Smile Politely

No one in the world knows who any of us are

Canopy Club was awash in the bodily fluids of an aerial contraption, birthed to the world only a scant few years ago, as it gracefully howled out its swan’s dirge and indie samba Saturday night.

World’s First Flying Machine departed with tears and…yes. Some blood. Not to mention the sweat of eager Urbana accomplices. Maybe even some of their tears.

Anticipation built through the opening acts as the crowd trickled in. However, your assigned correspondent…had some things to do — and regretfully missed Good Night and Good Morning’s set, which had quite the buzz about it, according to the positive reports of nearly all he encountered who had been at the Canopy since 7:00. Common Loon (whose Rob Hirschfeld interviewed songwriter Ben Campbell in anticipation of the show) introduced the band of the evening with a set including a surprising, down-tempo rendition of The Ramones’ classic, “Sheena is a Punk-Rocker.” I wonder if the recognizable number was shuffled into Loon’s rotation for the symbolic importance of the lyrics.

“She just couldn’t stay / She had to break away / Well, New York City really has it all…”

Initially shy to stand within five feet of the club’s “medium” stage, the crowd swarmed forward applauding as (and I think I can say this without sounding completely melodramatic) Champaign-Urbana’s favorite indie-folk-rock septet took the stage.

Kicking things off with raucous album opener, “Inefficient Machines,” the crowd commenced foot-shuffling and stomping. The scene was comprised of stalwarts you might expect and some you wouldn’t, from town to gown, and that one guy I’ve seen dancing up at the front of every Pygmalion show I went to this past year who I still can’t really place.

But that’s immaterial, I suppose.

Because there was music and something more on display all night. Ben tried to say he wouldn’t be talking much between songs, but that gave way to banter with friends and well-wishers in the front rows-as well as the warning that after “Love is an Art” you might wanna take off your dancing shoes, and colorful, brief explorations of the Shenandoah River.

If you came to this show, you went specifically for an experience that you got. Whatever it was.

I came for a few reasons. I lived on the social periphery of a lot of the bands’ members for the past few years. Laura Lynch was one of the first friends I made at U of I when we were freshmen, so recently, at my first breakfast in the Allen Hall cafeteria. That year when it almost feels as easy to make friends as it did in Kindergarten, when you’d wander up to other children on monkey bars or the statuesque twirly slide and just ask them. Shortly after, I met Ben and Chris Howaniec when they heard The Stooges’ seminal record Raw Power through my open door. On and on, I suppose, with memories.

And I don’t mention this to cozy up to the flame that these musicians lit. I’d burn myself, of course. Truth be told, we never wound up becoming steadfast friends in the novelistic sense. A lot of people in the audience Saturday night were people that I might hesitate to say hi to anywhere else at the risk of seeming insincere.

I mention it because chances are, if you attended this show, if you’re bothering to read this article, you’re the type of the person who met and cared, at least fleetingly, about each of these songsmiths, and you felt like you had some stake in their success, whatever that word means. This is that kind of scene, town, and time.

For me, that meant these people were some of the first I knew in Champaign-Urbana. And they’re leaving just as I’m getting ready to leave. And I’ve been running deep into myself lately, cut off from all the glances I used to see and give, the things I used to do, the people I used to know, the things I used to feel.

Emote. Give back to it. Hear the line, “See the teeth marks where he kissed her.”

During a particularly heightened and musically tense — in an intensely gratifying way — phrase of “Billboard,” Ben hollered, “It’s not about beauty, it’s just an emotion.” He trailed off before he could bring himself to say that last word of the lyric. I don’t think this was what he meant, but Saturday night was so poignantly both.

Enough has been said heretofore about the successful bombast, ambition, and beauty put out by World’s First Flying Machine, and standing in the audience for their last show, it felt like we were privileged to the inside information of the golden ratio that, not necessarily regretfully, cave-like stages at huge festivals won’t get to know. They were worthy of it sure, but there’s something incredibly redemptive to me about the fact that we all came together from similar perspectives, and some of our ilk achieved such an accomplishment, and are leaving for this and that.

Because being over is a testament to the fact that it happened.

Something about the timing helps me feel like my pointless restlessness about what happens next is only a veneer over trying to escape feeling anything about the experience that this place has given me, everybody who’s passed through it.

Rob and Ben talked a lot about transience and what to make of it. Seth Fein’s talked about the movers and the stayers of Champaign-Urbana on this little site here. Champaign-Urbana’s been a wonderful house to live in. Transience seems like a part of the necessary make-up of this place to give it the kind of dynamic nature it has, the openness one year and the sadness short years later, while everybody seems to be going through one phase of the cycle or the next, or a both at once in different ways.

The Flying Machine closed with a unique rendition of the not-so-eponymous track, “Self-Titled.” Ben set it up like he did a lot that night. Written about the band and its name, the song, he said, talks about the pioneers of the first air contraptions who dreamed, not against odds, but knowing that they couldn’t make it off the earth with the designs they working from. But they sure looked pretty doing it and they did it anyway. By the time they made it through the chorus of “I’ll Fly Away,” the crowd had kicked back in howling along with the band, the way they belted out “These were holes, now music’s coming out” toward the start of the night. The crowd kept cheering, and it seemed like there was almost the whisper of an encore. The company of troubadors started to disassemble their gear, and had some trouble with the weight of it all.

Then we said our good-byes and left. Thanks for everything, lady and guys. Good luck.

Photos by Matt DeMarco

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