Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bull City 11th Anniversary Party at Ponysaurus Brewing - 8/6/2016

Bull City 11th Anniversary Partywith Superchunk, Pipe, Last Year's Men, and Daniel Bachman
Ponysaurus Brewing
8/6/2016


Ponysaurus is located just a few blocks from the more "newly developed" parts of downtown Durham, but it's like a different world - boarded up buildings, blight, and the typical trappings of inner city poverty abound.  You can see the changes creeping that way though, that new money slowly overtaking block by block in the same fashion kudzu covers everything it encounters.  I suppose Ponysaurus itse;f would be one of those agents of change themselves.  I'll leave it up to the reader to decide if this a good or bad thing (or as is almost always the case in these situations, both), I'm just painting the scene...

I got there and Daniel Bachman was already well into his set.  Just him and his guitar performing really pretty, intricate instrumental music.  He also played this weirdly shaped lap guitar that I'm going to assume was a dobro until I'm told different.  He's really damn young!  Way younger than you'd probably expect given his talent level...his recordings make you would assume he's a much older cat, or at least that applied to me.  Maybe he just has an old soul, whatever that means.  These instrumental guitar dudes are really hot right now, right?  It feels like there are a lot of them.  Daniel is as good as any of them if not better. 

I was pretty excited Last Year's Men were playing this party, because I was pretty sure they had broken up.  Maybe it was just a "hiatus," but either way they sorta fizzled out and I believe it had been quite a while since they last performed live.  Does this gig signal that the band is back for real or was this just a one off, a favor for Bull City Records?  I guess time will tell.  They were as good as ever, playing a number of tracks from their great album "Sunny Down Snuff" as well as that second record they released only as MP3s that I must confess I haven't really heard.  I was into the jams anyways though.  One noteworthy change was Montgomery was back in band - before their previous hiatus (or whatever it was) he was no longer with the group, instead focusing all his attention on Flesh Wounds.  It was nice to see him back in the fold.  I hope I get to see them again, and soon, because they're one of my favorite local acts. 

Pipe!  PIPE PIPE PIPE PIPE PIPE.  That's really all the review of this band should be.  I've seen them dozens upon dozens of times and it's always the same...the band rocks out to pretty much the same songs they always play, holding shit down in a straight-forward but necessary fashion; singer Ron Liberti, Robert Pollard's long lost twin, puts on a performance that is somewhere between pantomime, modern dance and your favorite drunk uncle; the crowd throws beer cans at the band; I smile and laugh the entire time.  They played a lot of great hits, including two of their best "Biscuits" and "Yr Soaking in It" and a cover of Joe Jackson's "One More Time." At one point Ron caught one of the beers thrown at him, took a drink from it, and then threw it back at the crowd as if the whole thing was choreographed.  He also sang at least one song standing under a giant plastic tarp like he was wearing the world's most suffocating ghost costume.  Pipe is everything rock bands should aspire to be. 

In a lot of ways what I said about Pipe also holds for Superchunk, minus the difference in antics of the respective singers - about the most you get from Mac is a jump off of the drum riser and/or some windmill guitar work.  Like Pipe, I've seen Superchunk dozens upon dozens of times, they play a ton of songs I've seen them play a more times than I can count, and they're incredibly dependable.  Unlike Pipe, they've actually continued to write songs and release albums since the nineties, and their material is a lot more fun to sing along to (sorry Pipe, I still love you).  In the run-up to this show the band mentioned that this is the first time they've played locally since Merge 25 in the summer of 2014, which makes sense because I've been grousing about not getting to see them for a good two years.  There's not a whole lot I can say about these guys at this point, just know that other than Laura no longer playing with them live, they've not lost a step. 

