One of my favorite parts of the local music scene is that I can walk into just about any bar or club on a Saturday night and discover something new. I’m not saying I am going to fall in love with that “something,” but at the very least, I hope to get my money’s worth.
This past Saturday I got that and more at Bentley’s in downtown Champaign. Three acts made up the late show: My Werewolf Diary, an acoustic incarnation of New Ruins’ Elzie Sexton, opened, followed by Bloomington-based Constant Velocity and the up and coming duo, Common Loon. All at the bargain price of just a buck a band!
Upon my arrival, Bentley’s seemed a bit dull, so I was worried the small crowd wouldn’t be enough to energize the bands. But after chatting with members of Constant Velocity, it was obvious they were just excited to be playing in Champaign, a market they are struggling to break into. And by the time My Werewolf Diary took the stage, the place had begun to fill up.
The sounds of a six-string guitar and a toy keyboard soon filled the air. Yes, a toy keyboard, looping a drum beat, perhaps acting as half backing track and half metronome. I am personally a big fan of New Ruins, but was not sure what to expect of this “side project” of sorts. It was definitely a different sound, and with such a short set it was hard to come up with a solid opinion of My Werewolf Diary. But as far as opening acts go, I have been far less impressed in the past. So I suppose only time can tell what will become of this manifestation of a great local band.
My Werewolf Diary:
After a quick smoke break and chat with the doorman, I re-entered the bar to Constant Velocity and a growing crowd. Prior to the show, I checked out the band’s website to see what I was in store for. A few tracks were available online, so I listened to them a couple times through. Nothing really stood out as spectacular. I figured I would have a drink and wait for the headliners. I would soon be placing my foot in my mouth.
Constant Velocity had heads bobbing, toes taping and drunk girls dancing within thirty seconds of the first note. And while I left my dancing shoes, I was tempted to get right up there myself. I am still looking for the words to describe the genre of these guys. Their style borrows elements of rockabilly, folk and post-punk power pop, among others. Add in their raw energy and stage presence, and you’re left with the perfect blend of live music. The crowd was very into this band and it was no secret. Constant Velocity is a group of mature and skilled musicians, who are welcome back to Champaign anytime, as far as I’m concerned.
It wasn’t easy switching gears for Common Loon, but ever since seeing them last weekend at Smile Politely’s relocated house party, not a day has gone by that I haven’t listened to at least one track off of their Myspace page. As expected, their set was another great one. They played a few songs I was familiar with, however the new stuff was just as noteworthy. The crowd, already jazzed up from Constant Velocity, lacked no enthusiasm for the local artists. You can tell by the passion in their live performance that this pair is one of the most hard-working and dedicated local acts. Let’s hope they continue to produce good music and stick around for awhile.
When it comes to making the most of a Saturday night, I don’t think I could give you a better example. When other bars are charging five or ten dollars just to step foot in their doors — without any live music — it’s wonderful to be able to sit and have a drink in an intimate setting and discover an excellent new band, all for nothing more than pocket change.
(Photo of Elzie by Nichole Sexton; photos of Common Loon by Elzie Sexton; videos by Joel Gillespie)