Monday, September 10, 2012

Show Review: Hopscotch 2012

Matthew E. White @ Fletcher Opera Hall
After three long days, thirty two bands, and minuscule amounts of sleep, Hopscotch has yet again drawn to a close.  While the festival persevered through its first big encounter with weather issues (a cancelled set form Escort and a postponed set from The Roots), it was damn near impossible to dampen the spirits of the Hopscotch attendees who continued to bounce from venue to venue with childlike excitement.  This year's festival boasted far more diversity and depth than previous installments, evidenced by  Friday night's Pour House lineup ending with Corrosion of Conformity and Dan Deacon, or going from the jangly indie pop of T0W3RS to the pantsless punk rock wonders of NOBUNNY on Saturday at the Contemporary Art Museum.

Hopscotch has outdone itself once again, and while I lay in bed trying to recollect all of the joys of Hopscotch, I can't help but feel a striking sense of pride for the city I now call home.  Hopscotch is the perfect display of North Carolina's tightly knit scene and Raleigh's opening community, it's hard not to walk down a block at Hopscotch without seeing a familiar face from the crowd or a band member who's set you're still enamored by.  Quite frankly, Hopscotch is a surreal weekend for me, an absolute music marathon that's filled with the finest local acts peppered throughout a lineup packed with talent.

A full festival review and photos are below:

After begrudgingly attending my classes for the day I rushed down to the Sheraton for an interview with T0W3RS for WKNC where we discussed the importance of Hopscotch within the band's career, the awesome new EP they just released, Wyatt, and how damn excited I was for Danny Brown.  After this I headed down the street to catch Jenny Besetzt at Kings.  I arrived just in time to catch the end of Iggie Cosky's (of The Lollipops) solo set and the majority of Jenny Besetzt before leaving Kings for my next day party.  Jenny Besetzt lived up to all of the hype that the band has been receiving lately, their live show didn't pack too much energy at 1:00 pm for a sparse crowd at Kings, but I'll be damned if the bands performance wasn't tight.  Their ethereal pop sounds are tinged with hints of punk and new wave influences which blend together to create a unique sound of their own.  I darted from Kings to White Collar Crime, which was evidently a big mistake.  White Collar Crime simply wasn't prepared for the College Radio Day Party, as the bands arrived for load in the venue was closed and the sound man didn't show until past 3:00.  This forced Dash and The Big Picture off the bill, but left two incredible Greensboro acts, Casual Curious and Trioscapes to play the rest of the show.  While Casual Curious lacked enough microphones or stands to mic the horn section, their set was still vivacious and enthralling.  However, it was incomparable to the display put on by Trioscapes.  About halfway through the set the skies opened up and this heavy jazz-fusion trio served as the perfect escape from the weather.  Dan Briggs is one of the finest bass players I've ever seen live, and this set at White Collar Crime was perfect proof of that fact.  Trioscapes dazzled for the better part of an hour and Thursday's day parties winded to a close.  While White Collar Crime left a salty taste in my mouth, the sets I saw made it hard to walk away upset.

After an incredible meal at Beasley's and a drink on the patio of The Hive it was off to Fletcher to catch Phil Cook & His Feat.  Phil Cook put on a wonderful display of his multi-instrumental talents as he soothed the crowd with his sweet banjo and opened tuned guitar jams.  I headed next door for the end of Young Magic, which proved to be far less crowded than I anticipated.  This was my only stop at Memorial this year, but it was quite the experience to be immersed in the beautiful soundscape created by the Aussie psych-rockers.  A rickshaw to the Berkley proved to be a wonderful idea, as we arrived just before Gross Ghost went on.  These local favorites filled Berkley Cafe to capacity and proceeded to rock through Mike Dillon's sickness for a captivating set.  The set surely won over multitudes of new fans, the band exhumed energy as they hammered through their gritty pop tunes.  From Gross Ghost it was off to Tir Na Nog, where I got catch far more of J Kutchma and the Five Fifths than I anticipated, a true blessing in disguise.  Kutchma's performance can be encompassed in one word, passion.  Whether he be rocking hard enough to rip his guitar from his straps, shouting at the mic from afar, or bobbling around using the stand as a crutch, Kutcha puts every inch of his body and soul into his performance and boy does it pay off.  Seeing Hacienda after J Kutchma was something I was terribly excited for, but they paled in comparison to the previous set.  That's not knocking Hacienda at all, as they were on point and just as great as I'd expected, but few artists can command a crowd like Kutcha can.  Leaving Hacienda meant that it was time for my most heavily anticipated set of the night with Matthew E. White.  White moved Fletcher Opera Hall like an old spiritual, singing his own modern day hymns of faith and love through a soulful and grandiose filter.  The crowd began seated and silent but quickly adjusted as Matthew E. White informed everyone that they should, "feel free to dance."  This 32 person  performance of White's debut album Big Inner was hands down the most beautiful performance of the festival.  It takes a bit for me to overlook overt spirituality like "Jesus Christ he is our lord, Jesus Christ he is our friend", as Jesus-y music simply doesn't do it for me, but there is something far more special about this.  His musical vessel isn't a pea boat, but rather an ark, providing just as much emphasis on his  focused lyricism as his deeply layered and intensely striking orchestration.  Lord, we had a good time at Fletcher on Thursday, and by the end of the night I was ready to do it all over again.

