Monday, September 21, 2015

Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh - 9/12/2015

Hopscotch Music Festival
Downtown Raleigh

The Final night was upon us, and for me it would begin with country legend Dwight Yoakam.  Sure, I know his lines from "Sling Blade" better than I know his music, but I'm always down to soak in an artist of his magnitude at least for a little while.  The band was all decked out in tight sequined outfits, with Dwight basically painted into his denim - his calling card for at least three decades now.  I couldn't tell you any of the songs he played, but everything sounded great - I see so many punk and indie rock bands that it's easy to forget what a well-oiled machine a professional band like this sounds like.  The crowd was pretty hilarious - I was right next to a pack of middle-aged woo girls who spent the entire time taking selfies of each other while yelling and drinking a ton of cheap beer.  Hopefully Hopscotch made a little scratch off of this particular event, because there were definitely a ton of people at this show that I'm certain didn't otherwise attend the festival.

Eventually I wandered down to the Lincoln Theatre to see some of Wovenhand, though I couldn't tell you off the top of my head why I decided on that as my next destination.  Maybe they just had a cool sounding name?  Yet again the band was terribly backlit - you're killing me Lincoln.  The music was heavy with an almost tribal, repetitive vibe, and I was into it; but I wasn't sold on the vocals - when he was singing all I could think of was the Cult, and I'm not sure I (or the world) needs another Cult.  After a couple of songs I moved on.

I had grand plans for the night, bouncing back and forth from club to club like one does during Hopscotch, but ended up just spending the rest of the night at the Pour House.  First up was Birds of Avalon, a band I've seen many times, and for good reason - they're fantastic.  Even though as a general rule I try to see mostly out-of-towners during this festival, I never miss these kids.  They've been great for a while now, but a few months back they added the drummer from Valient Thorr as a second drummer and now they are exponentially better, if that was even possible.  I commented to someone that they "won" Hopscotch, and that was probably true - best set of the entire festival.  Every member of this six-piece band seems to be working at the peak of their abilities, and we're all better people and music fans for it.  On their last song Greg Fox of Guardian Alien and Liturgy and god knows who else added even more drums, and the band collectively lost their minds in a heavy psyche rock freakout.  Apparently NYC taper recorded and have or will be posting this set...find it.  Download it.  Love it.

I've seen them before, and I still don't know what to make of Zack Mexico.  Six members total, with two drummers (that will be a theme tonight), and at times it felt like only the bassist was holding their shit together.  Somehow they sound like a garage rock version of a Pavement / Velvet Underground hybrid...I think.  Or maybe not.  Honestly, I spent most of my time just watching the antics and trying not to get killed by the moshing & crowd surfing bros who were ramming in to me non-stop.  Every song is somewhere between ten minutes and a year long, and that combined with their very charismatic lead singer makes it feel like you're at a house show of the world's strangest cult.  Before their set was over, the singer would hand out safety vests and goggles to his fellow band members, destroy one Telecaster, possibly break another, give both guitars to the crowd, throw (what was apparently fake) money in the air, and by the end there were at least five people banging on the drums.  It was both a mess and fun, and I'm not sure I need to see them again for quite a while.

The up side of being at the Pour House for so long is I had a great spot for Australia's King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, the band I was probably most looking forward to for the entire festival.  The down side is they were the last band of the entire festival, things were already running quite late - I probably could have laid down and slept on the floor right in front of the band if it was socially acceptable to do so.  Also, after constantly getting slammed into for the duration of the Zack Mexico set, my body was really fuckin' mad at me for putting myself through that again.  I watched a few songs of their epic garage psych and it sounded great, but honestly my heart just wasn't into it anymore, and my brain was shutting down.  Even seeing the lead singer play a little rock flute wasn't able to snap me back, and that was when I knew my Hopscotch was over.  Hopefully these kids come back around the planet and play for us again when I'm in a better frame of mind to enjoy it.

Thumbs up Hopscotch - you did it again.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Hopscotch Music Festival (Day Parties) in downtown Raleigh - 9/12/2015

Hopscotch Music Festival
Day Parties
Downtown Raleigh 

Due to work and a new baby now living at my house, Saturday was the only day I was able to make it out to day parties.  I had two main reasons for going out - Flock of Dimes and Pipe - but managed to see some other hot jams while I was out and about.

