Friday, September 17, 2010

Full Report: Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh

Photo Credits: The Independent Weekly
Well folks, the inaugural Hopscotch Music Festival is now firmly five days behind us, and it’s honestly taken me this long to decompress, catch up on “real work,” and recover from the sleep deprivation. Thinking back, everything seems a bit blurry – which could be the product of countless pints of Blanco Diablo or the side effect of a 5-Hour Energy drink hangover. Whatever the cause, the festival itself seems almost dreamlike, but it’s a dreamy dream, luckily. This is how it went down.

Day One

The latest start of all the days had me arriving early to pick up passes, figure out the layout a bit, drink, and get to the first show early enough to get a good spot and yes, drink a little more. Downtown, to be honest, seemed a bit dead, and it was a bit troubling walking into Tir Na Nog for...

BAND ONE – Gray Young

Unknown to me to a point I didn’t even recognize the local band’s name from local show schedules – I was pleasantly surprised by their layered, and textural approach to indie-rock. Swirling guitars, and vocals that seemed more instrument than addition – they were far and above, they were the best unknown local act I saw over the weekend. They benefited – crowd wise – from preceding:

BAND TWO Cults

Pretty hot as a band of the moment – Cults is the just recently formed lovechild of a couple film students in NYC. Other than knowing that – I guess I knew just as much as everyone else in the world going into this show. They crowd’s energy fit their electro-stylings perfectly – providing a bouncy backdrop to an exciting show. It was truly the perfect setup for:

BAND THREE – Best Coast































Easily one of the most currently buzzed-about bands of the festival, there was no doubt the small club would fill up quickly for this one. And judging by the long line that flanked the side of the building, and the sweaty men pushing their way through the audience, this one did indeed queue. And true to their recorded form, Best Coast infused their Cali-riffic sounds with some pretty awesome weed-heavy lyrics. A bit mellow at times for the 12 a.m. time slot, I admit that I ducked out a few songs early to make the trek to The Berkeley Café to catch Night One highlight:

BAND FOUR – Future Islands

I was immediately hit with the longest line of the festival – which given it was my first true “hop” of Hopscotch, was a bit troubling with thoughts that this may be a bit of foreshadowing for the rest of my festival experience. The line however moved quite quickly once Javelin exited the stage, and people trickled out to go to other, less exciting evening offerings. Once inside, and cramming myself as far forward as space would allow, Future Islands came out to address the crowd, covering their excitement for the festival, appreciation for the ex-hometown crowd, and the importance of the local music scene in the Triangle.

They then got down to business as only Future Islands can, and anyone else out there who has seen them knows exactly what I’m talking about. Band leader Samuel T. Herring offered up his normal energetic and downright theatric performance while combating an influx of audience members to the stage and the overwhelming heat of the room while wearing what looked like pleated khaki pants?

Wardrobe choices aside – this was my favorite Future Islands performance to date helped no doubt by the stream of unreal bands already seen and the anticipation of bands yet to come.

Day Two

Arriving early to grab some drinks and meet up with my boy Matt Keen of Gravity Records fame, I was greeted with a text saying “Harlem secret show at Slims!” So I ran my tall-ass to the small-ass club and sho’ nuff:

BAND FIVE – Harlem

Cornered in the back left of a pretty small bar was easily one of the most hyped indie bands of the past few months. The place was just damn packed – obviously not a secret to all – I was squeezed in right behind Shit Horse’s impeccably all-blue dressed Danny Mason so I was feeling like Triangle elite, and just pretty good all over given Harlem had just launched into one of my Songs of the Year – “Gay Human Bones.”

After the secret show goodness ended - people slowly drifted in to Raleigh City Plaza at around 6 p.m. and were greeted with a pretty massive stage at one end. It was flanked on both sides by the huge, lighted, metal oak leaf towers that have become the symbol of the area. A perfect setting and day to hear:  (Lots more after the jump!)


BAND SIX – The Rosebuds



A staple band in my life all the way back in college when a friend was their drummer and they had people play old-school Nintendo on stage while they performed – the local favs made complete sense to be tapped as the opener for the large plaza shows of the festival.

This was a different Rosebuds than I have seen though – and more of an NC super-group performing their songs than the normal duo of Ivan and Kelly. Joined on stage this time by Logan Metheny of Roman Candle and Brad Cook of Megafaun, the band’s sound was more filled out than I’ve seen in years. And that was a smart move given next up was: 

BAND SEVEN – Broken Social Scene


As I would drunkenly try to explain to Kevin Drew later in the evening outside a venue across town, Hopscotch was put together brilliantly because they featured the big acts FIRST, allowing everyone to come early and attend the plaza shows, then go and hop around town to see the smaller club shows. This freed up your late timeslots unlike similar festivals like South by Southwest, allowing you to stick to the small places and not feel guilty about missing the bigger bands.

