Friday, May 20, 2011

Pygmalion Music Fest: Saturday wrap-up

By Jon Stone | @jwstone - September 28, 2010

The end of Pygmalion is indicated first by the exit of the tour buses parked along Oregon street and the second by the immediate cold-snap that seems to follow every year. I've been in recovery mode this past weekend: sleeping and pulling the sweaters out of storage. I've been thinking a lot about the fest, still -- sad that it's over, but happy, once again, that CU hosts such an amazing musical event and does so in a way that highlights some of the best artistic locals of the city: The Krannert Performing Art Center, The Krannert Art Gallery, the Art Theatre in downtown Champaign, Mike & Mollys' cozy loft performance space, and of course, Canopy Club. What a town (or townS). What a festival.

I went into Saturday without expectations. None of the acts on the bill were bands that I had spent much time with in the past, so everything would be a new experience. It's not a bad place to be when at a festival. I had no loyalties to any bands, no pretenses about who or what I would or wouldn't like -- only the promise that these were the bands scheduled on the final day of a festival: I couldn't easily go wrong.

This proved, mostly, to be the case. Here's my recap:

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists: I was a bit out of my element with Ted Leo, who leans so obviously into punk atmospheres. Punk is not generally my thing. I'll admit, that despite the AMAZING drumming, all I got during the first half of their set was a more palatable/modern version of 90s punk bands that I was never really into. There was, however, a moment about 3/4 of the way into the set where things clicked out of Bad Religion/Pennywise mode and into something totally different. The band stayed in that place for the rest of the set and I was glad, because it was really amazing.

Roky Erickson with Okkervil River was next. I've had mixed feelings about this headliner since it was announced. It seemed like an awkward choice, but I was glad to see a full auditorium and a number of people that seemed genuinely enthused about the collaboration. And it was cool. The matchup between Roky and the Okkervil River boys worked -- mostly. Honestly though, it was a bit dry. I listened to the first few songs, got the idea that the whole set would basically be about the same and bailed for this little old-time jazz band I really wanted to see across town. I wasn't sorry I did.

The Viper and His Famous Orchestra: By the time I arrived, I was sure I'd missed them. I dashed out of the Roky show into the rain and hurried over to Mike & Molly's, only to circle for 10 minutes before I found a place to park. When I got up to the show, it so happened that they were having trouble with sound and had not gone on yet. In fact, they went on a whole hour after their scheduled set time. Not so good for the folks that had been waiting for them to start for all that time, but perfect for me, the wet and weary straggler.

I loved this band. I have a soft spot for old-time anything and The Viper played both new compositions and songs from the early 20th century. The Viper and His Famous orchestra emanated classiness, humor, and big talent, with baritone uke, double bass, trombone, suitcase percussion and lap steel. They were charming and I would see them again in a heartbeat. (You should too -- they are based out of Milwaukee, after all.

Cap'n Jazz: I cut out a few minutes early so I would be sure not to miss Cap'n Jazz. I arrived back at Krannert to see a large crowd gathered in the decadent lobby where Cap'n Jazz was playing. Try to imagine the asynchronicity here: decadent lobby, beautiful hardwood, low ceilings, foot-high stage usually occupied by a classical guitarist or pianist ... but instead, Cap'n Jazz: howling, screaming, guitars blazing, sweaty (too-old-to-be) crowd surfers, nervous Krannert ushers pacing around the outskirts, and the unseen administrator reviewing the insurance policy and contract.  It was insane. For a moment, I wanted to be up there, singing along, getting crazy with the fans. Then I remembered I'm thirty-two and this is the first time I've ever heard the Cap'n. Still it was fun. I sat with the other geriatrics in the back, nursing my sore festival back.

Caribou went on at 12:30 am at Canopy Club. Tired, but excited after the great stuff I'd heard about the band, I found a nice place to sit in the balcony and let Caribou's beautiful trancey goodness wash over me. Not a lot of words are required here to say what needs to be said: Caribou was my favorite act of the fest. In fact, the two best acts of Pygmalion were its opener, Janelle Monae, and the closer, Caribou. Daniel Snaith brings a humility to the stage that stands in stark, but lovely, contrast to his genius -- he was a wonderful performer. But Brad Weber, the band's drummer, steals the show. He is incredible and such a privilege to listen to.

It was a festival. I had fun. Thanks to Ryan and Seth and Pygmalion for a fantastic weekend.  I can't wait until next year. I'm holding out for Wilco as the headliner.

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