Friday, September 12, 2014

Show Review: Hopscotch Music Festival 2014

St. Vincent at City Plaza
I feel like every Hopscotch has just gotten better and better. Each year the lineup finds a new way to break down barriers, to pack in artists of every genre imaginable for one loaded, sometimes spastic three-day marathon of music (or four if you're some showzilla who knows no limits.) 2014, surely enough proved to be my favorite Hopscotch yet thanks to the all of its eccentricities and unforgettable performances. Though this is the first year I was unable to attend the Thursday and Friday day parties, there was still tons of music packed into that brief weekend that we all yearn so long for. Between the prodigal return of Lonnie Walker, T0W3RS' exhilarating full-band debut, and Valient Thorr bringing that Venus weirdness to City Plaza, there was plenty of local love going around downtown Raleigh. Regional acts were some of the most exciting of the festival, but that didn't stop folks like Lunice, Jamie XX, Ava Luna and others from bringing their 'A' game to this nationally acclaimed event.

De La Soul at City Plaza
Photo Credit: Agatha Donkar
Things started off late for me on Thursday as I showed up towards the end of an excellent display of showmanship from Toon & The Real Laww. This Durham based duo garners quite a few OutKast comparisons with their lyrical wit and brilliant, charismatic interplay. Throw in their stellar crowd participation antics and you've got one hell of a kick-off to this four-day festival. Things were immediately followed up by the hip-hop visionaries De La Soul, a set that even had the photographers in the pit dancing along with their cameras hanging down. While the evening got off to a hip-hop oriented start, I took off from City Plaza around twenty minutes in to catch the brilliant acts at Kennedy Theater. Body Games brought the venue to capacity as fans were entranced by Adam Graetz's mind-bending visuals. Last year they had one of the weekend's most memorable moments with a Michael Jackson cover, and surely enough they raised the bar once again this year with a "Kiss From A Rose" cover that everybody pretending like they knew the words to the verses. After Body Games came Marley Carroll, the Asheville-based producer with a knack for engaging yet trancey electronic sets. Carroll perfectly blends four on the floor house beats with spacey fills, turntable scratches and serene vocals. It was difficult to pull myself away from the dance marathon, but it's also important to take in some low-energy stuff throughout the weekend as well. Thus, it was next door to Fletcher to check out IIII, the drum-circle marathon that started out strong and ended up droning on.

The drum circle was rooted with an electronic drone that was gradually engulfed by the slew of drummers circled around the stage. It was a nice pause to sit down and mindlessly enjoy some instrumental music, but I'd hardly call it one of the weekend's highlights. It was a nice break regardless, and gave me everything I needed to soak in Deniro Farrar and Lunice with every ounce of energy possible. Deniro played to a small crowd, but you'd never know by the energy and showmanship that he displayed throughout the evening. Rapping about pampers while staring lanky photographers in the eyes, spitting out profanity laced statements that proclaim himself the king of cult rap. Frankly I wasn't expecting to enjoy this show as much as I did, but it was emanating heavy Danny Brown vibes, Farrar has a keen stage presence and knows how to get a crowd involved with his set. Regardless of whether he was simply sharing his brothers music or baring his soul on the mic, he's a man that knows how to get the people going. Farrar was also the perfect segway into Lunice, the early 20s trap wunderkind. Lunice provided a set filled with originals and remixes that ranged from a handful of Kanye West tracks to Future, mostly sticking to heavy rap throughout the night. While that made the pacing a bit difficult for those of us that danced throughout the whole set, it's one hell of a way to end an evening. Lunice had another surprisingly small set, but once folks planted themselves inside of Kennedy they stayed through the duration. A small pack of dedicated fans beats a crowd full of bored concertgoers any day.

Spoon at City Plaza
City Plaza once again kicked off the night's festivities and provided for some truly surreal moments. Getting the chance to see brand new Lonnie Walker tunes amidst a sea of thousands is something that fills folks like me with an immense amount of joy. I got into local music in late 2008 and Lonnie Walker were the kings of the scene, pounding out show after show of high-energy singalongs that struck your core as much as your sense of rhythm. While their newer tracks are a bit more subdued, they're just as powerful as the fan-favorites, making for an incredible comeback show for this high-profile local favorite. While the transition from hopped up, twangy indie rock into the art-rock auteur St. Vincent was a bit shaky, Annie Clark's guitar mastery more than made up for it. While I'm a huge St. Vincent fan the set felt a bit impersonal, perhaps it's the wide-open spaces of City Plaza or maybe it's the choreographed stage antics, either way the content was still precisely on-point. Fans of St. Vincent sang along in unison to favorites from her latest self-titled record, Strange Mercy and some deep older cuts as well. After what felt like a brief St. Vincent set, Spoon took the stage as the crowd was at its peak. Going into this kind of blase was the best thing I could have done, because Spoon frankly surprised the hell out of me with not only their live energy and performance but also by their songwriting. I've moved a bit past the straight-forward indie rock that they showcase but I'll be damned if they don't do it well. I left about a half-hour into the set though to trot over to The Pour House for one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend.

