Smile Politely

Barnstormer: one hell of a show

Daytrotter’s Barnstormer III Tour stopped at Monticello’s Kalyx Center this Friday, bringing five disparate artists to one of the most amazing venues I’ve ever seen. The Kalyx Center Barn (church might be a better word for it) is simply stunning, especially when draped with Christmas lights and filled with several hundred people.

(above: Pearly Gate Music)

Nathaniel Rateliff was the first act I saw. His soaring post-rock crescendos, ragged howl and triumphant harmonies are more than a little indebted to Bon Iver, and equally effective. And while Rateliff’s music carried the same slight sense of being a little too perfect, you’d be amazed what a difference laying off the falsetto can make. Maybe I’m just an overtly cynical person, but Bon Iver has always struck me as artificial, canned sentiment. Rateliff’s was just believable enough to for me to buy it. As I slipped into the back of the barn,Rateliff’s music drew me in like a warm bed — familiar, comforting and supremely enjoyable.

After Rateliff’s set, a massive plume of flame shot up outside the barn — the bonfire. As Free Energy set up, the sense of excitement (and temperature) in the barn steadily crept up. Their instantly familiar sound (think the Hold Steady idolizing Cheap Trick instead of Springsteen) is a recipe for instant sing-alongs and dancing so unsurprisingly, when the band ripped into their first song of kinetic power-pop, the increasingly drunken crowd responded in kind. The resulting pogo-pit nearly broke the floor, not the first time this would happen in the evening. The band kept the energy levels pushed into the red through their forty minute set, and left me with a serious desire to watch some That 70’s Show.

After a short trip to the bonfire, I made my way back to the barn for Delta Spirit, opting this time for the seats and superior views of the upper level. Delta Spirit’s played an energetic and surprisingly jammy set, with the majority of their ten songs stretching past the six minute mark. Their psychedelic garage rock lent itself well to the extended nature of their set — just like a good electronic or jam band show, the breaks between songs began to blur and everything turned into a sublime sensory overload. When a particularly intense guitar jam switched into a reverb-percussion break, the crowd movement reached a fever pitch, prompting a stage announcement that yes, the floor was in danger of collapsing,and people had to move to the edges. Thankfully it didn’t, and the vibe in the barn went mostly unaffected, as the band went into a more subdued but equally effective slow burner called “Ransom Note”. When the set peaked with a furious stampede of drums (assisted by Nathaniel Rateliff), the crowd was left satisfied and utterly exhausted.

After the working over that Delta Spirit gave the crowd, I wasn’t sure how Ra Ra Riot were going to be able to follow them. But, they managed to overcome tiredness and the rain starting to trickle in through the roof and hold most of the thinning crowd in the barn. Their bouncy pop was the perfect palate cleanser, perhaps assisted by a particularly wasted crowd member who made his way from the front row to dance in the floor to ceiling window behind the band, before collapsing upstairs. After lead singer Wes Miles worked his way through high-fiving every nearly everyone present, the throughly entertained crowd drifted back to it’s cars and tents, and dispersed into the night. I don’t think Champaign-Urbana will see anything this impressive again for a long, long time.

First photo courtesy of Justine Bursoni, photos two and four courtesy Carrie Cuno, photos three and five courtesy Shani Silver

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