Friday, September 23, 2016

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Three in Downtown Raleigh, 9/10/2016

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Three
Downtown Raleigh
9/10/2016

The third day of Hopscotch is always the toughest to motivate for, at least for this middle-aged, out-of-shape, lazy bastard.  The first day runs on excitement; the second day runs on adrenaline; and the third day runs on...determination.  It didn't help that of the three days this one had the line-up of bands for which I was least excited, but there were still some gems in there. 

I'm not going to lie, I really only showed up early enough for Vince Staples at City Plaza because I thought I might get some interesting photos, what with my pass-assisted access to the photo pit in City Plaza.  Without that, I probably would have shown up just early enough to catch a couple of songs at the end of his set.  I did get a couple of decent snaps so I guess it was worth it, but I can't say Vince's music ever won me over.  Just not my kind of hip hop, and I don't think I could even tell you why - neither his rapping style or his music really engaged me.  Also, the audio quality seemed all over the place - one track would be normal and clear, and the next would have so much distorted bass I had a flashback to high school when all the rednecks (as well as one of my good friends) had those huge speakers in the trunk of their cars.  I once bribed my friend with a t-shirt he wanted to get him to turn his speakers down, it was so loud I thought it was making my heart beat improperly.  Anyways, I did eat a tasty chicken and cheese pita during his set, so that was cool. 

It's pretty impressive that the biggest turnout and most rambunctuous crowd I've seen in the seven years of Hopscotch was for local favorites Sylvan Esso.  It feels like it was only a couple of years ago they were opening for the Rosebuds at Memorial, and now they're drawing thousands of people as a festival headliner...wait, it was just a couple of years ago.  I've seen them a few times since that Memorial outing, but this was the first gig I've seen where they actually played new songs, songs not on their self-titled debut.  They still played most of the songs from that record too, and of course the crowd went nuts for each one of them, including me when they played their best song "Hey Mami" at the end of the set.  Who would have guessed that if you write super catchy pop songs and set them to an electronic beat it would be so popular?

From electronic pop to mellow folk, I made my way to Fletcher Opera Theater to catch a little bit of Maiden Radio.  I'd never heard a single note by them, but read that Joan Shelley was in the group and she has a magnifficent voice so it was definitely worth a shot.  The band was a trio of females playing banjo, guitar and fiddle (in various combinations) and singing solo or together (in various combinations).  I only caught about half of their set, but it seemed like it was mostly covers of old mountain folk songs - how much these songs resembled the originals or were complete reimaginings, I have no idea.  As to what Maiden Radio sounded like, think about all the Gillian Welch/Emmylou Harris/Alison Krauss tracks from the "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" soundtrack and you're on the right path.  It sounded great, two thumbs up from this dude.   

I would have gladly stayed for the entire Maiden Radio set if I didn't need to get next door to Memorial Auditorium to see Eric Bachmann.  It was just him and two backup singers, local phenom Skylar Gudasz and another gal named Avery, but I didn't catch her full name.  Bachmann was in a snazzy suit, the ladies were in matching sparkly dresses, and the crowd was seated and impeccably silent...of the dozens of times I've seen Bachmann play either solo or with a band, I've never seen him quite like this.  I took some snaps for a couple of songs, and then just sat down and listened intently for the rest of the set.  He played most of his new self-titled record, which makes sense as so many of those songs feature backing vocals, and these two ladies weren't on stage just to show off their sparkly outfits.  Of the couple of older songs he trotted out, I remember "Bad Blood" was one of them, a classic to be sure.  I'm not sure if the rest of the crowd was totally engrossed (like me), asleep, or just staring at their phones, but I was impressed with how quiet and attentive everyone was.  Easily one of the shows of the festival for me, but like the Wye Oak performance on the first night, I knew this would be the case before he even played the first note. 

Even though I had sorta just seen her with Maiden Radio, I popped back in next door at Fletcher to see Joan Shelley play solo.  Well, sorta solo, as she had a dude supplying guitar accompaniment the whole time, plus the other two gals in Maiden Radio came on stage occasionally to add some additional instrumentation or vocals.  I suppose the the big difference between the two sets was during this gig Joan was playing her own songs instead of covers of old mountain folk ditties.  I don't really know any of her music well, I just know her voice - but it was real damn pretty and I stuck it out for a few songs before I got itching to move on.  Nothing against Joan, but I was needing something a little more rocking than the delicate folk I've seen over the last three acts. 

Walking down the street, I met a few friends that talked me into going to see Soldiers of Fortune at the Lincoln Theatre because Cheetie Kumar from Birds of Avalon would be sitting in with them.  I didn't know a single thing about the band (noticing a theme with my lack of preparation this year?) but if Cheetie was participating it would be worth checking out.  Turns out they're some NYC supergroup featuring Kid Millions and others from Oneida, a dude from Endless Boogie, another dude that plays with Interpol apparently, and plenty more vets (some that were here, some that were not).  Their set was just one long song, seemingly improvised or at least mostly so, which is not shocking because of the level of talent present on stage.  Kid Millions was handling the vocals from the drum kit, but I have no idea what he was saying and I'm not sure it mattered.  I'm not even sure how to really describe the sound - sort of a repetitive kraut rock vibe, fairly heavy but never venturing into metal territory, and a shitload of guitar shreddery, especially from the guest star Cheetie.  I probably could have just said it sounds like a crazier/bigger version of Oneida.  For something I randomly decided to go to, this was a nice find, and further proves the old adage "always trust the Birds of Avalon."  At least I'm pretty sure that is an adage people say. 

Baroness was playing next at the Lincoln and since that who I was planning on seeing anyways, it made for a short commute.  Not only did I not have to exert myself and walk to another venue, but I was in a great spot to get photos of the final act of Hopscotch.  I saw Baroness play a number of years ago, but honestly don't remember a ton about it - I certainly don't remember them being as polished as they were on this night.  They were heavier and gruffer before - now, I'd almost call them pop metal.  That sounds like an insult and I don't mean it that way, but their songs have hooks and harmonies that you usually don't get in a typical stoner metal setting.  Also, how did I miss the news that Sebastian Thomson from Trans Am is now their drummer?  I knew their old drummer quit the band after their horrific bus crash a few years back (they were actually supposed to play Hopscotch right after that crash, but that appearance was obviously cancelled since almost the entire band nearly died), but I had no idea Sebastian was now their stickman.  Anyways, yadda yadda yadda, they put on an amazing show, it was basically an entirely different band than I saw so many years ago, and I enjoyed it immensely - I was planning on only staying for a couple of songs but ended up watching most of the show.  I like this version of Baroness a lot more, for the record - what can I say, I'm a pop fan at heart - make the metal songs catchy and all of the sudden I'm feelin' it. 

I went home satisfied (and extremely tired) after my three day experience at Hopscotch 2016.  Probably my favorite festival since 2013 or so.  I'm already excited for next year.

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