Monday, September 18, 2017

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Four at Red Hat Amphitheater - 9/10/2017

Hopscotch Music Festival
Day Four
Red Hat Amphitheater
9/10/2017

For the first time in the history of Hopscotch, they expanded the festival to a fourth day.  This fourth day would occur at only one venue (Red Hat), and wouldn't run that late (the final act started at 8)...it was like the musical equivalent to the cooling off period after a vigorous workout.  That's something that people who exercise do, right?  I was pretty damn tired from the events of the last three days, but I wanted to see at least a couple of the bands playing this final day.

When I got there Cloud Nothings were in the middle of their set.  The few recordings I've heard by them have never really moved the needle in either direction, but I'm always up to get a live read on a band I've never seen before.  I had them pegged into a pop-punk/Vagrant records category, but at least on this day they were much louder, noisier, and more chaotic than I would have expected, which was to their benefit.  There was still a bit of a pop-punk vibe, just a very distorted version of it.  I'm not sure it turned me into a fan or anything, but I wasn't mad I saw half their set. 

Helium played next, and were one of the top three reasons I bought a four day instead of Friday only festival pass (along with Metz and Big Boi) and the main reason I even came out on this fourth day at all.  Technically it was billed as "Mary Timony Plays Helium," but pretty much everyone thinks of Mary Timony as Helium, so that name seems pointlessly wordy.  The band today was her and three additional members, none of which were originally in the band - I was holding out a small sliver of hope that original member (and Polvo frontman) Ash Bowie might make an appearance since he lives here in the Triangle, but it was not to be.  A lot of the folks at the front of the crowd (where I was, naturally) were all older folks like myself, reliving those nineties college years, and then a smattering of young people who probably had no idea why all these old people were so excited to see the old lady on stage play these "classic rock" songs.  I'm terrible with Helium song names, but I know they played "Pat's Trick," the one name I can remember; the set was a ton of songs off those first two records obviously.  Also obvious: watching Mary Timony play guitar is a true delight.  I'm pretty sure I say this every time I see her with any of her bands, but that's because it's true every time I see her with any of her bands.  Rock show etiquette question: as we all know, you don't wear a band's t-shirt to their show (Iron Maiden excluded) - but can you wear a tee of another band that one of those band members is in?  I ask because I was wearing an Ex Hex shirt, and I feel like I got some looks from the cool kids.  They're just lucky my "I HEART MARY TIMONY" crop top was in the wash!

I decided to stick around for one more band, the much beloved locals Mount Moriah.  My very first thought was where is Jenks, their guitar player?  In his place was the dude who played guitar with Heather during her solo set the day before...it's unclear if this is a temporary thing or that Jenks is no longer with the band, but that would be a real bummer if he was gone.  Mount Moriah has always had a revolving door of drummers and additional members, but Heather, Jenks and bassist Casey have all been there from the start.  Now for the bad news - during the span of their short set, they didn't play their best song "Lament."  I like everything they've released, but I love this song on a whole different level.  The good news - I'm pretty damn happy to hear Heather sing any goddamn thing, so it was time well spent regardless.  I don't mean this as an insult to the rest of the band, but her voice has always been the driving force of this act anyways. 

This ended up as a nice dessert course for this year's Hopscotch Music Festival - another successful outing in downtown Raleigh in the books. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Three PHOTOS around downtown Raleigh - 9/9/2017

HC McEntire, Kings



Escape-ism, Kings




Bat Fangs, Kings



DiCaprio, Neptunes


Material Girls, Neptunes



All The Saints, Neptunes



Big Boi, City Plaza



Advance Base, Lincoln Theatre

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Three around downtown Raleigh - 9/9/2017

Hopscotch Music Festival
Day Three
Downtown Raleigh
9/9/2017

I was more excited about the free day parties today than the proper festival line-up  - that meant it was time for daylight rock!  Even better, I never had to leave the same building - between the Merge/OCSC party at Kings and the Chunklet party at Neptunes, my dance card was full. 

