Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hopscotch 2014 - Day Three Evening Performances at City Plaza, the Lincoln Theatre, Slims, & Kings - 9/6/2014

Hopscotch 2014
Day Three - Evening Performances
City Plaza, the Lincoln Theatre, Slims, & Kings
9/6/2014

The most important part of tonight's City Plaza show was getting there in time to see Death play "Keep on Knocking."  For some reason I thought they might play it early, and sure enough it was the second song in their set - for once my intuition pays off!  I had a friend wonder out loud if they played that song too early, as it's the best in their catalog and what I'd guess a lot of people were looking forward to the most.  The rest of the set was good though, lots of between song banter about their deceased brother (who was the original guitarist) and scorching instrumentation.  Particularly of note is how the bass is used almost like a lead guitar in the band, out in front of the mix.  If you haven't seen it, I definitely recommend the documentary on them

It had been a while since I last saw Mastodon, back in 2009 at the Cradle.  To be honest I've not been nuts about the band's slow digression into prog metal, but I figured that performed live even that material would probably sound great - this was correct.  Plus those first two records of theirs "Leviathan" and "Remission" are damn near perfect, and the chance to hear any of those songs was worth the attendance.  They did finally trot out some of these older tracks towards the very end of their set when I took off for other shows, but between the band's performance and the people watching I enjoyed myself anyways.  A few notes:
 - There was an epic mosh pit and tons of crowd surfing.  This is not surprising, but I felt like saying it anyways. 
 - Someone should have done a photo study of all the metal t-shirts at the show.  By my rough estimate, surprisingly Red Fang is the most popular. 
 - Nearly a couple of fights broke out near me, but cooler heads prevailed in the end.  Chalk one up for even-keeled drunk rockers. 
 - That clear Flying V that Brent Hinds played for a while?  I was drooling.
 - Is there another metal band where all members sing like with Mastodon?  That's gotta be unique to this band. 

I kept the metal train going by popping into the Lincoln Theatre to see what Demon Eye was all about.  Turns out they were all about some seventies-style Sabbath-y metal, and it sounded fuckin' awesome.  Nothing groundbreaking to be sure, I feel like I've heard any number of bands go down pretty much this same road, but these guys were performing it at a pretty high level.  The room was almost empty when they started their set but halfway through a rather healthy crowd had trickled in and seemed as into it as I was.  They're local so I'll definitely be making it a point to get to one of their gigs again. 

My plans were very loose for the next little while until it was time for the White Octave at Kings.  I passed my friend Maggie who said Wing Dam were putting on a great show at Slims, so I popped in to see what they had cooking.  The place was packed and hot as shit aka a normal Slims show during Hopscotch.  I could barely see the band, but they sounded good - I'd call it scuzz pop just because I like inventing genres, they were sorta distorted, catchy pop music full of energy and clearly sweat as both the guy and gal at the front of the band took off their shirts.  I feel like I see their name listed on show bills fairly often, so it was good to finally put a sound with a name.  Then my friend Enoch passed me on his away out of the club and said there was already a crazy line to get into Kings...it was time to go get on that, because I would not be denied entrance. 

I got into the club just in time to see the final Y'all song, which was really just an epic distorted rock freak-out jam that may or may not have been indicative of their set at large.  I think I saw them once before, but sometimes this shit bleeds together.  I do know they are from Charlottesville and were formerly part of the now-defunct Invisible Hand.  They play a lot so I'm certain I'll see them again. 

The next band was Krill from Boston.  I had never heard of them but their sound clip on the Hopscotch site was interesting, so I was curious to see what they were all about.  I'm not sure if the crowd was just already pumped for the Octave or they were genuinely up for Krill, but either way it was a lively scene.  The band was a three-piece with a heavy bass presence, and at their best that had a fun indie-pop-punk vibe that I could see myself getting into.  There were a few moments when the bass got too heavy and and I worried the music might go in too much of a "funk" direction, but they managed to keep it pretty well reigned in. 

Finally, the White Octave.  If this wasn't my second most anticipated show after the War on Drugs, it was damn close.  Certainly others felt much stronger about it than me - a guy in front of the stage on the opposite side of the room was openly weeping and shaking and being consoled by his friend after meeting frontman Stephen Pedersen just before the show started.  While part of me wants to make fun of the dude, mostly I'm just pissed because I don't think I've felt as passionately about anything as this guy apparently feels about this band.  Given that they hadn't played live or released any records in 13 or 14 years, I was surprised at how many young people were there and were WAY into it.  How?  Why?  I'll never get these answers, but I was genuinely perplexed.  Some of them were probably in elementary school when their records came out!  Anyways, the band sounded amazing - like they'd never missed a beat, very tight and dynamic and engaging just like I remember from the late nineties.  The crowd, at least at the front of the stage where I stood, were collectively losing their shit - so much singing along and fist pumping and giddy faces out of the whole lot of them.  One can only hope this happens again.  Also: their first record is getting reissued, or rather finally issued on vinyl - exciting times. 