I was so eager to make sure I didn't miss Flock of Dimes that I got to the Pour House super early and ended up catching part of the set by Leverage Models.  I knew nothing about them, so here are my super basic & probably dumb observations...six piece from New York; two drummers, one with a full kit (including rototoms!) and the other with bongos and various other percussion; They sounded like big eighties rock crossed with the Postal Service crossed with Enon crossed with a late night talk show band; two singers, both decked out in white with fake white flowers attached to their mic stands; the dude singer looked like Greg Dulli's little brother, and the gal singer was probably in my top three most attractive people I've ever seen in real attractive that it made me wonder if I was hallucinating or if she was possibly a robot.  I'm not even sure how I felt about their music, but I would contemplate seeing this band again just to look at her.  

I cannot express how excited I was for this Flock of Dimes show - not just because I would get to see Jenn Wasner, one of my favorite musicians in the whole world, but because it fixed my toughest scheduling conflict of the entire I would not have to choose between her and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard later in the evening.  It took her a little while to get everything set up - I literally have no idea how she (and others of similar ilk) manage to keep straight what wires go where when you have over a dozen pedals, multiple keyboards, both a guitar and bass, and god knows how many other gadgets...guess it's a good thing I'm not musically inclined at all, because that would definitely make me quit if I was.  She stated two important things during her show - she would be playing all new songs, and she just moved to the Triangle from Baltimore.  The second statement is especially important, because it hopefully means lots more Flock of Dimes and maybe even Wye Oak shows in the future...and not just because it will make it much easier for me to stalk her - I'm way too lazy to stalk anyone.  Anyways, yadda yadda yadda all the new songs sounded great - in the past I would say Flock of Dimes sounds like a mellower, more electronic version of Wye Oak, but given the direction of the last Wye Oak record "Shriek" I'm not sure there are any real differences to note between Wasner's two acts.  As long as both involve her singing and playing the songs, that's totally fine with me.  

I was on my way to Kings next, but when I got to the door I could hear that Make was still playing downstairs at Neptunes.  A friend does some promo work for them and has been singing their praises for a while, so why not see what they are about?  I only saw a few minutes but I was really feeling it - doom metal but with an early Metallica sort of flair, the vocals more screamed than delivered with the guttural Cookie Monster voice you usually get with these bands.  They almost had a post-rock vibe, but heavy as shit at the same time.  I really want to hear their whole album now, and I think I know exactly the person to talk to about that...

Flesh Wounds were the next act playing upstairs at Kings, and they're always a fun time.  Apparently I'm not the only one who feels that way because the place was pretty close to packed.  Like always, they played their brand of OG style punk with aggressive and snarling abandon, as if it was a disease they were trying to exercise from their body.  It went over quite well with the ample crowd, and soon there was a mosh pit full of middle-aged white men in shorts swirling in front of the stage.  I've seen Flesh Wounds at least a half-dozen times at this point, I really need to buy their goddamn record.

As is always the case anytime they play, Pipe was the highlight of the day...or rather festival...or hell, all year.  My love of this band knows no bounds, and based on the median age of about 37 at this (still packed) show, I'm not alone.  You always know what you're going to get at a Pipe show, because they've been playing the same songs, in pretty much the same way, since the mid-nineties.  Singer Ron Liberti is one of the most entertaining front men in the country, hamming it up on a near constant basis - it's almost like watching a stand-up comic front a punk band.  The only two things I can think to say about this Pipe gig over any of their others is they didn't play "You're Soaking in It" which is a bummer, and it wasn't until the last couple of songs that the crowd started pelting the band with beer cans, a typical sight at any show of theirs.  Oh yeah, and Ron let everyone know he hates a dry biscuit.  Pipe is everything I've ever loved about live music, and god bless them for still doing it right. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh - 9/11/2015

Hopscotch Music Festival
Downtown Raleigh


I haven't really paid much attention to TV on the Radio since their first record "Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes."  For some reason my love of that album never carried over to their other releases...just too much music in the world I guess, and they got lost in the shuffle.  I did see them live around the time that record was released at the tiny Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, and it was a great show.  Seeing them again over a decade later, in this giant city plaza with thousands of's quite a change.  For the thirty or so minutes I watched them perform, I didn't know a single song they played but it sounded great and reminded me I need to listen to some of their other albums.  I'm hoping they played the amazing "Staring at the Sun" at some point, but I was needed elsewhere - I would have gladly stuck around for more had I been able to.  It should also be noted that the white guitarist had a wind chime dangling from the headstock of his guitar.  I felt like everyone needed to know this.

