Heading into Saturday night’s Centaur show at Mike ‘N Molly’s, there was a palpable sense of excitement. Hum were heavily rumored to be playing another of their infamous secret shows in advance of their performance next week at Champaign Music Festival, and the presence of a mysterious third band on the bill (Peace Beach) certainly gave the rumor mill ample ammunition. When that didn’t happen, the crowd soured, despite excellent performances from New Ruins and Centaur.
New Ruins started off the evening with a set packed with new songs. Their set included “Bad Math” and “Alligator Lie” from their Record Store Day 7″, as well as the excellent new tune “Homes of Rich Blood”. While I could have gone for some stuff off of the crazy-good We Make Our Own Bad Luck (“Lake” or “Symptoms” would have been amazing to hear), the new material packs much more of a punch and frankly comes off a lot better live than the majority of their old songs, especially with Elzie and Caleb in full-on Built to Spill guitar mode. Those dual-leads don’t lie.
And then there was Centaur. Despite opening up with the crushing “Strangers on Five” and quickly running through several more songs off of the outstanding In Streams, Matt Talbott and company seemed to be having some crowd-control issues. While everyone clapped and hollered in the appropriate places, the crowd was by and large distracted, as if everyone was thinking “where’s Hum?”. In fact, the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for the left field covers of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”. That’s not to say that the band’s performance was off or hampered by sound problems — Talbott’s guitar cutting out during “Fade Into You” and the resulting improvised noise noise solo was actually one of the best moments of the night, and the band was absolutely on point throughout, especially during the aforementioned covers and set closer “The Same Place”.
After New Ruins joined Centaur for a massive, Melvins-esque double-drummer version of “First Days of Spring”, a track by Canadian band Neverending White Lights that Talbott contributed vocals to, he announced “This is not Peace Beach, Peace Beach is up next”, and an audible buzz went up from the crowd. Would Peace Beach turn out to be Hum? Or would it be the more realistic New Ruins/Centaur collaborative set? As it turns out, Peace Beach was Matt Talbott’s cosmic joke, consisting of karaoke-lite versions of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ “Islands in the Stream” and the Eagles’ “Peaceful Feeling”, complete with lyric sheets and intermittent fits of laughter. After a cursory round of thanks, the lights came up, the crowd shuffled out and that was it for the night.
Most of the people I talked to after this show seemed to be disappointed. While you could probably chalk it up to the late start (nearly 10:30), chatty crowd or questionable sound, the crux of the night was clearly the heavily rumored Hum performance, or rather the lack thereof. You could blame each of the bands for subtly referencing the mysterious third band on the bill, Peace Beach (“Greatest band I’ve ever seen”, said Matt Talbott), or the fact that someone who looked suspicously like [Honcho Overload drummer] Mike Rader was spotted ambling around the beer garden, but the main problem was that most of the crowd just didn’t share the performers’ slightly perverse sense of humor.