Finally, as an end to my night and Hopscotch as a whole, I popped back into the Lincoln to see the one and only High on Fire.  They were already into their set, lovingly brutalizing ears even from outside on the sidewalk as I walked in.  Listen, I don't want to alarm anyone, but I have some news of note: Matt Pike was playing the show shirtless.  I know right?!?  I was worked and only had a few songs in me, but they sounded great.  Am I the only person in the world that gets a more aggro Motorhead vibe from these guys?  Not on the recordings necessarily, but live...yeah, I'm probably the only one. 

It was a good Hopscotch - money well spent, time well wasted, ears well damaged.  Until next year!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hopscotch 2014 - Day Two Evening Performances at City Plaza, Vintage 21, Tir Na Nog, the Pour House & the Lincoln Theatre - 9/5/2014

Hopscotch 2014
Day Two - Evening Performances
City Plaza, Vintage 21, Tir Na Nog, the Pour House & the Lincoln Theatre
9/5/2014

I had never paid much attention to St. Vincent - heard a couple of songs here and there, saw part of their recent performance on Saturday Night Live, but that was about it.  I had zero expectations for her set at City Plaza, but found myself very pleasantly surprised.  Their live show was a full spectacle: weird choreographed dances combined with a light show and great, catchy music that really reminded me of modern version of Prince (and I recently re-watched "Purple Rain," so I'm an expert in this subject).  Oh, and it was loud.  I mean, LOUD - I wasn't even that close to the stage and it left my ears ringing.  Annie Clark really is the total package - complete shredder on the guitar, great song writer and performer, and being very pleasant to look at doesn't hurt either.  As much as I might personally like Spoon, St. Vincent should have probably been the headliner tonight, because it wouldn't be fair to ask them or most anyone else to follow up this performance. 

Spoon was the headliner though, and it had been a while since I'd seen them.  I've barely listened to their records after 2007's "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," so I was really hoping some of their older songs would make it into the set list.  Mixed in with the newer tracks I didn't know were classics such as "The Underdog," "I Turn My Camera On," "I Summon You," and most excitingly "Small Stakes."  Yeah, I would have loved to hear more of these older songs, but I didn't really expect it.  Then again, I only caught about the first hour of their performance before heading off to other venues, so they might have played a few more vintage hits in the remainder of their set.  Oh yeah, they also had a great light show, maybe not as good as St. Vincent's, but since it was dark by the time Spoon took the stage the lights stood out more.  And we'll not even discuss the fact that most of the band was dressed in all white after Labor Day as if they don't know the rules of fashion.  Tsk tsk. 

My next stop was going to be Obnox at Slims, but with a huge line queued up outside I just walked right past and headed to Vintage 21 (aka that church on the corner of Hargett & Person) to see local lads Enemy Waves.  I caught a good set by them earlier in the year and wanted to see them again; finding out that Thurston Moore would be sitting in for part of their show made it a done deal.  Moore had the title of "improvisor in residence" for this year's festival, and was floating in and out of various gigs, in addition to playing his own solo show (which had been the night before at the same time as War on Drugs, so I obviously missed it).  And while I enjoyed their final song with Moore, a fifteen minute free form rocker, the real meat was the first part of their set - it was heavy jams my friends.  They had a thick kraut rock vibe, like a seventies metal band that had listened to a lot of Can.  When you add in the occasional horns I'm kinda lost for a comparison, all I know is it rules and was one of my favorite shows of the whole festival. 

I decided to stick around in that same venue to see some of the next artist, Tony Conrad.  He's apparently a legend in the noise/avant garde/whatever the fuck you call it community.  I'd never heard of the dude but enough people I know were excited about this performance that I decided to see what the fuss was.  He started his set off holding a small framed canvas that was mic'd; he then painted a circle on the front of it, cut out a hole inside the painted circle with a box cutter, and proceeded to run a violin bow in an out of the hole along the cut edge creating squawky sounds.  I don't know if I'd call it music or even good, but I guess I would call it interesting.  He then banged that framed canvas on the ground to create a rough beat that he looped through a sampler, and played noisy violin on top of that.  To be perfectly honest I don't know what the fuck it was I saw, but it held my attention for about fifteen minutes before it was time to move on.  I just don't think I'm ever going to get that world no matter how many times I try. 