Dark Rooms at Tir Na Nog
Crowdsource kicked off my night of venue shows and proved to be one hell of a way to start the night's marathon. Blending sprawling midi-arrangements with pounding rhythms and stunning visuals, Crowdsource's crowd grew swiftly throughout the set and compelled all in attendance to get some dancing on. I ducked out early to head across the block for Enemy Waves, mostly because heavy psych-rock in a church is so Hopscotch it hurts. Seeing sax-lead psychedelic jams inside of a gorgeous church hall is something you can really only experience at a festival as unique as Hopscotch. It's one of the perfect examples of a show that seems to be totally bizarre on paper but brilliant once you step foot in the door. After a bit of jammage it was off to check out Celestial Shore at Fletcher, a set that was exactly as perfect as I'd imagined. Expansive indie-pop just works inside of this opera hall and made me yearn for more shows at such a gorgeously built venue. The acoustic lent itself to Celestial Shore's reverb-washed style and made for an excellent chill set to refresh your energy at. From there it was off to Tir Na Nog for Dark Rooms, arguably one of my favorite sets of the weekend. This was an invigorating set that blended dream-inducing violin lines and Daniel Hart's earnest, evocative brand of songwriting with some melodically focused indie rock. While I only caught the first four or five songs, it was a set that relied heavily on ambition and it paid off immensely, as their gorgeous harmonies and unique arrangements stuck with me throughout the weekend. I darted off from here to check out Mas Ysa, but sadly enough I almost immediately left as I simply couldn't get down to what I was so excited to see.

After a trek out to CAM, I decided (poorly) to see what was going on with Sun Kil Moon at the Lincoln. Apparently I walked in shortly after those fuckin' hillbillies got berated because the crowd was sparse and the vibe was all kinds of odd. I took that as my cue to check out what else was happening around town. I walked in for the last moments of Purling Hiss then booked it over to CAM to catch as much of NGUZUNGUZU as I could. After vibing for a while to their skittering remixes, I decided to check out the greatly hyped Clipping. over at The Pour House to end my evening, and man was that a great call. Jarring beats with a surprisingly smooth flow lead the sizable Pour House crowd to jumping, bobbing and swaying their way through the evening.

Valient Thorr at City Plaza
The first full festival day for me was also of course the last festival day. Things got kicked off early with some delicious brunch from Fiction Kitchen and a few sets over at Legends. Family Bike, a new project from Karl Kuehn of Museum Mouth, stood out amongst the early sets but shortly after that it was time to post up at Trekky's day party for a bit. I walked in to see Hi Ho Silver Oh in the middle of their full band set, and frankly it was one of the best sets I saw all weekend. Last year I was floored by a stripped down set from Casey Trela, but finally seeing the full band experience got me totally sold. Their cover of Tom Petty's "Time To Get Going" was without a doubt the most beautiful track I heard all weekend, a sparse arrangement of a classic tune that ends in a subdued singalong. The rest of the day was great, including some great sets from Celestial Shore, Phil Cook and Caitlin Rose and a rooftop view of Lonnie Walker at Slim's, but Hi Ho Silver Oh definitely won the day parties for me. Things swiftly changed direction though once City Plaza started and the metal fans poured in in bunches. It was one of the most unique crowds I've ever seen at Hopscotch and it was fucking excellent. Valient Thorr has become one of my favorite bands to see live because they're just such excellent showmen. I'm not really the type to sit around and listen to them in my house, but I'll be damned if I won't throw my fist in the air when prompted by some dude from Venus. Death and Mastodon were equally impressive, but really when you've got Valient Thorr opening it's hard to live up to that kind of energy.

T0W3RS at The Pour House
As quickly as I fell into the metal hole I came back out to check out the highly touted set from See Gulls at Deep South. It was one in one out and packed wall to wall, which is always a fantastic feeling when you're checking out a swiftly rising local act. I'm sure the NPR coverage didn't hurt in terms of attendance either. See Gulls' gritty garage pop was an excellent way to transition into Y'ALL, a band featuring various regional musicians producing some pretty simplistic but interesting pop-leaning indie rock. After that I surprisingly decided to forgo the soft folk at Fletcher and rock out to some orchestral metal from Subrosa. I was surprised at how in to this band I was, but I feel that for my level of intoxication I shouldn't be too surprised. My drunken self did make a pretty excellent call though in foregoing a trip out to CAM to check out How To Dress Well (which I'd have positively balked at if you'd told me a week ago), to check out Ava Luna and T0W3RS at Tir Na Nog and The Pour House. T0W3RS put on hands down the most elaborate, engaging and all-around incredible performances of this year's Hopscotch. T0W3RS has kind of grown into the Hopscotch band for me, really. It started with a shoulder to shoulder day party at The Hive, grew into a psych-rock excursion at CAM and has ended up at electronically oriented indie pop mastery. Whether T0W3RS was cranking out the brilliant tracks from the forthcoming album TL;DR or pulling out Don Henley covers (seriously though, "Boys of Summer" was the last thing I'd have expected from this Hopscotch), the band was giving it 100% the entire time. Plus some of the most talented artists in the Triangle were rotating around the stage to provide support for what is already an impressive one-man show. So getting to see the T0W3RS experience as it should be was easily the most enjoyable aspects of this year's Hopscotch.

Jamie XX at CAM
Ending the night at Jamie XX though. I feel as if I need to type out a moment of journalistic silence in appreciation for how incredibly arranged that set was. Mastering the push and pull of energy, Jamie XX's pacing allowed fans to lose themselves in the melody or dance until they fall out. Frankly there was a good bit of both. Roaming throughout the venue one could find dance circles, crowd surfers, bathroom pot smokers and pretty much every type of person you could imagine just jamming out and enjoying the music. It was the perfect way to end this year's festivities. With us all under one roof raving.

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