Smile Politely

Pygmalion 2013: Thursday in review


Before the festival I made the snide remark that if you put the music of Jurado, Denison Witmer, Rocky Votolato and Strand of Oaks in a lineup you’d have a hard time singling them all out. I only meant that as a partial slight, because I enjoy folk music and singer-songwriters, and after watching Jurado on Thursday night, I stand by what I said.

Jurado’s music is good for what it is, but I don’t find it to be very distinguished among its peers. Among the group I listed, Jurado is not as ornate as Witmer, not as energetic as Votolato, and not as emotional as Strand of Oaks. So, he exists somewhere in between, crafting enjoyable but (to me) forgettable tunes. He did, however, show his personality some, peeling back his gruff, older exterior (seriously, with that brow you can’t help but look cranky), making self-depricating jokes and wry observations. If anyone does make the “Illinoyed” shirt he thought up, I think they’re obligated to at least send one his way. (CD)


Pygmalion is a favorite time for bands to showcase new material—just look at the spate of CD/EP/7″ releases that went down this weekend. The Dirty Feathers were no exception, performing numerous new songs to the Canopy Club on Thursday night.

They’ve become more Queens of the Stone Age than Black Keys at this point, with the band’s piercing blues grooves becoming heavier, slower, and louder with the addition of saxophone and keyboards to the core four piece. This is not to say that Midnight Snakes material was totally absent, as the title track drew by far the biggest crowd response of the night, but the this was clearly a showcase for new material. Aided by some high kicks, from hypeman A-Roc, they closed out with a rollicking version of “If Your Love is a Drug (Then I’m Feeling Sick)”, with Kling tossing a guitar into the audience over the closing feedback. (BV)


When I peruse the Pygmalion artist announcement each year I find a couple dozen bands I’ve never heard of, no matter how hard I try to stay ahead of these things. This is one of the things I love about the fest, the way it introduces me to new artists that I love for a long time. By this time in my festival-going life, I’m pretty adept at spotting the band I’ll fall in love with, and this year my pre-fest pick to click was Daughter.

Their set at Krannert completely verified my suspicions about the band and impressed me beyond what I was expecting. Their sound is much like The xx, but without all the stuff about The xx I don’t care for, like the lack of resolution in songs that build up just to end, or the extremely quiet moments of nearly nothing happening. Daughter takes those quiet moments and builds them and makes some fucking noise, creating this wall of sound that is both ambient and energetic.

Then, there’s the voice of lead singer Elena Tonra. When she’s singing it’s a beautiful soprano that has a whispery, delicate quality that still rings about above the guitars and drums. When she talks, however, her voice drops down to mouse-like levels (or like a low talker, for you Seinfeld fans). Half of the things she said I could not understand for the life of me, but it was so adorable the way she was still able to express her gratitude to the crowd for being so kind with their applause.

If I had any gripes about Daughter it would be their awkwardness on stage between songs. The band switched guitars after just about every song and let the silence ring out through the Tyron Festival Theater. In another setting, a club or more traditional venue, the transitions might not have been so stark, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Hell, I’ll give them the benefit just because I enjoyed the music so much and shouldn’t have any complaints. (CD)


I think The Head and the Heart get a bad rap for their earnest songwriting. People assume their heart-on-your-sleeve songs are cheesy, or trying too hard, etc. I get that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I don’t think you can hate the band for singing their hearts out.

I believe anyone who saw THATH play at Krannert would say their earnestness was nothing less than genuine. The six piece played with enthusiasm and joy and truly looked like they meant the words they were singing. It may be a little bit too forthright, but I don’t think it’s anything less than a real feeling.

And in exchange for those real feelings, THATH received real affection. Despite staying confined to their seats (though standing) until the encore, the crowd at Krannert greatly enjoyed THATH and let the band know they enjoyed them. The band worked through the majority of it’s self-titled debut album and shared several new songs with the crowd, including “Shake,” which might be my favorite song of the year.

Everything about the band was spot on, from the harmonies to the lush piano, but what stood out to me is how good Chris Zasche is on bass. Because of all the acclaim Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russell and Charity Rose (rightfully) get for their vocal work, I suspect Zasche often gets neglected, but damn can that guy play. Even when he’s not around, like on the first two songs of the encore — both acoustic numbers played solo by Johnson and Russell, respectively — THATH is still a fun act to see.

In all, THATH were a perfect headliner for the first day. They came, they played their guts out for an appreciative crowd and they left everyone feeling good and looking forward to what came next. I don’t think you’d could ask anything else of a band. (CD)


Festival attendees who stuck around for Warpaint’s closing set were generously rewarded with possibly the best set of the entire weekend. The band put on a tour de force performance packed full of new material, which came off as warmer and less angular than their previous output.

Several songs featured on-the-fly vocal manipulation/looping, marking a departure from the strongly defined harmonies that characterized their debut album, The Fool. That album was not forgotten, as the crowd was treated to tracks such as “Composure” and “Undertow” (jokingly introduced as a Metallica cover). I have to give props to whoever mixed this set, as it was possibly the best I’ve ever heard the big room at Canopy sound, with the exception of some wonky levels on the vocal mics towards the beginning. The guitars were present without burying the group’s voices, and the bass presence was there without washing out in what is essentially a giant concrete box.

I know I wrote about this in my preview, but I must again point out how superb bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg is. Her ability to carry the melody while remaining fluid as the band’s guitars and vocals veer off into experimental territory underpins the entire group, and is almost Entwhistle-esque. For the last song of their set, they reached back to 2008’s Exquisite Corpse EP for a huge, ten-minute version of “Elephants”. While the audience was denied an encore due to two o’clock appearing too soon, the roars of approval as the band left the stage were evidence enough that a very high bar had been set for the weekend. (BV)

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photos by Monica Inglot, Wes Pundt, Celine Broussard and Sean O’Connor


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