|The Flaming Lips @ City Plaza|
I caught the first handful of songs for Midtown Dickens before heading over to The Lincoln Theatre to see the tail end of Hammer No More The Fingers and mainly to get up close for Ben Sollee. Excellent decision. Ben Sollee wowed the crowd in front of The Lincoln with his soothing blend of Americana/Folk combined with a bit of soulful/rootsy vocal melodies. Throw in the fact that the man is a master cellist and you've got one mind blowing show. Sollee's set was beautiful and after catching it I was kicking myself for missing him earlier this year at The Casbah in Durham. This is one of the true gems that I found from this years' festival, to say he's an Andrew Bird of the cello would be a bit bold but as he develops and evolves as an artist he's certainly going to be a name to keep in your mind. He's a one of a kind act that should be seen by all.
After being stunned by Ben Sollee we took off to Kings to see what we could catch of the Diggup Tapes show which as it turned out went incredibly with my first live experience with Birds of Avalon. It was an excellent precursor to an energetic and lively set of City Plaza shows, their psychedelic projector images and even trippier guitar tones kept the packed Kings bustling throughout the set, especially with the special guest appearance by Kliph Scurloch of The Flaming Lips. Birds of Avalon were another pleasant surprise for me, I'd heard recordings and gotten vaguely familiar with the band, but seeing them live shines a completely new light on them.
City Plaza was up next with a set that I was pretty apprehensive about going into. When the schedule was announced I was beyond excited for The Light Pines at City Plaza but due to their untimely demise Dreamers of the Ghetto replaced them. Their set was entertaining no doubt, but it felt like last minute filler. There was nothing inherently wrong about it, but it just seemed hard to get into with all of the hustle and bustle and excitement for Superchunk and The Flaming Lips. It really just seemed like another band that wasn't the headliner as awful as that sounds to say about a band that has such potential. Checking out their recordings may inspire a different reaction though, and it's certainly something I plan on looking into. Superchunk though was the polar opposite. Nothing but a set full of ecstatic concert goers and arguably even more ecstatic band members thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage. Superchunk is another band I've shamefully not delved into yet, but their set certainly motivated me to do so. It was lively, filled with feel good indie-rock that's influenced a brand new generation of bands. It was great seeing songs that were "older than some of the crowd" (admittedly I'm lumped into some of those categories most likely) performed with such life and vivacity, almost as if it was breathing new life into the old ways. Thoroughly enjoyed this set.
Up next was the big one, the gargantuan of a headliner with The Flaming Lips. It's been hard to turn your head at a festival lately that didn't have The Lips on it, I mean in a little over a month they'll be gracing the stage at Moogfest in Asheville as well. But after finally getting the chance to see the spectacle that so many have spoken of, I can understand why you can't turn your head in any direction nowadays without seeing something about The Flaming Lips. The show was nothing short of fantastic with giant laser hands, the legendary orb walk over the crowd, confetti, gigantic balloons bouncing all over City Plaza, it was magical, whimsical, and downright heavenly. Coyne lead a chorus of thousands for a "Happy Birthday" rendition for a girl named Lara in the crowd, just one example of the vibes that Coyne gives off on stage. The full moon played as an instigator for the band to pull out their famed "Dark Side of the Moon" cover after jumping right into a lengthy discussion on the song. The Flaming Lips proved why they're one of the best live bands on the planet, the energy and talent that is poured into every show they play is awe inspiring. Downtown Raleigh was alive with the good vibes that pierced through the crowds, and there was one last night of club shows to cap it all off.
Straight from City Plaza was Gross Ghost at The Union for a much more polished set than seen at Slims. Granted the set at Slims for their Day Party was still a great one, but everything seemed a bit more "on" so to speak at The Union. With local musicians peppered throughout the crowd Mike Dillon continues to display that gigantic sense of community amongst the Triangle's music scene. I saw it displayed in two sets tonight, Gross Ghost being the first. Getting to hear the barely over a minute track, "Lurker", was a real treat, as well as a couple of new tunes being thrown into the mix for their upcoming album. I headed out early to get a good spot for Bombadil though, booking it down the street to Fletcher Hall with my back, legs, and feet aching like I'd just been running around downtown for three days (Imagine that! Really far off simile, right?)
Bombadil was breath taking. I found myself lost in the sweet sounds that filled Fletcher throughout the Durham locals' set. From solo songs on the grand piano to the uproar of sing-alongs with a crowded theatre, Bombadil returned to the Triangle with much more than a bang, it was more of an explosion. They also announced an album release show scheduled for November at The Cat's Cradle, one that's going to definitely be the highlight of the fall concert season without a doubt. After the band closed their set they were given a much deserved standing ovation by fans who seemed filled with joy to see Bombadil back on stage once again.
The final set of the night was my weekend's highlight for sure with Lost in the Trees giving one of the most beautiful sets I've ever seen them play. Allow me to preface all of this by saying that some three years ago I was sitting on the floor of New Bern's Shops of Old City Hall with my legs crossed on the floor while listening to this local North Carolina act that had just brought me to tears. Lost in the Trees opened my eyes to the Carolina music scene those few years ago and as I sat on the floor of Fletcher Opera Hall for my last set of Hopscotch 2011 I felt it all over again, the overwhelming joy of being a part of something so incredibly special that you can't really comprehend that gravity of it all. Ari gave a heartfelt speech on the band's success and their love for the sense of community amongst the scene and he said everything that had been on my mind as well. Their set was marvelous, featuring new live favorites that can bring tears to your eyes and a smile on your face. Lost in the Trees brings a plethora of emotions to the table with them and Ari Picker lays them all out on his sleeve with a comforting sense of closure. Their music inspires, it inspires the fear inside to quell, it inspires you to shout along, it inspires you to get out and live a life worth living. Lost in the Trees are responsible for my obsession with this local scene, with my admiration for this tightly knit community, and most importantly for a sense of serenity that can absolutely overcome me with the slightest sounds of one of their songs.
Hopscotch closed for me on the perfect note. It was sitting alongside others who are just as dedicated to this cause, thousands of which were roaming all over downtown Raleigh trying to find their way through all of the madness associated with having so many incredible bands play at a festival, that made me realize how truly lucky I am and how lucky all of us are for living amongst such talented musicians and incredible people.
So to Grayson Currin, Greg Lowenhagen, Indepenent Weekly, Lost in the Trees, and all of the bands who've played Hopscotch this weekend...
(More images will be posted throughout the week along with some great performance videos as well!)