Smile Politely

Pygmalion 2012: Friday in review

My Werewolf Diary — Downtown Urbana Outdoor Stage, 6:15-6:45 p.m.

This was my first introduction to My Werewolf Diary, and I was quite a bit surprised at how much loved it. I usually don’t give much of a chance to musicians who use delay pedals and technology to distort and over-produce their voices and sound. Elzie Sexton could have sung, “Tracy’s full of shit,” over and over from the stage and I’d have loved every second because I’d have been hearing it while listening to his textured, fuzzy, dirty, haunting, gorgeous music. My Werewolf Diary is one of my best discoveries at Pygmalion this year. — Tracy Nectoux

Elsinore  — Downtown Urbana Outdoor Stage, 7:00-7:30

I’d not heard Elsinore for over a year, and I’ve always enjoyed them, and they’ve only gotten better. Just excellent. Good music. Great set. Ryan’s beautiful voice. And when Grandkid’s Vivian McConnell joined them on stage, it was perfect. I loved every second. — Tracy Nectoux

Similar to what Tracy said, there seem to be a lot of good things going on in the Elsinore camp these days. They took the stage as the sun was basically setting, trekking through their half hour set with ease. Most of their set featured new tracks from their upcoming LP — which sounds like it’s shaping up quite nicely — along with tracks from Life Inside an Elephant from last year. As I was standing there, I said, “Damn, ‘Life Inside an Elephant’ has the best track these guys have ever written, but these new songs are fantastic.” It’s pretty much clockwork for these guys to put on a raucous show in the most straightforward way. Afterwards, I just kept thinking about how much I want to hear their new record. — Patrick Singer

Tennis — Downtown Urbana Outdoor Stage, 8:00-8:30 p.m.

What was the temperature on Friday night? Once the sun went down it was probably 75, 80, right? No, sorry, I was just thinking of how Tennis made me feel. As I stood in the Black Dog parking lot, shoving my hands into my sweatshirt to keep them warm, the Denver band made me feel like I was sitting on a beach somewhere, maybe enjoying some kind of cocktail out of a coconut shell (or something equally odd). Tennis is a band whose work I have been dismissive of in the past. I hesitate to say I didn’t like Tennis; I think I just never paid them enough attention. After Friday’s performance I won’t be making that mistake anymore. I’m fairly certain the group’s sunny pop will be a staple in my music library this winter as I try to remember that warm feeling I got during their Pygmalion performance. — Chris Davies

Tennis doesn’t break down any barriers with their music. Heck, they don’t even necessarily do anything very new with their music, either. But they capture the breezy beach rock feel as good as anyone I have heard in a very long time. Chris is right to use the word “warm” to describe their sound. They push the limits of familiarity while still being compelling. Guitarist Patrick Riley clearly understands both pop and surf-rock, but his wife Alaina Moore is really the one that shines on stage. The huge vocals that cascade out of her five foot nothing frame demand attention and really set them apart from the typical west coast vine bands out there. Nothing spectacular or ground breaking here, but oh so enjoyable live. — Cody Caudill

Dirty Projectors — Downtown Urbana Outdoor Stage, 9:00-10:15 p.m.

Good god, those harmonies. I don’t have much more to say because I’m still trying to pick my jaw up off the ground. — Chris Davies

Witnessing the precision of the Dirty Projectors really establishes how much this band is not just about the egotistical presence of David Longstreth. Yes, he is as up front as an indie front man can be, but the kind of meticulous production that the entire group pulls off in their live set is far more impressive than his musical vision alone. Although the finished product was toe tapping and sweet, I personally found their ability to pull off intricate harmonies and syncopated rhythms to be the most impressive aspect of their performance. — Cody Caudill

Heading into this Dirty Projectors set, there wasn’t really any doubt that I was going to be happy with what I would see. However, I had no idea how great this set was going to end up being. Seriously, I saw them earlier this summer at Pitchfork Festival, and these sets could not even compare to one another. Their set at Pygmalion blew me away to say the least. Those Swing Lo Magellan tracks have really made some serious progress from where they were just a mere three months ago. Hell, they even capped it off with a huge shout out to Black Dog, and for good reason — it’s damn good, and so was this band Friday night. — Patrick Singer

Hospitality — Canopy Club, 9:30-10:00 p.m.

There were a number of things going against Hospitality on Friday night. First, their start time coincided with the end of the Dirty Projects set across town; second, they were stuck in the void room of the Canopy Club — a cramped space for the band and the fans; third, there was no lush horn section like the one that features so prominently on the Brooklyn band’s debut album. None of these issues had the slightest impact on Hospitality’s set, however. The quartet owned that tiny stage and undoubtedly converted a lot of fans making their way into the Canopy from Downtown Urbana. — Chris Davies

Exactly what Chris Davies just said. It would have been so easy for Amber Papini to phone in a set on the small stage, especially given the fact they are embarking on their first major headlining tour this month, but they killed it instead. I thought the energy was great in a jam-packed front room that kept growing as excited fans showed up from downtown Urbana. The band’s vocal delivery was as impressive live as on their record and they featured some really lovely new pop songs on Friday. I had more than one person ask me who this band was, and that is always a good sign. You really should check them out if you missed it. — Cody Caudill

Lord Huron — Canopy Club (main stage), 11:00-11:30 p.m.