Let's cover the Merge party that was upstairs at Kings to start.  The first act I took in was HC McEntire, aka Heather from Mount Moriah.  I've seen her perform solo before and she just went by Heather, so not really sure what the name change is about but [insert that shoulder shrugging emoji here].  Whatever the name, between this gig and two Mount Moriah shows, she was keeping real damn busy at this year's Hopscotch!  If you wanted to argue she has the best voice in all of music, I'm not sure I would disagree.  The whole club kept pretty much silent for the entirety of her performance, which is pretty impressive for a bunch of day drunk freeloaders.  Her solo songs are similar to the country rock of her full band, but mellower and with much sparser instrumentation.  Even with a another guitarist accompanying her, the music was as much about the silences as it was the actual sounds.  While being a creepy annoying fan after the performance she said she would have a solo record coming out next year, so that's something we've all got to look forward to. 

The main reason I even came out to the day parties was to see Escape-ism, which is the name Ian Svenonius uses for his solo act.  Much like in the Make-Up, he was dressed in a sparkly suit, but this time it was different color...I'd love to take a look in this man's closet, I bet it's delightful.   If you're wondering what solo Ian looks like, it's this: an ancient drum machine, an old school top loading tape deck, and a Silvertone guitar that I'm pretty sure he had no idea how to play.  He mostly just held the guitar (speaking from personal experience, Silvertones never stay in tune) like a prop, and would occasionally strum a mangled chord or play a ham-fisted solo that had everyone cracking up.  Mostly, to no surprise, it's all about the Ian's performance and stage presence, as it usually is with any band of which he is a part.  He wasn't quite as unhinged here as he was with the Make-Up the night before, but was still nuts compared to any other performer.  With sparse/off-kilter instrumentation and songs about rest stops and "The Exorcist" stairs, any fan of Ed Schrader's Music Beat would be a fool to pass this man's impending album up. 

The last band I saw at Kings was Bat Fangs, who it felt like played at every day party based on how many people were talking about and posting photos of them.  I'm not sure if they qualify as a "supergroup" in the same vein of Contraband or Blind Faith or the Firm (either the rock or rap version), but with Betsy from Ex Hex and Laura from Flesh Wounds making up 2/3rds of the band, they certainly qualify in my book (I have no idea as to his bonafides of the dude bassist).  Their sound actually reminded me of a bigger, bolder version of Ex Hex - it still had that power pop backbone, but with an adrenaline shot of arena rock injected into it.  I had always assumed Mary Timony was the driving force behind Ex Hex, but after hearing this second effort from Betsy, it makes me wonder if she's not doing the heavy lifting over there as well.  Regardless of all that, the band is damn impressive and already sound like weathered vets, and according to the internet their debut record is coming out in early 2018 on Don Giovanni.  I'm so excited I wish there was a countdown website I could stare at daily. 

Downstairs in the red light district aka the photographer's torture dungeon aka Neptunes, Chunklet was hosting a party that heavily featured Atlanta acts, which isn't shocking because that's where the mag/label/imprint is based.  The first band I caught was DiCaprio, a trio of young kids that made me feel bad about my old bald fatness with their youthful exuberance.  I only caught a couple of songs, and assuming those weren't outliers I liked what I heard - Suicide/Magazine-style dark punk with a smattering of nineties slacker rock around the edges.  I think if you go to that link you can "name your own price" to download some of their music, aka "I'm a cheapskate and I'm paying zero dollars and sure, I feel kinda guilty and bad about it but not so much that I'm actually going to spend anything." 

I was told by multiple people to check out Material Girls, though they never told me why.  Because of this, I assumed (or rather hoped) they were a Madonna cover band...they were not...cue the sad trombones.  Instead, it was a seven-piece of...well, mostly dudes I think with one girl but a bunch of the dudes were also dressed as women and I wasn't clear if it was just drag or a more intrinsic part of their identity...fuck it, let's just say seven people and leave it at that.  Along with the typical rock and roll instrument trappings, you had horns, bongos, wigs, face paint, god knows what else.  The music was sort of a punk rock version of the result you'd get if James chance and the B-52s joined forces.  I'm not sure if I liked it for the music or was just entertained because so much was going on, but I'd definitely go see them again if they came back to town out of sheer curiosity alone. 

