Hopping around Hopscotch 2017 … Night One – The evening started out with a set by the spacey and insouciant outfit SPACEFACE at “The Basement,” a large hall in the Raleigh Convention Center. They were only one of two bands playing at 8 PM, so the choices were limited. I was immediately struck by their light show which was perfect for the kind of music they played. The venue was huge, but there was a healthy crowd in front of the stage. The singer got serious about halfway through their set, when he said “We want to do something really cool, but you have to listen to my instructions, ok?” He proceeded to unfurl a parachute like you would see in elementary school. While the band jammed, the singer gave instructions, like having the crowd, now in a circle, wave it as hard as they could while beach balls bounced on top. He then had some crowd members run underneath the parachute after others had lifted high. It was a highlight of the festival. Very fun. Next was John Saturley at Fletcher Opera House. He is the force behind local outfit Zack Mexico, and I was expecting the kind of easy, fun indie jams he has on his bandcamp. Instead, I was greeted with two men sitting cross legged on stage, each wearing a gas mask while ambient drone buzzed around them. One, whom I presume to be Saturley, was working pedals and instruments, while the other was reading a book. Eventually, the reader stood up, took off his mask, and walked up to the microphone, and started speaking in what I think was Spanish. The drone was in a constant crescendo, getting more aggressive as the speaker became more unhinged in his ranting. It was a riveting performance piece, only outdone by Allessandro Cortini two days later. I then made my way to Shepherds, who were playing at deep south, generally considered the most marginal of the hopscotch venues, reserved for local bands and those who are on the rise, but still largely unknown. Shepherds is from Atlanta, and gave it all they had. They play somewhere in the realm of post punk, with plenty of modern indie splash poured in. Their singer was magnetic, and his energy was not lost on the room. The biggest shock of the performance: as I left, I was looking them up on spotify, and none of their songs have more thank 1,000 listens. What a shame. I stopped into the Pour House to check out Totally Slow, It was punkish, but just didn’t do much for me. Because I was only in Totally Slow for 2 minutes, I was able to get to see the last few songs of prog genre benders Kayo Dot. It was a three person unit on this occasion, and they were playing to a half-full crowd at the larger room that is CAM. There was something ominous about seeing a guy in a Coheed and Cambria shirt when I walked in, but I think that fans of prog laden heavy music don’t have a lot of occasions to fly that particular flag. Kayo Dot is populated by three extremely proficient musicians. The meters, time changes and rhythms that were occurring were almost dizzying. And any Neil Peart fan would find a new favorite in the drummer on this night. I then went back to Fletcher for Mount Eerie. Michael, I am a huge Mount Eerie fan. I love everything Phil Elverum has done. That being said, I was tepid, to say the least, at the prospect of a purely solo acoustic show from one of the great geniuses of DIY production. The layers and layers he puts on record, the risks he takes, and here I was, about to watch him stripped of all the things that made me love him. And he proceeded to make me love him more. He played exclusively selections from his last work, “A Crow Looked at Me” and new, unrecorded material. The performance was a revelation. “Crow” is his most stripped down work, and he stripped it even further to nothing but voice and guitar. It was most emotionally heavy show I have ever been to. Phil Elverum pulls no punches in writing about his wife’s death. The grief he still carries was absolutely palpable. He appeared to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders when he would sigh. But he managed to poke fun at himself, remarking “Here’s a new one. But it’s sad too.” The only thing that marred the performance was a audience member’s ESPN app ringing right after Elverum had finished a song. A very brave, intense performance. I traveled back to the basement for Oh Sees, who experienced the first of a multitude of technical issues that would stalk and haunt certain performers over the weekend. As always, Oh Sees was frenzied and full of energy. You could tell that frontman John Dwyer was upset as the head of his stack malfunctioned, and his band had to jam for what felt like forever (but was probably only 2 minutes) as he scrounged up a solution. At the end of the song, he asked how much time he had, was told 10 minutes, and stated “Ok, here’s the last song. We’re going to make it ten minutes.” A fun performance, and its always great to watch a band that plays as quick and fierce to be able to flesh out and explore such barn burners. I then decided to just stay for Brian Jonestown Massacre. They had two of the most haggard roadies I have ever seen, but one was dressed in maroon high waist jeans and a matching jean jacket with long golden locks. But the road had not been kind to him. That being said, BJM came out looking fresh and youthful for a band with such a tenure. They played the hits, and everyone seemed to enjoy, especially the heavy set 40 something woman who kept screaming “BRIAN JONESTOWN” from 15 minutes before the show until she was muted by the showers of sound.