The band I most eagerly anticipated seeing last weekend was Lord Huron — not Grizzly Bear, Dinosaur Jr., or Dirty Projectors. Maybe it’s an odd choice, given the band had only released two EPs prior to Pygmalion, but within those two EPs I lost myself in the band’s rich tapestry of harmonies and guitar riffs. Friday night at the Canopy Club my enthusiasm for Lord Huron was met by one of the most impressive sets of the festival. Songwriter Ben Schneider and his cohorts reproduced the intricacy of the recorded material with such technical mastery I had a hard time believing what I was seeing in front of me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the new Lord Huron album is streaming on NPR’s website. I’ll be listening there for a while. — Chris Davies

This was a top three set at all of Pygmalion 2012 for me. Lord Huron played the part of the band you got to see before they got huge at this year’s festival. This was all the best parts of Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket, and last years’ late night darlings the Dodos all rolled into one. Ben Schneider is a name you should keep an ear to the ground for. They play upbeat folk rock without sounding pretentious, with beautiful undertones of completely unexpected world beats and jazzy tones as well. Oh, and he’s a brilliant lyricist and story-teller. Seriously. By far the best act at Canopy on Friday. — Cody Caudill


Laetitia Sadier — Canopy Club (void room), 11:45 p.m.-12:30 a.m.

Sadier came out and seemed excited to be playing to (what she considered) a mostly college crowd. She discussed the possibilities for change that everyone on campus should be working for in their lives. Though I doubt too many people took her words to heart, I love that she tried. She then played a compelling set, which was endearingly raw, considering how many years she has been touring. To be honest, Sadier’s voice is always going to make her music sound a lot like Stereolab, but I was impressed at how much her three-piece band played things relatively straight through their jazz-influenced rock set. Moog need not apply. — John Steinbacher

Best Coast — Canopy Club, 12:45-2:00 a.m.

Ok, I need to vent a little bit about this show. I really wanted Best Coast to be the engaging and fun pop artist she was in her first album. Instead, we got an unenthusiastic indie diva with the stage awareness of Courtney Love. She announced her displeasure about the show and the time slot to the crowd and never fully recovered. Some people seemed into it, but the singing and the stage dynamics were as flat as a festival headliner can be. This was really the one shining dissapointment of Pygmalion for me personally. — Cody Caudill

I’m going to have to echo a lot of what Cody mentions here, unfortunately. I was pretty enthusiastic about seeing Best Coast, even despite seeing them on their 2010 tour at Bonnaroo, where they were terribly boring. I don’t want to say they were bad, just very, very boring, wishing the entire time they would channel some of their Cali-sunshine jams during the heat of that festival. This time around, indoors, I figured it might be better. Throughout the first part of the set, honestly, it felt like they were phoning this one in. Towards the end, it got a bit better, but I think it was because the band got drunker (she even said “that’s the problem with playing at one a.m., you just keep drinking and drinking…”), or maybe I got drunker. Either way, the latter part of the set was a bit better, but not anything that was super memorable. — Patrick Singer

Hundred Waters — Red Herring, 1:00-2:00 a.m.

I haven’t seen a late night crowd so fully engaged by a group of musicians in a very long time. The whole digital folk thing was something I showed up expecting to be only half impressed by, but oh how happy I was to be proven wrong. Push buttons and twist knobs all you want if this is the result. Hundred Waters were genuinely moving and they appeared to be completely involved in their composing as well. This was lush, wide open, and delicate without being boring. They left a packed Red Herring venue completely silent as their final notes rang out into the night. It was like your first partner breaking up with you, the crowd seemed both moved by the experience and utterly unable to move on afterwards as well. —Cody Caudill

Julia Holter — Red Herring, 2:00-3:00 a.m.

As soon as I heard that Julia Holter and Hundred Waters’ sets were moved from Channing-Murray, I was pretty disappointed. Not to knock either of the bands, but that’s half of the appeal of seeing shows in that building. Regardless, I did make it over there for Holter’s set, which was nothing short of outstanding. Seriously, unbelievable. Even though I had heard the entire time about how great Hundred Waters were, I have a hard time believing that it was better than this. I’m sure the sets were different, but the Red Herring really stepped up here to host these two. Holter’s arrangements were paralyzing at times, and you could hear a pin drop throughout that restaurant because people were so damn quiet and attentive. It was remarkable, especially coming at 2 a.m. So rewarding for those who stuck around to catch it. — Patrick Singer

On the scale of disinterest, Julia Holter would likely fall somewhere between J Mascis or Dinosaur Jr. and Best Coast, as a whole. Her general attitude early Saturday morning had a lot of Mascis’s general disdain for life and a lot of Best Coast’s (seeming) desire to be somewhere other than Urbana. I can’t completely blame Holter; she got relocated from the charming sanctuary of Channing-Murray to the cramped confines of the Red Herring for trivial reasons, if rumors are to be believed. Still, there’s something to people who can make the proverbial lemonade when life hands them lemons. With Holter, fans only got a sour attitude — good music, but a sour attitude. — Chris Davies


Photos by Sean O’Connor, Eric Ponder, and Chris Davies
Video by Laren Pike


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