Smile Politely

This was CobraFest

“Thank you.” 

That was just one of a few things Matt Talbott of HUM said to the audience while he was on stage on Saturday night at the Loose Cobra, an establishment that he owns and operates in Tolono, about 15 minutes south of Champaign-Urbana. This establishment hosted CobraFest — a collection of nine bands performing variations of rock music — to start out the holiday weekend. A $25 ticket got you all of that, and much more after entering.

While Talbott was ultimately thanking the people who helped put the show on, and the bands, and his wife and friends — there was a lot of thanking to go around, and admittedly, he didn’t have enough time to mention them all. While this was the most significant of his outdoor shows at the Cobra, HUM headlining made it more of a to-do (seeing as how they perform in the area about once every few years, roughly), though the bands that joined made it something of a fest.

This 4th of July weekend proved to be one of the busier ones of the year thus far in and around Champaign-Urbana — Audiofeed Festival at Champaign County Fairgrounds, Spindependence Day in Downtown Champaign, Allerton’s Reds, Whites, and Blues Festival in Monticello, and certainly more that I’ve missed by simply naming some that involved a lot of live music.

The weather turned out to be awesome-ly mild on Saturday evening, with just a few very brief sprinkles of rain earlier in the day, and a mostly-clear, overcast evening. Bands played inside and outside after 3 p.m. at the Loose Cobra — and if you’re unfamiliar, the indoor stage can support about 40-50 people watching the bands, at most. It is super tight in there, and for good reason — it is a total dive bar, so basically, the best type of bar there is.

Withershins, morphed version by Joanna Troutman-Bergkoetter.

A few local acts performed on the indoor “Mongoose” stage, as the fest kicked off around 3 p.m. Those acts included Withershins (one of their very lasts as a band), Our Landmark (featuring members of Penny Horses and Wicked Walls), Terminus Victor, and RedLeg (The lone exception, Dibiase, closed out that evening and has ties to the area) — intermingling with the schedule on the outdoor “Cobra” stage. (Full disclosure: I missed some of the bands before 5 p.m. — I’m but one man, and photos and other reports help fill the gaps.)

The cobra, which sat on the Cobra Stage.

The atmosphere was just simply relaxed throughout — really decent beer and drink prices, Chester’s BBQ set up right outside the re-entry point, very little congestion amongst the patrons, and really good music and super thankful bands. Throughout the afternoon, you could move in and out of the inside of the venue quite easily — though lines for bathrooms proved to be a test (if you didn’t know there were portapotties just outside the grounds, where re-entry was no problem.) Quite honestly, I’m having some difficulty finding things I would critique. Perhaps the number of food truck options? Now I’m just being picky. That was damn good ‘que Chester was servin’ up.

Indeed, this was good. Photo by Nick Rainey.

As the sun was getting lower, Cloakroom had already performed in the lot — sandwiched between the Cobra and the simply-titled non-functioning “grocery store” — began to fill with more and more people, strolling in post-6 p.m. Sweet Cobra hit the stage after them and crunched through their blistering set. The three piece hails from Chicago, blending a bit of sludge metal with some punk rock elements. Let’s just say there was headbanging to be had.

Just as most of the day went, there was nothing fancy about what was happening in Tolono that afternoon and evening — all good fun, rock ‘n roll tunes (half in a dive bar, half on a stage with tiki torches lighting up the back), and what one would hope would be a safe trip back after consuming cold adult beverages. Oh, and a tiki-bar with mai tais and margs, plus Triptych brew available as well.

Sweet Cobra, photo by Marcella Hawley

HUM started up right around 9:15 p.m. as the schedule discussed, as Terminus Victor closed up their rattling set just beforehand indoors. In what was confirmed with Talbott on stage, the approximate attendance of the show was about 400 folks, plus comps, bands, staff and such.

HUM, photo by Patrick Singer.

The guys cruised through about a dozen songs worth of material, opening with “Suicide Machine”, dashing You’d Prefer an Astronaut (“Stars”, “I Hate It Too” [a definite set-highlight — holy shit], “I’d Like Your Hair Long”) with Downward Is Heavenward staples (“The Scientists”, “Comin’ Home”, and “Isle of the Cheetah.”) It is pretty amazing how much “Iron Clad Lou” still totally rips.

Part of the reason why I felt I should put something together for this show was mostly awe. HUM is just an absolutely terrific live band each time out, and that sentiment goes beyond my fandom, and what could potentially be seen as “rose colored glasses,” if you will. From the few times that I’ve seen them play, this was still nothing short of a near-flawless performance, with a new song sprinkled in there as well, no less.

“This is the second meal I’ve eaten today.”

You’d think those would be the words of someone that was botching a set via exhaustion, but no, it was Talbott making a joke as he slurps down a jello shot as they continue to crush through their roughly eighty-minute performance. There’s no phoning it in with these guys, even as they’ve performed these songs hundreds of times over the years (although less frequent over the last decade, but they’re still seasoned vets).

Guitarist Tim Lash and Talbott’s thrashing, joined by the thunderous Bryan St. Pere on the kit, and Jeff Dimpsey on bass (equally as booming)— HUM knows how it is done. As self-deprecating as Talbott might be sometimes (at one point, referring to Terminal 5 in NYC as a venue that fits “more than seven times the amount of people that will go see us,” where they’ll play with Touche Amore), time and time again they prove to slaughter an audience in the best way.

All of the factors that went into producing the festival, on top of being the headlining act, is something to praise from Talbott and his classic Saab shirt. But this was far from an “everyone drags my corpse through the streets and throw it in the creek” situation. This would be considered more along the lines of carrying-on-shoulders-with-cheers-of-praise sort of situation. Granted, a bit of an exaggeration, but I think you likely get my point.

Truly, when this sort of show and music runs through your veins and is a part of your identity as much as it is Talbott’s, you find a way. Simple as that.

It might be a slight paraphrase, but at one point, the words “best day of my life” were mentioned by Talbott into that mic. Perhaps for anyone else you’d ask about Saturday night, they’d probably share a similar sentiment. Perhaps not exactly the same, but positive, I think it is safe to say.

So, all in all, after HUM closes outside, and Dibiase closed indoors after that, I’d imagine there are a lot of people out there that would share this with Talbott, and all those who helped make it a reality:

Thank you.

HUM by Ryan Traynor.

Top photo by Chris Green.

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