Beloved independent label Polyvinyl hit their 15th anniversary this year, and to celebrate they threw everyone a party in their birthplace of Champaign-Urbana, IL. Piggybacking on the annual Pygmalion Festival, they treated the town to a wealth of their current bands who performed all day on a cloudy and mild September 24th.
The plan was to be a good little reviewer and make sure to catch at least half (if not all) of every single band of the nine-hour event, which was a definite possibility with only one stage and no choices to make. So while I’m not big on ‘em, I planned on seeing those Joan of Arc weirdos anyway. However, the attempt to make the three-hour drive in time for a 2:30 start didn't quite pan out and we arrived just in time to see two songs while standing in line to get in. Not a bad two songs, but not much to say here. I've been listening to their new album Life Like a bit prepping my review and finding it to be more straightforward rock than most of their stuff, which is good in this reviewer’s eyes.
I had been wanting to see Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin for years. I had missed them in my town of Bloomington, IN twice for reasons beyond my control, and was super stoked to finally make it happen. One of my favorite things about the Missouri quartet is that they are old friends who have been rocking together for over a decade just because they love it and for no other reason. On Saturday, Phil Dickey especially was in his element, falling to the ground with his guitar several times and at a point ripping his sweater open to reveal a T-shirt depicting the images of three girls who went missing in Springfield in 1992. “Yellow Missing Signs”, off their upcoming B-sides and demos collection, Tape Club, is dedicated to their memory. While that seems super-serious, the rest was all smiles. Other than one more off of Tape Club (“Letter Divine”), they stuck mostly to newer hits during their too-short set: “Back in the Saddle”, “Sink/Let It Sway”, “Modern Mystery” and closing with “Think I Wanna Die”.
I hadn't listened to more than maybe three songs by Asobi Seksu before this show, but I knew they were the most shoegazy of the newer Polyvinyl roster, so I was excited. They were indeed fuzzy and reverb-loving, and while I am easily won over by waves of guitar noise and female vocals, they weren't really doing it for me. The vocal melodies didn't catch me and I couldn't understand a word, which doesn't help in being memorable.
As Mike Kinsella started setting up onstage for his Owen set, I was wondering what his band would consist of. Owen was always a pleasant project to me but never one of my faves, but when New Leaves hit he upped the ante with mature, well-arranged tunes. I haven’t spent much time with the upcoming Ghost Town yet, but I was excited to see him for the first time. Unfortunately, he played alone, leaving each song to blend into the next. Without additional instruments to thicken the sound I began to notice the similarities in his melodies, which I believe is partly due to his beloved open-tunings. It was still enjoyable and he was funny in a dickish kind of way, and at one point stopping mid-song for a fuck-up and rolling with it. Some notable tunes would be “No Place Like Home”, off of the upcoming record, with the haunting lyric "I’d rather die with my hands tied / Than holding a gun" and a personal favorite “A Trenchant Critique” off of New Leaves, though it misses a lot without the drum machine and string section.
I had never bothered to check out Starfucker before (their name makes me want to hate them) so I had no idea what to expect. They look like the biggest hipsters you could ever imagine: old-lady cardigans, large glasses, short shorts; but that said, the music was quite enjoyable. Like a slightly less effeminate of Montreal, they were synth-driven dance-pop (at times, three of the five were playing synths) that maintained a decent guitar presence. Real drums, combined with machines and triggers, helped keep my attention throughout, and more than enough to chuckle back-and-forth about with my wife regarding their ridiculous outfits.
Remember how I said Starfucker were the biggest hipsters you could ever imagine? I take that back—Xiu Xiu are, and these guys are worse for it because they followed it up with hipster music (read: so artsy it just sucks). Jamie Stewart’s voice always annoyed me so I went in with low expectations and they fulfilled them. So you've got one guy mashing random notes on keyboard and ham-fisting some drum pads, one guy wailing on a tambourine and a random tom, and another guy playing guitar in a somewhat not-stupid fashion (founding member Stewart). Their bio mentions all of the crazy and socially significant topics they attempt to cover in their lyrics, but I’d say that assaulting people's eyes and ears is not the best way to get attention focused on important issues.
Duos represent! I was excited to see the nü-emo rockers Japandroids for the first time. Guitarist Brian King had three amps (and six cabinets of different sorts) to get the huge wall of noise and multiple tones. It was the most blistering guitar I've heard this side of Dinosaur Jr.. They brought it hard and fast the whole set after they got the soundcheck issues figured out (the vocal mic is feeding back because the soundguy had to crank it over your crazy-loud guitar, dur). One later mishap had them stopping and re-starting again ("Let’s just start at the chorus!” “Yeah, I love that part!” to paraphrase their exchange), something that is rare for a “professional” touring band. They were quite enjoyable, though, and the loudest act of the night by far, rocking “The Boys Are Leaving Town” off Post-Nothing and “Younger Us” from the 7” of the same name—among others—and closing with a cover of a song by the Gun Club.
We went to eat dinner before another band with a singer I can’t stand—Deerhoof. I know they’re “legends” in some circles and in the very least “veterans” of the artsy side of the indie rock spectrum, so I was determined to give them a fair shake and we made it back for the last handful of songs. That "basketball" song (I’m assuming it was “Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back”) was fun as Satomi Matsuzaki jumped around and gave the crowd chances to yell "OK!" Kinda cool. Might give ‘em another chance, though Offend Maggie is pretty damn unlistenable.
BRAID! It’s frickin’ BRAID, y’all! Introduced by the mayor of Champaign to the tune of "I known these assholes!" things got off to an awesome start. They played a crapload of songs (I think they were on for like an hour and 15 minutes or so, adding on the three-song encore) including “Do Over” and “The Right Time” from the new EP, with Chris Broach applauding people for already singing along with the new tracks. The classic stuff leaned heavily on their masterpiece Frame & Canvas and rightfully so, with a good amount of The Age of Octeen thrown in as well. The band was fully into it, with Bob Nanna covering the entire stage and swinging around like crazy and Broach jumping around like he was still in his 20s. I was stoked to see Damon Atkinson drum the intro of “New Nathan Detroits” again since seeing them for their original reunion tour at their Chicago Metro stop in 2004. Love that guy. Other fan favorites performed included “Please Drive Faster”, “A Dozen Roses” and closer “The Chandelier Swing”.
The day was super fun overall, though how amazing would it have been if long-running Polyvinyl superstars of Montreal were in on it? And newer signees Vivian Girls? Even though their last few haven’t been on the label, Mates of State will always be a Polyvinyl band to me, and I would have loved to see them, or a Volcano, I’m Still Excited!! reunion. Other than that wishful thinking, the Polyvinyl 15th Anniversary Festival was a huge success and I will hope for a 20th anniversary show when the time comes.