My final day party show was All The Saints - that same All The Saints I saw two nights previous in the cavernous Basement, I was now seeing in probably the smallest venue of the festival.  I don't have much additional to say about them other than their set felt more aggressive, louder, and more immediate this afternoon - this might have had as much to do with the venue differences as it did with the band itself.  In the middle of their set Chunklet impresario Henry Owings came on stage and began pouring beer in the band member's mouths, allowing them to hydrate mid-song.  It's probably the next big advancement in live music technology, and it was great to get a free preview of it on this day. 

After a dinner interlude with the family at Capital Club 16 that involved stuffing mac & cheese and bratwurst into my gaping maw, my Hopscotch continued with Big Boi down on the City Plaza stage.  I've seen him a few times now and knew exactly what to expect - a mix of his solo tracks and medleys of Outkast songs, all while backed by some variation of a live band.  The one negative is his band keeps getting smaller and smaller - the first time I saw him there were fifteen or more musicians backing him up, plus a dance squad, but this time he only had DJ, guitar, a pair of trumpets, and a pair of additional singers/rappers.  That said, the day I don't get excited to hear Big Boi perform "Bombs Over Baghdad" live is the day I have completely died inside. 

I decided to end my night in the most somber way possible - Advance Base at the Lincoln Theatre.  It's really just one dude, Owen Ashworth; Owen used to record under the name Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, which was also just one dude.  It's not entirely clear why he changed the name, perhaps he was just wanted a shorter band name.  It's still pretty much the same music no matter what it's called - sad sack electronic pop, like David Bazan if all he used was a bunch of keyboards and synths.  He had a funny comment about halfway thorough his set that was roughly "Thanks for coming...you made a choice to see me over seeing Solange...I would have rather been at Solange."  I disagree, I think I made the right choice. 

I thought briefly about checking out some other acts, but after eight hours my old man feet were ready to go home and get horizontal on my couch. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Two PHOTOS around downtown Raleigh - 9/8/2017

Make-Up, City Plaza



Run The Jewels, Red Hat Amphitheater



Future Islands, City Plaza



Har Mar Superstar, The Basement



Preoccupations, Lincoln Theatre



Afghan Whigs, Lincoln Theatre



Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Two around downtown Raleigh - 9/8/2017

Hopscotch Music Festival
Day Two
Downtown Raleigh
9/8/2017

I'm pretty sure this was the best day of Hopscotch in the history of the festival.  I don't have any scientific measurements to back up this claim, but never before has the line-up been so stacked with so many bands I love. 

I kicked off my day in City Plaza seeing the Make-Up, the band I was most excited for out of the entire festival.  I got there a few minutes before they started and got a spot right in front, which turned out to be a pretty pivotal in the performance.  I last saw them at the Cat's Cradle back in the mid-nineties, and even back then Ian Svenonius was plenty crazy, but nothing would prepare you for how unhinged he was during this set.  A typical gig for him involves a ton of deranged ranting, screaming, and prowling the stage like a caged tiger, but on this night he spent almost their entire set either in front of the stage, standing on the barrier between the stage and crowd, or fully in the crowd.  It was truly a performance for the ages - the man earned his money today.  Given where I was located, not only was I in prime location for good photos, I also ended up being frequently used as a point of balance for Ian - be it my hand holding him up or my back/shoulder being used as a footstool.  It certainly made for an immersive experience!  Also, it's worth noting that while Ian gets nearly all the attention, the band deserves some kudos  - somebody has to hold down the fort while he gets wacky.  They played a bunch of songs I love (I specifically remember "they Live By Night" and "I Am Pentagon," but I forgot to actually take notes), and I wasn't alone in my enjoyment - the crowd was all smiles (mixed with bewilderment) as far as the eye can see. 

It was then time to wander down the hill to Red Hat Amphitheater for Run The Jewels.  Much to my surprise, not only was I able to get my camera into the venue without a press pass, but I was even able to weasel my way into the photo pit to get a few decent shots.  As is often the case with live hip hop, the bass was overly oppressive, but that is always my complaint and it's never going to change so no reason to dwell on it.  They tore their most recent record "RTJ3" apart, playing pretty much the whole thing plus mixing in some older songs as well.  I had a few friends comment that their set was a little too packaged, a little too structured, and the banter between Killer Mike and El-P a little too scripted...and all of that is probably true.  Thing is, I'll take a well rehearsed and dialed-in hip hop show over a free flowing one any day...I've seen way too many clusterfuck rap gigs where the performers seem too high or too indifferent or too unrehearsed, and it's not fun.  Obviously this is all a matter of personal taste, but a punk show can go off the rails and still be fun, but I've never seen a good hip hop show that wasn't at least moderately well structured.  Anyways, their songs fucking rule and I don't really care how they're delivered, as long as I get to see them performed.  I would go watch this same identical performance right now if I could.   

