Ah, Pygmalion. What an excellent weekend full of great bands and great fun. We did our best to document this weekend, and we hope you got out there and saw some acts you were looking forward to seeing.
Although we have photos of most of the shows, we didn’t have writers at all of the shows. We did our best to try to make up for that with photos in chronological order. If you saw a show that we did not see, please comment and tell us your thoughts. Friday and Saturday reviews to come within the next few days.
Hank — Channing-Murray, 8:15–8:45 p.m.
My festival started out on a high note with Hank. The local math-emo-post rock trio delivered a roaring and energetic performance that shook the chapel to the rafters. They drew heavily from the recently released Chinaski Demos EP, bringing out An Evening With Your Mother’s Alleya Weibel for a guest trumpet spot on the funked-out “Jedidiah,” as well as turning in an especially frenetic run-through of “Wounded Knee.” To cap things off, the band delivered a monolithic version of “Why Do You Keep Calling Me Bill?” that ran well past ten minutes, plus a punchy cover of the Smiths’ classic “Ask.” — Ben Valocchi
Jared Bartman — Krannert Art Museum, 8:30–9:00 p.m.
I’ve been kicking myself ever since Thursday for not seeing Jared Bartman sooner. The Peoria native has been through Champaign a number of times, but it wasn’t until this year’s Pygmalion that I actually took the time to find out what I’ve been missing out on – which is quite a bit. Bartman is an extremely gifted singer-songwriter, creating folk that is both traditional and contemporary at once. He lets his voice and guitar do much of the work, but he is no afraid of different timings or tempo changes and he can make a sparse song sound extremely rich. The greatest testament to Bartman’s ability as a songwriter, however, was his ability to create an arrangement for the half-orchestra he brought with him to Krannert Art.
Bartman was backed by eight other musicians on Thursday, playing standard rock band instruments like bass and drums, as well as classical orchestra instruments like cello, viola, violin and saxophone. The backing band was phenomenal, adding a depth to Bartman’s material that made the songs sparkle. The arrangements were beautiful and never obtrusive, a testament to those playing them and the composer. The songs were also enhanced by the rich harmonies of the singers Bartman brought with him. One of those singers was Bartman’s own wife, who held his (remarkably well behaved) son throughout the whole show. The visual effect of the lovely Bartman family combined with the charming folk tunes to make the performance one of the weekend’s best. — Chris DaviesNight Beds — Krannert Art Museum, 9:30-10:00 p.m.
It was a tough job following Jared Bartman (in my mind at least), but Nashville’s Night Beds was more than up to the task. Singer-songwriter Winston Yellen has a simply astounding voice. It is, without doubt, his most impressive asset. I do not mean to downplay the quality of Yellen’s compositions by exalting his voice, rather, to assert just how impressive the young man’s voice is. While most of the praise for vocal presence from this weekend will go to Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear (and deservedly so), Yellen deserves a great deal of credit for his own ability. Night Beds’ set opened with Yellen singing a short number solo, but as his backing band (featuring Steve Plock of Santah fame) started to play it was clear he was not the only person with incredible talent on stage. Every year I discover one new band at Pygmalion whose career I eagerly watch blossom into something much bigger. With just a 7″ single under its belt, Night Beds is surely my band to watch after this year. — Chris Davies
Santah — Krannert Art Museum, 10:30–11:15 p.m.Santah — Krannert Art Museum, 10:30–11:15 p.m.The Dirty Feathers — Canopy Club, 10:00–10:45 p.m.
These guys have come a long way over the last three Pygmalions. The first time they performed, they were crammed into the Void Room at Canopy prior to headliner Caribou back in 2010; then they threw down a closing late night set at the beer garden at Mike ‘N Molly’s last year. Quite possibly one of the best sets of the entire festival last year, no joke. This time around, they graduated to the main stage at Canopy Club, with a star-studded local bill in HUM, Psychic Twin, and That’s No Moon. The Feathers were on their game, packing a ton of songs into their 45 minute set, highlights including their Midnight Snakes title track, their newer single “If Your Love Is A Drug,” amongst other unreleased jams. Outside of the typical rip-roaring live show, the addition of the awesome saxophone was pretty damn great. American Flag cape included. — Patrick Singer
The Dirty FeathersMidstress — Channing-Murray, 10:15–10:45 p.m.
I’ve probably seen Midstress upwards of fifteen times at this point, and this was far and away the best. I can’t say I expected this to go off well in the chapel, but exceptionally well-done lighting and a terrific crowd pushed it over the hump for me. Oh yeah, and the band. Even on an off night, Midstress are an exceptional live unit, and now they have a large and locally loved catalog to draw from. While Growing Up is Getting Old cuts “Pentagrams in the Attic” and “I’m From the Midwest. I’m Softspoken.” drew roars of approval, the biggest cheers came when they reached back into the Fresh Kills era for a phenomenal version of “Before the Storm.” The new material they played was strong as well, and this was ultimately about as far from an off night as any band can get. — Ben Valocchi
Midstress — Channing-Murray, 10:15–10:45 p.m.
Psychic Twin — Canopy Club 11:00–11:45 p.m.
This band took things to a new level with this performance, and you can really tell this thing is about to take off. With the addition of another drum machine to the mix, Psychic Twin is becoming a real heavy-hitter. Canopy was filling up at this point, and these three really flexed their collective pop-infused muscle. They cruised through their set almost unconsciously, just on point for every detail, dancing around the arrangments in fine form. They played songs that we are pretty familiar with at this point, but mixing everything together into the live setting is really working out for this crew. It was synth pop magic at its finest Thursday night. I’m anticipating a full-length sometime soon, and don’t be shocked if lots of people outside C-U start chattering about Psychic Twin. — Patrick SingerSo Many Dynamos — Channing-Murray, 11:15 p.m.–12:00 a.m.HUM — Canopy Club, 12:15–1:30 a.m.
We all knew what we were in for when we found out HUM would be taking the stage instead of Sleigh bells on Thursday. Loud shows would be happening either way, just a different type of loud. I don’t think I understood what kind of loud I was in for until I stood by the side of the stage next to the speakers, which were deafening. I mean, blow-up-your-brain deafening. Anyone who was there knows what I’m talking about, and HUM’s set was something that was all their own. They wasted no time throughout their near hour and a half set, with crushing track after track from opener “Suicide Machine” to their encore closer and unreleased track “Cloud City” to shut things down. Standing side stage during the encore, I wasn’t sure if they were going to come back out or not after their main set ended, but the crowd would not of settled with that decision. Totally beasted out their set, just like we expected. — Patrick Singer
All photos by Sean O’Connor, Eric Ponder and Chris Davies.