Hopscotch Music Fest 2012 - Day 1
With Young Magic, Jon Mueller's Death Blues, Altos, Screaming Females, Liars, and Trash Talk
Memorial Auditorium & The Lincoln Theatre
And so it begins again - Hopscotch, the Triangle's premier music festival, is off and running. This is a "brief" write-up of what I saw on the first night...as best I can remember. It should be noted I'm trying my damnedest to only see bands I've never seen this year, so expect plenty of what I write to be rambling and nonsensical. So, not much different from the usual.
After getting my wristband, I made my way to Memorial Auditorium to see Young Magic. Not for any particular reason, but the venue was nearby and you gotta start somewhere. The band was a gal playing guitar and singing paired with a dude in a funny hat playing electronic drums, knob twiddling, and sorta occasionally...rapping I guess you'd call it. Honestly it sounded like someone remixing Bjork and throwing a few elements of Enya in here and there. It was interesting for a song or two but then I grew bored and antsy and left to see something else.
That something else was Jon Mueller's Death Blues, a couple of blocks away at the Lincoln Theatre. For some reason the Midwest produces drummers so technically proficient that they could double as drum machines, and Mueller is one of the finest examples. His band was seven members total, but what a strange set-up it was...two guys playing guitars like hammered dulcimers and a stand up bassist on the right, Mueller in the middle, and three back-up singers (one dude and two ladies) who also played the occasional cowbell or gong on the left. For a lack of better vocabulary, they were basically playing a form of Krautrock - repetitive, meditative, long-form songs all built around Mueller's drumming. But we're not talking a Can rip-off here - it was more of a Kraut backbone with new sounds formed around it. Elements of atmospheric metal, drone, free jazz, and even the dirtiness of garage rock laced within the tracks. I quite liked it - a lot actually. Can't wait to hear their record.
Altos followed. The Hopscotch website said the band is a twelve piece, but they had clearly paired down that membership for touring and showed up with a miniscule eleven members on this night. The Lincoln has a decent sized stage, but eleven people is apparently capacity because they were elbows-to-ass up there. Altos had a few band members in common with Jon Mueller's Death Blues - both bands are from Milwaukee - but really nothing in common sound-wise. This group had multiples of everything - horns, violins, drummers, singers, guitarists, and attractive band members (hello trumpet lady!). They had both an orchestral and a choral vibe, so comparisons to Polyphonic Spree are obvious; you could also throw around some Broken Social Scene mentions as well. Less so in sound with those comparisons, but definitely in construction. I did enjoy the music and overall vibe, but their music seemed to lack...hooks. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but something about this band left me expecting & wanting things to be a little more pop. I'd still be interested in hearing their recorded music though as there was certainly enough here to warrant further investigation.
Screaming Females played next. They were definitely the most anticipated act of the night for me, possibly of the whole festival (of bands I'd never seen before at least). They completely lived up to those lofty expectations I had placed on them. I knew next to nothing about them going in, but plenty of friends whose taste I trust have raved about them and that is plenty of reason to see a band - especially in a festival setting. Let's go ahead and get this out of the way - despite their name, there is only one female in the band, who definitely screams. That female is an otherworldly phenomenon by the name of Marissa Paternoster, and her guitar shreddery is damn near unparalleled, and I don't just mean "for a girl." No, watching her for just one single song will put to rest any archaic notion that women are somehow inferior musicians to men. She, well, rocks. And so does the rest of the band for that matter - you almost have to feel bad for the bassist and drummer, because NO ONE is paying any attention to them when Paternoster is on stage. The Hopscotch write-up compares them to Kiss which might seem a little preposterous, but after watching them live you won't get any arguments out of me. Maybe a more immediate comparison is Jeff the Brotherhood and the way they combine metal with pop, though JtB aren't even in the same league talent-wise (and I mean that as no insult to them, cause I love that band). Just a phenomenal group, one that I will go out of my way to see play again many, many times.
After all those bands I finally left the Lincoln and hoofed it back over to Memorial to catch the bulk of Liars set. This would be the first band of the night I had actually seen before, though it's been a number of years, probably sometime around their second record "They Were Wrong, So We Drowned." They still play the same sort of dark Birthday Party-esque "horror rock" they always have, but where their old approach was a little more the typical bass/guitar/drums of most bands, now they largely work behind a couple huge banks of electronics and a drummer, with the the guitar and bass only being picked up occasionally. The music still absolutely kills though, and inside of Memorial between the dancing kids and the blown out bass the floors were shaking. I called it "gutter techno" to a friend, another fitting moniker for their sound. Whatever you call it, muy bueno.
On my way back to my car I decided to pop my head back into the Lincoln to catch a bit of Trash Talk who were closing out the night there. I was told they were hardcore, and it turns out I was told correctly. It caused an immediate flashback to my youth, going skating and listening to NYC hardcore like Gorilla Biscuits or Cro-Mags on a boombox in my friends run-down Volvo. Maybe a little metal influence in there is well, though I might be picking that up more from their recordings I've listened to since the show than what I actually saw this night. Lot's of moshing kids, with the Trash Talk front man right in the middle of them while he sang. The songs never seemed to last more than a minute, as it should be.
And with that, night one of Hopscotch was over. Two to go. I'm already tired.