanna Die”. – Natalie Wontorczyk
Asobi Seksu. [The Highdive, 4:10 PM] Yuki Chikudate has some set of pipes — a beautiful soprano that packs a punch. Watching her sing “Trails” off their most recent LP Fluorescence, made my jaw drop. She was absolutely on top of it, ringing out across the grounds clear as bell and maybe even more powerful than the heavy rock and roll band behind her. But, despite that description…Yuki didn’t sound out of place. The combination of Yuki’s sweet voice, fuzzy keyboard and James Hanna’s grungy guitar make for a phenomenal mixture of textures that just work. In the middle of the set, the band sang a quick rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Polyvinyl Records and then kept moving on with their set. The sun started to peak through the clouds for a quick second and thankfully, despite the fears, it never rained. The band broke out the tambourine to end an inspiring set, covering Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Never Understand”. – Courtney Yuen
Owen. [The Highdive, 5:00 PM] Just one man and his guitar. When Mike Kinsella took the stage at the Polyvinyl show, sandwiched between a vast array of bands, he might have looked a little bit out of place. Under his pseudonym, Owen, this totally chill dude sat in front of an eager crowd. Out of the nine performances, Kinsella was the only solo act. Yet the absence of backing vocals, synths or a drummer did not stand in the way of an awesome performance. If anything, his simple and super chill vibe just set him apart. Between songs, Kinsella would strum his guitar and talk to the audience—asking questions, laughing, making sarcastic remarks. He left us feeling like we were part of an intimate conversation. With lyrics like, “And maybe that’s why, I like to drink my beers warm, I like to take my pants off, And I like a little ink on my girl,” Owen’s style is relaxing and easy to listen to. The highlight was definitely hearing his 2011 release “O, Evelyn.” Both soothing and sad, this song beautifully summed up Owen’s performance. – Joanna Nowak
STRFKR. [The Highdive, 5:40 PM] There’s nothing that gets your blood pumping and feet moving quite like the electronic beats of STRFKR. Before STRFKR graced the audience, there had been mostly calmer performances. Complete with a mad energy, synths and sick beats, they set the tone for louder and more intense music. The crowd was completely cutting loose and everyone, including the pumped up band members, loved it. STRFKR is a perfect example of an electronica band that is awesome both through your headphones and live, ten feet away and dancing like crazy. They somehow maintained the raw energy and excitement of their recorded music and, in doing so, radically spiked energy levels. Featuring new songs off of their 2011 album Reptilians (their first album signed with Polyvinyl, the record label of the day), their show was filled with fresh dance tunes. Complete with head banging and hair flying around both on stage and in the crowd, this performance was like the energy drink of concerts. – Joanna Nowak
Braid. [The Highdive, 10:30 PM] “Braid wins again!” What a comeback it was. The band that was Polyvinyl Record Co.’s first major release absolutely killed it at the Polyvinyl Records 15-year Anniversary Show. They even had a heart warming introduction from Don Gerard Mayor of Champaign. “But there was one special band I had a really strong feeling for… it was this really nice bunch of kids, they were real clean cut, good, God fearing kids. They drank their milk. They never swore. They never messed around with women. I can’t remember the name of that band, however I did know these assholes, Braid!” People immediately started moshing. There were crowd surfers galore. Braid played plenty of their old favorites including, “Forever Got Shorter”, “The Chandelier Swing” and “Divers”. And of course, they highlighted new songs off of their first EP since their break-up, Closer to Closed. Overall, it was just a damn a good time — surrounded by people who have loved this band for years and years and never let them slip their minds. Braid did a survey toward the end of their set and it wasn’t surprising to see that many of the people in the audience had been to an original Braid house show back in the 90’s. Speaking for the city of Champaign and all their fellow fans, I’m sure we all hope to see them more frequently in the future. – Courtney Yuen
The Dirty Feathers. [Mike ‘N Molly’s, 1:00 AM] Absolutely dirty rock n’ roll, that’s what this set was all about. The moment the band started draping their pretty Christmas lights on their equipment the crowd started getting extra rowdy. And what more could you expect from fans of The Dirty Feathers? Andrew Kling is everything you would want from a front-man: a man just dripping with stage presence and sex-godliness. I’ve seen the guys tear it up more times then I could count and they just keep getting better and better! When Dave Pride (drummer in Elsinore) jumped on stage to accompany the band for “Pistol Hills” with his tambourine skills, the already super dance-y and amp’d up crowd went crazy! “Echo Hands” (always a crowd favorite) rounded up the night. Make sure to check out The Dirty Feathers’ latest release Midnight Snakes, hot off the presses! – Natalie Wontorczyk
Sunday, Day 5 of 5!
Elsinore. [The Highdive, 8:30 PM] Every time I get to see Elsinore I can’t help but feel emotionally invested. It doesn’t matter how many times you see the local powerhouse, once is even enough to feel your heart welling at the pure talent that Elsinore has. Ryan Groff’s (guitar, vocals) voice (I know this might sound ridiculous…) throughout the set brought tears to my eyes. That’s how beautiful it is. Really. Another local darling, Vivian McConnell from Grandkids and Santah, jumped on stage to do backing vocals for “The Thermostat, The Telephone” off of Elsinore’s latest EP Life Inside an Elephant. Groff and McConnell provided the crowd with some harmonies crafted in heaven, but really. When Groff announced that “this would be a slow song” before jumping into “Yes, Yes, Yes” we all chuckled. However, when we realized that was the last song….well, nobody wants to turn away from Elsinore and go back to a much more ugly reality. – Natalie Wontorczyk
Big Troubles. [The Highdive, 9:30 PM] Seeing Big Troubles proved to be an entirely different experience, compared with the band before them, Elsinore. Big Troubles reminded me of Smith Westerns in the sense that they had that kind of timid, breathy vocals and a hint of teenage angst. These things in combination with the catchy indie-pop vibe make for a wistful sound, yet enjoyable to hear. Songs like “Time Bomb” and their lead single, “Sad Girls” brought out the audience’s attention more than others, delivering the highest amount of energy and emotion. However, while their set was entertaining, I have fonder memories of listening to their latest LP Romantic Comedy. Perhaps it was their seemingly nonchalant attitude on stage. Each song ended rather abruptly and it was unsettling in a way that made me feel like they were trying to rush off the stage. At the end of their set, they immediately finished their song and much of the audience didn’t even realize their set was over. I certainly enjoyed seeing Big Troubles, but perhaps it was the particular execution of this performance that left me wanting a little more of what they didn’t give on stage. – Courtney Yuen