Smile Politely

Highlights from the 15th edition of PYGMALION

Without a doubt, the most electric part of the weekend was comedian/actor/TV host Eric Andre’s Saturday night set at The Canopy Club. His name comes across more innocently than indie rock outfit, The New Pornographers, who played at Canopy a few hours before, but make no mistake, Andre’s performance was the friskiest affair of the festival. The 36-year-old brought out a feverish sold-out crowd of mostly Illinois students, who met his gaudy, absurdist tales with the adoration of cult followers.

A stop on Andre’s Legalize Everything Tour, he preached about abolishing the federal government, raved about his drug-enhanced antics and declared repeatedly that he is running for President. Shortly after storming out onstage, Andre talked about Champaign-Urbana’s superiority to other Illinois towns, bellowing, “this ain’t no Saluki bulls***!” Then, he trolled his own degree from “Berklee College of Waste Your Money Music” and said he only went to there because he “wanted to play the Seinfeld bass line.”

Eric Andre, photo by Jack Pompe

Andre also recounted how he recently smoked weed with his mother in Los Angeles, and their ensuing game of Scrabble, weaving a tale about how he hadn’t heard from or seen her since. After, he moved onto a story about how he did so many drugs at Coachella in 2012 that he missed Snoop Dogg’s performance with a Tupac hologram. The Boca Raton, Florida native heated things up down the stretch with a ranch-off, where two contestants downed an entire bottle of ranch dressing. It was clear that was going to be ugly when the stage attendant dragged out a garbage can, but each contestant actually showed remarkable — albeit, disturbing — ranch-chugging abilities. 

He concluded the show by doing something he’s done often — but certainly is entertaining live — in prank-texting and FaceTiming parents of audience members. Andre asked for volunteers, who offered their phones to be casted onto the big screen, and the results were wide-ranging and hilarious. That guy is a riot. 

The New Pornographers, photo by Josh James

Throughout Friday afternoon and evening, just outside of Canopy, Made Fest packed the street with a huge variety of local vendors that showcased their goods. Tents lined both sides of the street as patrons browsed and had their pick of some local food and drink options in some ideal early-autumn night. 

A vastly different scene — but one as comparably chaotic as Andre’s set — unfolded on Friday night, as Dreamville’s JID performed in front of a jam-packed Canopy crowd. The talented likes of IsaiahG and Dua Saleh opened for an early-arriving crowd that impressed the East Atlanta rapper — evidently enough that he decided to stick around in town after and hang out at Murphy’s of all places. 

JID, photo by Jack Pompe

The 29-year-old rapid-fire rapper had it rocking from the jump, when he came out to his breakout 2017 single, “NEVER”. He ran through a wide variety of his catalogue, including The Never Story’s “EdEddnEddy” and “Off Da Zoinkys”, a popular track from his 2018 album DiCaprio 2, which saw him rise from an intriguing upcoming Atlanta talent to one of the faces of Dreamville, which is one of the hottest label/label subsets in hip-hop. He took off his shirt — it was scorching-hot — and built the crowd up into a frenzy as he blew through his high-speed verse on J Cole collaboration “Off Deez”. It rose to a crescendo when the intro for his explosive hit “151 Rum” got going, and JID demonstrated legit quality as a live performer on that track and throughout his entire set. 

Toward the end, he started playing some of his songs from Revenge of the Dreamers III, Dreamville’s album that went No. 1 earlier this year and has already been certified platinum. Personal space evaporated and hundreds of sweaty fans crashed into each other as he rocked out to “Wells Fargo” and “Costa Rica”. During Ski Mask the Slump God’s feature on the latter, JID held the mic out and the crowd thundered the line, “OK! Going on a date with an AK” (as in AK-47) — which was maybe the loudest I’ve ever heard a crowd yell anything at Canopy.

Dua Saleh, photo by Josh James

Another comedian hit the stage on Thursday in Michelle Wolf. After her work on Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Wolf exploded into the public consciousness with her memorable appearance as the featured entertainer at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The Hershey, Pennsylvania native opened up her set by lamenting how people are paying so much mind to 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg, as Wolf claimed she sailed to the United States — a la Thunberg’s carbon-free yacht trip to the U.S. — and exclaimed that scientists must be so mad now because no one had listened to their warnings on climate change for decades. 