Night Two – I started the night at Run the Jewels at the Red Hat Amphitheater. Those guys put on a heck of a show with a lot of energy. They also had a lot of fun stage banter that really made you feel the bond that exists between El-P and Killer Mike. Up next was Future Islands at City Plaza. I believe this was their fourth hopscotch performance, and singer Sam Herring noted that their first hopscotch show was at the now closed down back room of Berkley Cafe. Don’t get me wrong, good performance, but I’ve been seeing Future Islands for about 5 years now, and if you like the dancing schtick, it was awesome, if not, there was plenty else to see. It was future islands being future islands, not that its a bad thing. I then went to Nash Hall, a downtown Church that rents out its super modern “sanctuary” for events and weddings, for Arone Dyer’s Drone Choir. The lights were all turned out, and there were 9 women singing. It was a very interesting piece. Some of the women would harmonize, others would provide offbeat punctuations, and others would float with a note on top. As this maze of voices ran its course, so too did the singers, as chairs had been removed from parts of the crowd to allow them to walk through the seated listeners. If you closed your eyes, you were treated to an amazing auditory experience of far away voices being drowned out by others that seemed to appear next to you from out of nowhere. Afterwards, Dyer introduced her choir, and gave them a well deserved kudos, as they performed, without sheet music, and with only a day’s rehearsal, for a continuous 30 minute vocal meditation. I then went to the basement for Har Mar Superstar, which was surprisingly good. Har Mar himself seemed to marvel at the several hundred person strong crowd, and delighted in his slow, performance long strip tease. The band was tight, looking great in their red satin jackets, and everyone seemed to have a blast at Har Mar’s modern R&B concoctions. I then traveled to a fairly packed King’s for electronic spoken word artist Marie Davidson. I am a pretty big fan of her work, and previous live videos I had seen had worried me for what was to come. In those videos, she came off as cold and aloof. However, in King’s, she was full of energy, and after setting up her electronic setup for each song and it reached its full splendor, she would walk in front of her set up to gaze at the audience while speaking her lyrics. She came off as charismatic and alluring. The only downside was the technical issues that occurred during her first song. But she manhandled her monitors, pulled them several feet back, and kept on with her show. Next was the main conflict for this year’s Hopsctoch: Preoccupations or Hoops? I had learned that Deep South, where Hoops was playing, was running late, so I decided to hit Preoccupations first at the Lincoln Theater. The theater’s first floor was packed. The band seemed very energized, one of the members leaping in the air several times before they hit the first note. As they tore into “Continental Shelf,” “Anxiety,” and ‘Memory,” the lights never fully settled on the band. Instead, the lights were shining into the crowd, with the band’s faces in a perpetual shadow. It lent itself to the creeping feeling of anxiety that their lyrics allude to, never truly knowing what is right in front of us. The band was on point, the singers gruff voice punctuating the noise and guitars. I then went to Deep South for Hoops, but was disappointed to learn that even though previous bands had run late, they were just going to cut Hoops short. I did get to hear the last two songs, which were wonderful. The member of the band were homely, but create some of the best pop melodies that I’ve heard in indie rock in eons.
Night Three – The evening started with Big Boi, who had with him a DJ, an MC, a guitar player and two trumpet players. Big Boi put on a bombastic show. He played a mixture of new songs from his “Boomiverse” album, older solo songs, and verses from various Outkast hits. The only disappointment was the failed hope that Killer Mike would be somehow able to stay an extra day in Raleigh to guest with Big Boi and sing his verses. Alas, it was not to be, but it was still a very fun set to the thousands at city plaza. The first club show of the night was Pie Face Girls at the Pour House. They play a very interesting, aggressive riot girl revival style. As I entered the venue, there was a balding man in his late 40’s who was upset about being carded, and said “fuck the government” a few times. He was wearing khaki shorts and a business casual orange plaid short sleeve shirt. He skipped down the alleyway to the venue entrance, and was the main moshpit participant. He both represented the antithesis of PFG, but was also emblematic of the anger and exuberance that bleeds out at PFG shows. A very fun show, made even better by someone’s Dad. I went again to the basement for Alessandro Cortini. At first, I was confused, as the lights dimmed, video played on the theater sized screen, but there was no Cortini. Apparently, he was playing at the mixing board, out of view, so the focus would be on the music and the images. After it became clear to the scattered crowd that this was the performance, everyone sat or laid down. I, for one, laid down, as Cortini’s ambient, droney songs drifted. On the screen, each song had a different video play. Each video was an 8mm from the 1960’s. Each one was washed out or saturated, out of focus, and of children or families somewhere else, likely Italy. The decision to not appear was a masterstroke by Cortini, as the crowd was enraptured by the experience. The music and images were pleasant, but the small changes and irregularities in both provided and underlying feeling of dread, as if something really bad was about to happen at any minute. At this point, I became ill with an upset stomach, but I powered through to see Beverly at Deep South. I had seen them in Chapel hill a few months earlier. They were great at the time, and had managed to improve their live presentation by adding a third guitar player, a female, who was able to sing harmonies during the chorus. It was a great addition. However, after a few songs, I had to bail, as I didn’t want to puke on anyone… Hopscotch website: http://hopscotchmusicfest.com.
Photos and review by Whilden Nettles