Hopscotch Music Fest 2012 - Day 2
With Jenny Besetzt, Matthew E. White, Love Language, Built to Spill, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Hiss Golden Messenger, Yo La Tengo, Mountain Goats, and Killer Mike
Tir Na Nog, Long View Center, CAM, City Plaza, Fletcher Opera Theatre, Memorial Auditorium and The Lincoln Theatre
This was a big day for me - in my third year of Hopscotch, I was fully committing to going to day parties. I usually just go out for the night shows and use the day to recuperate, but you can rest when the festival is over. This meant my day of rockin' would begin a little before 2 and end a little before 2. I know this sort of thing is no big deal to most people at Hopscotch, but if I stay away from my couch for too long it starts to get worried. And these shows on my DVR ain't gonna watch themselves.
I started out at Tir Na Nog seeing Jenny Besetzt. These kids are one of my very favorite new-ish local bands, assuming you consider Greensboro local. I say local enough considering how often they play here, and how much I like the band. I've struggled quite a bit describing their sound, so let's just go with a modern version of the Psychedelic Furs and leave it at that. They're guitar driven in the same way as the Furs and heavily eighties-influenced, but they still sound modern. I only got to see a few songs before I had to be at my next location, but even a few songs by these guys is better than none at all; I'm sure I'll be seeing them again soon. The band said something about a new record before I left - I must procure this immediately, internet. Get on it.
I walked across Moore Square to the Long View Center - from the name, I had no idea this was actually a church. I was there to see Matthew E. White - he played a 30-musician deep spectacle the night before that was heavily talked about but I missed. Thankfully he was also playing this Three Lobed day party so even though I missed that giant version of his show, I would still get to see Mr. White in some form. And that form was a six-piece version of the band plus the unplanned added bonus of five background singers. To put a cheap label on it, White plays what some might call "cosmic country" aka mellow space rock with strong Nashville leanings and just a hint of jam band shenanigans. You'll hear a little Andy Williams, maybe some Lee Hazlewood, possibly some Dr. John, and even a little Doug Sahm from time to time, really pleasant music that I quite liked. A church was the perfect setting for this act, despite my being a little weirded out being in the house of jesus for the first time in years and years. I clearly wasn't alone, as it seemed like everyone was too scared to talk above even a whisper whether a band was playing or not. White's set was a nice, quiet collection of his own songs and a couple of covers (Randy Newman & Joe South), and then ended the performance gathered around the piano with the entire band singing back-up vocals. Just lovely. Amen.
After time well spent with the lord, I made my way to CAM to see Love Language. This was to be my first outdoor show of the festival, and sweet balls was it ever hot. It was hard to even concentrate on the music I was sweating so much. Of course there was a guy standing near me in jeans and a jacket looking dry as a bone, which is always infuriating. It did help a little bit that I got to eat a barbeque sandwich while listening to the band perform...if only I'd had a Slurpie as well. Anyways, the band - obviously, I've seen the Love Language a few times before, but never like this. There was probably eleven people on stage (hard to get an exact count because they kept coming and going throughout the set, plus I left my abacus at home). They had extra guitar players (including Ryan Gustafson), at least one horn player, two folks on strings (including Mark Paulson from Bowerbirds), and at least one person on tambourine aka "free wristband" as singer Stu McLamb told the crowd. Musically, it was a bit of a hot mess; I'm not sure there was a lot of practice time with this robust version of the band. That coupled with the typical subpar outdoor sound you typically get at these sorts of gigs...well, it was still fun if not musically the strongest I've heard the band. Crowd seemed to have a damn fun time though, so good enough.
There was a lull in the music wherein I hung out at Brewmasters with a friend getting fat off of cheese fries and soaking up air conditioning. But soon it was off to City Plaza for Friday night's festival headliners. Up first was Built to Spill, a band I've probably seen twenty times if not more - but never in a setting like this. They were an odd choice for such a large stage; a band that has played Cat's Cradle-sized venues for nearly two decades and who are much more focused on their song craft than their stage presence. A joy to watch for super fans like myself (I'd consider them one of my all-time favorite bands), but not the sort of act to win over the randoms. On the other hand, fuck those people if they can't appreciate Built to Spill. It was the typical five piece line-up for the band, including original member, frequent tour guitarist and beard wizard Brett Netson. In those middle years Netson wasn't often seen with the group, but has been a regular presence in their live show for at least the last five years I'd guess. Despite being outdoors and on that large cavernous stage, the band sounded great. In typical fashion, they sampled from across their entire career, from early songs like "Car" and "In the Morning" to the middle years classics of "Carry the Zero" and "You Were Right" to a handful of songs from their most recent couple of records (if you consider something that came out three years ago "recent"). The only real disappointment was just one song from "Perfect from Now On" got played - "Made Up Dreams." Let it be stated I'd pay a whole lot of money to see them play that record from start to finish. Goddamn do I love this band.