Superchunk / Skylar Gudasz at Dorton Arena - 10/19/2016

Superchunk
With Skylar Gudasz
Dorton Arena
10/19/2016

The folks that used to handle the music booking for the North Carolina State Fair made a great decision last year - instead of throwing a lot of money at washed-up and never-has-been rockers, country crooners, and family friendly fare, give a little money to a local agency who can book local musicians and actually support local North Carolinians, one of the main reasons to even have a state fair.  The hard work of local scribe Grayson Haver Currin probably helped them make this decision to change by digging up just how much money the Fair folks were losing on the crappy, mostly unwanted acts they used to book - it was going so wrong, why not try something else?  Long story short, a bunch of shit changed behind the scenes at the State Fair and now I get to see Superchunk in Dorton Arena for free after walking around eating junk food all day. 

First though was Skylar Gudasz, their opener for the night.  I got to the venue in time to see most of her set, getting slightly delayed because I stopped first to eat a cinnamon roll half the size of my head.  One of my better life decisions.  She was fronting a six-piece band featuring two keyboardists (one of which was sometimes Skylar) and the drummer from Flesh Wounds (I'm not sure what bands the other members are from, but they all looked familiar).  Most of Skylar's performance focused on her debut album "Oleander," but there was a couple of new songs as well - if those are a preview of her next release, I predict another gem.  Her voice was as strong as ever, and sounded damn good in Dorton - I've always heard folks say the sound in there was subpar, but it seemed pretty dialed in this night.  It should be noted that she doesn't sound quite as much like Karen Carpenter in person as she does on record...though it would be totally fine if she did. 

After not getting to see Superchunk for a couple of years, this would be my second time in three months.  That's great and all, but it's still not as often I'd like - once a month would be a lot better.  You could tell they were excited to play such a legendary venue - drummer Jon Wurster even posted a selfie on Instagram in the backstage shower where "Gene Simmons might've had 2-minute workmanlike sex in 1976."  For whatever reason they leaned heavily on their classic hits this night, putting together what might be the strongest set list I've ever seen by them.  The highlights included "For Tension," "Detroit Has a Skyline," "Skip Steps One & Three," "Driveway to Driveway," "The First Part," a very rare appearance of "Her Royal Fisticuffs," "Nu Bruises," "Cast Iron," a cover of the Magnetic Fields' "100,000 Fireflies," and they ended the night with "Throwing Things."  That's basically every single one of my favorite Superchunk songs minus "Animated Airplanes Over Germany" and "Why Do You Have To Put a Date on Everything."  Due to profanity rules from either Dorton Arena or the State Fair officials, for the first time in forever they didn't play "Slack Motherfucker" so as not to offend any old church ladies or small children or old church children or small ladies that might have wandered into the free show.  Fuck it though, they would have been a little better off in life to hear a little live Superchunk, curse words or not. 

Nada Surf / Amber Arcades at the Cats Cradle - 10/3/2016

Nada Surf
with Amber Arcades
Cats Cradle
10/3/2016

The last time I saw Nada Surf live was back in my SF days (aka pre-2008) - much to my dismay, the band doesn't seem to have much love for shows in North Carolina.  This is especially surprising since Matthew Caws has family in the state, and some were even at this show, at least according to his stage banter.  Perhaps their reticence to play is the crowd, or lack thereof.  My (often poor) estimate is there were probably a couple hundred people there, but I was truly shocked that the place wasn't full, or close to it - sure it was a much more comfortable environment, but Nada Surf deserve better.  They're probably second best pure pop band working after Teenage Fanclub. 

They're a pro outfit - every song sounds impeccable, they had their own fancy light rig synced up to the music, and you can tell by the way they interact with the crowd that they're very comfortable on stage.  To my surprise Doug Gillard is now in the band - I guess this happened a few years ago, but like I said, I haven't had the chance to see Nada Surf live in quite a while.  This is at least the third band I've seen him with - Guided By Voices and Superdrag being the two others (for some reason I feel like there is one more, but my brain just can't recall).  They played for probably an hour and a half, hitting nearly everything you might want to hear - there were classics ("Always Love," "Blonde on Blonde"), new favorites ("Friend Hospital," "Rushing"), and they even played their nineties hit "Popular," which I don't think I've ever heard them perform before.  They closed out the night with a totally acoustic (as in no amplification at all) version of "Blizzard of 77," complete with a robust crowd sing-along.  There might not have been as many people at the gig as there should have been, but those that did show up were very enthusiastic. 

