Hopscotch 2011 - Day 3 With Superchunk, The Flaming Lips, Shit Horse, The Men, Bass Drum of Death, Brain F≠, Cheveu, and KORT Downtown Raleigh 9/10/2011
It was the third and final night of Hopscotch, and while my body might be wearing down, my spirit and excitement in hearing more live music had not waned at all. Superchunk was on stage in the City Plaza as I was parking my car...and let me say how amazing it is hearing "Slack Motherfucker" blaring all over downtown Raleigh, able to be heard blocks away. I have of course seen this band dozens of times, and will hopefully see them dozens more, so I didn't feel the need to be there for the whole thing in such a large impersonal setting. But the Chunk did what they always do, churn out catchy song after catchy song, bouncing all around the stage like kids half their age. I only caught a few songs but it was a few of their best songs - "Cast Iron" and "Hyper Enough" amongst them. And even on a giant stage in front of a huge crowd, I'm pretty positive that Laura Ballance is on that stage performing her ass off just for me.
The Flaming Lips were obviously the biggest band playing the festival, and the sold out City Plaza crowd really piled on top of one another in anticipation of Wayne Coyne & company delivering an exciting set. And they did - sorta. It was certainly entertaining to look at, with a giant lighted stage, Wayne firing confetti into the crowd, rolling around in his giant zorb ball, a gaggle of hot girls on both sides of the stage in tight sexy Dorothy outfits, and balloons...balloons everywhere. But underneath all that window dressing, the music takes a slight backseat in my opinion. Or maybe I just feel that way because they didn't play anything from "The Soft Bulletin", only played a weird sing-a-long version of the title track from "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots", and decided to cover not one but two Pink Floyd songs. Now I love Pink Floyd, and I usually love cover songs, but when you have a catalog as huge as the Lips do, I'd rather just hear more of their tracks. Still, griping aside, I had fun, and would certainly go again if they came back to town. They're never going to top the time I saw them when they toured for "The Soft Bulletin" anyways, so it's all for second place anyways.
From there I made my way up to Slims expecting to see The Men, but due to some sort of technical Difficulties delaying the show I got to see the last portion of the set by Shit Horse. And all I can say is holy shit, how has this band not existed in my life until now? It was like some dirty delta blues ala T-Model Ford or RL Burnside coupled with even dirtier garage rock. Simple, fun party music, the sort of band you'd force any fun loving friends to see in person. And if the music isn't enough, there was a topless girl (with pasties over the nips) wearing a horse head and holding a fake assault rifle marching up and down through the crowd. It was only fitting that their merch offerings consisted of cassette tapes and candy cigarettes.
The Men were one of my most anticipated club shows of the whole festival - their album had sort of a kraut-punk vibe to it, kinda cold and wound up at the same time. And you could just tell this band was going to be a good live act. My instincts did not disappoint - they swayed and stomped around on the tiny Slim's stage while the crowd went nuts, pushing and shoving that didn't seem to be moshing as much as it was drunken jostling. Their set was short and furious and, well, drunken. And the music sounded a lot closer to hardcore than punk live, not that I was complaining.
Up next were a band somewhat in the same vibe, Bass Drum of Death. Noisy punk-garage-whatever out of Mississippi on Fat Possum, touted as a two piece but coming in hot as a trio with an extra guitarist. This band is young and sloppy, but like most kids this age what they lack in talent they more than make up for with exuberance. I've been hearing about them for a little while and made a point of making them a 1-2 punch of awesomeness at Slims, which was a smart move on my part. Hell, the club was so packed I'm not sure I could have gotten out anyways. I'm pretty sure everyone got the joke when it turned out the pedal on the bass drum was broken when they started their set. So while they waited on someone to bring a new pedal, they played a floor tom heavy version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man". I would praise their ability to pull this off, but again they're from Mississippi - being able to play Skynyrd is probably required before you're allowed to book your first show. Eventually they got the problem sorted out and blazed a set very similar to The Men in it's ferocity, crowd participation, and shortness.
Because Slims was running so behind I wasn't going to be able to see any of Future Islands, and honestly that was fine because they play here multiple times a year. Instead I made my way to the party at Lump Gallery. When I got there Brain F≠ (pronounced Brain Flannel) was finishing up their set and I caught a few songs. It struck me as young, crusty punk wit ha cute female lead singer, not something you see too often. And when I say "crusty" I mean in sound, not style. These kids looked recently bathed, no one was wearing those weird ass flaps, and I wasn't asked for change once. I liked it, and the kids seemed hyped on the group. First time I've ever seen crowd surfing in an art gallery.
I was there specifically to see the French group Cheveu, who played next. I've listened to their music just enough to not really know what to expect, as their sound is all over the map. They are a trio, with one guitarist two guys manipulating a metric ton of synths, keyboards, pedals, and god knows what other electronics. And since all the gear had European plugs, this stuff came over with them...I'm guessing they had to check a few bags. As a live act they come across as some Frankenstein combination of off-kilter rap like Why?, cold synth rock like A-Frames, and all-out weirdness like Frank Zappa maybe. The rap mention might seem a little...odd, but the singer has this talk-sing style, and couple with it being in French or completely unintelligible, it really made me think of Why?, who if you've ever listened to are only tangentially part of the hip hop world. I quite liked Cheveu, but they were very different from anything I've seen in quite some time.
