In my 25 years, I've seen a lot of live music. From big names to local acts, at venues across the midwest and beyond. I've seen Radiohead in Grant Park, withstood subzero temperatures to watch Pearl Jam play in Wisconsin, met my musical hero, Ryan Adams after a show at Foellinger, and flew to Tampa a couple weeks ago to see Springsteen. And the list goes on. But there is a musical experience I have been missing out on for far too long; the festival.
I finally got my chance last week, and right here in my backyard, at the Pygmalion Music Festival. It was everything I expected and more, something the Boss couldn't even top. Pygmalion was more than just the music. House parties, free haircuts and palm readings, hanging out with musicians, making new friends, and just getting out of the house and around town were what really made Pygmalion such a unique and great experience for me.
Between all of the aforementioned running around, I didn't get a chance to see nearly enough of the talent perform, but what I did catch was top notch. From the Headlights' homecoming Wednesday night at the Canopy, but the DJ's closing out the fun Saturday, there was never a dull moment. Here are some of the acts that really stood out to me:
Biggest Surprise: Denison Witmer. I just happened to make it to the Krannert Art Museum about an hour early for My Brightest Diamond. I was treated to a great singer/songwriter/comedian. He had great stage presence, performing with just a guitar, a handful of jokes and a story about his enormous respect for John Mellencamp. An up and coming pop-rock artist I urge you to check out. (Runner-up: Japandroids)
Biggest Disappointment: Margot and the Nuclear So and So's. It wasn't that they played poorly, it was that half the band was MIA. I ran into the third of the band that did play, later that night and found out that there were some "disagreements" between members (I believe the word "alcohol" was mentioned several times) and half of the band didn't even make it to town. Prior to taking the stage it seems that there was a last minute decision for only two members to play. I guess we just got the So and So's...?
Best Repeat Act: Joe Pug. I saw this guy for the first time nearly a year ago. He played Canopy as well, and he played great, but it definitely lacked something. I found out Thursday night what that was. Joe played the main stage this time around, and it gave him the opportunity to really rock out and get the crowd into it. I thought I would be the only guy there singing along, but to my pleasant surprise, the floor was cramped with Pug fans who knew every single word. With his raspy voice and ability to play a song differently every time, Joe's set left the crowd screaming for an encore.
Best Set: Ra Ra Riot. This self-described "rock band" with a two-piece string section, can really blow you away live. I've seen them perform flawlessly on two late night shows, but I didn't expect such perfection in an hour-long set at the Krannert Center. They covered all of the crowd favorites off The Rhumb Line, including "Dying is Fine" and "Can You Tell," and managed to throw a couple of new songs in there as well. I sure hope they make it back to town sometime soon. (Runner-up: Maserati)
Best in Show: The Antlers. Hands down, my Pygmalion favorite. I just got into their Hospice album, which didn't seem like it would translate very well as a live performance. Even after being reassured in my interview with Peter Silberman, I was still weary. From the first note, the Antlers had me on the edge of my seat, where I remained the whole show. They took the melancholic, slow and sometimes depressing tracks from Hospice and transformed them into something very worthy of the stage. I have no words to explain this in any greater detail other than, go see the Antlers play live. (Runner-up: Headlights)
Honorable Mentions: BLK JKS, who are "from the van. Contrary to what you may have heard, we're not from South Africa or New York, we're from the van. The van parked right outside." That statement made me laugh, and their music made me dance.
My Brightest Diamond, who played a handful of instruments, including the latex balloon, and has the voice of an opera singer (and the Queen in the Decemberists' Hazards of Love).
Elsinore, who put on one heck of an aftershow before the Urbana fuzz shut down the party.