Tonight, on the final night of Hopscotch, I would finally be partaking of the big scene at City Plaza. It seemed a lot mellower than in past years; this is surely bad for the promoters but it's great for me, as it was quite easy to get right to the front before the Breeders started their set. As a form of a soundcheck they kicked off their set with a cover of the Guided by Voices song "Shocker in Gloomtown" - a strange beginning but a great song so why not? The band then proceeded to play their classic album "Last Splash" in it's entirety and in the same order of the recording from start to finish. Kim Deal would often comment about particular pedals or synths or whatever that they had used when recording the record, and how they had gone to the trouble to make sure and use those same parts live. I last saw these gals (and guy) play at Lollapalooza nearly 20 years ago, just after "Last Splash" was released, before a chunk of the crowd was born, and they were one of my favorite acts of that festival. To this day I still listen to that record fairly often, so it was a real joy to hear those songs live again. The performance occasionally sounded sloppy and I don't know if the band was really putting on all that good of a show, but nostalgia kicked in and it didn't matter, I was having too much fun to care. After they finished playing all of "Last Splash," they rounded out their set with a Beatles' cover ("Happiness Is a Warm Gun") and a few tracks from their other record "Pod." It was almost disconcerting how smiley and happy Kim Deal seemed on stage, you don't usually see that much smiling at a rock concert. There was no shortage of smiling in the crowd though.
I thought it odd that Spiritualized were the City Plaza headliners - it seems like the Breeders would have the larger fan base. But the Breeders don't rely on dramatic lighting the way Spiritualized does, so it makes sense for their set not to start until it is dark out. Based on when I saw the band at the Cradle last spring, I thought I had set myself up just right to get photos of Jason Pierce...and then the stage crew placed his gear where he would have his back to me the whole show. A minor issue, and the band sounded fantastic even through the back of his head was mostly all I saw of Pierce. The touring band this time was a seven-piece, featuring two back-up singers and the legendary Kid Millions of Oneida on drums. Their set hit across a wide swath of Spiritualized albums, though surprisingly nothing (that I remember) from "Songs in A & E." Some highlights included "Hey Jane," "Lord Let It Rain on Me," "Oh Baby," and of course, one of the greatest songs ever written in the history of mankind or even alien-kind, "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space." I was exceedingly glad to see Spiritualized live again - can we continue this trend of them performing locally every year?
My next stop was Fletcher with the intention of getting a good seat for Low no matter what. I was so concerned about this that I got to the venue an entire band early and ended up seeing a New York act called San Fermin that I knew nothing about. They were an eight-piece including folks on violin, trumpet, baritone sax (aka the really big ass sax), and two lead singers (one male and one female) who didn't play anything but their vocal chords. Every band member was young, well-dressed, and attractive - specifically the female singer, who on a scale of one to ten was about a twelve. That combined with their racial and gender make-up gave off the appearance the band was put together by a thinktank trying to create the perfect pop group. Regardless of all that, they were extremely talented, every one of them, almost too talented maybe as the music sounded so spotless. World's worst criticism, I know. The two singers more or less took turns singing lead, with pretty different results. When the guy sang, his deep voice insured they pretty much sounded just like an orchestral version of the National; when the girl sang, it was more like an American Idol participant on their first tour after winning the contest. I could really get into the dude's songs, but the girl's songs were just a little too earnest for me, though clearly well crafted and performed. I didn't regret seeing them by any means, but I've not yet decided what I really think of their music. They actually have a free EP you can download if you're curious, and make up your own mind.
It had been years but I was finally going to get to see Low again. I saw them perform live all the time when I lived in California, but since moving back to NC I don't think they've played here once. I had this master plan that I would watch about 45 minutes of Low's set and then go try and get into the Sleep show, but after just a couple of songs it was clear nothing short of a bomb scare was going to get me out of that theater before Low finished their set. Song after song it was like I had written the set list - I can't remember everything but I do recall "Dinosaur Act," "Monkey," "Canada," "That's How You Sing Amazing Grace," "Holy Ghost," and "Sunflower." Basically, everything I'd ever want to hear other than "The Plan" and "Over the Ocean" off of my favorite record "The Curtain Hits the Cast." The sound was perfect, almost beyond perfect if such a thing were possible - you would think Fletcher Opera Theater was built specifically with this band in mind. The crowd also helped a ton by keeping silent, minus folks occasionally shuffling in and out - I know I usually talk a lot of shit about my fellow concert goers, but good job to all not fucking up this amazing live experience. I have no trouble proclaiming this was the best show of the entire festival. Apparently the people behind the music blog NYC Taper was there recording a lot of Hopscotch shows to put up on their site, so let's all hope they got this one and will upload it eventually because I'd love to hear this set again.
My final show of the night, and the entire festival, was Sleep. After sticking around so long at Low I was expecting a crazy line to get into the Lincoln Theatre, and couldn't believe my luck as I was able to walk right in the venue and work my way near the front of the stage just a few minutes before the band started playing. The stage was literally covered with amps - between Ampeg, Mesa and Marshall, there were probably eight to ten double and single cabinets. I was a little worried my brain might explode from volume. In the end it was very loud, but not nearly as loud as I was expecting; but the bass, my god that bottom end was absolutely vibrating my innards from start to finish. Matt Pike was shirtless and shredding his guitar from start to finish, the instrument resting on his ample belly. Someone next to me noted he'd never seen Pike play with a shirt on, perhaps out of fear that his guitar playing would set his clothes on fire. Al Cisneros has one of the strangest bass playing styles I've ever seen, all of the action with both hands happening on the neck. I couldn't tell you any specific songs they played, but the setlist is probably somewhere online. I can tell you it melted my brain, and was a perfect ending to this musical weekend.
Until next year Hopscotch, let's do it again!