Monday, September 10, 2012

Full Report | Day One: Hopscotch Music Festival

Gross Ghost : Photo by Aggie Donkar
Day One: Thursday

Brief Setup: Raleigh's Hopscotch Music Festival is curated by Pitchfork contributor, and hometown artsy-newspaper editor Grayson Currin. It's the only festival of it's kind - featuring tons of the best local acts, wedged between a plethora of up-and-coming bands that will soon be indie-household names.

The "big bands" play first on Friday and Saturday nights, at a massive stage located mid-city, starting at around 5:45 pm. That portion ends early, allowing the festival-goers to travel to smaller-clubs, and see bands until the wee-hours of the morn - South by Southwest style.

We did things right this year, with two writers and one photographer traversing the city all weekend, checking out everything from The Roots to Charlie Parr. So enjoy - we hope you get a sense of the scale of this thing. Our feet certainly did...

Airstrip

Carrboro, NC's Airstrip began the festival on a strong note (or should I say power chord?). Their hooky brand of psychedelic rock was eagerly embraced by the dense Berkley Café crowd. The pre-historic lurch of songs like "Middle of Night" had the audience bobbing, which was impressive for a local act playing that early into the festivities. Clearly Airstrip worship the God of the Riff; each ragged guitar lick and thunderous bass line locked together perfectly to form the purest example of rock sensibility I saw on night one of the festival. Quite a kick-off to a great night of music. - Dylan Newcity

Young Magic

This was the perfect band, and venue, to kick off the festival for me. The massive room that is Memorial Auditorium felt cavernous, and odd - since its 2300 seating capacity was populated by only around 50 eager hipsters waiting to see Australia's Young Magic.

Their sound was industrial to say the least. Droning synthesizers and an almost comically active percussionist, made for an awkward, but awesome set. And you know, faced with the daunting task of opening the festival's biggest venue, they could not have done a better job. Silly percussive dancing aside. - Matt Smith

Deerhoof

After a rickshaw ride across downtown to Memorial Auditorium, I made it just in time to catch Deerhoof beginning their set. From the moment they took the stage in their flamboyant garb it was clear that this was going to be a fun show. The ruffled flower shirts and tassels highlighted the band's eclectic, unpredictable sound, and added to the playful air that permeated auditorium.

The band sandwiched a set of back catalog favorites between two sections of songs off their recently released album, Breakup Song. Each member threw themselves into the performance with reckless abandon; drummer Greg Saunier flung about like a madman, while guitarist John Dieterich became nearly bobble-head-esque with his cranial acrobatics. Both had smiles of pure contentment plastered upon their faces the whole time.

That was the best part about Deerhoof's set -- they were all about having fun and enjoying the moment. Never once did the band lose their sense of manic elation and playfulness. Seeing a band who truly enjoys what they're doing always imparts a similar feeling of enjoyment upon the crowd, and often, regardless of how familiar you are with a band's music, you can appreciate that and have a great time based solely on the atmosphere of good vibes. - Dylan Newcity

Charlie Parr

Look, I'll be the first to admit, I'm not the biggest folksy-roots-revivalist-bluegrass-twangy-country-guitar fan. But that's also not to say I don't appreciate the hell out of it.  This was my first meeting with Charlie Parr, and while I was ready to leave after 15 minutes of his set - it will be one of the shows that is the most memorable.

Frail and seemingly timid on the stage at Fletcher Opera Theater, his guitar filled the room, while his voice all but whispered behind its strum. His weathered foot tapped as he sat, eyes closed, rattling through songs that felt as if they've been sung by generation upon generation before.