The Lollipops @ CAM Day Party
Noon rolled around far earlier than anticipated, but it's not hard to get motivated when all you have scheduled is 14 hours of music.  Friday began with an attempt at heading into Kings but becoming quickly turned away by the shoulder to shoulder crowd for Alan Bishop/Bill Orcutt/Chris Corsano Trio and instead heading to Tir Na Nog for the tail end of Gray Young.  The local post rock act put on a great show for a thinned out crowd, so instead of checking out Naked Gods I headed to Slim's to try and re-create my Hacienda excitement without them falling in the shadow of the mighty Kutchma.  It worked.  Slim's packed in QUICK as Hacienda's poppy roots rock stylings had the crowd head bobbing and dancing along to their infectious tunes.  Hacienda's tight crowd led to me dipping out early from there to catch a bite at Klausie's, one of the many incredible food trucks at the Contemporary Art Museum, as I headed to check out The Lollipops.

The Lollipops are a band that's quickly gaining steam in the Triangle, Iggy Cosky's knack for writing incredibly catchy and original pop tunes doesn't seem to be going anywhere, as evidenced by the two full lengths the band has released within the year.  The Lollipops displayed their excellence at crafting brilliant bedroom pop in the sweltering heat while suffering a few endearing fumbles like Iggy dropping his keyboard.  When it came time to choose between catching the umpteenth Lonnie Walker/Love Language set or finding somewhere a bit cooler to hang, the decision was easy.  Daily Planet Cafe was the next stop for the majority of Hiss Golden Messenger's solo set outside of the Museum of Natural Science.  The shade and soulful tunes served as the excellent cooling point of the day, as MC Taylor's heartfelt croon lulled the small crowd of festival goers.  From Hiss I stumbled upon my favorite find of the festival, Wisconsin's Field Report.  Chris Porterfield is the brainchild of Field Report and also a former member of DeYarmond Edison, the old Megafaun/Justin Vernon project.  Much like his former colleagues, Porterfield has taken the singer songwriter approach and blown it out of the water with a dense instrumentation that perfectly coincides with his ornate lyricism.  Flock of Dimes closed out my Friday Day Party experience, and it gave me just what I expected.  Jenn Wagner of Wye Oak leads this project that takes a more electronic approach than Wye Oak, with a Mac Book blasting beats in the corner to serve as an excellent backdrop to Wagners booming, commanding vocals.  I checked out early to get up to City Plaza for a bite to eat, but this was a great live show that has piqued my curiosity for this project.

Zammuto kicked off the City Plaza shows, and I must say I'm glad I went into this one with no prior knowledge of the band.  While I'd heard a few tunes from The Books, I'd never delved into the band, however I can finally appreciate the brilliance of leader Nick Zammuto, as this show was nothing but wonderful.  Vocal samples and electronic whirring was scattered throughout the set, but the melodic focus of Zammuto is what shines brightest.  Nick Zammuto's falsetto soared through the crowd above the jaunting dance rhythms and captivated the fans to bust out their awesome/awkward dance moves.  After Zammuto was City Plaza's highlight for me, Built To Spill.  It's not every day you get to stand feet away from one of your high school heroes, and that's just another one of the reasons that Hopscotch holds a special place in my heart.  Tearing through favorites like "You Were Right", "Car", and "Carry The Zero", the band noodled away for what felt like hours upon hours, which was a good and a bad thing.  While I love the band, the set definitely seemed to drag a bit and quite frankly for the first half Doug Marsh looked like he was just bored with it all.  City Plaza was closed by The Jesus and Mary Chain, a band that quite simply...doesn't really do it for me.  I checked out a couple of songs before heading out to White Collar Crime to catch some of Nests.