I figured this would be the end of my night, but I texted a friend who was at KORT to find out if they were still playing, and luckily they were, so I hot -assed it up the hill to Kings to see this Kurt Wagner (of Lambchop) side project. Got there just in time to catch their last couple of songs and the encore, and it only cemented in me the fact that I need to figure out how to clone myself - I'm sure the whole set was gold, because what I saw was. Kurt and Courtney Tidwell burned up the stage in front of a full band, playing throwback country that would have felt right at home on the Grand Ole Opry in 1970. Their album is all obscure covers as I'm sure their set was as well, and I'm not nearly well versed enough in classic country to identify any of them. All I know is they were really, really, REALLY good. Strong performers, all of them, and Kurt and Courtney both have mean pipes on them. Apparently before I got there they even played a Superchunk cover, which would have been awesome to see. This band was a great final act to a fantastic festival, a festival that hopefully continues for years to come.
Hopscotch 2011 - Day 2 With Guided by Voices, Generationals, Bandway, and Hospitality Downtown Raleigh 9/9/2011
The second day of Hopscotch did not start out according to plan. Apparently there were photo restrictions to get into the big City Plaza shows, and here I was with my fancy camera and no photo pass. Luckily, after about fifteen or twenty minutes standing around the entrance feeling sorry for myself, listening to Guided by Voices play but not able to see them, the king of the festival, Grayson Currin, came riding by on his trusty steed and managed to get me past security and into the show. Many props to Grayson for saving my ass and letting me watch one of my favorite bands of all time play their "last" show. Yes, they were claiming this was the last GBV show, but I doubt anyone believes it is true.
Regardless as to the finality of GBV as a band or just this lineup or just until Robert Pollard gets a wild hair in a couple of months and decides to reform the band again, they put on one fuck of a show. I don't think they played a single song older than the "Alien Lanes" record, and I'd guess they played pretty much every song from that album and "Bee Thousand". It was just classic hit after classic hit after classic hit, the crowd getting more and more excited with each passing song, singing along and pumping their fists in the air vigorously (as I was trying to take photos, I could have probably done with out all the air fist pumping). If this was really the finale, it was one they could be proud of and I was glad to see them live one final time.
After a brief respite at the new restaurant Chuck's to eat one of the best burgers I've ever had, I trekked over to White Collar Crime to check out Generationals. I'd never been to this club before, but the name sounds like it would be the name of a skronky post-punk band that would have opened for Wire in 1979...so there's that. And I have no idea what the hell I'm talking about. Anyways, this band is from New Orleans, but you'd never guess it from their sound. They play a very breezy, upbeat brand of pop, and I'm guessing they probably get some comparisons to Vampire Weekend, more so in feel than in actual sound. Honestly, they had a couple of songs that brought Katrina & the Waves to mind...and I'm not sure why that band would ever come to mind, but there it is.
It took in about 25 minutes of sunny pop before hoofing it around the corner to Deep South Bar to see Bandway. BANDWAY!!!!!!!!! Is it wrong I was more excited for these guys than anyone else in the entire festival? I say no. And clearly I wasn't only one looking forward to it, as the room was damn near full. Lots of local rock stars were there as well, as they should be - off the top of my head I definitely saw Ron Liberti of Pipe, Mac McCaughan of Superchunk and Steve Popson of Polvo near the front of the crowd where I was posted up. I think this officially makes Bandway a "band's band". They played a really random assortment of songs, skipping a lot of their "hits" like "King Kong" and "Balls Out" and "Millennium" in lieu of some newer songs and more obscure tracks. But let's get real, they could fart into the microphone for an hour and I'd proclaim it the greatest show ever. They did end up closing out the evening with "Champagne" and "Four Day Weekend" and at some point Brooks was playing air guitar on a vacuum cleaner while throwing official Bandway wallets onto the crowd. Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds. Shit, they brought so much rock they blew out the club's sub woofer. Not bad for a pair of drunks with a guitar and a tape deck. And before making my way to the next venue, I spoke the band a bit and word on the street is they will have a new album coming out soon. Specifically, a new cassette, which is really the best way to be listening to Bandway anyways. Hopefully that means there will be a release party of some sort to accompany this, and I won't have to wait forever to see them again.
In my Bandway afterglow, I decided to cruise back around the corner just past White Collar Crime to another new club for me - The Union. Brooklyn band Hospitality, newly signed to Merge, were already into their night-ending set of twee jazz pop. Imagine Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura fronting the Sea & Cake, and you'll get the general idea with this group. As I love both of those bands dearly, it was a no brainer I'd like Hospitality (even if my mind was still in drunk cock rock mode). It was all very cute and sweet and they used the bass like a lead guitar, which was kinda neat. I guess it was a nice unwind and final band for the evening, and a band I'll gladly see again...but let's be honest I would have traded it for another set by Bandway.
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2008 - current: These reviews are from my time here in the Triangle of NC.
Pre-2008: These reviews were from when I lived in the Bay Area and likely appeared on the website Playing in Fog.