Smile Politely

Top Live Shows of 2012

We’re pretty lucky here in C-U. There are plenty of places which tons of shows are happening literally every single week all over the place. Whether we’re talking about house shows in people’s basements, or at large venues like the Assembly Hall, Krannert Center or The Canopy Club, we’re pretty spoiled. With the help of the readers, we put together a list of shows that we thought were pretty significant in 2012.

All write ups by Patrick Singer unless otherwise noted.

5. John Prine @ The Virginia Theater — April 13

Folks herded to Champaign from all over the state and beyond after they got word that folk legend John Prine was stopping through at the Virginia way back in April. Our own Joel Gillespie recounted the show and although the ticket prices were a bit steep for this, it was well worth the price of admission. Prine went through a lot of his catalogue on his way to more than pleasing the crowd there that evening. Even though there was a lack of photography credentials for the show, you can take our word for it that it was spectacular. 

Photo courtesy of Eric Ponder.

4. HUM, Psychic Twin, The Dirty Feathers, That’s No Moon @ The Canopy Club  September 27

It’s doubtful that HUM had the word “saviors” in their minds when they took the stage headlining the first night of Pygmalion this year, but in a sense, they kind of were. For all of us out there that were begging to see HUM at least once in 2012, we weren’t really complaining about how it happened. We just cared that it did, somehow. 

This was a local showcase of sorts, even though it didn’t start out that way. Sleigh Bells cancelling was a blessing in disguise for many, even though their appearance would have been welcomed by most (or unwelcomed, by those trolls on Facebook who were pissed, but those people don’t really know what they’re talking about most of the time). Pop-rockers That’s No Moon opened, The Dirty Feathers conquered with an insane saxophone addition wrapped in an American flag cape, and Psychic Twin really showed us how dualing drum machines can make a place lose their minds.

Then there’s HUM. As if typing it in ALL CAPS could emphasize the power these guys brought into the building that night. I feel like I’ve heard some pretty loud shows, but damn, did this place nearly explode. All the stars aligned to make this happen (no pun intended…?) and it worked out beautifully. In what was categorized as a “rock and roll emergency” by Matt Talbott himself, they had their way of being the relief to that emergency in their own effortless way.

3. Starstruck Quakers, Half Awake, Laughboy, Adult Books, Kowabunga! Kid @ Last Transporter Room 3 show  June 28

The original plan here was to have more acoustic music, but somehow we wound up with a free-improv group, four hardcore bands, and a large tray of chimichangas 24 hours before having to vacate a house. This was a tape release show for Kowbunga! Kid, and they started the night by running through all of their excellent self-titled EP. This was followed by ferocious sets from locals Adult Books and Laughboy [some might call them mini-sets, but under ten minutes isn’t especially short by current genre standards]. I can’t say I was expecting the smoke bombs, flying cardboard, or flipped couch that ensued, but they certainly made this show a wild one.

This was a brutally hot night, and the combination of steam, smoke, and spilled Hamms turned the living room into a hazy warzone for Half Awake’s set. The Milwaukee band’s set of angular post-hardcore was a personal favorite of mine. As the heat dissipated, Starstruck Quakers wound down the night with an acoustic set. Drawing from dada and no wave, their sinewy improvisations incorporated everything from acoustic guitar to a hallmark greeting card loop of “Taking Care of Business”, before ending in a vocal and broomstick cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Holland, 1945”. After that, the crowd streamed out, many aiming for a nearby pool. I believe the house remains vacant as of this writing. —Ben Valocchi

2. The Appleseed Cast, Good Night & Good Morning, Withershins, Hank. @ The Velvet Elvis — November 10

Apparently it’s becoming a trend on this year’s list to include bands that weren’t originally supposed to play a the show they ended up playing. We’re not complaining. After a late substitute for the raucous CSTVT crew who had to cancel last minute (like, day before, last minute), who do you try to get? The Appleseed Cast. That’s fucking who. This bill was stacked to begin with, and for it to get even bigger the night before the show is a miracle in itself. 

If you haven’t visited The Velvet Elvis before, you should, because it’s incredible. And if you find it, you’ll be amazed at the potential it has in hosting shows.

Locals Hank. and Withershins started the night out in wild fashion, and make no mistake, things were off and out of the gate quickly. It was an interesting contrast between the sounds of those bands, followed by Good Night & Good Morning’s delicate soundscapes. Even though the night was a bittersweet show for Good Night & Good Morning, who were playing their last show ever, the band was spectacular. Their grace and ambiance, mixed with the space they were creating it in, were something to behold. And that grace and ambiance, when mixed with the visual projections in the backdrop, whisked us away.

There might be some connection between being a touring band (who can and have sold a good amount of tickets in a substantial venue in Chamapign, no doubt) and being above doing a house show like this one. There was never a peep of that. They embraced the space and boomed their way through their set the way everyone knew they would. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the room that night.

There’s one thing that was overheard at this show that pretty much sums up the entire night: “Is this for real, or is this just a really good dream?”

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Connor.

1. Saturday of Pygmalion  September 29

This isn’t just turning out to be a yearly coincidence on our Top Shows list. Believe 

us, if we had a reason to put Saturday of Pygmalion lower, we would. But that’s not the case for this year, either. There seriously was not a better day of music in C-U than this day. Seventy-five degree 

temperatures throughout the late September day couldn’t have been more welcomed, especially when the night before at Dirty Projectors in Downtown Urbana was a bit on the cold side. “You’ve gotta be kidding us” pretty much summed up everything we could say about the weather.  Mother Nature was on her best behavior this day.

But enough about that, the music is what everyone showed up for. Early phenomenal sets by locals Grandkids and Common Loon on the big stage, followed by a slew of other national acts. Lower Dens were haunting and sweaty. Willis Earl Beal was an absolute hero over on the small stage with his two manniquins and white gloves and sunglasses at night. Cloud Nothings created a pit we don’t think anyone could have expected. Dinosaur Jr. was predictably ferocious and deafening. Grizzly Bear was incrediblely tenacious, performing the gorgeous material they’ve generated over a catalogue of three records. There is really too much to say about the whole day. And as if that wasn’t enough, Grizzly Bear completed, the best was yet to come.

Big Freedia. Big motherfucking Freedia about blew up the Highdive that night. It has to be the most ridiculous show to hit C-U in a long time. There were asses everywhere. Literally all over the stage. The Divas accompanied by the patrons of the festival. There was no dividing line between the crowd and The Queen Diva that night. It was all-inclusive. If you weren’t there, we’re just sorry you missed out. Seeing J Mascis’ face witnessing Big Freedia’s show will forever be engrained into our minds. Priceless.

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