I walked back up to City Plaza just after Future Islands got started, and was able to sneak into the photo pit again!  I guess if you hold up your (somewhat fancy) camera and look like you belong, no one questions it.  When I was saying earlier that this was the best night of Hopscotch ever, I came to that conclusion after realizing that if I ranked all the bands I saw tonight, Future Islands would end up in the last spot...and they were still fucking great as always.  If this is the worst act you see in a given day, you've had a really damn good day.  I suspect my feelings stem mostly from the facts that (a) I've seen them so many times the novelty of frontman Sam Herring stalking around has worn off and (b) I've seen them so often in small venues, seeing them in a location as big as City Plaza doesn't quite hold your attention in the same way.  The turnout was great though, maybe the second most people I've seen in City Plaza after Sylvan Esso.  And their songs are so damn good no matter where they are playing!

It had been ages since I had last seen Har Mar Superstar, so I moseyed over to the Basement to renew my relationship with Sean Tillman and company.   He was wearing a Ralph Furley-like leisure suit, the band was all in matching satin jackets and white pants, and when you have matching outfits that can only lead to one thing - synchronized dancing!  As is the Har Mar way, they performed soulful songs and sexual sashaying to sooth the savage spirit, if you'll allow me a little alliterative license.  At one point while taking photos of this balding, overweight, half-naked man dry humping a monitor, it occurred to me that this must be what Kramer felt like in that one episode of Seinfeld where George had him take boudoir photos.  It was honestly about as good of a time as you can have at a show, more party than performance - my initial intention of only catching a couple of songs and moving on went right out the window pretty soon after they started playing, a very smart decision on my part. 

The Lincoln Theatre was my final stop of the night, and Preoccupations was the first act I would see there.  Of all the bands I was most excited to see at this year's Hopscotch, Preoccupations was the only one I hadn't seen before.  This quartet of Canadians (It feels like at least half the bands I saw this weekend are from either Canada or Atlanta) used to be called Viet Cong, but after some backlash to their name they changed it.  I've listened to their self-titled record a lot, and it was nice to finally hear some of that material live.  I often got a "Wolf Parade goes slightly Krautrock" vibe from that album, but live it was as if they were channeling the ghost of ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - much heavier, much noisier, almost trance-inducing at times.  The drummer was stripped down to nothing but short shorts (and looked naked because the snare was hiding those), I'm pretty sure one of the guitarists was drooling by the end of their set, and the bassist actually pulled the rare move of breaking a string he was playing so hard.  I'm not sure everyone in the crowd was feeling them, but I definitely was. 

The night's finale was the one and only Afghan Whigs.  Despite most of their set being made up of their last two records ("Do To The Beast" and "In Spades") that I don't know that well, it was still the best performance of Hopscotch.  I don't care if he's gotten a little older and I don't care if he's gotten a little bigger, the magnetic personality of Greg Dulli will suck you in every time...if the man wasn't a musician, he could easily be the leader of a cult.  Outside of those new and close-to-new songs, I was somewhat surprised that they played the Twilight Singer's track "Teenage Wristband," but was very happy to hear it...I guess Greg does most of the song writing anyways, so why not?  The big payoff though was at the end of the set, when the band busted out "John the Baptist," "Somethin' Hot," and "Summer's Kiss" back-to-back-to-back, and the crowd obviously went nuts.  I went nuts, singing along at the top of my lungs like everyone else.  It had been a long day, but suddenly I wasn't tired anymore - the Afghan Whigs had breathed new life into me.  Now where is that sign up sheet for that new cult I heard Greg Dulli is forming?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day One PHOTOS around downtown Raleigh - 9/7/2017

Margo Price, City Plaza



All The Saints, The Basement




Cones, Deep South



Pallbearer, CAM





Torche, CAM



Metz, CAM