Smile Politely

Indie bands and solo acts light up popular campus house party

Christian Jones

Four acts performed live at a popular house party on campus Friday night in front of a packed house. The house party (which will remain nameless in this article), is a popular destination for live music, known for bringing more hardcore rock acts to campus. Friday night they put on a relatively subdued show that ended with a bang.

Though doors opened at 7:30 p.m., the venue was nearly full by 7:50, ten minutes before the first act went on. Alt-Indie band Ultraviolet opened the show led by vocalist and guitarist Micah Austin. Austin’s melancholic vocals are accompanied by groovy bass riffs from Carlos Alvarez and the heavy drumming of Jess Miyata. In addition to drumming for Ultraviolet, the multitalented Miyata also controlled the soundboard for the next three acts.

Formed just five months ago, in October of 2023, Ultraviolet recorded their first studio projects a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the project is not finished, so fans will have to wait if they want to stream Ultraviolet on Spotify or Apple Music. Until then, you can expect to see them on setlists at campus house parties and Urbana’s other music venues.

After Ultraviolet put on a show that led to a few fans nearly crashing into the band, the next act brought out more somber emotions from the crowd. Chicago indie-rock band Midwestern Dirt found themselves in Urbana-Champaign for the first time but missing a key member. Lead singer Patrick Kapp, bassist Colin Mercer, and keyboardist Owen Hemming were present, but drummer John Golden missed the show with an illness.

Before their set, Kapp apologized to the crowd for what would be a different performance than Midwestern Dirt fans and regulars to this house party are accustomed to. But even without drums, Midwestern Dirt rocked the house. The diverse soundscape they created appealed to the crowd, and the many Midwestern Dirt fans in attendance sang along and occasionally waved lighters in the air.

Their tunes were emotional and atmospheric but still uplifting. Kapp and Mercer harmonized effortlessly, showing genuine chemistry between the band members, and both floated around Hemming’s keyboard work with ease. In fact, because Hemming was hidden behind a monitor during the performance, I was under the impression that the keyboard was a backing track as it sounded flawless. As the keyboard’s movement is more restricted than the guitar, it’s not unusual for Hemming to perform in awkward positions. At their show in Milwaukee, he stood offstage with his keyboard on the floor of the stage while the other members faced the crowd.

Midwestern Dirt debuted in 2017 as a solo studio project put together by Kapp; they now have four albums available for streaming. Their most recent project, Twilight at a Burning Hill, released in August last year, and a new project  is already in works, set to be recorded by the end of 2024. The band debuted one song from the new project on Friday, titled “Vegas 10 Years Ago.”

Marble Teeth, a solo act performed by central Illinois native Caleb Jefson, followed Midwestern Dirt. A one-man band of sorts, Jefson took the stage with his guitar in hand and harmonica holstered on his neck. A charismatic entertainer, Jefson had no problem reigning in the crowd, who seemed more inclined to mosh than sway to his introspective yet aloof lyricism. He ended one song with gentle guitar plucking, followed immediately by a blood-curdling scream that caught everyone off guard. For another, he started by screaming, “Everyone shut the fuck up!” which was received in the comedic tone he meant it with.

Jefson reminisced about past loves and yearned for future memories during his set, accompanied by an old school CRT TV with different visuals for each song. A campfire blazed on the screen as Jefson closed his set with a harmonica solo backed with the occasional twang of his guitar. The atmosphere was perfect for a late winter day in Urbana.

Friday’s show was closed out by a favorite among Urbana house show regulars, Venus Overdrive. The alt-rock band was formed in August of 2022 and has since built a significant following despite having yet to release music on streaming. You’ll have to witness Venus Overdrive live to get the experience, and it will be worth it. The lead singer has unlimited energy and the ability to belt her voice and stay on key. The band’s heavy rock drumming paired with distorted guitar solos got the crowd jumping so much that the mosh pit spilled out of the performance area and into the rest of the venue.

Many fans seemingly showed up at the end specifically to indulge in the chaos that occurred while Venus Overdrive was on stage. The walls of the venue were shaking, and several people were lifted into the air to crowd surf through the rooms of the house. At times, I feared for their safety, but thankfully, no one was injured. The band will perform next on March 3rd.

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