Thursday, September 12, 2013

Show Review: Hopscotch Music Festival, Day 3

Spiritualized @ City Plaza
By the time Saturday rolled around exhausted is one of the words I had in my rolodex to tell people how I was feeling when asked. But despite my energetic woes, there was no way that I'd miss out on the full days worth of shows that came along with Saturday's Day Parties. While the move shows my nonsensical youth at work, my day began right at 12:00 thanks to Trekky's Day Party and an open bar thanks to Team Clermont. Because what better way to battle hangovers than with a quick round of day drinking?

Winston-Salem's fuzzed-out rockers Estrangers kicked off the day for me, so while half of this attendance was for the free booze the other was most definitely to see this fantastic band. Their debut full-length Season of 1000 Colors (you can check out my review in Creative Loafing Charlotte today!) was released earlier this summer and proved to be one of my favorite local releases of the first half of the year. It's unfair to make Love Language comparisons of any local act that's got reverb-washed, classic pop stylings--but frankly the comparison is apt when it comes to Estrangers. Phillip Pledger's unrestrained vocals are liable to turn on a dime, ranging from delicate croons to passionate wails.

Immediately after Estrangers came a solo set from Hi Ho Silver Oh and it was one of the few sets this year that absolutely blew me out of the water. Everyone packed upstairs for the quaint show, but Casey Trela held nothing back in a powerful set that slowly evolved into a riveting full-band display with locals Joah Tunnel and Josh Kimbrough joining Trela for fully fleshed-out interpretations of his raw, attention-grabbing tracks. Trela's folk inspired melodies took form over a looped guitar that added depth and complexity to his bone-chilling vocal delivery. I walked in oblivious to this former North Carolinian's act and immediately left with the desire to immerse myself in their work. A stellar set that set the bar high throughout the day.

Gross Ghost @ Kings Barcade
From The Pour House I made my way to an at-capacity Kings for one of Spider Bags' many sets of the day. One of my few gripes of the festival was on display at this set, the fact that the crowd is seemingly terrified of the stage. It's not going to bite, you can stand closer than 5 feet from the stage. Believe it or not, artists prefer that! So I shimmied through the tightly packed crowd to make may way to the front and took in the last half of Spider Bags' raucous set. I caught a good bit of songs from last year's stellar Shake My Head like "Sharona La Ramona" and "Keys to the City" which was enough to get me absurdly excited for Gross Ghost's set that followed. While Gross Ghost put on a stellar showing at City Plaza, few things compare to seeing a band up close in an intimate venue like Kings. The set at Kings was a far more boisterous affair, their sound is always loud to the point of near discomfort but not enough to put you off. Gross Ghost barreled through beloved old tracks and some of the stand-out new ones from Public Housing, but I left before they ended so that I could check out Jamaican Queens at Slim's.

The dudes in Jamaican Queens were crashing at my place over the weekend, but I certainly didn't see their set out of obligation. Their music displays an entrancing new sound that I'm absolutely obsessed with. Their live set blends acoustic guitars with drum samples, thumping bass and lively percussion. Frenetic songs brilliantly meld melodic vocals with screaming hi-hats and chest rattling bass drums to make for an incredible live experience. They're like Animal Collective on uppers. After Jamaican Queens, it was off to catch out some of Mandolin Orange's set. I stayed for a good bulk of the set, taking in some of their fantastic new tunes and showing up just in time for the album standout "Morphine Girl," because obviously drug-induced songwriting sprees are the best.

The Breeders @ City Plaza
I caught the very end of The Bronzed Chorus at Legends before it was time to hit up City Plaza for the last night of shows. The Lollipops opened up the evening and made for an absolutely incredible start to the evening. Out of all of the locals to take the big stage this year, I'd argue that The Lollipops acclimated best to the new environment. Maybe it was due to the higher caliber of artists playing afterwards, but fans seemed far more engaged and excitable for The Lollipops' vivacious blast of frenzied pop songs. It also served as an excellent transition into The Breeders' Last Splash set. While I'm not too familiar with the band, their set was a sprawling affair that chronicled an incredibly important album to slews of those in attendance at City Plaza. You couldn't turn your head without seeing someone's eyes light up because their favorite song was suddenly blasting over the PA and an energy like that is absolutely infectious. Although I'm not necessarily a Breeders fan, between the dedicated fans and their wonderful cover of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," I walked away completely satisfied. Spiritualized's set was a different story for me though, before Hopscotch I'd never heard a single note from the band. Once their set began I didn't feel the same palpable energy that had filled the Plaza for The Breeders, so I basically got my photos and got out. Mostly because there was a huge selection of incredible locals to choose from early in the night.

