1:00pm – Once again I’m left to my own devices during the day. Too paranoid and tired to leave the apartment, I’m watching Set it Off (dir. F. Gary Gray, 1996), a film about four African-American women who, having been oppressed by the system, decide to set it off (i.e. rob banks with cool, clear masks). The all-star cast includes Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise, and it’s really mucky and emotionally manipulative. In back to back scenes we have Vivica Fox’s younger brother being murdered by the police and Kimberly Elise loses her son to child services, and man, shit’s heating up, but it’s hard to care when you know that the director is trying to make you care so damn much.
4:00pm – I’ve woken up after an unsuspecting nap on the couch, and I’m a bit bummed that I missed all the bank robbery scenes in Set it Off. I start repeating the day previous, and dig in to some chocolate ice cream, which makes me feel sick again. I’m watching the Cubs game, and I almost forgot, being in a land oh so far away, that if they win they clinch a playoff birth. Of course they win and do so, but I’m somewhere else, asleep in the other room, maybe, and I have to remind myself that I don’t give a shit because I’m a White Sox fan and I’m just glad I’m not in the city right now.
7:30pm – The Krannert Center for Performing Arts is the type of place you would see The Nutcracker or perhaps take in a Giuseppe Verdi play, say, oh, La Traviata. Instead the auditorium is full of college kids, hipsters, and older/aging hipsters, and we’re all sitting in red velvet seats because the ‘headlining’ act of the festival is about to play. I’m not sure why, but it seems strange that a) Yo La Tengo is the main act of a week long festival and b) my first time seeing them is going to be from a great distance, sitting down, in Champaign, Illinois. I think I’m underrating their longevity and 20+ years of indie rock relevance*, and I’d be a liar if “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One” isn’t one of my all-time favorite records. Something is disquietingly “safe” about the choice of YLT as the main attraction, given their inoffensive nature**, but I guess it’s a solid choice nonetheless.
8:30pm – Yo La Tengo live formula: quiet song, loud song, quiet song, loud song. Sometimes quiet songs are played twice in a row, but is almost always followed up by one of their faster and/or feedback songs.
9:00pm – They are still playing. I can’t believe that this is still going on. My back is itchy and the auditorium has gotten particularly warm (maybe it’s just me?). I’m kind of sweating and also trying not to fall asleep. They’ve come back out for an encore, which they open up with their cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle” off “Fakebook”, and I’ll admit, it’s pretty fucking sweet, but my 21st-century-digital-boy mind is thinking that no band should ever play longer than an hour, unless they’re my favorite band.
10:00pm – Full disclosure: I’m kind of in love with Mary Pearson from High Places. So much in fact that if I had talked to her I wouldn’t even have mentioned that they seem uncomfortable with their new material, which sounds pretty rough and cluttered. I probably wouldn’t tell her that she’s adorable and I want to take her home with me either, which is probably why I didn’t talk to her, though I’m sure we have much in common (i.e. stuff that’s cool, probably). I’ve heard/read the term “neo-primitive” thrown around in certain circles (i.e. Pitchfork Media) to describe them, which is a fancy music journalist way of saying they belong to the ‘pots-and-pans + innocent lyrics about childhood’ tradition of bands like Beat Happening (though Pearson’s vocals don’t exactly have the heartbreaking regret/angst of Calvin Johnson’s, in fact they don’t have any angst at all, but she’s got a nice voice regardless).
They are playing in the lobby of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, which is different from the lobby of the Krannert Art Museum. There are many older couples sitting at tables in front of where they are playing and it’s got this whole museum cafeteria vibe. It kind of sucks. They play a couple of older singles, and are much more assured sounding, though the distortion from the speakers in said lobby aren’t helping. Mary still looks pretty cute, though, and this almost makes up for my leaving their set at the Pitchfork Music Festival to catch the end of Boris not playing their doom/noise stuff.
11:15pm – The Long Island Iced Teas at Canopy Club are excellent. Really. I haven’t drunk many Long Islands since college, but I figure since I’m at a college I might as well indulge in collegey behaviors. This is increasingly awkward because my friend is stressing out about the five tests she has in the upcoming week and doesn’t really feel like getting excessively drunk tonight, and I do, and therefore pound Long Islands while she drinks water. For once I feel like I have a problem.
11:30pm – I can’t say there are many things I like about the twin cities of Champaign-Urbana, but like the best “college towns” it has a decent tradition of indie rock (e.g. Hum, Braid, Sarge, Parasol Records, Polyvinyl Records, etc., etc., etc.). So for the last night of the festival, Canopy is hosting what I guess is some sort of “Polyvinyl Records” showcase. I missed The M’s due to watching High Places, drinking Long Islands, and smoking cigarettes, but that’s okay because they play in Chicago probably three hundred times a year.