I caught about half of the set by openers Amber Arcades, who I knew not a single thing about.  They were a five piece with a female singer who reminded me of Mac DeMarco for some reason - visually, not musically.  I think it was the hat she was wearing, or maybe I'm just an idiot (or both).  Musically they made me think a lot of the Aislers Set, a clean shoegaze/jangle pop hybrid, and I quite liked it.  When I'm dictator more bands will sound like the Aislers Set, per official decree.  Oh, and then after the show I googled the band and it turns out they're Dutch, it's primarily the work of the singer Annelotte de Graaf, and she has two law degrees and works for the international war crimes tribunal.  I wonder if I play nothing but Amber Arcades around my daughter she will turn out that awesome?

Built to Spill / Hop Along at the Cat's Cradle - 9/22/2016

Built to Spill
with Hop Along
Cat's Cradle
9/22/2016

It's a pretty simple - if Built to Spill comes to town, I go.  It doesn't even require any thought, the ticket just gets bought the second I see them available for sale.  God knows how many times I've seen them at this point, but I never leave one of their gigs disappointed.  I'm not sure if it's the first time I've seen the band as a trio, but it's definitely been a long time - since the early days when Scott Plouf and Brett Nelson first started playing with Doug Martsch, back when his plan was to have a different rhythm section every record (this didn't last long).  These days it's the pair of young dudes that have been touring with him the last few times Built to Spill came to town, and they do a fine job.  I did miss (occasional touring guitarist/Caustic Resin founder/all around rad dude) Brett Netson's added guitar playing though - luckily, if anyone can hold down all of the Built to Spill guitar parts by himself, it's Doug.  I mean, he did write them.   

The first third (or so) of Built to Spill's set was dominated by this couple standing next to me rubbing on each other constantly.  I don't mean off-and-on either - for the entire 30-45 minutes they were next to me, the movement and rubbing was constant, like a sack full of dry eels.  This would have been less of an issue had the Cradle not been so packed, and I wasn't pressed right up next to them, thereby encountering unwanted accidental rubbing myself.  Ick.  Eventually one or both of them likely climaxed and moved elsewhere, and things got a whole lot better, or at least more comfortable, from there on out.  Doug, personable as always, almost never spoke to the crowd even when he was tuning his guitar...the occasional "thanks" counted as a verbal outburst.  Tons of classics in their set: "The Plan," "Hurt a Fly," "Reasons," "Kicked It in the Sun," "Big Dipper," "Carry the Zero," "Car" plus one of the best songs from their newer material "Hindsight," and their cover this time (there's always at least one cover) was the Creedence Clearwater Revival track "Effigy" - a song that sounds so much like something Doug would write that I'm sure some of the younger folks in the crowd who might not have been familiar with the original probably didn't bat an eye, thinking it was just a new Built to Spill tune.    

Typically, the openers for Built to Spill shows are Boise/Idaho acts that are friends with the band.  Also typically, I never get to the show in time to see these openers, which bit me in the ass this time.  The band was called Hop Along, are apparently from Philly and putting out records on Saddle Creek, and like so many of the kids these days, are doing their damnedest to reinterpret the sounds of the nineties for a modern audience.  The crowd seemed way into it, so much so that it's possible a chunk of them might have been there primarily to see Hop Along, not Built to Spill.  I'm not sure what an apt comparison would be, maybe Dinosaur Jr meets Courtney Barnett, or at least something in that general ballpark.  If they come back again I'll try to see more than two songs. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Three in Downtown Raleigh, 9/10/2016

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Three
Downtown Raleigh
9/10/2016

The third day of Hopscotch is always the toughest to motivate for, at least for this middle-aged, out-of-shape, lazy bastard.  The first day runs on excitement; the second day runs on adrenaline; and the third day runs on...determination.  It didn't help that of the three days this one had the line-up of bands for which I was least excited, but there were still some gems in there. 

