Smile Politely

Top live shows of 2016

It’s been a hell of a year for shows in Champaign-Urbana, including the closing of multiple venues (I4C, Mike N Molly’s), the emergence of another (Clark Bar), the start of some high-profile Twitter beef, some righteous covers and killer big-name reunion shows. For details on what exactly we thought were the best shows of 2016, check out our list below:


The Beauty Shop, photo by Sam Logan

THE BEAUTY SHOP @ The Accord — January 17th

The Beauty Shop’s reunion wasn’t something that was supposed to happen, at least, not to the average person. People imagined that leading man John Hoeffler would bring it back at some point, but there wasn’t really telling when. When the Accord announced it would be opening, seeing the Beauty Shop’s name on the upcoming shows list was a surprise. The new room was a reminder of the past in a lot of ways, being the old Highdive — but a reminder of the past with the sounds coming from the stage that night. Pure local music magic. — Patrick Singer

We the Animals as Katy Perry, photo by Tom Chandler

THE GREAT COVER UP 25 @ The Accord – January 21-23 and 28-30

Being an annual event can get into a super lame territory very easily and very quickly — but not the Great Cover Up. It isn’t really subjected to the same type of expectations, in a good way, as bands are always thrilled to perform as their favorites throughout the cold January nights. And one of the more incredible highlights was We The Animals as Katy Perry — sharks and everything. I realize Mark Wyman might chuckle a bit at this photo, so it feels good to include this memory here. He’s a vet. — PS


BONNIE “PRINCE” BILLY @ The Accord – February 19th

Will Oldham, also known as Bonnie Prince Billy, brought warmth to The Accord in the middle of February with his lyrical folk pieces and rootsy band. Oldham is diverse enough as an artist to be able to supply grave balladry and bonafide hootenanny at the same show, and do it with poise and humor intact. Assistance from Joan Shelley and Maiden Radio (who also made appearances at Pygmalion this year) made doubly sure that everyone on and off stage that evening enjoyed themselves. — Julia McAnly


GRANDKIDS + NE-HI + WHITNEY @ The Accord – March 22nd

If you’ve been paying attention to any year-end best-of album lists, you’ve probably noticed Chicago-based indie rockers Whitney’s debut album, Light Upon the Lake, fairly high up on every list. What’s even cooler, is that before the album came out, they played at The Accord with some pretty rippin’ Chicago bands, including C-U expats Grandkids. This show may have been the most solid musical lineup I’ve ever witnessed, honestly, and it got us into whitney a couple of months before they dropped their album, which you should all listen to. Right now. –  Boswell Hutson


MAVIS STAPLES @ The Virginia Theatre – April 1st

Mavis Staples is 77 years old, and she’s seen and done amazing things in her time. Her music made her a voice of the Civil Rights Movement, and she’s known and worked with musicians like Bob Dylan and Prince. When I saw her at The Virginia, I had to Google her age one more time right there, because that woman is fiesty. She moved around the stage as she regailed us with silly anecdotes, interrupting herself often to laugh uproariously. Mavis is just as strong in her grace and amiability as she has always been, but best of all, her powerful, dusky voice still remains amazing. Her loving nature made me feel like one of the family. – JM

Father John Misty, photo by Patrick Singer

FATHER JOHN MISTY @ Foellinger Auditorium — April 17th

Father John Misty always puts on one hell of an act, and his show at Foellinger was no exception. He schmoozed and swaggered and swayed with the best of them, and his audience was fully under his spell. Some might find the antics of FJM comical, because they are, and he (arguably) intends it that way. But there’s no denying that the man writes clever, thoughtful songs and backs them with powerful vocals, and he certainly showcased it here. — JM

So Long Forgotten, photo by Tom Chandler

SO LONG FORGOTTEN @ The Accord — April 23rd

While there’s a ton you can say about punk and hardcore music, one thing that sticks out to me is pure adrenaline. An all-out assault for dozens of minutes on end performing songs that appear draining to the onlookers. So Long Forgotten performed their very last show back in April to a packed house, which almost felt like a surprise to them in a lot of ways. With their subsequent release of their newest album alongside it, they had to pour it all out once more on top of pumping things up for the record release. — PS

