Smile Politely

Exuberance and passion with Walkmen at Krannert

w1When I walked into Krannert this past Saturday night, the lobby was teeming with people.  Lines at the bar stretched past the merch tables, the bathrooms were packed with patrons and the air was dense with several hundred conversations floating back and forth.  I was shocked that Champaign-Urbana has this many Walkmen fans, much less this many who were willing to come out for the much lesser known opening band, the Dig

Well, not quite.  

After The Marriage of Figaro‘s intermission crowd filed out, a sizeable, committed audience was still left, stretched out at tables, chairs pulled into the stage, eagerly awaiting the early show.  While I’ve been to Krannert for plays and dance performances, for a quiet lunch or a calming place to study, I’m particularly charmed by how unexpected a venue the Krannert lobby is for a rock show.  Early patrons get the best seats instead of draping themselves across the front of the stage, fans snack on sushi and Artisan cheeses while waiting for the sound check to wrap up, and the merch tables are run by immaculate employees in black vests and satin ties.

The floors are clean, the wine is cheap yet delicious, and this atmosphere brings with it an pleasantly different crowd than the one you’d find at Canopy or Mike n’ Molly’s.  Plenty of obvious indie fans still come out, but mixed in are some rarer sights-grey-haired couples sipping on Pinot Grigio, kids too young to have possibly have driven themselves, and professors arguing about the impending GEO strike.  The crowd was lively, in high spirits, and, with the exception of a guy in a poncho who just wanted to know if the bar was carding, surprisingly well-dressed.  I bought a black coffee, nabbed the last open seat, and sat down to wait.

And wait, and wait, and wait. 

w2While it may be no rock venue, Krannert certainly has a rock-and-roll sense of punctuality.  Call me old-fashioned, but being new in town and thus still flying solo at most of the shows I attend, I don’t come for the preshow socialization.  With no band to watch and no music to listen to, the beer goes fast and I run out of strangers on which to eavesdrop.  An hour after the scheduled start time, the lobby was packed, the crowd was on its third round of drinks, and the bands were nowhere in sight.  I was starting to wonder if I should have grabbed a few beers with friends elsewhere and risked missing the first band instead of hanging by myself for an hour and a half.

But when the Dig finally took the stage at 10:45 p.m., all was forgiven.  The mics turned on, the skies opened up, and the Dig’s booming, expansive sound poured into the lobby. They roved from rough, hazy shoe-gaze, to tight, driven power pop, flowing through the set with a riotous energy and a comfortable ease.  Equally darling singers David Baldwin and Emile Mosseri (also handling the guitar and bass, respectively) traded off harmonies, while drummer Jamie Allegre and keyboardist Erick Eiser completed the rich, dynamic show.

The Dig are just starting to make a name for themselves opening for acts like Girl Talk and Tapes n’ Tapes, playing songs from their debut EP, Good Luck and Games, as well as their upcoming full-length, scheduled to be released sometime next year.  On top of offering us some fantastic (free!) music, the Dig were just about the most gracious musicians I’ve seen in a long time.  They thanked their audience at least three times, and ended their set with an appreciative “we’re just happy to be here” before launching into their final song.

By the time the Walkmen came on I had completely forgotten about my 90-minute wait.  They immediately launched into “On the Water,” from 2008’s You and Me, subdued until Hamilton Leithauser let forth the strains of “Oh, you know I’d never leave you…” and the exuberant crowd began to dance.  Leithauser sang with a tense passion, clinging to the mic, his veins near bursting, creating rich, bare moments in which his vocals floated out, raw around the room, then relaxing into his guitar with a natural calm the rest of the band seemed to share. The energy continued throughout the set, as the band soared through plenty more songs from You and Me, several personal favorites from their older albums, as well as a handful of brand new ones from their upcoming album, to be released next spring.

I had to slip out before the end of the set (darn you, Krannert, for starting late!) but am told I missed a killer version of “The Rat” as well as an enthusiastic encore.  I’ve learned my lesson-treat a rock show like a rock show, regardless of venue; come late, settle in, and always take advantage of something fabulous falling into your lap for free.

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