I'm not going to lie, I really only showed up early enough for Vince Staples at City Plaza because I thought I might get some interesting photos, what with my pass-assisted access to the photo pit in City Plaza.  Without that, I probably would have shown up just early enough to catch a couple of songs at the end of his set.  I did get a couple of decent snaps so I guess it was worth it, but I can't say Vince's music ever won me over.  Just not my kind of hip hop, and I don't think I could even tell you why - neither his rapping style or his music really engaged me.  Also, the audio quality seemed all over the place - one track would be normal and clear, and the next would have so much distorted bass I had a flashback to high school when all the rednecks (as well as one of my good friends) had those huge speakers in the trunk of their cars.  I once bribed my friend with a t-shirt he wanted to get him to turn his speakers down, it was so loud I thought it was making my heart beat improperly.  Anyways, I did eat a tasty chicken and cheese pita during his set, so that was cool. 

It's pretty impressive that the biggest turnout and most rambunctuous crowd I've seen in the seven years of Hopscotch was for local favorites Sylvan Esso.  It feels like it was only a couple of years ago they were opening for the Rosebuds at Memorial, and now they're drawing thousands of people as a festival headliner...wait, it was just a couple of years ago.  I've seen them a few times since that Memorial outing, but this was the first gig I've seen where they actually played new songs, songs not on their self-titled debut.  They still played most of the songs from that record too, and of course the crowd went nuts for each one of them, including me when they played their best song "Hey Mami" at the end of the set.  Who would have guessed that if you write super catchy pop songs and set them to an electronic beat it would be so popular?

From electronic pop to mellow folk, I made my way to Fletcher Opera Theater to catch a little bit of Maiden Radio.  I'd never heard a single note by them, but read that Joan Shelley was in the group and she has a magnifficent voice so it was definitely worth a shot.  The band was a trio of females playing banjo, guitar and fiddle (in various combinations) and singing solo or together (in various combinations).  I only caught about half of their set, but it seemed like it was mostly covers of old mountain folk songs - how much these songs resembled the originals or were complete reimaginings, I have no idea.  As to what Maiden Radio sounded like, think about all the Gillian Welch/Emmylou Harris/Alison Krauss tracks from the "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" soundtrack and you're on the right path.  It sounded great, two thumbs up from this dude.   

I would have gladly stayed for the entire Maiden Radio set if I didn't need to get next door to Memorial Auditorium to see Eric Bachmann.  It was just him and two backup singers, local phenom Skylar Gudasz and another gal named Avery, but I didn't catch her full name.  Bachmann was in a snazzy suit, the ladies were in matching sparkly dresses, and the crowd was seated and impeccably silent...of the dozens of times I've seen Bachmann play either solo or with a band, I've never seen him quite like this.  I took some snaps for a couple of songs, and then just sat down and listened intently for the rest of the set.  He played most of his new self-titled record, which makes sense as so many of those songs feature backing vocals, and these two ladies weren't on stage just to show off their sparkly outfits.  Of the couple of older songs he trotted out, I remember "Bad Blood" was one of them, a classic to be sure.  I'm not sure if the rest of the crowd was totally engrossed (like me), asleep, or just staring at their phones, but I was impressed with how quiet and attentive everyone was.  Easily one of the shows of the festival for me, but like the Wye Oak performance on the first night, I knew this would be the case before he even played the first note. 

Even though I had sorta just seen her with Maiden Radio, I popped back in next door at Fletcher to see Joan Shelley play solo.  Well, sorta solo, as she had a dude supplying guitar accompaniment the whole time, plus the other two gals in Maiden Radio came on stage occasionally to add some additional instrumentation or vocals.  I suppose the the big difference between the two sets was during this gig Joan was playing her own songs instead of covers of old mountain folk ditties.  I don't really know any of her music well, I just know her voice - but it was real damn pretty and I stuck it out for a few songs before I got itching to move on.  Nothing against Joan, but I was needing something a little more rocking than the delicate folk I've seen over the last three acts. 