Mother Nature, photo by Tyler Courtney


If anything signaled that Champaign-Urbana’s hip-hop scene was on the come up, Mother Nature’s show at The Accord in April was the indicator. A packed house for a local hip-hop show is something I, personally, had never witnessed – but T.R.U.T.H and Klevah did it, and it was awesome. Though we no longer have Mother Nature in C-U, they laid the groundwork for a scene that has only grown since last April, and it started, in part, with this show. –BH


GUIDED BY VOICES @ The Accord – May 3rd

GBV play punchy two-minute indie-punk numbers and plow through fifty songs per show on a routine night. Add to that one of the best frontmen in music (Bob Pollard, with a fifth of whiskey permanently affixed to one hand) and you’ve got a damn good show. This night felt personally special for me, though, because it exemplified what is good and pure about art having a “cult following.” All of these weirdo fans crawled out of the woodwork to sing along to every word of FIFTY goddamn songs, and they would’ve done fifty more in a heatbeat. Those fans and the band that drives them easily made this show one of the best. – JM


WITHERSHINS + MOCK ORANGE @ Mike N Molly’s — May 13th

In May, we bid farewell to one of the best spaces for music that Champaign-Urbana has ever known. Withershins and Mock Orange slayed us with sound, Guinness and Jameson were imbibed, and tears were shed at Mike N Molly’s last-ever rock show. Good night, sweet prince. We said we would miss you, and seven months later, we definitely do. –BH



SNAYL @ Library House – June 13th

Austin Duncan’s dream pop project Snayl was much talked about over the year, and deservedly so. This show was an album release party celebrating Dreaming of Ghosts, a dream pop concept album that establishes a soundscape early on, pushes you to the back of your seat, and takes you for a good droney ride. Duncan’s stage presence at shows complements that synthy goodness, making for quite the experience. – JM

The Fights at Hogchute Opry, photo by Sam Logan

HOGCHUTE OPRY @ Kalyx Center

The Hogchut Opry is one of the coolest events in Central Illinois, hands down. The folk fest, which has both an early summer and (now) autumn iteration, is held just outside of nearby Monticello, and is, as the above picture showcases, one of the most uniqe atmospheres i’ve ever witnessed in live music. In the future, don’t play yourself; get out to the Opry. –  BH


BONESSTOCK @ Iron Post – July 16th

Bonesstock is another one of those great C-U events that offers something for the whole family, and not in the boring way that that statement often implies. This year was the third annual show, (which also fittingly called itself a “block party,”) taking place at the Iron Post outside and in. The venue choice of the Post was a change from last year, and a good one, as this music felt at home there. The awesomely weird Bones Jugs are always brilliant musically, and the fact that they’re involved with their community makes their role of host perfect. A handful of great and mostly local folk and roots acts made the evening come together for the young and old alike. – JM

HUM at CobraFest, photo by Chris Green

COBRAFEST @ Loose Cobra — July 3rd

A gritty parking lot and dive bar, plus a shift built by hand with some good old fashioned sweat and beer — this was the template that helped provide CobraFest another setting for this year’s festival. HUM and a ton of their friends performed rock music throughout the afternoon and into the evening, in what felt like it gave absolutely zero shits about maintaining any sort of expectation for the evening, while at the same time feeling like everyone was in it together and giving it their all. All in a positive way. HUM, of course, destroyed. — PS


The Martyrs, photo by John Isberg

MABEL’S NIGHT @ Brother’s — August 13th

You didn’t have to be at Mabel’s Night to know the type of magic that John Isberg would be orchestrating. Building a stage, and putting it in the old Mabel’s in Campustown on Green Street — which is now Brother’s — you know this is a night to be remembered. That, and remember the bands that had once performed there. Last Gentleman, The Martyrs, Nix 86, and plenty more packed the room which used to be wall to wall live music. — PS


Louis the Child at The Pygmalion Festival, photo by Veronica Mullen

THE PYGMALION FESTIVAL @ various locations in Champaign-Urbana — September 16-24

Year 12 for the Pygmalion Festival was another blowout, this time taking place over two weekends, which just made more room for the music. Weekend one was all about the community in that many of the acts were local, and every event was free. Downtown Champaign rocked out to the likes of Motes, Euriah, and Rebecca Rego & The Trainmen, among many others. 

