4:30pm – Driving without shoes is weird. It’s liberating, but it also makes me feel nervous and vulnerable, and the whole driving process has suddenly become delicate and terrifying. I can’t stop thinking about getting into a crash, driving off the road and flipping my car, or being cut off and run over by a large semi-truck. All of the sudden I’m not so sure that Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is such a good album, which is problematic since they are “like, probably my favorite band.” It’s okay to still have a favorite band based on the strength of one LP (i.e. Slanted & Enchanted) and one EP (i.e. Watery, Domestic), right?
7:00pm – The drive to Champaign-Urbana is not particularly notable. Like most of Illinois, it’s flat, full of corn, and sparsely placed farm houses. I remember driving through Wisconsin and May and thinking how beautiful it was, but for some reason Illinois seems less green and less cool. After trudging through some brutal traffic on the Dan Ryan and the beginning of 57, I’ve hit the home stretch (i.e. 100 miles on the same road) at 80 mph, and everything’s cool until my friend tells me to get off on 74 going the wrong way and I end up on some weird town called “Mahoumet” or something. Fuck.
8:15pm – Two pieces of pizza and a whiskey ginger ale later, we’re heading to some building where we have to pick up our wristbands, which will serve as the entire-weekend ticket to all the bars/venues. The thought of having to wear a snap-on bracelet for 3 days straight seems daunting and uncomfortable, but there’s nothing I can do but submit to the oppressive forces behind the Pygmalion Music Festival 2008. At this building, which I’m told is the place Yo La Tengo is playing on Saturday night, seems kind of fancy and there’s lots of old women wearing buttons that say ‘Vote ART’ or something on them. I think this is the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, but that also seems to be the name of a place we’re going to later as well. I can’t quite figure it out, but I don’t bother asking for clarification.
We get our wristbands, but that’s not all! They as us for shirt sizes, and then give us a whole bag of goodies. This includes: plastic hipster sunglasses with the neon-yellow sides, ear plugs, not one but two Pygmalion Music Festival 2008 t-shirts*, a copy of Paste Magazine**, a Polyvinyl Records sampler***, a festival guide titled “The Pulse”, advertisements for two Champaign based blogs, “In the Aeroplane, Over UC” and “Smile Politely”, coupons and/orads for Jennifer North (“shop indie, shop locally”), Art Mart (“shot indie, shop art mart”), Furniture Lounge, Papa George Authentic Greek & American Food, Blues BBQ (“BBQ that delivers!”), Exile on Main St. (a record store, and it’s actually on Main St.!), Underground Printing, Music Lessons, g2 (therapeutic massage and bodywork), and Two Birds One Tree (yoga, pilates, AND breathwork).
9:00pm – The Krannert Art Museum (not place we were previously) must be at a hundred degrees. We’ve only been inside for a few minutes and I’m already sweating. I look around for a place to get an ice cold beverage, but it seems that the ‘venue’s’ function as the lobby/hallway of an art museum has put a damper on my drinking plans. There are not a lot of people here, and how I long for the half pint of Old Grand Dad I left in my car back by the place I’m staying.
9:15pm – Evangelicals would no doubt be the pride of Norman, Oklahoma if it wasn’t also the home of The Flaming Lips. A tough act to follow no doubt, and Evangelicals play a strange brand of reverb soaked indie rock/pop, full of glam guitar riffs, B-movie sound effects, and noise. Before they play they insist that all the lights be turned off, which turns out to be kind of a big ordeal considering we’re standing in the lobby of an art museum. With the lights turned off, the band is lit only by a greenish-blue spotlight on the corner of the stage, giving the whole thing a schlock feel, and the lead singer’s colorful robe type thing makes everything a bit weirder. I’m also standing next to a fat, cynical “I was there” type of guy, and it’s no time before he talks about seeing this band multiple times before only to later insult the bass players scarf. Him and his friends continued to chat throughout the entire show, which was cool. The band tears through some of the better songs of “The Evening Descends” (e.g. Bloodstreams, Midnight Vignette), and I’m continually fascinated by leader singer/guitar player Josh Jones. He has a weird almost unkempt version of the old Morrissey haircut but it’s slicked back and he has this odd combination of being both adorable and sinister looking at the same time. His general demeanor is very David Byrne-like in movement and strangeness. I’m really sweating now.
10:00pm – PBR and a shot of Makers Mark. Things are looking up. We’ve moved venues, and now we’re at Canopy Club. The place is divided into two, with a fairly large bar/tv area in the front and the ‘venue’ in back which has walls painted like the rainforest (i.e. canopy) and is multi-tiered and the whole room is on a slight slant. There’s two pinball machines in the front room that are begging me to play, but I hold off and instead drink another PBR and catch some MLB highlights (Brian Schneider homers #8, #9). Additionally, I keep seeing people that remind me of people I know in Chicago, and I’m kind of freaked out by the doppelgangers.