Walking down the street, I met a few friends that talked me into going to see Soldiers of Fortune at the Lincoln Theatre because Cheetie Kumar from Birds of Avalon would be sitting in with them.  I didn't know a single thing about the band (noticing a theme with my lack of preparation this year?) but if Cheetie was participating it would be worth checking out.  Turns out they're some NYC supergroup featuring Kid Millions and others from Oneida, a dude from Endless Boogie, another dude that plays with Interpol apparently, and plenty more vets (some that were here, some that were not).  Their set was just one long song, seemingly improvised or at least mostly so, which is not shocking because of the level of talent present on stage.  Kid Millions was handling the vocals from the drum kit, but I have no idea what he was saying and I'm not sure it mattered.  I'm not even sure how to really describe the sound - sort of a repetitive kraut rock vibe, fairly heavy but never venturing into metal territory, and a shitload of guitar shreddery, especially from the guest star Cheetie.  I probably could have just said it sounds like a crazier/bigger version of Oneida.  For something I randomly decided to go to, this was a nice find, and further proves the old adage "always trust the Birds of Avalon."  At least I'm pretty sure that is an adage people say. 

Baroness was playing next at the Lincoln and since that who I was planning on seeing anyways, it made for a short commute.  Not only did I not have to exert myself and walk to another venue, but I was in a great spot to get photos of the final act of Hopscotch.  I saw Baroness play a number of years ago, but honestly don't remember a ton about it - I certainly don't remember them being as polished as they were on this night.  They were heavier and gruffer before - now, I'd almost call them pop metal.  That sounds like an insult and I don't mean it that way, but their songs have hooks and harmonies that you usually don't get in a typical stoner metal setting.  Also, how did I miss the news that Sebastian Thomson from Trans Am is now their drummer?  I knew their old drummer quit the band after their horrific bus crash a few years back (they were actually supposed to play Hopscotch right after that crash, but that appearance was obviously cancelled since almost the entire band nearly died), but I had no idea Sebastian was now their stickman.  Anyways, yadda yadda yadda, they put on an amazing show, it was basically an entirely different band than I saw so many years ago, and I enjoyed it immensely - I was planning on only staying for a couple of songs but ended up watching most of the show.  I like this version of Baroness a lot more, for the record - what can I say, I'm a pop fan at heart - make the metal songs catchy and all of the sudden I'm feelin' it. 

I went home satisfied (and extremely tired) after my three day experience at Hopscotch 2016.  Probably my favorite festival since 2013 or so.  I'm already excited for next year.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Two in Downtown Raleigh - 9/9/2016

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Two
Downtown Raleigh
9/9/2016

The second night of Hopscotch was a big night in the history of the event - not only was it the first time ever they would be including Red Hat Amphitheater as a venue, they would be holding "big" shows both at both Red Hat and City Plaza concurrently.  It was an ambitious move, and might have worked out great...if the shows had started on time. 

Gary Clark Jr was my first act of the night, at Red Hat.  He was opening for Erykah Badu, but she was having flight problems and was going to be late, and had her start time pushed back.  Because of this, they had Gary start 15-20 minutes later than he was originally scheduled...fortunately, I was still able to see enough of his set to get a few photos; unfortunately, I only got to see three or so songs before I had to leave for the next venue.  That was a shame, because his modern blues were sounding damn good to me at the time, and it's always a pleasure to watch Mr. Clark mangle a guitar.  I would have gladly stayed for a lot more of his set had it been possible.  Plus, from a photographical perspective, he makes great faces while he plays.  Yes, photographical is a real word, I looked it up.  The internet never lies. 

