Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Hum - Champaign's 150th Birthday

By Jon Stone | @jwstone -  July 13, 2010 

In 1995 Lollapolloza was still two years from its demise as a touring festival and I was between my junior and senior years of high school waiting for a chance -- any chance -- to see my favorite new band that year, Hum, from the exotic and distant sounding town of Champaign, Illinois. They were to appear on the Lolla second stage that year and I bought a ticket for that show -- $55 dollars for a bill that really didn't have many bands that I was all that interested in. Yes folks, in 1995 I paid the equivalent of 11 hours of hard-earned minimum-wage money to see one little band from the Midwest play a 45 minute set.

The first time I heard Hum was on the radio (remember when that used to be, like, a normal thing?). I was driving to my first job in a crummy dollar movie theater in Tucson, Arizona. And, wow the first time that heavy chord in “Stars" hit it left an impression. . . “she thinks she missed the train to Mars, she’s out back counting…” BOOM. I was 17. It was like magic.

Ironically I don't remember much about that Lollapalooza show. I remember the Phoenix heat being nearly unbearable and I remember standing against the front row gate watching (and loving) The Roots who played right before Hum on the second stage. I remember it rocked. I met Matt Talbot briefly after the show and he signed the copy of the band's first major release Electra 2000 that I bought at the merch table because it wasn't available anywhere else. I also remember thinking it was funny that the band was wearing the exact same clothes as they had in their appearance on Conan the night before.

Hum filled a gap for me that summer. They were heavier than most the bands I was listening to at the time, but unlike other acts that were pushing the wall-of-distortion sound, Hum managed to be both approachable and melodic. This was a combination that other bands like Helmet (too frat-boy tough) or Tool (too scary) didn't quite get right. Matt and his band were unassuming but unapologetic. They didn't seem to be trying to fill a niche, yet filled one perfectly. They were skinny, nerdy looking, and played heavier than anything on Alternative radio.  The skinny and the nerdy everywhere (i.e. me) bought their record and then bought Boss distortion pedals.

Fifteen years later (i.e. last Saturday night), I was in the crowd of a free reunion show in that less-exotic far away land of Champaign that I now call home listening again to Hum. They played loud and hard and even though neither me or Matt is that scrawny anymore, the sound and songs rang out, the crowd collectively bonged their head (that's half-way inbetween a head bob and a head bang), and we were all happy and 17 once more. Hum's headlining, Champaign 150th anniversary show was a great time. They played several songs off of that seminal '95 release You'd Prefer an Astronaut a smattering of tunes from 1998's Downward is Heavenward and even one or two from that afore mentioned first release. The highlight of the show was "Suicide Machine" a slow-burning melody-heavy song -- elements that epitomize what is/was best about Hum.

By the summer of 1995 the best of what the 90s had to offer was, arguably, over. Hum kept things alive and vibrant for a few moments longer by taking everything that was great about music that decade, turning it inside out, and pushing the distortion pedal as far as it would go. I was glad on Saturday night that my ears had a chance to ring again.

A special thanks to Will Boucher for the great front-row picture and setlist.

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