The reason I didn't stick around longer at TVotR?  HeCTA were playing up the street at Neptunes, and they were one my must-sees for the entire festival.  HeCTA is a side project of Kurt Wagner, frontman of one of my all-time favorite bands Lambchop.  It was imperative I get to the club in plenty of time so that I did not miss this set, and I was successful in this endeavor.  The band is mostly electronic with live drum accompaniment and the occasional guitar...and Wagner's vocals of course.  Those vocals aren't delivered in a very straight forward manner though, Kurt seemed to be running them through a litany of knobs and twiddlers and whatnot piled on the table in front of him.  In the most simplistic terms possible, you could just call them Dancechop, because anytime you add his vocals to anything it's gonna sound like some form of Lambchop to this dumdum.  HeCTA have a new record that just dropped (or is about to) on Merge, and if I wasn't looking forward to it before I definitely am now after this performance.

Since I was in the building already, I walked upstairs to Kings to see what was happening.  It was a local rapper named Ace Henderson, a young kid with a big smile who was taking his sweet time taking the stage.  Luckily he ended up being worth the wait...I don't hold the strongest opinions on modern hip hop (understanding fully I'm not the target audience), not so much for the content (I've never much cared about the lyrics regardless of style of music) as I generally just don't like the way the kids rap these days.  Ace seemed to be a step above - had a nice, almost throwback nineties flow but doing it over more modern sounds.  I only caught a few songs, but I was pleasantly surprised and glad I popped up.
(Old man rant: I miss the music of rap in the nineties when it came from records and scratching and lots of jazz samples and goddammit I'm old...hrrrmph.)

My next act was all the way over at Deep South, a quartet from Brooklyn called Pill (good luck finding a website for them with that name, I was not successful).  I didn't know anything about them other than a label connection to Parquet Courts, but it turned out to be a smart decision.  Their music was all over the place, noisey and skronky and punk and weird and oh yeah they had a saxophone going nuts the entire time.  They have a very specific local comparison in Picasso Trigger, a band most people in the Triangle have forgotten, and I'd be extremely shocked if anyone in Pill had heard of them.  For their last song, the band Guardian Alien joined them on stage for an all out musical assault that ended with the bassist detaching all of the strings from the headstock and swinging the bass around by them.  Most importantly, this band had the best collection of awesomely bad, probably-homemade tattoos that I've ever seen - the highlights were "Free WiFi," "Pobody's Nerfect," and a really (probably intentionally) shaky Garfield that read "I Love Mondays."

I made it over to CAM in time to catch the last couple of songs by Moon Duo...who are now a trio?  I guess it's been a little while since I've seen them, not that it has really changed their sound - the drums are just live now.  The music is still incredibly repetitive in the best Krautrock sort of way, with sparse vocals and an ability to put anyone into a trance.  To no surprise they were playing in the dark with some projections playing over them, aka I got a bunch of shit photos.  I would have seen more of their set but I had to wait in quite a line to get into CAM, only to finally enter and see that the place was maybe 3/4ths full.  Thanks for making us all wait outside for no reason doorman!

The closer for the evening, Roky Erickson, is someone I've wanted to see for a long, long time.  He might be getting pretty old, and his young supporting band seemed to be carrying most of the weight musically, but his voice and songs are still on point so it was worth the wait.  The up side is by the time he came on I had weaseled myself into a great spot; the down side is I was six plus hours into rock music this evening, and fading fast.  I stuck it out for quite a while - not long enough to get to "Two Headed Dog" way at the bottom of his long set list, unfortunately, but I did hear him tacle 13th Floor Elevator's "I've Got Levitation" and that was a treat.  After that, it was a long walk back to the more long day to go. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh - 9/10/2015

Hopscotch Music Festival
Downtown Raleigh

These old legs might be a year older and there might be a fresh baby at home, but Hopscotch doesn't care...gotta get out there if you wanna rock n' roll.

