By Jon Stone | @jwstone - May 11, 2010
[deep breath] Can you smell it? It’s summer. And it’s coming. This is a big relief for me. Champaign-Urbana in the summer is really nice. The town kind of empties out, barbecue smoke curls into the air from backyards, summer food and music festivals start up; it really is a cool place to be.
Summers generally mean lots of chances to hear CU’s amazing local talent. This summer will be no exception. We have a ton of amazing artists currently working, from bands already garnering national attention like Headlights and (we hope) Common Loon to those on the cusp of that attention like Elsinore, You and Yourn, and New Ruins. And since CU is still a relative newcomer to the MoB community, I thought it would be nice to highlight some of the reasons I think we have something special happening down here and also encourage you to support some of this talent as it makes its way up north to Chicago and Wisconsin. Be watching for CU oriented posts -- tagged “Summer in CU” -- over the next few months.
Another band-on-the-cusp is Urbana’s five-piece Santah. Consisting of a strong cast of musicians from the university community (creative writing and musicology grads among them), Santah celebrated the release of their debut record White Noise Bed with a large crowd of local support at Canopy Club last night. They recorded the album at Pieholden Studios, which, as you likely know, was Jay Bennett’s studio and is still maintained by his friend Matt DeWine.
I’ve seen this band on posters almost the whole time I’ve lived in Champaign. I have to admit an initial reticence regarding the name. Santa? (They only just recently added the “h” at the end). Like the jolly Christmas dude? Was it ironic? comedic? Was it just more youth hipster culture stuff that I am slowly understanding less and less?
It took me almost three years before I saw them play. I’m so glad I finally did. Almost immediately Santah dispels any question marks about the name. And, I probably won’t be the first person to make the connection that the one major thing that this band has in common with the fat elf is happiness — jolliness even. Seriously, take a minute to think band first-impressions. You know that crucial moment when a band tries to establish some kind of stage presence: be it bearded boredom; aloof, detached coolness; or, to be fair, genuine “thank-you-so-much-for-having-me” relief… It’s an important moment. When Santah takes the stage, the very first thing you’ll notice is lead-man Stan McConnell’s wide and authentic grin. That smile draws you in immediately… and then you notice that the rest of the band is smiling too.
This unfeigned happiness ends up being the undercurrent of the band’s sound. Santah’s live performance has a kind of “everything is gonna be all right” emotional honesty — and it shows up on the record too. Stan’s younger sister Vivian lends her back-up vocals and acoustic guitar playing to that sound and I always enjoy great keys playing, which they have as well. While the sound is unique enough, the band could fit in comfortably with My Morning Jacket or Band of Horses fans. They also have a punch not unlike two bands that I noticed were played between sets: the Local Natives and Delta Spirit. All in all, I think that this is a band to watch. They’ve put in the time it takes to congeal, recorded a great first record and now it will be your pleasure to see them in your town sometime soon. I promise.
Santah will begin touring extensively this fall. And, as bassist Otto Stuparitz joked with me before the set, “there will be snakes and garden hoses! and you won’t be able to tell the difference! -- and confetti! lots of confetti! Oh -- and dudes with haircuts where the hair comes down and covers one eye. But only one eye.”
There actually won’t be any of that, of course, but I can promise you smiles.
As I said, stay tuned in the coming months as we feature a few other local CU acts. We already have something exciting in the works with Elsinore (who recently made Boing Boingwith a dispute over their proposed album art for their upcoming August release), and will end the summer with what is sure to be an amazing reunion of the band Hum. In 1996, I went to Lollapalooza just to see them, so I’m excited to see them again almost 15 years later (for free!) during Champaign’s 150th anniversary celebration later in the summer!