Thursday, November 6, 2014

The War on Drugs / Peter Matthew Bauer at the Haw River Ballroom - 10/17/2014

The War on Drugs
with Peter Matthew Bauer
Haw River Ballroom

I've got to be pretty motivated to drive out to Saxapahaw to see a show, but considering that before this gig was announced I was planning on going to Asheville to see War on Drugs play, this one was an easy decision.  I'm not sure if it's the Haw River Ballroom or the crowd these guys draw, but there were signs everywhere that stated "absolutely no chairs allowed" which was cracking me up.  It was the last night of their massive tour that started at some point before the Hopscotch appearance in early September, and I'm sure everyone was counting down the minutes until they could get home and sleep in their own beds.  But before that, they put on a hell of a performance.  It was similar to the Hopscotch outing, but...looser maybe?  Which would make sense given how many times they've played these songs in the last couple of months.  There was one addition to their set list, a cover of Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue," done on the obvious WoD fashion.  And top it all off, like all Haw shows, it ended at a reasonable middle-aged hour. 

The opener was Peter Matthew Bauer, best known as the frontman of the Walkmen.  Unfortunately he didn't play any of those songs, but his solo songs were still pretty damn rad.  With his very unique voice, everything sorta sounded like Walkmen songs I'd never heard before anyways.  There was a little Replacements and Springsteen vibe in there too, but that probably could have also been said about the Walkmen.  Anyways, I need to buy his solo record.  Maybe if I write it down it will remind me. 

Belle & Sebastian / Luke Temple at the Fillmore Miami Beach - 9/28/2014

Belle & Sebastian
with Luke Temple
The Fillmore Miami Beach

For the second year in a row we traveled to a foreign country to see our beloved Belle & Sebastian - Montreal last year, and Miami Beach this year.  Sure, Miami Beach isn't technically a foreign country but it might as well be - there were certainly more women walking around in thongs than you typically see anywhere else in this country. 

Our tickets were general admission so we got there early and got a good spot up front - I've seen B&S many times but always from far away; this time, only one row of people separated us from Stuart Murdoch and company.  They were performing as a thirteen piece with the regulars joined by a quartet of violin mercenaries from New York (as both the band and the crowd found out when Stuart talked to them during the set).  The band kicked off with the instrumental "Judy Is a Dick Slap," complete with Stuart playing a keytar, and it only got more awesome from there.  Lots of classics throughout the set including "I'm a Cuckoo," "Like Dylan in the Movies," "Dog on Wheels," "The Boy With the Arab Strap," "Legal Man," "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying," "Judy & the Dream of Horses," and the always perfect " "If You're Feeling Sinister."  According to the band this was their first show ever in Florida, something Stewart joked about on a couple of occasions.  Also, unbeknownst to me and probably a lot of the crowd, he is married to a gal from Florida, and told a funny story about his first trip to the state on vacation when some people pulled up next to him on the highway and offered him some Ritz crackers.  It was more or less a perfect show, and well worth the cost of airfare and hotel and tickets and whatever else we spent.  I mean, the beach was nice too, so that was also a plus. 

A brief note about opener Luke Temple - I dug it, but not sure much of the crowd did.  He has a really heavy Jonathan Richman vibe - classical guitar, sparse drummer, hell he was even wearing a very Jonathan Richman-like shirt.  The vocals sounded more like James Mercer of the Shins though, and the songs had a jazzy-folk-pop thing going on.  the crowd was very loud during his set, and as his music was pretty quiet it was pretty awful.  He tried saying something to the crowd a couple of times, which has never, ever worked in the history of live performances, they just get indignant at being told what to do.  I would check him out again though, hopefully in better environs.    

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers / Steve Winwood at PNC Arena - 9/18/2014

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
with Steve Winwood
PNC Arena

I don't often go to large "arena rock" shows - I think the last one I saw actually held in a basketball stadium like this one was REM (with Lucious Jackson opening!) at the Dean Dome back in 1995 or 1996.  For some reason I felt it incumbent to see Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers while it was still possible though, high priced tickets and nosebleed seats be's not often you get a chance to see someone who has written as many hit songs as he has. 

After paying twenty dollars for parking, more than I almost ever pay to actually see a show, we got inside and found that our section had been closed off and they upgraded our seats to better ones downstairs - score!  You can more or less guess the set list, basically a lot of his hits (both from his solo and Heartbreakers records) along a number of with tracks from his new album "Hypnotic Eye."  The crowd sing-along for "Freefallin'" was pretty impressive, almost as impressive as the drunken dancing by the fratboys a couple rows in front of us...they were FEELING IT.  I knew it would be a sound good and be a professional performance, you don't stay on top like Petty has for this long if you're putting out a sub-par product - but I was impressed with just how good it actually was.  Even from the other end of the stadium where we were seated, it was engaging and exciting to watch the band perform; I was also surprised at how funny Petty was, his between song banter was pretty strong.  They played for about two hours, closing with probably their best song "American Girl."  It was money well spent. 

It's definitely worth mentioning the opener, since it was the rock legend Steve Winwood.  Yeah he played his eighties hit "Higher Love" and it sounded fine, but the highlight was the retrospective of songs from some of the different groups he has been a part of over his career  - Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home," an number of Traffic jams, and a couple of Spencer Davis Group songs including the ender of "Gimme Some Lovin'," one of the best parts of the entire night. 

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

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 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

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 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

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

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.