This year would begin with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who were headlining the first night at City Plaza.  A strange choice (in my opinion) to play as the main band on an outdoor stage, but there were enough people waiting to see them that clearly there was demand.  Their instrumental post-apocalyptic post-rock was the perfect accompaniment for the storm that was rolling in...and then about 15 or 20 minutes into their set, the sky unloaded.  Most of the crowd scattered except for a few hardcores; I found an eave to stand under that blocked some of the precipitation, but with the wind blowing there was really no hiding from it.  I stuck it out for a few more minutes, but I'm just not a big enough fan to sit through a thunderstorm for them.  They really need to play seated venues anyways - if the whole band gets to sit down, I want to sit down too!

The closest venue is the Lincoln Theatre, which worked out nicely since that was my next destination anyways.  I hadn't planned on seeing Some Army, but with the rain throwing a wrench they make a pretty great consolation prize.  I'm never exactly sure how to describe a band like this - they have a big, "adult" pop sound, the sort of band that would be getting radio airplay and having the majors fight over them if it was 20 or 30 years ago.  The sort of pop where the songs aren't instantly catchy, but they worm their way into your brain after a couple of listens.   They played with the lights off and a projection shining on them, which led to a few decent and lots of bad photos, as tends to happen.

Mac McCaughan is why the Lincoln was my destination to begin with - when he plays, whether solo or in one of his bands, I try my damnedest to be there.  I don't particularly have anything new to say about someone I've seen live dozens upon dozens of time, but as always he was great.  Flesh Wounds has been his backing band for a while now, and it's working out royally - very tight and with it.  One major difference from his other "solo" shows I've seen is there were no Superchunk or Portastatic songs in the set at all, just tracks from his new album.  The only exception was the final two tracks of the show - covers of "Teenage Eyes" by Spider Bags, and "NC Royalty" by Antiseen, with Mac acting like a hardcore singer for the latter.  All eight people in attendance who know who Antiseen is were eating it up.  

I made my way up to Kings to see Wildhoney, and by the time I got in the club they played about 20 seconds before ending their set.  I wasn't even that late, apparently they only played about 20-25 minutes.  People said they sounded exactly like My Bloody Valentine, and that was certainly what that 20 seconds I heard sounded like.  Maybe I can catch a whole minute or more of them live next time they come through town.   

Local band Dad & Dad played next.  They played nearly in the dark (what is with this trend?) which didn't make my camera happy, but musicians are gonna musician.  I don't really know shit about them other than they have some connection to T0W3RS, which was reason enough to see what they were all about.  I would best describe them as theatrical pop like Of Montreal - not that they sound like Of Montreal, just that their style reminded me of the same over-the-top, almost musical theater-like vibe.  I'm honestly not sure how I felt about it overall, but it did hold my attention for a little while. 

I popped into the Pour House to see Fórn pretty much only because I just happened to be walking by the club and had a bit of free time.  They are a doom metal five piece from Boston, with two dudes who looked totally metal, and the other three who looked like they would be more at home in a NYC hardcore band circa 1988.  Then again I know a bunch of metal dudes personally who have that same look, so maybe I just need ot update what my idea of a metal look is.  The music was rad - heavy and sludgy and thick, but as always I could do without the growling vocals.  That's not really a problem with this band per se, more just my personal hang up with this type of metal.  I dig the rest of the music so much though that I can deal with it. 

Outside of Mac, Lydia Loveless was probably my most anticipated set of the night.  She was right next door at Tir Na Nog, and after a bit of a delayed start she more or less burned the place down.  I knew very little of her going in, but left a huge fan.  A friend described her as "Lucinda Williams fronting the Replacements," and I'm just going to steal that because I can't think of anything better.  Her voice is...perfect.  As is her giant Elephant Man tattoo on her right arm.  As soon as I got home I instantly grabbed her last two records online, and I look forward to listening to them on repeat for the next few months. 

Lydia was never going to be topped, but I decided to pop back in to the Lincoln Theatre to see a bit of Battles.  The place was packed, more packed than I've ever seen that venue - it was uncomfortable and smelled like a sauna that hadn't been cleaned in five years.  I had totally forgotten that Ian Williams (formerly) of Don Caballero was in Battles, but I recognized his armpit-high guitar playing instantly.  They were fun to watch for two or three songs, but their brand of funky carnival/calliope music has never really been my bag.  They sound the way a Chapman stick looks.  I was clearly in the minority though based on the crowd reaction, or maybe they're all Chapman stick fans.   Whatever, I went outside and ate some Pie Pushers slices and went home a happy man.