Unfortunately I had to buzz it up the hill to City Plaza to see Anderson Paak, who seemed to be getting the most buzz heading into this year's festival.  In an ideal world Paak and Clark would have been paired together and I could have seen both of their sets in full, but dammit no one asked me.  In simplistic terms you would lump Paak into the genre of hip hop, but he is so much more than that...most importantly, he plays with a full band, even throwing down on drums himself on a few songs.  Nearly every time I've truly loved live hip hop, it's been when there was a full band...that's probably the middle aged white guy in me talking, but the feelings still stand.  Despite being from LA he gave off a nineties East Coast/DJ Premier-esque jazz sample vibe to his sound, aka my favorite era in rap by a large margin.  There were many times where Paak & his band's sound was more funk and soul than hip hop...at least one song sounded exactly like Curtis Mayfield, and a number of tracks reminded me a ton of the Brand New Heavies.  I barely knew a thing about Anderson Paak before this performance, but by the end I definitely left a fan.

After Paak I waited around for Beach House, who for unexplained reasons were also running late.  Tired of waiting and not really being a huge Beach House fan to start with, I decided to walk back down to Red Hat to catch the start of Erykah Badu, as her amended start time was fast approaching.  Of course, that was delayed even further and I ended up waiting there for a while, only to hear through the grapevine that her plane had just landed, meaning it was still going to be a while before she appeared on stage.  So I went back up to City Plaza to actually catch some of Beach House, who were finally playing.  As I suspected, after a couple of songs I had had my fill - the music is mostly fine (if a little boring), sort of a modern take on the Cocteau Twins, but they're not much for watching.  They have as much fog on stage as Sunn O))), only when you do get glimpses of the band it's not a bunch of metal dudes in crazy monk outfits, instead run-of-the-mill indie rockers standing as still as possible.  Between Badu and Beach House this portion of the night was kind of a bust, but since I wasn't overly excited about seeing either band only my time was really wasted. 

I popped into Fletcher Opera Theater to see what was going on with Kid Millions & Jim Sauter Duo.  Sparse crowd, but given all the schedule fuck-ups with the "big" shows and the fact that both were still going on that wasn't particularly surprising - I'm guessing the scene was somewhat similar in the other small clubs across town.  The gig was pretty much what I expected it to be - Millions pretty much just playing a long drum solo while Jim Sauter played some skronky atonal saxophone over him.  It's the exact sort of thing I find interesting for about fifteen minutes, and that's about it.  I may not always love everything Kid Millions does, but he's such an amazing drummer it's always worth checking out any project he's involved in, I'll like way more than I won't. 

Boulevards were playing next door at Memorial Auditorium, so off I went to see local lad(s) done well.  I'm still not entirely sure about who to call what here - Boulevards is the band name, but the band is technically only one person - Jamil Rashad.  So is he Boulevards, and do I refer to him as such, or do I refer to him as Jamil, member of Boulevards?  Regardless, he had two cats playing with him at this live show, one on drums and the other handling the rest of the music on a computer, so for the purposes of this gig I will refer to Boulevards as the band.  I'd be lying if I said I've listened to their record "Groove!" all that much, but you would be damn hard pressed to find a more engaging and exciting live show, and you don't need to know the songs to enjoy it.  Jamil owns the stage, prowling the entirety of the giant Memorial stage like a caged Tiger, climbing on speakers, jumping into and out of the crowd multiple times - he was definitely having fun, and so was the audience.  I bet the dude burns 2000 calories over the duration of a show...hell, I think I lost some weight just watching him move around so much.  Musically it felt like being at a mid-eighties New Jack Swing/Bobby Brown-esque gig - it doesn't hurt that Jamil looks like he stepped right out of a 1987 time capsule.  If Boulevards is playing in your town, don't miss it..unless you hate fun, then you should definitely miss it. 

