Smile Politely

Pygmalion Wednesday in review

Explosions in the Sky (Canopy Club)

Well. I adore this band, and have for years. I believe (there’s always a chance that I’ve missed something) that I own their entire catalog, even The Rescue, the Friday Night Lights outtakes, and the not-as-good-as-the-real-thing remixes of All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone. When I learned that they’d be opening the festival, I actually sent a dorky email to Seth, thanking him. That’s how happy I was. Usually, I have to haul my butt to Chicago to see them, and I’d planned to do so again this year, so being able to see them here was a huge treat.

Most of us who attended the show last night were gifted with Explosions’ usual magnificent, transcendental performance. I won’t say that I haven’t heard them in venues with better acoustics, but the sound guy must have been working some magic, because sound wasn’t a problem at all. For 90 minutes they — and we — lost ourselves in the gorgeous music. Many in the crowd were familiar with the songs, and the band expressed true gratitude at the welcoming, enthusiastic audience.

And this needs to be said: Explosions wouldn’t be the band it is without Chris Hrasky. So often, music critics (and I) tend to focus on the “epic soundscapes” of the guitars and bass, but Hrasky’s drums are — in my opinion — what hold the songs together and give them life, personality, structure. I’ve seen this band multiple times, and it’s incredible what that guy can pull off live, onstage with each performance.

Slightly ranty observation: I’m always astounded that so many people at concerts seem to be unwilling to stop thinking and talking about themselves for as brief a time as two hours (in this case, ninety minutes), even when something beautiful is happening not ten feet in front of them. They literally seem unable to pull themselves away from the awesomeness that is them. I was raised that art (and Explosions in the Sky is art) is something to absorb, to learn from, a springboard from which to transcend the “here and now” and — hopefully — come away a better person from the experience. But for many, art seems to be something to stand in front of while continuing to prate about themselves. And that’s a damn shame.

—Tracy Nectoux

I’ll admit that I wasn’t terribly familiar with the catalog of Explosions in the Sky before the show, although I’d listened to a couple of their albums earlier in the week in preparation. I was really impressed with how they were able to hold the capacity crowd’s attention with no vocals, little interaction with the audience between songs, and, to the untrained ear, a collection of material that doesn’t vary a whole lot stylistically.

It’s rock for people with a long attention span, and it’s encouraging to see that they’ve built a sizable national following with a “formula” that doesn’t seem like it should be as effective as it is. I guess it says something about the power of vocals-free post-rock and fictionalized Texas high school football. Good on them.

And sorry for talking through the whole show, Tracy. I didn’t realize you were sitting behind me.

—Joel Gillespie

Phrases overheard (or, okay, muttered by me or my partner in crime) during Explosions in the Sky’s Wednesday night show (despite neither of us being high):

“This music makes me want to watch TV on mute.”

“I feel like this band is cutting me right now.” “Yeah, except when Explosions in the Sky cuts you, rainbows pour out.”

“This mango candy is like explosions in my mouth.”

” ‘This review is brought to you by Pabst Blue Ribbon.’ “

“All these self-serious stoners hate us right now.”

Despite this reporter’s snark over the night’s headliner (Explosions made me really want to listen to punk music), the band did bring the jam. They did their thing and they did it well, the full house digging it big time. The band built it up, they tore it down; they wove tiny, intricate guitary tunes before making them big and messy-their instrumental jams always sounding natural and organic. I did have a moment of panic, though, when I thought I heard the opening jangly guitar riff of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t purposeful (but it did remind me of this recent Salon article:

—Laura Adamczyk

Viva Voce (Canopy Club)

Where the hell has this band been all of my life? As is often the case with Pygmalion, I decided to attend a show knowing next to nothing about the band. I wasn’t about to miss Common Loon or Explosions in the Sky, so I thought, “What the hell, I’ll stick around for Viva Voce.” I ended up enjoying them as much as the other two bands combined. They were a delightful discovery. I usually enjoy alternative country, and this band is the best that I’ve heard in this genre in a long, long time. Anita’s voice is “sweet” as Laura says, but not sweet in the sense that it’s weak in either tone or range. She has a rich, sultry strength to her vocals that, when combined with the mournful, moving guitar, brings to mind warm, humid days and sweaty, steaming men and women with their tops off. Yes, this band is hot.

Just as impressive as Anita’s vocals and guitar playing is the ease at which Kevin moves from drums to acoustic guitar and back again. Viva Voce would fit right in at the Ellnora Guitar Festival. They’re that good.

—Tracy Nectoux

I’m totally with you on this one, Tracy, with the exception of visions of sweaty men. It seems like there are always a half-dozen bands at Pygmalion with vaguely-exotic sounding, pretentious names that don’t really describe much and half make me want to hate them, and this year is no exception (Toro y Moi, Xiu Xiu, Ava Luna, Asobi Seksu, etc.). So, I’m like, gosh, this is America; speak English, already!

But seriously, Viva Voce was completely excellent in every way. Anita’s guitar sounded amazing, regardless of which effects she used, and the instrumental and vocal interplay between the two of them was pretty captivating. They reminded me of a less drone-y MV & EE (see, I can compare this band to other bands just like real music reviewers! It’s not because I have a small vocabulary!). If they’d just go with the standard Wolf-plus-something or Bear-plus-something indie-rock naming convention instead of the furrin’ language, I think they can go far.

—Joel Gillespie

Before Explosions got it on, Viva Voce brought a solid set of their sleek, sexy make-out tunes with perfect octave harmonies. At times quiet, cool yet intimate, the duo still managed to bring the rock, Kevin Robinson at one point setting aside his guitar and tossing away his pick to wail on his drum kit. Anita Robinson led the way with her cooly girlish vocals and alternating Western- and Pixies-inspired guitar. This is definitely a band to see live, where their sleek studio sound can get a little messier.

—Laura Adamczyk


Common Loon (Canopy Club)

What else is there to say about Common Loon that hasn’t been said? I agree with Laura that they were the perfect choice to open not only for Explosions in the Sky, but this entire festival. I’ve long considered them the best local band we have in C-U, and they proved me right last night. They were pitch perfect, symphonic, enthusiastic, and they rocked our butts off.

—Tracy Nectoux

I didn’t get there until about 8:10 and missed “Automatic Skin,” which is my favorite song of theirs, so alas, but it was a typically excellent set from Common Loon. They featured several new songs not available on The Long Dream of Birds, including the standout “Surf Song,” which, believe it or not, has a surf-guitar vibe.

—Joel Gillespie

Starting the night off right, Common Loon played a tight though sadly short set. The local pair opened with “Mexico” (The Long Dream of Birds), which seemed right-the song began with a cool, minimal guitar riff and syncopated drums before the duo turned on the reverb and rock, filling the Canopy Club with their sound. Another highlight came near the end of the set when an apologetic Robert Hirschfeld conjured R.E.M. (in homage to the band because of their recent break-up?) so convincingly that it sounded like a straight-up cover.

—Laura Adamczyk

Photos by Chris Davies

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