Sylvan Esso, Ride perform under lunar eclipse


Nick Sanborn of North Carolina-based indie pop duo Sylvan Esso performs Sunday night as part of Pygmalion Festival.

By Fran Welch

One truth cannot be denied about Pygmalion: rain or shine, Champaign-Urbana has a deep love for the citywide festival, and that love was proven no less during the last day of performances on Sunday.

Pygmalion is known for its diverse lineup, and this year’s iteration was no different; a slew of artists that have a place in every category of music genres: alternative, hip-hop, electronic, dance, shoegaze, ambient and the list goes on with any other adjective left out.

Despite the quick shower that came through the Highdive outdoor annex early Sunday evening, the weather came around and the day’s lineup of back-to-back sets continued, with one of the festival’s best live-surprises, Cathedrals (think Banks and Lorde, but with a drum set) taking the stage at 5:50 p.m.

The San Francisco natives were well rehearsed, and didn’t seem bothered by the rainy introduction and rather small crowd. The chemistry between the 4-piece was strong, and the balance between being electronically-driven while incorporating a live band proved to be a great set.

Brodie Jenkins, vocalist for Cathedrals, had a presence reminiscent of Florence Welch; performing in a long, thin-strapped flowing black dress, with a black fringe kimono, over-gestured hand movements, tambourine and a committed, powerful stage persona. Just like Welch, Jenkins captivated the audience with her electro dream-pop-priestess essence. Not to mention she totally looks like Liv Tyler, so even more brownie points for you, Cathedrals.

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    Ten minutes later, Sylvan Esso, who probably had the biggest and not to mention most devoted crowd, took the stage. It was the first time on Sunday that felt like a festival opposed to an outdoor show, minus the flock of flower-crowned girls — thanks for leaving your synthetic flowers for Lollapalooza.

    The duo easily had one of the best shows of the weekend. Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn, former member of Champaign-based band Headlights, had a chemistry that resonated off of them, injecting the crowd with a dose of rainbow-filled, indie synth-pop magic.

    Sylvan Esso’s set was the kind that made you become best friends with the guy standing next to you, no matter how bad he reeked of last nights 312 from the VIP lounge. They performed new and old songs, and had a light-show with a color spectrum that put fruit loops to shame, but in a way that didn’t burn out your retinas.

    Up next was Caspian, which sounded like Maserati from Pygmalion’s 2014 lineup. For a post-rock, drone-ish type band, it was great, but not necessarily something that seemed super appropriate for a music festival.

    However, it couldn’t have been more appropriate for watching the supermoon lunar eclipse — who knew people could shed a tear for planets?

    Yeah, a vocal-less band doesn’t seem to be the most ideal live set to go see with your friends at a festival. But with it being Sunday night, reaping the benefits from the previous nights’ open bar (pass the Advil), and a lunar phenomenon happening in the sky, it was hard not to get a little emotional and reflect on the past four days.

    The crowd at Pygmalion is always different. There is always the regular cadre of local music-goers, but then there are people from all around the community, state and country, who come together and experience a communal festival, celebrating a strong, built up camaraderie.

    If you talk to anyone behind the production of Pygmalion festival, they will all tell you that a huge mission of theirs is to showcase the community, and utilize the talent, education and resources that come out of this micro-urban community. It’s nice to make a few bucks off of ticket prices, that’s expected, but you can truly tell the staff of Pygmalion put their heart and soul into making a festival for the people, and present a bill filled with a diverse array of artists — qualities that get lost in most of the larger, more popular festivals.

    And for proof, the heart and soul of the festival was overflowing with nostalgia during the Ride performance, a band that was known to be a lifelong favorite for the brains behind Pygmalion and attendees. Although most of the college-age crowd wasn’t familiar with Ride (think Oasis if they were a shoegaze band), they definitely put on a great show to close down the outdoor portion of the bill.The only complaint: that light show could make someone feel like their head was going to pop off.

    The rest of the night moved inside of the Highdive, closing with local acts Grandkids, Elsinore and Indiana native, Strand of Oaks. It’s hard to disagree that Grandkids are one of the best bands to come out of Champaign-Urbana, and it seriously never gets old seeing them play. Their talent and chemistry amongst each other is hard to come by, and they absolutely killed their set. Timeshare is continually named one of the best albums to come out of this area, and that was proven once again, with Vivian McConnell’s crisp Neko Case-like vocals and the mesmerizing drumming of Phil Sudderberg. Yeah, the founders of YouTube of Illinois graduated from Illinois, but so did Grandkids, and that’s really awesome.

    It’s safe to say that Pygmalion was yet another great year of good music, good company and overall good times. It would be nice to see a bit more of a familiar lineup for next year, but the fact that the lineup isn’t filled with the most popular and familiar artists is what makes Pygmalion a treasure to the community.There is a power of familiarity that drives festivals to success, but because Pygmalion introduces old bands to new ears and vice versa, it’s bringing back the original concept of music festivals: get together with people you love, have a great time, explore new music and enjoy life.