He seemed tiny on the stage, but the soul that permeated from Parr was palpable (hows that for alliteration?) And while the audience was sparse, they, for the moment, were held captive in a place that seemed far from the energy waiting outside the theater doors. -Matt Smith

Altos

Personally, this was the most disappointing set of Thursday night. Being a bit of a post-rock aficionado I had to check out Altos' set, not only to hear the music, but to see how such a style would be greeted by Hopscotch fans. Arriving 15 minutes after their set was due to start, I was met with a hectic, 12 person soundcheck upon entering Lincoln Theatre. After another 5 minutes of mic checking, the band began their set, although the beginning of the set sounded strikingly similar to the mic checking. Eventually a song started to emerge, but it wasn't the kind of sprawling, epic poem of a piece that you'd expect from most bands of this sort, it was, well, boring. For a 12 member band, the arrangements were pretty mundane. The use of a a bowed saw added some interesting texture, but couldn't keep me from questioning if the size of the band was more for "wow factor" than actual necessity.

The music wasn't terrible, it just wasn't anything interesting. Altos occupies the off-brand of instrumental/post-rock music that lies somewhere between Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Broken Social Scene, yet wholly lacks the atmosphere or intrigue of either of those bands. The group vocals Altos employed furthered the problem by making the lack of a unified voice all the more apparent, while pitch issues between the ensemble degraded the singing into a dissonant, indistinguishable chant. Sorry guys, but just because you can have 12 people singing, doesn't mean you should. - Dylan Newcity


Matthew E. White : Photo by Aggie Donkar

Matthew E. White: One Incantation Under God 

After meandering around downtown while checking out bits and pieces of various sets, I received an urgent text message: "Come to Fletcher. It's awesome." Not being one to miss "awesome," I caught a rickshaw over to Fletcher Opera Theater to see Matthew E. White's One Incantation Under God. This performance was hyped as one of the "gotta-be-there" moments of the festival, and with good reason; eloquent singer-songwriter Matthew E. White playing his debut record, Big Inner, backed by a 30+ person ensemble of strings, horns, and choir singers is not something to be missed.

From the moment I entered the theater I knew I'd made the right decision in heeding that text message. An elegant string crescendo was beginning just as I first caught sight of the stage, which was populated with enough musicians to start two professional basketball teams. (Now that'd be a helluva game: Strings vs. Horns.) White loomed large at the front of the stage brandishing an acoustic guitar and enough hair to make Jim James jealous. His unique style of soft-spoken heartbreak was amplified ten-fold by the lush instrumentation which accompanied it, turning what could've been a raw performance into a spectacle of sound and harmony. White's songs ran the gamut from achingly beautiful and intimate ballads, to rip-roaring, dance-along celebration tunes, during which White invited the audience to come bust a move in the pit at the front of the stage.

An air of reverence filled the packed theater, and this was one of few shows I attended where audience chatter was not an issue. The usually hushed crowd erupted into applause after each song's conclusion, and by the end of the show the collective feeling of respect seemed to have shifted to adoration. White appeared almost messianic in his white suit and flowing locks, but his humility and amiable personality kept his elaborate stage setup from seeming the least bit gaudy. Despite the complexity of the show it all felt grounded and very human; it was simply a songwriter performing his songs the way he intended them to be heard. Beautiful stuff, and truly one of the more affecting performances I've witnessed in quite a while. - Dylan Newcity


Delicate Steve : Photo by Aggie Donkar

Delicate Steve

After attending Matthew E. White's sensory-overload of a performance, it felt like the rest of the night would be a slow, steady decline into sleepy-time. We hopped on a rickshaw, and sped down the hill to White Collar Crime to check out the increasingly buzzed about guitar-slinger Delicate Steve, and his band of instrumental goodness.

Being one that is sometimes bored with bands that feature no vocals, I was shocked as hell at the level I was feeling this show. It was a wall of sonic noise, tethered by Steve's insanely high-pitched guitar. Everything swirled together into this ball of energy that was so infectious, even a crowd of tired people on a Thursday night couldn't help but bounce around, eyes affixed on the joyous performance commencing onstage.

It was the perfect way to finish the night. Not too heavy, and definitely not too light, Delicate Steve struck that perfect balance between high-energy and craftsmanship. It was apparent that they take what they do VERY seriously, but it in no way came across that way.  They, we, everyone - had a fucking blast. -Matt Smith

2 comments:

  1. Dylan

    Good work. It was nice meeting you at HopScotch

    ReplyDelete
  2. Extremely well-written and made me wish I was there

    ReplyDelete