I was on a sampler platter tour en route to the Lincoln, and stopped by Tir Na Nog to see what was happening - and that happening was Dark Rooms.  I had talked with frontman Daniel Hart a few times when he toured with the Rosebuds a few years back, but this was my first time witnessing his own band.  I watched a few songs of their, well, "violin indie pop" I guess.  Is that a genre?  Well, it is now.  The music had drums paired with electronic drums, keys, guitar, Daniel on the violin, and lots of catchy harmonies.  The songs were upbeat and almost dancey, and the place was pretty close to packed with folks that seemed really into it - can't say I blamed them.  After a little while I wanted to see what was happening next door though, and off I went. 

What was happening next door was local rapper Big Pooh, formerly of Little Brother.  When I walked in he was covering Nas' "The World Is Yours," which was totally confusing because I don't think I've ever seen a hip hop artist play a cover.  It sounded good though, and it's a great song, so why not?  After that he played what I assume was his solo material, which I've never listened to but want to now after seeing part of this set.  Dude had great stage presence and seemed very personable.
 
Finally, it was the last show of the night, Sun Kil Moon at the Lincoln Theatre.  To sum it up succinctly: what a clusterfuck.  I could detail the proceedings myself but this Pitchfork news item pretty well sums it up.  He was a prickly asshole from the start, but this isn't new for him.  Part of the crowd were also being dipshits, but I think this is more a function of the venue - the Lincoln is usually a place for raucous behavior, an open room full of heavy drinkers and a very busy bar.  Truthfully, Sun Kil Moon should have been booked elsewhere; that doesn't mean Mark Kozelek wouldn't have still been cock, but maybe it would have lessened the chances.  Mostly, despite the ill will back and forth between the audience and band...it was just boring.  I like his recordings but live it's about as exciting as a dead fish.  I lasted about five songs and left; if this gig had been in a seated venue, there is a strong chance I would have fallen asleep.  Instead, I got in my car and went Snoopy's and got a hot dog, a much better ending to the night than a delicate flower playing morose music. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hopscotch 2014 - Day Two Day Parties at Kings - 9/5/2014

Hopscotch 2014
Day Two - Day Parties
Kings
9/5/2014

I pretty much had one thing in mind with today's day parties - I was told a while back that Yo La Tengo would be appearing in some form at the Three Lobed party at Kings, and I was going to be there goddammit! 

To be safe I got there early, which was a smart decision because I got to see a short set from Rose Cross NC (or Jenks Miller & Rose Cross NC - I'm unsure which is the official name).  As you might have already guessed by one of the two potential band names, Jenks Miller of Mount Moriah and Horseback fronts the group; the band was rounded out by the bassist from Mount Moriah (whose name I'm unsure of), drummer Dan Westerlund (who has drummed for tons of people and also plays some mean basketball), and a lady on on the keys (no idea on her name or basketball skills).  Their set was one long song, starting out very slow and sparse and building into a full band rocker with just a smattering of vocals.  I really hope this wasn't just a one-off for Hopscotch and instead becomes a regular thing, because I was way into it. 

Up next was why I left the house - Little Black Egg Big Band aka Yo La Tengo, Steve Gunn & William Tyler performing as an improv drone guitar orchestra.  James McNew was sitting in the middle of the stage with a table full of pedals, Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley were sitting on either side of him with guitars, and finally Gunn and Tyler were standing on the edges of the stage each with, yes, guitars.  It was one long, epic jam; and as I've mentioned before, this kind of experimental music is usually not my bag, but it was interesting enough to hold my attention for the set.  I actually find myself paying more attention to what each of the members is doing than the music itself, to be honest - and the most interesting I saw was William Tyler holding small handheld radios to his guitar to create feedback that he then tweaked through his pedals.  I'd still rather see a regular performance by all of these acts, but the fun part of a festival is getting to experience different weird shit like this. 

Hopscotch 2014 - Day One Evening Performances at City Plaza & the Lincoln Theatre - 9/4/2014

Hopscotch 2014
Day One - Evening Performances
City Plaza & the Lincoln Theatre
9/4/2014


This year Hopscotch expanded to having City Plaza shows all three nights instead of just Friday and Saturday, with De La Soul as the inaugural Thursday headliner.  I saw them in a small club in Boone in 1993 (I think) opening for a Tribe Called Quest, and while seeing them on a giant outdoor stage wouldn't have quite the same effect, I still found it an enjoyable performance.  The set seemed to be pretty comprehensively career spanning, with material from their first three albums getting the loudest cheers.  Songs like "Stakes Is High," "A Rollerskating Jam Named 'Saturdays'," and "Me, Myself and I" still sound great to me more than two decades after they were first released.  Things really started to get good when they brought Mike G from the Jungle Brothers out to perform "Buddy"...and then the rain started.  First a few fat drops, then the downpour.  Most of the plaza emptied and De La stopped performing after that song, but a small band of very wet fans stayed camped out in front of the stage and it looked as if they were going to perform an encore for them, but I didn't stick around to find out - I was gonna go get somewhere dry. 