I darted over to Tir Na Nog first to catch some of Saints Apollo's wonderfully catchy acoustic pop music and made it just in time to hear the adorably quirky "Share My Walker" from We Are Ghosts. A bulk of their set came from the new album, displaying the rich nuances that the band has developed throughout their brief career. Striking vocal harmonies and moaning strings breathe life into these tracks and experiencing them live was a great treat. But I had to jet early to catch out The Dead Tongues' set at Memorial Auditorium, which was one of the best decisions of the night. As I previously stated, Memorial's seats are possibly the greatest addition to Hopscotch, but The Dead Tongues' is nothing that you should just sit down and take in as background music. Gustafson's brilliant performance ranged from lively takes on tracks like "No Intention" to Dylan-esque solo performances with just an acoustic and harmonica. I was worried about Memorial swallowing the sounds of Gustafson, but rather the venue was an excellent fit for this incredibly talented musician.

The Dead Tongues @ Memorial Auditorium
Before The Dead Tongues finished their set at Memorial I headed over to Fletcher for what ended up being the sleeper set of the entire festival. I'd never listened to San Fermin until about three days before I checked out their set on Saturday, but they reeled me in with a remarkable song that I've been fixated on for about a week now. All I had to hear was "Sonsick" to become hooked on this incredible new band from Brooklyn, but their live set solidified it for me. They've got the vocal chops of acts like Dirty Projectors or The National with the composition stylings of Sufjan Stevens, but all of it feels original and fresh. High and low ends of the vocal range are filled with chilling falsettos and booming croons from Rae Cassidy and Allen Tate. However, the mastermind behind most of these tracks is the band's pianist Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Through his musical mastery, San Fermin produces swelling orchestral arrangements that come close to taking the back seat to beautiful melodies sung by flooring vocalists. All of the pieces fit together perfectly within this band, and perhaps I'm just gushing at this point but they've left me absolutely stunned at how incredibly talented they are.

After San Fermin I was contemplating on attempting to get into The Hive for Majical Cloudz, a set I was immensely looking forward to, but my weekend's attempts at checking out shows there had been spotty at best. Thus, I trekked all the way to Deep South to see a few songs from Torres before heading back out to Kings. Torres' set was a fantastic affair, but everything paled in comparison after seeing San Fermin at the gorgeous opera hall. But Kopecky Family Band's set at Tir Na Nog was a welcomed--albeit crowded--addition to my evening. I caught the first four songs from the band's set and they displayed a fantastic mixture of low-key folk sentiments combined with unfiltered rock influences. The incessant beckoning for drunken whistling and hoots and hollers made for a nice turn of events from San Fermin and Torres and it actually made the transition into my next set a bit easier.

Closing the festival with Gent & Jawns at Kings was arguably my best and worst decision of the year. While their music is superbly different from San Fermin, that makes it incredibly hard to hold them to the same high standard. However, that incredible difference meant that I'd best be ready to go buckwild to their screaming hi-hats and chest-rattling bass. Gent & Jawns was easily the wildest show I saw at all of Hopscotch, after a few songs the majority of the crowded dance floor had taken to the stage upon the duos request. But later on the dance floor got quite packed again to make for a sweaty, groove filled affair that was filled with some stellar remixes of both new and old remixes. "Knuck If You Buck" found its way into a set that contained the standard Trinidad Jame$ and Watch The Throne remixes, and while diversity wasn't the bands strong suit they have most definitely mastered the craft of compelling crowds to shake their days of fatigue away and lose themselves to dance.

All in all after reflecting upon this year's festival it's hard not to feel like we've got one of the nation's best events taking place right in our backyard. Between the geek-outs over Thurston Moore at Beasley's and the handfuls of unique collaborations (I'm looking at you Merzbow) and stellar last-minute replacements like Big Daddy Kane, it's clear that this festival has the potential to blossom into one of the finest weekends of music all year. It's already become that for many North Carolina residents, but with each subsequent year the artists get more impressive and the crowd comes from farther away to experience their own taste of what North Carolina has to offer. Massive thanks to Greg Lowenhagen and Grayson Currin are in order as always, despite the growing success they continue to provide a place for rising locals to share stages with iconic acts. They provide a level playing field for artists and festivalgoers alike. Whether you're a music snob or a casual listener, the three days of Hopscotch Music Festival will leave you with a unique sense of elation. Your feet are sore, your ears are ringing, you're most likely hungover--but you're filled with an anxious desire to do it all over again.

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