At the very start of The Pygmalion Festival this year, we had to battle against the rain. It was a constant threat all evening, but I'll spare you the suspense and say that it never really got all that wet. Or maybe if/when it did, I wasn't aware, because it really didn't dampen the night at all. This was a night for grown-ups; a bar-hopping night, and a late night. Shows this evening occurred at The Accord (indoor and outdoor) and at Memphis on Main. We spent the night bouncing back and forth between the two to catch all the best staples of local music in C-U, and some great visiting acts as well.
With my early trepidation about the rain, I bustled around early on, and didn't catch an act in full until Cody Lee. Lee is old school in the best way, and he brought his unique brand of rock and roll to The Accord to help usher in the evening indoors. His sound has a bit of Elvis Costello mixed with the Stones, and some plantive folkiness added in. His guitar work was masterful and great to see.
When Maiden Radio took the stage inside The Accord, I knew it was getting late, but I didn’t think the atmosphere inside the place would be quite so rowdy. It’s also possible that any bar would seem pretty loud when hosting music as delicate as Maiden Radio. It was the second visit to Champaign this year by the folk three-piece from Kentucky (who opened for Bonnie Prince Billy in February), and in spite of the crowd, the ladies really held their own. They were charming and upbeat throughout, and even managed to eke out some good acapella work, even though they could barely hear each other. Member Joan Shelley is a solo act in her own right, and would put on a set later in the evening a little while after her band. Her solo work is slightly removed from the folk and bluegrass of Maiden Radio with a step towards the indie genre, but she compliments both stylings easily with a voice that is soft and warm and a bit mournful, reminiscent of Sharon Van Etten and Joni Mitchell. Less banjo and more guitar (deftly played by Nathan Salsburg) made for another quiet and extremely well-executed set, regardless of surroundings.
Bands like Staghorn remind me how superb instrumental rock can truly be, and how I need to be listening to more of it. This kind of music unfolds like a great novel, taking you on a journey. Staghorn’s 30-minute set was short, but not abbreviated, because they were debuting ““Parousia I / Kismet II,” a work of art that can only be loosely called an “album,” because it transcended that. Their performance played out like the soundtrack to the apocalypse, with stark flashing lights and clips of spoken-word about dismal times. Two of the three members wore face coverings, all wore hoods, and they were otherwise costumed for a dystopian life in the desert a-la Mad Max. Then their heavy guitars smashed through a depiction of the disintegration of society.
Staghorn at Memphis On Main. Photo by Veronica Mullen.
Iska Dhaaf are known for their songwriting and their interesting links between electronic experimentation and standard indie/alternative music. What I didn’t know about them before I saw them was their stage presence. The guys pumped enough energy into their songs to really leave a lasting impression.
Iska Dhaaf at Memphis on Main. Photo by Veronica Mullen.
The possibility of inclement weather moved Church Booty’s set from 10 p.m. outside to midnight inside The Accord, so everyone was that much looser when the band’s set actually started, and all the better for it that way. One of the area’s best party bands, these guys have enough band members to throw a party all by themselves. I’d venture to guess that each rehearsal they have is a smash. The funky jazz act has a median age that is actually pretty young, probably about 25 or less - but they throw down the grooves like they’ve been doing it forever. A strong amount of regular fans attend their every set, and appropriately freak out each time.
Church Booty inside The Accord. Photo by Veronica Mullen.
I then shuffled next door one more time for Euriah’s set, the last one at Memphis for the evening. A strong reason that Euriah is one of the leading emo bands in C-U at the moment is that they are tight and well put together. They work hard to hone their craft, and it shows. Euriah played largely from their newest album, Passenger, which is one of the best local albums of the genre to be released in a while. They rocked it, and had a killer time doing so.
While Friday was mostly a bar-jumping day, Pygmalion music on Saturday was a family-friendly affair. The weather stayed perfect all day long, and The Accord Outdoor tent saw many visitors. Hopefully all of them had some of the delicious food served at the festival’s inaugural Food component, which was abbreviated the previous day due to weather. (It was amazing. Watson’s jerk wings, seriously.) It seemed that Saturday was also unofficial Bluegrass Day, featuring some of the best bluegrass, country and alt-country the area has to offer, with some great touring acts as well. The Accord Indoor also had DJs spinning all night to add a different flavor to things.
I arrived on the scene in time to see the tail end of the set from the straight-up country sound of Penny Horses switch over to The Fights, who are more somber and introspective in their country tunes. A local act, The Fights played the best songs from their 2014 full-length album Off Your Horse, and coaxed out a little slow-dancing from the crowd with a ballad.
The Fights Outdoor at The Accord. Photo by Veronica Mullen.
The Wandering Boys wandered down from Chicago to play the fest, and man do they pick a mean banjo. Classically bluegrass in genre, their strings (which also include a guitar and mandolin) are accompanied by adept multi-part harmonies and down home lyrics. At one point, one of the members broke out into a yodel for a song or two, much to the delight of spectators. The ‘Boys have a traditional, rustic, Americana theme that they execute well.
The Wandering Boys Outdoor at The Accord. Photo by Veronica Mullen.
I walked about and stopped to grab another bite to eat, which was kind of required. Anyone who didn’t try everything at the Food Fest seriously missed out. Next on the Outdoor Stage was the loveable Bones Jugs, the town’s best xylophone- and kazoo-playing folk and bluegrass band, hands down. (If there are actually more xylophone bluegrass bands in the area, I don’t mean to offend.) With a wide range of instruments from piano and guitar to kazoos, washboards and of course, jugs, these guys are always fun. Their lyrics are often locally-themed (such as the tune “Black Dog”) and they have made themselves into musically talented quirky mascots for the C-U area.
Bones Jugs Outdoor at The Accord. Photo by Veronica Mullen.
My first weekend of Pygmalion Music came to a close with a show from The Hood Internet and Show You Suck inside The Accord. The Hood Internet spun beats together in a more non-traditional fashion than is the usual for mash-up deejaying, incorporating alternative sounds and music into the flow. Rapper Show You Suck had a bravado and a rhythm that got the attention of everyone in the room. The Chicago emcee happens to have a pizza theme going in his work for some reason, and after Bones Jugs, it was a different kind of hilarious to watch.
The Hood InternetxShowyousuck inside The Accord. Photo by Veronica Mullen.
Thus ended my first weekend for Pygmalion MUSIC 2016, and there is so much more to come. Check out the lineup for next Thursday through Saturday, and make sure to grab tickets while you still can.