I decided to stay put at Memorial to see what all the Young Thug fuss was about, and also because I'm lazy.  Not my best decision, as it turns out.  After being 45 minutes late, Young Thug's DJ finally came out and then proceeded to try hyping up the crowd by playing snippets of the same songs Thug would be performing only a few minutes later.  To be fair the tactic worked, despite my bewilderment.  Another 15 minutes later Young Thug himself finally came out, along with one hype man and at least a dozen people who did nothing but mill around on the stage.  One guy spent the entire time checking his phone; another filmed the entire show on the biggest iPad I've ever seen, it was the size of a damn cookie sheet; a number of others just smoked and drank (probably lean, or at least they wanted to appear that way) out of Styrofoam cups.  I'm not even sure what to say about the music...dude half-slurs a ton of his lyrics on record, they're even less intelligible live.  His music is generally interesting, but there was way way WAY too much bass...to be fair that could be on the venue as much as it's on Young Thug, although both Big Boi and Killer Mike sounded great here a few years back, so probably not.  Long story short, it just wasn't for me.  The very young crowd was loving it though, so despite my sour reception it seems like a smart booking choice. 

After a lot of Hip Hop and R&B for most of the night, there was only one sensible way to end things - metal.  I had hoped to see some or all of Cobalt, but due to Young Thug being so (unnecessarily) late, I saw an entire two minutes of their very last song.  That happens at Hopscotch sometimes, life goes on.  Luckily I was able to get there in time to see Yob, my main reason for walking to the Pour House anyways.  I've seen them a couple of times, as well as lead man Mike Scheidt solo, so I knew exactly what to expect - really heavy stoner metal bordering on doom, minus the Cookie Monster vocals that turn me off from so many metal bands.  This was probably the best I've ever seen them, the band was tight and Mike was destroying his crazy looking custom Monson guitar.  It wasn't butts to nuts in there, but the crowd was healthy - I guess I wasn't only one who thought ending the night with some riffy metal was a great way to finish off the second day of Hopscotch. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day One in Downtown Raleigh - 9/8/2016

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day One
Downtown Raleigh
9/8/2016

It's that time of the year again, time to stand around in the heat and watch bands and wish this festival was later in the year when it wasn't so damned hot!  I've taken photos at every festival, but this year I would officially be taking photos for the festival.  Basically, the only real difference is I can now get into the photo pit at the big gigs...well, that and a free pass that works like a VIP pass.     

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that my favorite band of the entire event, Wye Oak, was the very first performance I saw?  I'll be optimistic and say it's awesome that a group I enjoy so much would be my welcome to the next three days of musical decadence.  It was great to see them on the big stage of City Plaza, hopefully winning over new fans that had never heard their eighties new wave-inspired indie pop before.  They definitely won me over again, but that outcome was never in question.  If Jenn Wasner was a religion I would be a strict adherent, because she is infallible.  There were lots of songs from "Shriek," a few new ones, and then they ended their far-too-short set with their greatest track, "Holy Holy."  I had hoped with Jenn moving to North Carolina we would get more frequent Wye Oak shows - this has sadly not occurred, so every time I get a chance to see them play is a real treat.   

The big City Plaza headliner this first night was Wolf Parade.  Somehow I never saw them live before their hiatus in 2010, but I get to make up for that now.  I have seen a number of their side projects though, and to be quite honest I might prefer those solo efforts over the whole of Wolf Parade, and I mean that as no slight to Wolf Parade (I really REALLY like Spencer Krug's Moonface, in particular).  I forgot to take notes on their set list, but I specifically recall them playing my favorite song "Dear Sons And Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts," plenty of other classics, and at least a couple off of their latest EP, the imaginatively titled "EP 4."  Just like on the recordings their songs live have a driving, manic energy to them - if it was fun to see on the giant outdoor stage, I can't imagine how enjoyable it would be in a small, indoor club.  A couple of other super important notes from this performance: Dan Boeckner not only physically looks like the Clash's Mick Jones, he looks like he's actually doing an impression of him; and Spencer Krug plays the keys with one hand raised in the air as if he is constantly competing in a bull riding contest. 