Nests is a DiggUp Tapes outfit that brings a dark indie vibe with old rootsy and country aspects to make for a truly unique experience.  While the show wasn't very lively, I must admit that Jeremy Walton being the sole band member illuminated behind a desk had a wonderful effect on the visuals and mood of the set.  I can't wait to check out more sets from Nests, but I had to leave this one early to head up the road for my highly anticipated Zack Mexico set.  Arguably one of the youngest acts to play Hopscotch, I'd definitely say that were one of the most lively as well.  The band's excitement and energy permeated throughout CAM, and their spaced out surf jams reeled me in for the catch.  Zack Mexico was one of the most enthralling sets of the weekend, especially their awkwardly awesome rockstar ending that featured their drummer rocking so hard he fell from his stool.  My locally focused night continued as I made a terrible attempt at catching a Rickshaw to Fletcher, but instead just kind of awkwardly power-walked to check out the full band Hiss Golden Messenger set.  While I'd caught the band earlier in the day this was a set that was far more special, as these full band sets are a rarity for Hiss.  Brad and Phil of Megafaun joined in on this incredible set, and as I walked in to "Drummer Down" and placed myself firmly in the front row I knew I had made the right choice to wait it out at Fletcher for the rest of the night.  The Mountain Goats closed out the night with a one of a kind double set that left me with a feeling of elation.  Darnielle had a vocal trio to join him on his first seven metal covers which included metal masterpieces  from Nightwish and Ronnie James Dio.  After a brief break Darnielle played a set of rarities that included "From TG&Y", "You Were Cool", and a particularly moving b-side from The Sunset Tree that was prefaced with a humorous but heartfelt speech about growing up going to wrestling shows with his stepfather.  Darnielle made a fantastic assessment that stuck with me at this show though in regards to his abusive family, "It's not always horrible, there's good days and bad days" can strike a chord in the heart of anyone that's been involved in a situation such as this.  Darnielle is such a fantastic performer because he can touch on these topics that most would hide away in shadows, but approach them with a sense of enlightenment and a tinge of humor.  This was without a doubt my Hopscotch highlight, an absolutely striking performance from one of my favorite songwriters of all time.  Bravo, Mr. Darnielle.  Bravo.

Charlie Smarts of Kooley High @
The Raleigh Times Day Party
"I'm moving noticeably slower" were the first words uttered from my mouth as I headed towards my first Day Party on Saturday to check out Airstrip.  Airstrip is the phoenix of Matt Parker that rose from the ashes of Veelee, and in my opinion has already begun to surpass the previous project.  Airstrip has a much darker sound than Veelee, trading in catchy pop hooks for grit and intensity.  There's no questioning how that came about either, as the band is comprised of members of Caltrop, Monsonia, and Gross Ghost, making for a wonderful combination of local artists who've had a clear influence on the output of this project.  From the far too heavy for a hangover sounds of Airstrip, I toned it down with a set from Ryan Gustafson at The Pour House.  This enigmatic man of whom I've heard very little, (apparently he likes Wendy's?) has proven one thing to me for certain, he's one hell of a songwriter.  The dulcet tones produced by his often fingerpicked acoustic serve as the perfect counterpart for his smooth vocals and simple melodies.  I'm enthralled by this songwriter and quite frankly can't wait to hear his upcoming record that will be out, "Sometime."  From Gustafson I headed to down Martin to check out some of Flesh Wounds at The Berkley Cafe.  I've been to very few shows at Berkley, but each one was brimming with energy and excitement, Flesh Wounds was no different.  The WXYC Day Party was one of the more crowded day parties I encountered on Saturday and after experiencing the Flesh Wounds' live show there is no doubt as to why.  This three piece band is rock n' roll to the core, with Montgomery Morris bouncing around the stage with his Telecaster hiked up to his chest, it's hard not to fall in love with the in your face attitude they've got.  Plus, they're the only band that I've seen turn a tuning session into a punk tune, so there's that!

After a brief glimpse of Mount Moriah's set at the Megafaun day party I headed to The Hive on a whim, which turned out to be the best decision I'd make during the day, as I stumbled upon The Estrangers.  I missed their Local Band Local Beer a few weeks ago, so when I saw their name on the door I knew I had to check it out.  They produce fuzzed out pop rock which quickly filled up The Hive with excited festival goers.  While they weren't nearly as packed as last year's eye-opening T0W3RS show, The Hive has without a doubt proved to be a Hopscotch breeding ground for upcoming local artists.  A trip down the road was in order to check out Kooley High, or should I say a fraction of Kooley High.  Tab-One and Charlie Smarts were enough to get the surprisingly large crowd jumping and grooving to their fantastic hip-hop stylings.  Clever puns and wordplays are the name of the game for Kooley High, and whether they're winning my heart over with "snack cakes" shout outs or showing their love for the 919, Kooley High is constantly proving why they're North Carolina's premier rap group.  I quickly headed from Raleigh Times back to Martin Street to catch the headlining slot from Megafaun at their day party.  Seeing the band's electric set for the first time was an incredible experience, as the last time I saw the band they were opening for The Mountain Goats before their latest full-length.  Joined by William Tyler, Chris Corsano, and Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs, Megafaun powered through the heat and played to a jam-packed Martin Street.  The diversity found within the crowd was simply astounding, from young to old it seems that Megafaun had enchanted us all with a unique and passionate set.