Wolf was true to her audacious style, weaving through issues of race and feminism (and more on climate change) with hilarious yet truthful takes and the occasional reminder that it was a “joke show” when the audience seemed afraid to laugh at such heavy issues. In the light of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s blackface scandal, she ripped blackface-doers with a funny-but-true punch: “when you’re putting on blackface, you have so much time to rethink the decision,” which elicited a huge burst of laughs from the Krannert Center crowd. Her impressions of women throughout history in an ultra-snobby “millennial” voice, put a comical twist on moments like the sinking of the Titanic. “Like, how do you not see an iceberg,” Wolf asked, then said, “tons of women would be like, ‘so he (the captain) just didn’t see it? Isn’t that literally his whole job?’” She’s unapologetically herself, and that’s what has Wolf doing things like hosting Netflix comedy specials.

Japanese Breakfast, photo by Jack Pompe

At Canopy afterward, Japanese Breakfast, the solo musical indie project of Michelle Zauner, put on a memorable nightcap. She showed why her work has risen to prominence over the last several years with a powerful, emotional performance, including a lot of tracks from her 2017 project, Soft Sounds from Another Planet. The show climaxed with the playing of her 2017 hit “Road Head”, as Zauner’s dreamy, reminiscent vocals invigorated a large, lively crowd. “‘Dream on baby,’ were his last words to me,’ she crooned, just a few words on a song composed of less than 60 (besides the chorus). The impressive thing was that she needed no more to get her point across — it was magical. Then, there her dynamic cover of The Cranberries’ hit “Dreams.” She’s a special talent. Captured! By Robots were doing their insane live show in Downtown Urbana at Blackbird later that evening, as well as the neo-soul dance-off created by Black Pumas over at Rose Bowl.

Black Pumas, photo by Anna Longworth

Captured! By Robots, photo by Anna Longworth

PygHack featured dozens of talented, daring participants as it unfolded in the bustling Krannert lobby. Hackers had loads of creative freedom and the time to get after it, as the event ran 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and was a unique opportunity for ambitious hackers. The hack finished up with over 20 completed projects, which is pretty stellar. What kind of festival has a hackathon? PYGMALION, that’s what. There’s plenty of texture surrounding the main attractions — Poetry Marathon! each night at the Bread Company featuring a ton of poets, a sold-out Rob Bell talk at Spurlock Museum, readings on Stage 5 at Krannert Thursday (Michelle Zauner) and Saturday (J. Allyn Rosser and Mark Halliday), and more in Downtown Urbana throughout the weekend in music (Mdou Moctar was a highlight) and literature.

I don’t think anyone could have walked out of Antoni Porowski’s live chat and cooking demonstration on Friday at Krannert without falling in love with the open, charismatic Queer Eye star. He and Michelle Zauner — who also did a reading at Krannert before her performance as Japanese Breakfast — had uncanny natural chemistry on stage. Zauner steered an engaging, natural conversation about Porowski’s life growing up, his pursuit of happiness and his love for food and cooking with the ease of a host on The View, while the Montreal native opened up. 

Porowski held nothing back, recounting how he used to throw apples and oranges in his parents’ front lawn during the winter, then after the snow would melt in the spring there would be loads of rotting apples and oranges all over their yard, and other odd happenings from his childhood. He also touched on — and really, celebrated — the success of his New York Times best-selling book, Antoni in the Kitchen, with Mindy Fox. The book is still No. 2 on in the category for “Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous.” 

Antoni Porowski and Michelle Zauner, photo by Anna Longworth

When Zauner brought it up, he jokingly noted, “It’s No. 2 for the second week running, but like, who’s keeping track?” The crowd loved the shameless plug and openness of Porowski, who also talked up things like improving mental health awareness (to a reception of big applause) and how there is a story behind each of his recipes. The two then demonstrated a quick, favorite dish of Porowski, making Roman Frisée and sugar snap salad in a matter of minutes. Porowski spoke of how he came up with his own take on the dish after being inspired in Rome after eating it at a restaurant run — in every aspect — by a very old woman. The dish featured Pecorino Romano, anchovies, frisée, sugar snap peas with lemon juice, garlic, salt, olive oil and pepper, and while eating it, Porowski offered the crowd another one-liner that he clearly took pleasure in delivering: “food is so f***ing unifying.”

Antoni Porowski and Michelle Zauner, photo by Anna Longworth

Top photo by Anna Longworth

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