The Jesus & Mary Chain were the big headliners of the evening. Despite their glory days falling very much in my formative years, it wasn't until the Pixies covered "Head On" that I made the effort to investigate them. Ever since then I've always dug the band, especially the obvious albums "Psychocandy" and "Honey's Dead," but I'd be lying if I tried to claim to be anything more than a casual fan. Still, when they were announced for the festival I was glad to finally get to see them play some of their hits. I was really just looking to hear the obvious, the already mentioned "Head On" and musical perfection known as "Just Like Honey," and I got to hear them. And they sounded great! Everything else was just gravy on top of those songs...enjoyable gravy, but gravy nonetheless.
My next destination was Yo La Tengo at Memorial Auditorium, but since I had a little time until they began I headed next door to Fletcher Opera Theatre to see part the set by Hiss Golden Messenger. I had never been in Fletcher before, what a beautiful venue - wish bands played here more often. Acoustics are great as well. The show started with the man behind the band, Michael Taylor, singing "The Road" sans amplification at the front of the stage...it was so quiet you could hear the proverbial pin drop. I've seen Hiss a couple of times recently, and this version of the group was basically the same as the last time I saw them at the Pinhook, plus the addition of Lambchop's William Tyler as an extra guitar player. Man that cat gets around! At this point it seems like he's played with every band in the tri-state area. Not to get all hippy but it was beautiful man, even if I only saw a handful of songs. Luckily one of those show taping nerds recorded it and already put it online. I haven't listened yet but given that room and how rapt the audience was, I'm guessing it sounds great. Grab it here.
It was finally time to move my butt next door for Yo La Tengo. I know I said I was going to try to see mostly new music during the festival, but Yo La Tengo was always going to be exempt from that rule - I see them anytime they come to town. Ira seemed particular peppy the entire show, wailing on his guitar, holding it by the whammy bar, flinging it around...just treating it real bad and making some great sounds in the process. Based on the banter he was excited by the number of "experimental" artists at the festival (aka the stuff all my friends talk about that I rarely ever go to), and maybe that was helping color his approach to this show. Georgia and James were along for the ride as well, holding everything together as Ira wandered off into the sonic wilderness. And I enjoyed the shit out of it. I didn't stay for the whole set and apparent some guests and cover songs happened later on, but like a shark I have to keep moving.
The Mountain Goats had announced they would be performing two special sets for Hopscotch - one set of metal covers on the piano, and another set of Mountain Goats rarities. I wasn't originally planning on seeing either set, but on a whim decided to stick my head back inside Fletcher to see what was going on. Turns out I caught things perfectly, just before they were starting the metal set, and I decided to stick around and see what songs John Darnielle picked to cover. The set-up was John and a grand piano on the left side of the stage and three male chorus singers on the right side. To no surprise if you've read any of Darnielle's music writing or twitter posts, most of the songs covered were of the black & death metal varieties aka "metal I don't know shit about." Some of the artists included were Gorguts, Darkthrone, In Solitude, and Nightwish. I didn't know the source material at all, but the deconstruction of the songs from John paired with just piano and the chorus was outstanding. But what really struck home were the opening and closing songs - songs that are near and dear to my heart. He began his set with Ozzy's "Shot in the Dark" and ended with Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark." Both renditions were amazing, striking a chord with both my headbanging childhood and Mountain Goats-loving adulthood. I'm really glad I decided to pop in to this show because it ended up one of my favorites of the whole fest.
For my last stop of the night I finally made it to the Lincoln to catch part of Killer Mike's set. I'd like to rip into his set for the fact that he was rapping over his own vocal tracks, vocal tracks that were as loud as what was coming out the mic, but I'll be damned if I didn't enjoy his performance anyways. The crowd was as amped up as any show I've seen in a long time - rapping along with Mike, dancing, arm pumping...it was like the shoot for a music video. Killer Mike has to be the most angry jovial man I've ever seen - he had the entire crowd chanting "fuck Reagan" with a giant smile on his face...nevermind that most of the people there weren't even alive when Reagan was president. He was equal opportunity, railing on Obama too; basically, I don't think he likes politicians. I feel his pain. And my body was in pain, so towards the end of his set I meandered to my car and shut it down...at least for the next few hours.