10:15 – Monotonix are from Tel Aviv. They are a trio of short-shorts wearing, big mustached, big haired Israeli men. They set up on the floor. The drummer isn’t mic’d, and he brutally slams out the same generic rock beat while the lead singer is standing on top of a wooden barrier getting the crowd to yell on cue. In no time they set the place on fire (metaphorically, not literally, although from what I understand they often light things on fire), busting out Zeppelin-esque heavy metal/blues riffs as everyone freaks out and the lead singer pours a garbage can on the drummer’s head. Beer and water is spit and spilled onto everyone, with the main target being the snare drum, often resulting in a sloppy explosion that gets over everyone (note that everyone is standing around the band). The lead singer is grinding on people and picks up this girl and is spinning her around and humping her. The best thing about their inexhaustible behavior is that with the drums not being mic’d up, they are free to move as they please- and they do, with drums ending up in the hands of fans, first being hit and then being passed around the venue, and the band repositions themselves to get everyone involved. Nothing is lit on fire, but next thing you know we’re all standing outside as they finish their set with only a snare drum and everyone screaming in a courtyard type area. I imagine they would have made it to the street if the venue security hadn’t stopped them on their way out the door. This is some throwback rock’n’roll shit, and it’s awesome. Highly recommended (that means you, Chicagoans going to the Hideout on Saturday).
11:00pm – Several more PBRs and a high life. I run into someone from high school, and I think about how I can’t go anywhere without seeing someone random from my past. Dark Meat is playing inside, and from the other room it sounds a lot louder and sweeter than their pictures/Myspace indicated, which made them look like one of those lots of member commune type bands who suck and plays tons of instruments all quiet and eclectic like.
11:15pm – So Dark Meat has at least 11 members, if I’m counting right. This includes a tuba, trombone, flute, clarinet, two drummers, two guitars, bass, organ, and one (maybe two?) tambourine players. Many of them are wearing green and red self-applied tribal paint. Their shit is cranked up so loud all that’s coming out of the speakers is a loud, fuzzy shitstorm, and I can’t decide whether it’s brilliantly orchestrated noise or the negative side of a bunch of stoned kids from Athens, Georgia making a sloppy, sloppy mess. At least 4-5 members look like they are on heroin/serious drugs, the bass player is reminiscent of one of those The Hills Have Eyes mutants, and the lead singer/guitar player is showing off his really bad attitude. The first song we watch ends, and Bad Attitude says something to the effect of “How does that hurt, motherfuckers!?” He seems like the type of dude who will probably die when he tries to crowd surf and no one catches him. I’m starting to really dislike him and his band, and I can’t stop thinking about how this is the end result of what happens when you give legitimate instruments to those train hopping homeless hippies who sit around at North/Damen/Milwaukee in Wicker Park. My ears hurt, and not in that good, Ministry/My Bloody Valentine way.
12:15am – More beers. I’m pretty drunk now, and don’t even notice that there’s almost no one at the front bar. This makes sense of course, because Dan Deacon and his synthetic-dance-noise-pop-whatever has gained him an unreasonable amount of popularity. The venue is packed now, and Deacon is setting up his traditional ‘on-the-floor’ setup. I can’t even see him, and I’m like 10 feet away. He plays a couple of songs and everyone goes nuts, dancing, freaking out, etc., and it’s starting to seem that his ‘let’s have a basement show’ mentality is actually working in reverse. Those standing next to him and his electronics board/table are no doubt having fun and enjoying themselves, but for the rest of us in the back who can’t see anything, it’s a bit of a bore. Not that seeing is necessarily so important, but the music is also far too quiet and mixed horribly, so it’s kind of like hanging out with friends at a party with a bad sound system. Tons of people are invited onto the stage to fill the void and dance. Later these people are made to get off the stage by the venue security. Deacon now sets in motion a dance-off between the two sides of the fans (left vs. right), with a tag-team aspect. It’s pretty funny, and some dudes have some wild dance moves. With Monotonix not too far in the rear view mirror, Deacon’s set feels uninspiring and dull, but picks up during “Wham City”, my personal fave off Spiderman of the Rings (this also featured 2/4 of Evangelicals crowd surfing, crazy kids). When all is said and done I kind of just wish I had watched Ultimate Reality instead.
1:45am – One more beer before hitting the road. I buy a Monotonix t-shirt at the merchandise booth, and the guitar player, in poor English, tells me they only have the shirt in medium. I check it out and it seems like a reasonable size, but later will find out that it is extremely small and cannot possibly be worn in public. The bar is closed now, and it’s time to saddle up on the bicycles. My ears are ringing, my feet hurt, and I’m feeling wobbly. I regret that I chose not to bring my camera out, considering all the possibly awesome pictures I could have taken. Fuck. We get our stuff together and ride off, but not before some guy outside the Canopy Club yells at me: “sweet shirt, BTW.”****
*One shirt is in white and has a huge MILLER HIGH LIFE logo on the front. The other is black and has a huge JACK DANIELS logo on the front. On the back it says PYGMALION MUSIC FESTIVAL 2008 and I’m not so sure why the logos are on the front and the festival stuff is on the back. There’s no fucking way I’m over going to wear these shirts, unless I want to feel like a cheap advertisement.
**On the cover is that gross dude from My Morning Jacket, and he’s doing this sort of half-wink smirky thing that makes me want to punch him in the face. I haven’t opened it yet, but it also includes an article titled “Why Rabbits Hate Sigur Ros” (pg. 96) and I’m pretty sure I’ll never open it.
***Entitled “Before You Go”, this compilation reminds me a lot of high school, and I’m pretty sure Polyvinyl has seen better days. Most of the tracks are from old bands or releases from the late 90s/early 2000s. The comp features songs by Architeture in Helsinki, Mates of State, Volcano I’m Still Excited!, matt pond PA, Rainer Maria, Headlights, Aloha, of Montreal, Braid, Owen, and my favorite American Football song.
****The guy acutally pronounced BTW, like “bee-tee-double-you”. Note I was wearing a plaid western shirt, which is what I (and tons of other hipsters) wear every day. I mean, it’s a nice shirt though, for sure.