The Lincoln Theatre was the closest venue and I was planning on checking out Sun Club there anyways, so it was a no brainer to head there.  A very young five-piece from Baltimore, they bounded around on the stage like a Jazzercise class gone awry.  I suppose the closest musical touchstone would be Animal Collective, maybe with a whiff of hippie vibes (or maybe it was just the girl who smelled of patchouli standing near me that made me think that).  In previous years I probably would have made some sort of Elephant 6 comparison, but I don't think kids as young as this band appeared to be have any idea what that even is.  Not my favorite band of the fest but not bad either, and they were fun to watch. 

My carefully crafted plans of roaming the streets and checking out different acts were scrapped because of this incessant rain, but continuing to hang at the Lincoln to see American Aquarium ain't a bad consolation prize.  I've known singer BJ Barham for a little while now so I can't pretend to be unbiased, but their rabid fanbase will back up my assertion that they are a damn fine alt-country band, and on this evening they sounded fantastic.  They threw a Backsliders cover into their set early, and towards the end tackled Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" which sounded great until they got to the end and no one was there to play Clarence Clemmons' sax part.  Might be time for U.S. Fishtank to hire a horn player!

I didn't know dick about White Laces but their write-up on the Hopscotch website sounded interesting and I was waiting on the next band anyways, so why the fuck not right?  The singer looked like David Bazan but the music they played was a blend of dream pop and garage rock that worked pretty nicely together.  The crowd seemed into it - the kid standing next to me looked almost orgasmic while they played.  Kids these day amirite?!?  Also, I don't think a single member of the band was actually wearing white laces, tsk tsk.  The band is from Virginia so I'm assuming they'll come back to town at some point - I'd gladly check them out again. 

Finally it was time for not only the highlight of the night but the highlight of the whole festival for me, the War on Drugs.  To say their most recent record "Lost in the Dream" is my favorite of the year would be an understatement - it's possible I've listened to this one album more this year than everything else combined, and I'm not even close to sick of it.  The band was playing as a six piece, with three different guys manning keyboards (in addition to other duties on the guitar and various horns).  They did get some bonus help on guitar for one track in form of local lad Brad Cook, who at this point either knows or has played with every musician currently alive it seems.  The set consisted of nearly every song on the new record, and a few older tracks like "Baby Missles" weaved in throughout.  Frontman Adam Granduciel and his 17+ guitar pedals were straight shredding from start to finish, but it wasn't just wankery for the sake of it - in the context of War on Drugs' songs, that kind of guitar work benefits the music.  The band played for a long time, until nearly 2:30 - I was always under the impression bands had to stop at 2 AM, but good on the Lincoln for allowing the Drugs to finish their set.  I left the venue dead damn tired, but extremely happy with my first day of Hopscotch. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hopscotch 2014 - Day One Day Parties at Neptunes, Kings & Slims - 9/4/2014

Hopscotch 2014
Day One - Day Parties
Neptunes, Kings & Slims
9/4/2014

Hopscotch has landed on top of us yet again.  Somehow I'm already feeling prematurely tired just thinking about it. 

I actually started my day out at the Potluck party at Slims shooting the shit with a few friends, but before I saw any bands there I took off to Neptunes to see Drag Sounds.  I had been meaning to see these Greensboro kids for a while now, having heard many good things...apparently I was one of only a few people who felt that way because outside of the other bands there were very few folks in the club.  Too bad, because not only did it feel great in that cool basement bar on this hot-as-balls day, the band was fantastic, probably my favorite of everyone I saw during all of today's parties.  They had a really heavy Television vibe to them, insomuch as anyone can be like Television.  They also made me think of early Pavement...a cover of "Two States" would not have felt out of place.  I'll definitely be seeing these guys when they come back around, which seem to be fairly often. 