12:00am – Headlights seem to be the toast of the town. I was vaguely familiar with their existence prior to seeing them tonight, but around these parts they have a kind of ‘hometown hero’ status. People are digging hard on their unremarkable brand of catchy indie-pop. Admittedly I’m enjoying their set, and can only think to relate this on a film-nerd level that they are like a good genre movie, you know? Totally predictable and formulaic but there is still a good amount of enjoyment to be had, and I think they have a cool name***.
1:00am – The guitar player for Asobi Seksu, James Hanna, looks and physically moves like my friend Wendell when he is drunk. I assume Hanna is drunk too, or he’s just gazing so hard he can barely keep his eyes open, thrashing his Rickenbacker around and blindly stomping on pedals. Either way, it’s creeping me out (the fact that he looks exactly like my friend, not the part about him playing).
Asobi Seksu are from New York City, and how they ended up on Polyvinyl Records I’m not sure, but apparently it’s a recent acquisition. Basically a duo (though playing as a four piece live), Yuki Chikudate and James Hanna have managed to craft some of the finest 21st century shoegaze/dream pop by veering as far away from it as possible. Singing in both Japanese and English, Yuki is energetic, and her high-pitched voice is catchy and seductive. Hanna’s guitars swirl like many before him (e.g. Shields****, Halstead), but he’s an adept songwriter, and combined with Chikudate’s voice/keyboards/charisma they have veered out of ‘sounds like Lush’ territory and created some sort of revisionist shoegaze, as their own pop fueled, hyperactive style is both very indebted to the past and very much their own (actually, come to think of it, they are like a better, noisier version of Velocity Girl). [/advertisement]
The set is great. This band is great. I’ve had four Long Island Iced Teas since I got here, but for real, I’m digging this a lot. They play the bulk of their last album “Citrus”, and inform us (me) that they’ve got a new record coming out in February. Yuki is particularly happy and thankful that they were invited to play and are closing out the festival at that. It’s all very wonderful, and I realize that I can’t see the drummer since I’m standing straight on facing the stage, but he sounds amazing. Man, Long Island Iced Tea isn’t supposed to taste this much like fruit punch, is it?
3:00am – It wouldn’t be a drunken night or weekend in Champaign if pizza and pokey sticks weren’t involved, and woo-boy! I’m sitting on the floor watching the episode of Home Movies where Brendan wants to make the movie that’s a mockumentary about the making of a movie called “Movie History” so that the director can “make movie history”. McGuirk is trying to get Paula to go to the airport to meet his sister and pretend that they are engaged but she refuses to do it and he ends up getting stuck babysitting the kids. This really isn’t that great of an episode (in comparison to others, that is), and I’m stuffed and am really tired and full and can’t wait to wake up at 8:30am and drive back to Chicago to try and catch the Bears game.*****
*Relevance might be a questionable. They are mainstays for sure, but honestly I’m not much for anything after “Painful”. It’s not that they ever got “bad” per se, but they’ve just been, you know, very Yo La Tengo, but progressively worse.
**Even Kaplan’s “guitar-freakouts” are often pleasant and melodic. This notion was reinforced by having my ears metaphorically stabbed with kitchen knives repeatedly during the A Place to Bury Strangers show at Empty Bottle on Sunday night. In retrospect this gives the whole YLT-noisy thing a “aw, look at the little guy and his feedback” feel when thinking about Ira wiggling around in search for abrasiveness.
***I’m of the opinion that a name is one of the most important things about a band, and I’m generally a big fan of one-word band names, like “Pavement” and “Gas” and “Hum” and “Goblin”, “Helium”, “Devo”, “Caribou”, “Can”, “Califone”, “Burial”, “Felt”, “Ghost”, “Witchcraft”, “Jawbreaker”, “Wire”, “Karp”, “Lilys”, “Low”, “Lush”, “Lungfish”, “Medicine”, “Moose”, “Pelican”, “Ride”, “Slowdive”, “Suicide”, “Artery”, “Swirlies”, “Thrones”, “Torche”, and even sometimes one words with “the” in front like “The Clean”, “The Clientele”, “The Field”, “The Vaselines”, “The Fall”, “The Feelies”, “The Jam”, “The Telescopes”, “The Zombies”, and sometimes I like other band names too, but the point being is that I think “Headlights” is a pretty sweet name for a band.
****In true Kevin Shields fashion, Hanna finished the show by leaving his guitar propped on stage creating a thick swell of looping noise that played for (at least) the 10 minutes I was around for. It was wonderful.
*****Again, in retrospect, this turned out to be a brutal decision. The Bears game was a major disappointment, but the Bloody Marys were not, nor were the hot wings, pizza, nachos, Jameson and Trumer pilsner.