Smile Politely

PYGMALION 2017: Wednesday and Thursday in review


Dewclaw kicked off Wednesday night with a regular sized piano, a smaller piano, an even smaller piano, some furniture and a vocalist. There was a  It was a break from their usual performances in Urbana and the set featured a few songs that were improvised based on input from the audience. Most of the songs performed had a blues influence and in between songs there banter that kept the crowd laughing and engaged. It was a great start to Pygmalion.


Starting off Thursday was the incredibly talented Julien Baker, a singer songwriter from Memphis, Tennessee. She performed a couple of unreleased songs, new songs and even a cover of “100 Dollars” by Manchester Orchestra.

Julien Baker

The new songs seemed to be a change in the way she played the guitar, going a bit away from the twinkly and arpeggiated chord style, to a more Owen-style of playing. Although it wasn’t a lot, she did use more hammer ons and pull offs, switching back and forth between this and her dynamic singing. The singing was captivating, as it would often going from soft and calming, to powerful and emotional as she held out loud notes for long periods of time, with vibrato.

The audience was extremely silent and polite, which made it easy to hear the finger picked guitar play against her very dynamic voice. There wasn’t much in the way of banter, there were however a few stories explaining some of the songs performed that night that made the show become even more intimate.


Marathon, a local band, performed after Julien Baker for the second ticketed show of the evening at the Tryon Festival Theatre. It was very different than what most people would expect to hear — as it could be confused with noise-rock if you only tuned in for a few seconds, but every note performed was calculated. There were interesting song structures with long phrases that would build up, only to then calm down out of nowhere. Towards the end of their set, it seemed like they had really gotten into the songs as they started move around a lot more.   

It was either the energy marathon gave at the end or the excitement for Thundercat, but the audience was not as polite for Thundercat as they were for Julien Baker. He was performing at the Tryon Festival Theatre at the Krannert, which is normally a sitting theater. However after about six people all walked up to the front of the stage, it seemed like more than half of everyone stood up and followed.



I had heard from a friend of mine who had seen Thunder Cat at a festival in Spain that his live set was just not as exciting as his studio work. The first few songs reflected this, it wasn’t until an audience member yelled “Turn up the bass!” that things changed.

I have never heard someone make the bass sound so texturized, while still carrying such a groove. The rhythm section was playing so well off of each other. Drum and bass, in perfect harmony. Half way through the middle a solo/jam section started up and it went all over the place. There were fills, walks and just outrageous playing on the both the bass and drums, sadly though they had to bring it back to end the song. I have seen Victor Wooten performing with Dennis Chambers and this solo/jam section was certainly up there.

The show felt a lot more like a jazz performance with a Thundercat influence, than it did a Thundercat show, however this wasn’t a bad thing at all. Music is way better when it’s live, because there is room to add new depths to a song through improvisation, or as well as having a song evolve over time as you grow as a musician.  Plus with BadBadNotGood performing today, Friday, it’s not the worst thing in the world to get jazz two days in a row.

Quickly after that set began CJ Run’s set over at the Canopy Club, they had a live band the Data Waves performing as the backing tracks. The saxophone was just phenomenal, this mixed with the rest of the band and CJ Run’s energetic performance really made the show. The audience was also feeding off the energy from them as they would ask the crowd questions and receive answers, that is if the crowd wasn’t busy singing along.
Cj Run

CJ Run’s set also featured a few guest artists, at one point of the guests was singing a chorus of a song in Portuguese. In the middle of their set they gave a short speech about acceptance and how important it was to be yourself, yet this was only a bonus as the whole show felt like a comfortable and accepting place to be.

Finally, Smino took to the stage, although he had started a bit late he still brought a lot of energy to the stage. He was very animated and often having call and response in his songs. Everyone was having a good time.

However, the tracks that were playing did not match his energy. They paired well together, but it felt like there was something missing. I was informed that normally he has a full band with him, but tonight he didn’t. There is no doubt in my mind that had he had a full band last night, that the show would have had that missing component.

Stay tuned for more reviews for the rest of the weekend at PYGMALION.

All photos courtesy of Veronica Mullen.

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