Comprised of a rotating group of musicians rotating instruments on a non-rotating stage – their sound was amazing. They surprisingly reached into their back catalog often – and played many of my favorites from my favorite BSS album You Forgot it in People. Rich with horns at points, and wonderfully overwhelming at others with no less than five guitars on stage at the same time, it was easily the best sounding show of the festival. Followed unfortunately by: 

BAND SEVEN – Panda Bear



Easily the worst sounding show of the festival – I was obviously not high-enough to understand the appeal of the Animal Collective leader’s set. It was devoid of anything I love about music and given multiple-sources confirmed it got no better as time went on – I’m so glad I left early to see: 

BAND EIGHT – Harvey Milk

Named after the slain Gay Rights activists from San Francisco, Athens GA’s Harvey Milk picked their moniker long before the documentary was released or the Sean Penn feature was even scripted. But given the hammering my eardrums took after walking into The Berkeley Café, time did not erode their sound or energy for heavy metal. Somewhat not prepared for the assault on my brain – I left a few songs early to make my way to:

BAND NINE – Active Child

A polar opposite to my previous experience of the night – I was greeted with two nice looking, put-together gents and a harp. Perfectly placed in what felt like the smallest of Hopscotch venues, Active Child’s laid back electronic sound was perfect for The Hive. It was intimate both in sound and feel, and the perfect rest for my ears before hopping back to Berkeley Café for what, looking back, is my favorite show of the festival.

BAND TEN – Fucked Up



I’ll start by saying that I would have never expected Pink Eyes and his band to be my favorite show of the festival. Coming into things, I was much more excited to see a few other bands, and if I had not seen Harlem earlier in the evening, I would not have seen Fucked Up at all. But sometimes things work out in ways you wouldn’t expect, and from the moment Pink Eyes stuck some plastic suction apparatus to his head, took off his shirt exposing his…girth?...and hopped into the crowd, I was on cloud effing nine.

Both hard-core and melodic – embracing and violent, their set was unlike anything I’ve seen in person. Pink Eyes would enter the crowd and push those that wanted to be pushed, kiss those that wanted to be kissed or not, wrap himself up in his mic chord fully, then spin his way out without missing a beat of the song. Not something I’d listen to in the car, but something I’d see live again in a heartbeat.

Night two was a massive success. On to:

Day Three

Things kicked off in City Plaza once again, and like the previous night, the evening was christened by a local band kicking up national dust. The sky was spitting rain, and threatening to do more than that, but it didn't dampen the mood of:

BAND ELEVEN - The Love Language



Justifying their selection to kick-off the final night of Hopscotch, Stuart McLamb, Missy Thangs, and band seem to be hitting their stride as a band.  They've never sounded better, and honestly, the stripped down version of the band is tighter than it's rolling-member preceding form.

Keeping it light, they played mostly the bouncy numbers off their Merge Records debut, but did reach back to their debut LP to play "Lalita" - which somehow is still my fav song of theirs to hear live. The entire set was melodic and wonderful - a pretty big contrast from: 

BAND TWELVE - No Age


Pulling up a close second to Panda Bear for least enjoyable show of the festival, No Age made things difficult to watch, and apparently had some sound issues too. If I had missed a smaller show for this - I would have been a bit dissapointed.  I remember looking around at one time, and realizing City Plaza had cleared out after being pretty packed for Love Language - and worrying that the crowd would be light for: 

BAND THIRTEEN - Public Enemy































 By the time The Helping Hands Drum Line started their beat, and the step team working their way through the audience began to stomp and clap, City Plaza was full to the max. I have a feeling that everyone holding a wristband was in attendance for the rap legends, and the intro choice of a marching band coming through the crowd seemed only fitting given the badass army men standing on stage with their arms behind their backs.

Once the fanfare was over - Chuck D came blasting out from behind the army dudes, and the crowd started to bounce up and down with their hands in the air. You honestly couldn't help it - and when Flavor-Flav stepped out and untucked his trademark clock from under his shirt - shit reached pandemonium level.


They played everything I remember as a kid. And I couldn't help but think how far it must be from what things were like when the jams were penned. "911 is a Joke," "Can't Truss It," "Fight the Power" were all awesome, but having a crowd of 5,000 southern indie-kids chanting the words back must feel pretty damn good for a band that tried to, and succeeded in, changing the musical and culture landscape.

Nearing the end of their set - and the rain starting to really come down, I kicked it across town to The Pour House just in time for:

BAND FOURTEEN - Dynamite Brothers

Veterans of the Chapel Hill music scene for around a decade now, Dynamite Brothers are an explosive(get it) blues band that infuses soul, horns, and just about every musical direction into their music. I could only stay for a bit though, so I left a few songs in to check out:

BAND FIFTEEN - Dex Romweber Duo






























Ok, I'll admit it. The only reason I went to this show is because I saw It Might Get Loud earlier this year, researched the Flat Duo Jets, learned Dex Romweber was in that band and that he is now down with Jack White and on his record label.  There. I was honest and said it.  That aside, the show sounded great and it was the only rockabilly that I saw all week  And that's pretty good for a music festival based around local talent in the south! Next I hopped a rickshaw to The Lincoln Theater to check out:  

BAND SIXTEEN - Bear in Heaven


The shortest of all my shows due to the one and only schedule that seems to have gone astray, Bear and Heaven packed the largest of all club show venues easily, and they sounded great for the four songs that I heard.  Unfortunately, they went on so late I had to leave in time to see: 

BAND SEVENTEEN - The Golden Filter

As I stated in a recent Jam of the Day - I walked into their show, which filled the next-to-the-last time slot of the festival at one in the mawnin', and was immediately berated with a gang of glowstick covered people, tussled blonde hair, eyeliner and fucking awesome energetic music that was much needed at that late point in the festival. This, honestly, was the perfect way to end the night however there was one more act to see:

BAND EIGHTEEN - Washed Out

I understand why it was done, but putting a single-person chillwave act on at 1 a.m on day three of a festival is not exactly a good idea.  And I am admittedly getting old and was tired. So while everything sounded great, I took the opportunity to officially end my Hopscotch night a few songs early, and roll with some peeps to eat greasy-ass food.

Heaven.

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