There were performers happening both at Kings and at Neptunes all day, so after Drag Sounds' set I moseyed upstairs to see what the hell was happening at Kings.  Turns out it was a solo dude called Secret Boyfriend with a table full of electronics, making an unholy racket that I kinda sorta enjoyed even though I couldn't say why.  He threw some vocals over the fracas on occasion but it was mostly just the man and his knobs tweaking out.  At one point he took a mic'd up sheet of metal (might have been a cookie sheet?) and banged it on his head for a while, then chewed on it before finally sticking the mic off of the metal in his mouth and (I guess) chewing on it a little bit.  And for his final song, how does he follow all that fracas up?  He plays a mellow song on the acoustic guitar, of course.  I'm not entirely sure what the hell it was I watched, but I'm mostly glad I saw it. 

Another trip downstairs was met with a Baltimore band called Goblin Mold, and what a cast of characters - all of them looked like they were right out of a John Waters film, so they were doing their city proud.  The drummer played the entire show wearing a backpack - I've seen a LOT of shows over the years, but that was definitely a first.  I suppose you'd say they played quirky indie rock, though that doesn't really tell you anything.  They didn't sound like anyone in particular, but they had bits and pieces that made me think of others...most notably the lead guitar work, which had that strangely tuned, almost underwater sound you heard on a lot of early Polvo songs.  And the vocals reminded me of Cap'n Jazz maybe, whichever Kinsella brother that was.  I was feeling the show.

Back upstairs at Kings was another solo artist called Lee Noble.  At first glance I thought it was just another dude manipulating a table full of electronics, but it turns out he had a Moog and was actually playing it.  It was sort of a John Carpenter-style synth funeral dirge with sparse, deep vocals.  As this isn't really my world I'd be hard pressed to come up with fitting comparison...I'll go with electronic Leonard Cohen or some such shit. See, I told you I didn't have a good comparison. 

After a little down time Heads on Sticks took the stage at Kings.  It had been a dog's year since I'd seen them last, and it was high time I re-acquainted myself.  They have no drummer, but the heavy beats from the drum machine lay the foundation their songs are built on.  Those beats combined with the bass was so heavy it was shaking my innards and making me feel even hungrier than I felt before the music started.  If you've never seen them they give off a heavy No Wave circa 1979 vibe, think James Chance & the Contortions or any number of other acts from that era.  They're very talented & tight and if I were a dancin' man I might have even shaken a shoe during their set.  Attendance had been pretty sparse at most of the shows I'd seen so far today, but a number of folks had shown up for this one and they were witness to an excellent set. 

Before heading home for a short break I made one last stop at Slims to see what was going on there, and caught a bit of See Gulls.  I saw them fairly recently at the Pinhook and was into it, and my second impression did not waver from the first.  They were playing their quirky pop on the "outside stage" of Slims (aka the back patio) and goddamn was it hot under that beating sun.  I was only good for about three or four songs before high-tailing it to the air conditioning of my car and some very late lunch to gird my loins in preparation for the night's festivities. 

Kyle Kinane at Kings - 8/12/2014

Kyle Kinane
Kings
8/12/2014

We braved monsoon-like rains to get to Kings in in effort to roust up some laughs from Kyle Kinane.  Despite having wet pants for the entire show, it was a successful endeavor.  He was working out material for a special he would be recording in Georgia in a few days, so I guess this was a sneak preview and/or we were being used as guinea pigs.  As an aside, do they actually test anything on guinea pigs?  You'd think how much they get mentioned in regards to testing that everything runs through them.  Anyways, newsflash: Kyle was friggin' hilarious, and the special is clearly going to be awesome.  I will be more than happy to rehear all of these same jokes again; especially if he uses his long story about getting a blowjob from a mentally slow under-aged girl, that shit killed the entire audience. 

Spider Bags at the Pinhook - 8/8/2014

Spider Bags
The Pinhook
8/8/2014

I'll generally try to make it to any Spider Bags show, but this one was special - a release party for their first record on Merge, "Frozen Letter."  Flesh Wounds were doing the exact same thing in Chapel Hill on this same night - why the two bands didn't combine their release shows is beyond me and a bummer, because I would love to have seen both.  Spider Bags singer Dan McGee made note that the only band they could think of to open this show for them was Flesh Wounds, and since they were clearly busy, the Bags decided to just play this one by themselves.  Since it was only them for the entire night, they played two different sets.  The first set was the new record in order and in it's entirety, and it was great introduction to their new material as I hadn't heard "Frozen Letter" previous to the gig.  There was then a 15 to 20 minute break where the crowd and the band both refueled their Beer cells, and then the Bags launched into their "greatest hits" aka every song you would ever want to hear them play from all of their previous recordings.  Including the break I think they played for two and a half hours, and it was a blistering, raucous, incredibly sweaty affair...seriously, I think it might have been 95 degrees inside of the Pinhook.  A sweaty t-shirt is a small price to pay for a show that good though.