Grizzly Bear | Pygmalion Music Festival | September 29, 2012
Photo: Zach Long
Moving to Champaign for its third and final day, the Pygmalion Music Festival took over a parking lot in back of the Highdive where two stages hosted performances until late into the evening. Early afternoon attendees were greeted by a set from Urbana's own Grandkids, who debuted gorgeously orchestrated folk rock tracks from their upcoming LP. The electric Americana of New Ruins and energetic rock of power duo Common Loon rounded out the local appearances.
Opening to the wailing guitar solos of "Run From the City," Purling Hiss caused the side-stage audience to take a few steps back with their earsplitting garage rock. Evoking the catchy glam of T. Rex combined with the visceral power of the Stooges, the Philly trio gleefully delivered high-volume tunes. Brooklyn rocker Frankie Rose took a slightly different route, with a selection of songs accented by spacey synths and soaring vocal harmonies. The exuberant refrains of "Know Me" were matched only by her enthusiastic insistence that she planned to get drunk and dance to Big Freedia at the festival's after-party.
Back on the main stage, Lower Dens basked in their psych-folk ambience, led by singer-songwriter Jana Hunter who was sporting a killer pair of wrap-around sunglasses. Replicating the dense soundscapes of recent release Nootropics, the Baltimore collective provided a surreal, late-afternoon soundtrack. Unknown Mortal Orchestra took over as the sun began to set, bursting into a set of fuzzed-out pop rock songs that bristled with energy. The odd cadence of tracks like "FFunny FFriends" and "Strangers are Strange" didn't seem to stop anyone from trying to dance along.
"Let's give it up for the band! I am the band!" Willis Earl Beal exclaimed midway through his set, backed by a reel-to-reel tape machine and a pair of lingerie-clad mannequins. Shifting from a soulful croon to a raspy, Tom Waits-inspired yell, Beal paced the stage while delivering a set that largely ignored cuts from his debut album Acousmatic Sorcery. Wrapping a black cape around his body and brandishing the mic stand like a sword, he wryly observed "I'm a primary example of why life is absurd."
Backed by a wall of Marshall amplifiers and a tapestry depicting the cover of their new record, I Bet On Sky, Dinosaur Jr. unleashed their sonic wall of rock upon an anticipatory crowd. With J. Mascis supplying the gloriously sludgy guitars and an especially chatty Lou Barlow handling stage banter, the trio effortlessly made their way through a setlist that leaned on new songs while taking time to highlight their classic material. By the time Cloud Nothings broke into the anthemic strains of "Fall In," the decidedly young crowd assembled in front of the side stage wasted no time starting a mosh pit. Feeding off the enthusiasm, singer Dylan Baldi led the group through one of the evening's most raucous performances before making way for the night's main attraction.
With smoke gently wafting across the stage, Grizzly Bear took their places behind their instruments and eased into the opening drone of "Speak In Rounds." Touring behind their newly released record Shields, the band showcased the album in its near-entirety, effortlessly slipping from the resplendent cacophony of "Sleeping Ute" to the delicate melodies of "Gun-Shy." Singers Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen exchanged lead vocals, while Chris Taylor supplied spectacular harmonies, contributing to renditions of tracks like "Ready Able" that sounded equally as lush as their studio counterparts. In a moment of matter-of-fact pandering, drummer Chris Bear noted that "Knife" was written in an Illinois basement before the band launched into a version of the tender track that raised goosebumps. Perfectly conveying the climatic lament of "While You Wait for the Others" before ending the night with the subdued "On a Neck, On a Spit," Grizzly Bear's transcendent performance made for a fitting end to this year's Pygmalion Music Festival. Capping off a weekend that brought big musical names to a small town setting, we're already looking forward to what next year's event has in store.
Don't miss our coverage of the previous two days of the fest: