Day Two: Friday
Still amazed at how unattended the Friday day shows are at Hopscotch, I entered a half-full Slim’s around 1:30 to catch San Antonio’s Hacienda — immediately falling in love with everything that surrounded me. The music was energetic, tight, and had just a smidge of TX skin over a full indie-rock backbone. The bar was riddled with people drinking from red Solo cups filled from a keg on the back porch, and the place smelled of stale-cigarette-smoked clothing and last-night’s party.
It was like walking into The Red Eyed Fly in Austin, on the first day of South by Southwest. Like walking into some sort of teleportation device that linked music festivals. I ordered a PBR and propped myself up on the wall. The tone of the day was set. This shit was on. -Matt Smith
Only having heard this band via the internet during my festival research, I went into The Pour House with little to no expectation. What I was greeted with, after passing under the peeling “Speakers in Code” sticker that someone apparently put there last year, was a full on rock assault, straight-up Pixies style. Loud doesn’t even do it justice – having just a handful of people occupying a space meant for a few hundred, there were not bodies, hair, clothing, or shoes to help muffle the sound.
Loud, quiet, loud blueprint in effect, the Toronto band literally TORE through their set, not stopping to even say hello, or ask how everyone was doing. Just the way it should be. – Matt Smith
|Built to Spill : Photo by Aggie Donkar|
Built to Spill
The seminal Boise indie rockers were greeted by a ravenous crowd upon taking the City Plaza stage late Friday afternoon. They blew through a long set of favorites both old and new with the energy and gusto of acts 1/3 their age.The intricacy of the band’s three guitar onslaught would suggest prog-rock rather than indie, but guitarist/singer Doug Martsch’s down to earth songwriting and clever lyrics keep the band from over complicating itself.
Martsch lived up to his indie guitar god reputation, blasting out wicked solos with exacting precision. Having seen Built to Spill previously, I can attest that even the few flubbed notes Martsch hits on occasion only serve to improve the show. There’s a humanizing quality about hearing great musicians occasionally fumble which can often make a performance more relatable. Martsch and co.’s signature guitar hooks were on full display during closer “Carry the Zero.” The recognizable opening chord progression was met with howls of excitement as the crowd instantly became one rocking, swaying mass. Built to Spill put on a great show, and their set was one of the brighter highlights of the Friday night. -Dylan Newcity
|The Jesus and Mary Chain : Photo by Aggie Donkar|
The Jesus and Mary Chain
A little bit after 9:00 pm, Scotland’s The Jesus and Mary Chain took to the big stage in City Plaza, to what looked like a half-capacity crowd. I was eating a giant meatball and drinking red wine at a local Italian restaurant that had a view of the stage, so that made for a weird experience when they launched into their fuzz-filled set.
Self-admittedly, I’m a mere casual listener of their music, able to only sing the chorus of a few songs – but I respected them enough to throw down my fork, down the remainder of my glass of Cabernet, and book my ass to the center of the plaza, avoiding any of the dancing mini-van drivers that were apparently reliving their youth already.
True to form, they sounded exactly as expected – melody wrapped in a heavy burlap-sack of distortion. But something was off. It sounded like it was all coming in through one of those FM docks you use to get your iPod to play in your 1998 Honda Civic. Fuzzy in a bad way, inaudible lyrics from frontman Jim Reid, and what I can only describe as on a time delay from stage to speaker. It was uncomfortable enough to make me want to leave four songs in.
We head the beep out, and make the left-turn to CAM, smacking a high-five to Dylan, who was headed the opposite direction, on the way. – Matt Smith
Field Report’s harmonious indie-folk was a perfect match for Longview Center’s ambient acoustics. Each slide of the pedal steel and dreamy keyboard line resonated with a luscious aura that was beautifully unique to this venue. The band’s distinctive spin on melancholy alt-folk was fully appreciated by the respectful Longview audience, who were among the few crowds that didn’t incessantly talk during a band’s set. The emotionally raw lyrics of band leader Christopher Porterfield recall Bon Iver (a former collaborator) and Springsteen, while still staying genuine and fresh. Field Report were met with a standing ovation at the conclusion of their majestic set, and it was a wholly deserved one. -Dylan Newcity
New Hopscotch venue, CAM Raleigh, is an odd but awesome space. Completely white, with nothing on the backing wall behind the stage, musicians probably feel pretty vulnerable, or on display somewhat. I’m not sure if this was on purpose or not, considering it’s an art museum, but it makes for an interesting experience when the band makes the most of it.
Enter Zack Mexico, a young quintet from the Outer Banks of NC, sporting some pretty fresh haircuts and what appeared to be Samoan tribal threads. Laying aside their lounging psychedelic guitars, they cleverly upped the energy, while keeping the warm baritone voice seems to echo throughout most of their recorded music. Music for the beach, or apparently a festival – they were one of the more impressive bands we saw all weekend. – Matt Smith
I stuck around Longview to catch Azure Ray, but was frustrated by their unnecessarily long set up time. After nearly a half an hour of fiddling with keyboards and DI boxes, the band began their first song. The wispy vocals of duo Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink benefited from Longview’s large room, which assisted in projecting their somewhat reserved singing voices. The pair was accompanied by a cast of instrumentalist, including a cellist whose elegant passages were a large part of what made the performance memorable.
Some songs were accompanied by pre-recorded electronic beats, and while rhythmically valuable, they seemed entirely too overt for such intimate songwriting. The rhythms lacked nuance, making it seem like the band had just used similar permutations of the same beat for every song. After two or three songs that sounded rather the same, I decided to make the trek across downtown for my most anticipated set of the night: Damien Jurado. -Dylan Newcity
Maybe it was the unexpectedly awesome set by Zack Mexico prior to this, or that meatball I ate a few hours before, but as a band that I included on my “most want to see” list pre-festival, I was bored within minutes of them taking the stage, sticking around for only a few songs before making decision to bounce.
From what we had heard from our peeps on the street, they give high energy performances, their music contains complex layers of instruments, and the diversity of musical genres they feature is enough to make the world at peace once again – but that was just not the case, at least for the songs we witnessed.
Walking outside – we greeted Dan Deacon, dressed in all red, with our iPhone apps blaring. He gave us a thumbs up. We’d see him later in the evening. – Matt Smith
Another highlight of the festival for us, Zola Jesus took the stage to a packed house at The Lincoln Theatre – one of the largest venues in Raleigh. Upon impact, a few things became apparent — the first was that she is small enough to literally put into my pocket. Seriously folks, she is the size of a Barbie, or one of those Troll dolls whose hair you styled as a kid. The second is that she must not know how big she is — because she took COMMAND of that big-ole-stage and worked the room like she was a waitress on rollerskates at one of those outdoor burger joints.
On top of that – her voice was enough, in itself, to make this one of our top-five shows of the festival. How something like that comes out of a human that size is amazing to me. Because if you see Aretha (no need for a last name) sing, you expect a big voice to bounce off those vocal chords. But Zola Jesus is like the Bose System of singers. Big sound. Tiny body.
And furthermore – we have to respect the hell out of her for making the music she makes. She has the talent to go win The Voice, or American Idol, or just be someone else’s pop-star, but she makes music for us, the real music fans, so high-five…er….low-five on that girlfriend. – Matt Smith
Jurado took the small Berkley Café stage and didn’t speak a word before plunging into his set. The gripping, raw songs, performed starkly with just an acoustic guitar, were the most visceral and moving of the festival. Jurado’s turned, almost wounded posture reflected his song’s afflicted subject matter, and showed that despite some songs being over 10 years old, the cuts that had spawned them had not fully healed.
My only issue with Jurado’s set was its scheduling. Closing the night with such heavy stuff can be a little draining, and after 4 hours of hiking through the concrete jungle the last thing you want is to end up depressed. This is in no way a ding to Jurado; I think the exhaustion had just gotten me into a headspace where any emotion would be magnified. Despite his late slot Jurado managed to perform not only the most emotionally powerful set of the night, but my favorite set of the entire festival. Pretty good for one guy, a guitar, and a lyric book. – Dylan Newcity
Dan Deacon pretty much builds a house on stage each time he performs — and for a 12:30 show on the second night of a festival, I’m not sure that’s a great idea. I was freaking tired — especially after standing in the middle of a sweaty death-metal audience, waiting for Corrosion of Conformity to shred their way off stage and go lay down in their sleep-number coffins for the night.
Already running about 15 minutes behind because metal bands don’t give a fuck, Deacon proceeded to bring out his rig, some big boxes, a skull, some lights, a water heater, seventeen miles of cords, a septic tank, a keyboard, some more boxes, a truck of illegal immigrants, small things that looked like glorified traffic lights, and then himself. We had been standing there for 30 minutes. It was now after 1:00 am. I’m 33.
Negativity aside, what happened next was pretty amazing. The place lit up like the Rockefeller Center X-Mas Tree, and the sound that blasted from that stage scrambled my brains with enough fuzzy melody to bring me back to life! I pulled out my phone, fired up his app, and became part of the show, although I didn’t participate in the dance contest Deacon organized up front.
Best part of the show – the workout videos that speed up and slowed down, playing on the screen at the back of the stage. It was hilarious and disturbing at the same time, and enough to keep me going until I passed out from exhaustion. On to day three! -Matt Smith