The "big" part of the night over, it was time to hit some clubs.  I got to the Pour House in time to see Most of Wing Dam, a band I seem to see/think about a lot at Hopscotch as they play often, and not much otherwise.  It doesn't really make any sense because they are a lot of fun live and should be interesting year round, but brains work in mysterious ways.  The club was packed with a crazy line outside, luckily this is where the photo pass helps a ton...sorry everyone I skipped in front of.  Once inside, I saw Sam from Future Islands and it occurred to me the Snails were closing out the night at this venue...this crowd was just trying to get themselves Future Islands-adjacent.  Or maybe they're just really into bands that perform in snail costumes.  Wing Dam are a little bit slacker pop, a little bit jangle, a little bit garage rock, a little bit a lot of things actually - I've probably said it before but they remind me a lot of the mid-nineties Teenbeat era, Versus and Unrest and Eggs and all that.  Possibly the most noteworthy moment was when Sara Autrey's boobs popped out of her low cut top in the middle of their set; instead of freaking out or being embarrassed, she instead asked for solidarity from the rest of the band and the dudes took their shirts off.  She then left them popped out, and offered to "high five nipples" with anyone back at the merch table after the set was over (I have no verification if this actually happened).  A damn fun band, I look forward to their set next year at Hopscotch. 

I decided to stay put at the Pour House to see some of Sneaks.  I didn't know a single thing about them other than they recently signed to Merge, and I like the bulk of the Merge catalog so it was worth a shot.  The band is a duo of young folks, a dude making beats on a computer and a dudette who rapped/sang/mumbled, occasionally played bass, and was also wearing plastic pants that made me hot just looking at them.  It was...not for me, to put it kindly.  The crowd seemed into it but I was totally confused.  All of the songs were really short, the instrumentation very sparse, and the vocals were way too low in the mix - hell, they played two or three songs before I realized they weren't just dicking around doing sound check.  I moved on after a handful of songs, but since each song was about a minute long a handful didn't take long.

I smartly chose to stop off at the Lincoln to see some of Mutoid Man.  I knew they played metal, had some connection to Converge, and that was about it.  I would best describe them as classic eighties-style thrash metal, but somehow lighthearted and fun.  And I don't mean lighthearted in regard to the lyrics, cause I don't have a clue what the hell they were singing about - more so in the actions of the group, as they were clearly having fun.  Smiling even!  A metal band smiling on stage, while simultaneously headbanging, fucking with each other, and more general antics!  Unprecedented, I say - metal is usually such serious business.  Oh, and they started their set by playing the last half of "Purple Rain" (song, not album) - I can't think of a better, more fitting intro to this trio.  My only regret is I didn't get to see more of them, as I needed to get to Television...if it had been nearly any other band in the entire festival that I was off to see next, I would have probably skipped it to see more of Mutoid Man. 

Finally, Television.  This was my most anticipated show of the whole festival, a classic band I've loved for ages but had never seen live.  Yeah, Richard Lloyd wasn't there so it wasn't the true classic line-up...but, and I say this with all respect to Mr. Lloyd, I was there for Tom Verlaine first and foremost.  Memorial Auditorium wasn't packed but there was a healthy crowd there, a mix of old fans (like myself) and young kids there to probably see what all the fuss is about with these "olds" on stage.  After Tom requested the venue turn the lights nearly off (not ideal for taking photos, obviously), the band launched into an hour-and-a-half set, playing nearly all of their classic "Marquee Moon" and plenty more.  After the show I heard some complaints that the band was boring and not very engaging or interesting, but that was not true for me at all - it probably helped that I was front and center in front of Tom Verlaine the entire time, completely mesmerized by his effortless guitar acrobatics.  I've probably seen guitarists that were better technically, but I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone as effortlessly perfect.  To no surprise they ended the set with an epic version of "Marquee Moon," and as happy as I was to hear the likes of "Prove It" and "Elevation," finally getting to hear the title track of their seminal album live was a legit bucket list item for me, and one I was very happy to finally fulfill. 

My only real regret on the first night of Hopscotch is that Lambchop were playing at the same time as Television, forcing me to miss a local appearance by them for the first time in ages.  Word is they were great, to no one's surprise.  Lambchop will be back though, most likely sooner rather than later.  Television may never grace these parts again, but here's to hoping.