Rebecca Rego & The Trainmen, photo by Veronica Mullen

The second weekend of the fest picked things back up with Frightened Rabbit and Car Seat Headrest filling up the theatres at Krannert. The musical aptitude of Poster Children, Vince Staples, and Wolf Parade blew us away outside The Accord on Friday, and Saturday night saw the stage presence of Future Islands and Louis the Child owning the night and closing out the fest. If you’d like more details, our recaps can help out there. — JM

Poster Children, photo by Veronica Mullen



Zeds Dead, photo by Ty Courtney

ZED’S DEAD @ The Canopy Club – October 10-11

The massive electronic dance music outfit Zeds Dead sold out Canopy Club two nights in a row, and you really can’t argue with that. The sound at those shows could’ve busted eardrums and the lights could’ve caused seizures, but that kind of energy is why many people go to shows in the first place. There’s this wild abandon coupled with EDM that is incomparable. This act brings it all out every time, and people will just keep packing their shows until they can’t anymore. – JM

White Reaper, photo by Tom Chandler

WHITE REAPER @ The Accord — October 7th

Polyvinyl’s White Reaper don’t mess around. These guys are totally serious about not taking things too seriously, and they throw down a punk show that rivals musicians twice their age. With moshing, stages dives and a thrilling encore, this was a super sweaty and just exhilarating show that brought you right back to your teenaged years. (The good parts.) JM

LUPE FIASCO @ The Canopy Club — October 28th

It’s not every day that a storied rapper comes to town and spends 10 minutes ranting about, and subsequently starting a twitter beef with, Kid Cudi. But this year, it happened, all in the friendly confines of Urbana. What a time to be alive. –BH

Video by Robert K. Recordings:

PURITY RING @ The Canopy Club — October 31st

The sparkle and massive syths of Candian indie pop duo Purity Ring returned to C-U after an absence since last year’s Pygmalion Festival. Seeing them last year for the festival was one thing after they’d originally been on stage at Mike N Molly’s a handful of years back in their early days. Now, a banging set at Canopy Club found them in explosive form once again, this time in Urbana. Halloween show? Even better. It was as wild and colorful as it was brain-rattling. — PS


CU FOLK & ROOTS FESTIVAL @ Downtown Urbana + Krannert – November 3-5

Amythyst Kiah, photo by Julia McAnly

Folk & Roots Festival is an event removed from all others in the area because it is a co-op effort. Completely volunteer-run, it exists for the people, by the people, in collborative harmony. This year’s fest was no exception, from the bluesy Gaye Adegbalola at the Iron Post to Hubby Jenkins’ humor at pretty much every venue. Many artists played sets with each other and gave instrument workshops. Amythyst Kiah blew me away at the Post with her dark, lonesome tunes that reminded me that everyone sings the blues, and that wasn’t the last moment that I sensed real togetherness over that weekend. – JM

HOMME + EMILY BLUE + VV LIGHTBODY @ The Clark Bar – November 4th

When this show was moved with from The Accord to The Clark Bar, I wondered if it would be the same. Don’t get me wrong; Clark Bar is an excellent establishment and venue, but it was a short-notice switch that just didn’t feel ideal for the type of show. I was definitely mistaken, though, and it turned out that it was actually the opposite. This show killed. The indie-pop tunes that these incredible ladies threw down hit heavy, with collaborations and positive vibes all around. The strength and confidence of these musicians was palpable. They made damn sure to show the audience that it didn’t matter where the show was at. They’d still blow it out of the water. – JM

Twin Peaks, photo by Sam Logan

TWIN PEAKS @ The Accord – November 12th

Twin Peaks returned to The Accord later in the year after a performance in March, and you could see their growth. The guys had put out a new album, Down In Heaven, and toured all over for it (including Pitchfork Music Festival, where we also caught them), and over that time period, they became more skilled musicians and a tighter band. They’ve also been friends forever, and their stage banter gets more entertaining each time. They smashed through their set more ferociously than their audience moshed to it, and that is a goddamn huge statement, because that crowd was bonkers. I hope they keep coming back, because their grimy garage rock and cheeky youthfulness reels me in every time. – JM


AMERICAN FOOTBALL @ Foellinger Auditorium – December 4th

It’s always fun when your hometown heroes come and play a show back in town, and for Champaign-Urbana music followers, American Football certainly is one of the heaviest hitters. This December, they were brought back to UIUC’s campus by Star Course in support of their newest album, and it was an all-around good time with very C-U vibes. –BH

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