City Plaza's festivities started with Shirlette & The Dynamite Brothers, a lively blend of rock, soul, and hip-hop.  Shirlette Ammons won me over a few years ago with Mosadi Music at Troika, and I saw on Saturday that she's got the prowess to command a crowd hundreds of times larger than that.  The band had no shortage of energy or pizazz on stage, even the looming storm overhead couldn't stop the band from rocking the crowd.  However, just before Escort was scheduled to go on the skies opened up with torrential rain for a couple of hours.  Hopscotchians (we'll just go with that) fled like ants to the nearest shelter, and I made my way to Plaza Cafe to catch a funnel cake and some much needed warmth.  By the time it cleared up I headed over to Little Hollow, unfortunately meaning that I missed the postponed set from The Roots (while Escort was cancelled altogether), but it was still well worth it to see this wonderful gem of a local artist.  After hearing word of a crowd developing at CAM, I left early to see T0W3RS put on one of the most enjoyable sets of the weekend.  Balloons covered the stage and the crowd as band members and festival goers alike were slapping them to and fro for the entire T0W3RS set.  Towards the end of this vivacious set filled with favorites from their full length like "eee!" and "Over and Over", two dancers came on stage and put on a performance that even distracted Derek Torres for a few songs.  Lifting one another into the air using only their legs, it was one of many things that made T0W3RS stand high above the rest of the locals this weekend.  With each performance I see this band improves ten fold, I can only expect incredible things to come.  After T0W3RS I had to struggle with leaving for Baobab or staying for NOBUNNY, mostly because I just HAD to see Danny Brown.

Ultimately I stayed and I must say it was a great decision, NOBUNNY was one of the most high octane sets I saw all weekend, only to be topped by Danny.  I was warned that "If you're not cool with dudes in their underwear and punk you should probably just leave", which I can understand warning this tiny kid in cutoffs and glasses of, but it wouldn't deter me from the set.  NOBUNNY sure enough came out pantsless with a leather jacket, an odd BDM-esque vest, and the trademark bunny mask for a brief but breathtaking performance.  You don't get to mosh in an art museum every day, and that's another thing that makes Hopscotch such a unique experience.  As the band left the stage the anticipation for Danny Brown immediately skyrocketed.  Skywalker and his Squidward chain received shouts of approval from the crowd as he set up his Mac, but it was nothing compared to the uproar that resulted from Danny's offstage mic "check".  For the better part of an hour Danny Brown powered through some fan favorites from XXX and various other releases.  Few things are as awesome as shouting along for "Blunt After Blunt" or singing about eating pussy in unison with hundreds of others for "I Will".  Sporting a bottle of Hennessy, Brown lived the life of Bruiser at CAM, leaving the crowd dumbfounded as he left the stage and begging for more.  While Flosstradamus took the stage next, I headed out to Longview to catch some of the Arnold Dreyfuss & Megafaun set.  After bouncing from there to Kings and The Pour House I decided to call it an early Hopscotch and catch up on my rest.  Hopscotch has improved year after year, leaving it's attendees screaming the much deserved praises of Grayson Currin and Greg Lowenhagen.  On Sunday morning fans even donated enough money for a plane ticket for Grayson to fly out to Atlanta to see Sunn O))), proving that the reciprocation that this local scene shows is like none other.  Hopscotch has reaffirmed my love for North Carolina, and I expect the 2013 installment to do much of the same.  So while my feet are blistered and my ears most likely permanently damaged, I can't help but smile when thinking of the weekend.  So while we all suffer through our Post Hopscotch Stress Disorder, let's just think fondly of the beautiful moments shared throughout this incredible community.  Happy Hopscotching!


  1. Thanks so much for all your work! I'm so glad you liked the T0W3RS set!

  2. Enjoyed your write up. I completely agree that NOBUNNY, Danny Brown, and Matthew E White (Memorial) were absolutely amazing.