Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hopscotch Saturday Day Parties (9/6/14)

The day parties are always a highlight of Raleigh's annual Hopscotch Music Festival, and this year was no exception.  Among the plethora of these free daytime mini-fests, the Phuzz Sounds Day Party (now in its third year) is proving to be consistently one of the best.  Thrown at the Hive by the Phuzz Records/Phuzz Phest bunch from over in Winston-Salem, it's my choice as the place to settle in if you just want to pick a single spot to hear lots of great music, without trekking all over downtown.  And maybe to get over your Friday night Hopscotch hangover with some good food (or have a little hair of the dog).

This year had a great line-up, starting with Wilmington's Free Clinic.  I am loving everything these guys put out, including their supposedly "rough" B-side Demos comp.  It's got some great tracks, including the beachy, breezy Wasting Time, which for the life of me I don't remember if they played!  I know they played the (impossibly) even better Off My Rocker, from the MixGrotto Tape 17 Compilation (GET IT HERE!).   Listening to this bands' blissful pop will extend your summer at least a few months, and having missed their nighttime set on Thursday, was the ideal way to start my Hopscotch Saturday.

Free Clinic (at the Hive)
Another great day party was at Slim's.  While I didn't attend it directly, I caught some of it second-hand.  I'd heard Raleigh's Naked Naps was a last-minute add to their Spazzscotch III line-up, which suited me just fine.  Between Free Clinic songs, I caught some of their angular, simple-yet-complex punk from above, on the rooftop at the Hive.

Naked Naps (at Slim's)
Then it was back inside to see See Gulls.  The crowd was beginning to load in for this one, so I opted to stay back and enjoy mostly the sounds (seen them many times lately).  These sounds are truly worthy of the buzz they've been getting, and worthy of the crowds they attracted at Hopscotch (both here and for their show later that night).

People waiting for SeeGulls (which would become a theme for the day)...
See Gulls (at the Hive)
After seeing See Gulls gulling, it was our magnanimous hosts' turn.  Phillip Pledger and Drew Braden (guitar and drums in the first photo below) not only play in Estrangers, but run Phuzz Records... which is developing a habit of signing the buzziest bands around.  They themselves were the first, and their 60's-influenced big melodies and hooks had the crowd warming up for the evening.

Estrangers (at the Hive)
If I was gonna make it to the next day party, I needed sustenance.  So I popped back out to the rooftop again to grab a bite (I shoulda pitched a tent back there).  No sooner do I sit down to order does a crowd begin to build on the roof.  As it turns out, ANOTHER surprise last-minute booking at Slim's down below was setting up and about to start:  Lonnie Walker!  They've been a favorite since I first saw them some time ago, so this was a real lagniappe for me (translation for non-NOLA-folks: "bonus", "extra").  I heard they're finally about to put out their second album, and had a few copies at their opening gig for St. Vincent and Spoon the night before at City Plaza.  This made me doubly disappointed that I missed their City Plaza gig.  But they played a great song (Teenage Poem) that I hope will be on it, and I promise to post a video of it later.

In short, the two shows I accidentally witnessed from the Hive's back deck made the Slim's day party one of the best, if unpredictable, of the festival.

Lonnie Walker (at Slim's)
Back in the Hive, the crowd had swelled even more from the See Gulls set, sardine-like now, to catch t0w3rs.  Raleigh's Derek Torres was becoming the talk of the festival even before (and in anticipation of) the big band set he was planning for his night show at Pour House.  But this was his more typical recent solo set.  Again, I stuck near the back, since I'd seen and photographed t0w3rs many times lately, was fully planning on being at the nighttime set, and wanted to skip out to see what was left of a few other day parties.  As usual, Derek killed; palms of his hands.

t0w3rs (at the Hive)
t0w3rs literally raging against the towers, performing Ours...
I would miss only one band of this great "Phuzzy" line-up at the Hive (Asheville's The Tills, on Phuzz along with Estrangers and t0w3rs).  I caught them at Phuzz Phest in April, and their trash-rock take on Beatlesque sounds was great.  But other sounds beckoned, and my feet were ready to head north (well, to find a pedi-cab to head north).  But here's a shot of them anyway!

Most of the Tills hanging out on the Hive rooftop... 
(I swear the Till on right is Will Clinton's -- of Wichita Falls -- doppleganger.  I even called "Will" to him from behind at the show... I'm sure he thinks I'm crazy.)
So, I hopped some carbon-neutral transpo over to Legend's for the Let Feedback Ring! day party, which (like Slim's) alternated between inside/outside shows.  I had heard good soundz from this DC combo, The Caribbean, on the Hopscotch site, and needed to expand beyond just my milieu of just local bands for at least one day party show.  Online, they sounded sort of breezy/jazzy Euro-pop, which I was in the mood for.  Live however, they reminded me more of 90's guitar-indie, but from a mellower place, which was fine by me.

The Caribbean (at Legend's)
Then it was outside and back to the local thing to see Some Army.  Hadn't seen them in a while (they play far too little since flooding local clubs after releasing their excellent self-titled EP).  Frontman Russell Baggett tells me an album's in the works; yes, please.  As for Hopscotch, the psychy/jazzy/indie take on Americana was a a great segue between the punkiness of earlier shows to the country sojourn I was about to take.  It was a nice setting, outside in a beautiful courtyard, surrounded by green, with a few wafts of air to go with the musical breeze.

Some Army (at Legend's)
As for my sojourn to the country... well, it was really only a few blocks back south (and towards my hotel, which was another bit of lagniappe).  But it was to see best practitioners of the art of country music in these here parts, and that would of course be John Howie Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff.  It's been too long since I've seen this bunch; they are always a good time.  The Guitartown Day Party at Berkeley Cafe was a good setting for this:  shotgun room, gotta squeeze to the back (if you want to see the band), just about enough space for dancing to bump into everyone nearby (including the band).  With songs like Everything Except Goodbye and Handfull of Heartaches, Howie hits all the right lyrical notes.  But he has the kind of guitar-slingin' authenticity in his singing and stage presence that only comes from being deeply studied in the roots of country and western music.  Howie's not borrowing from the tradition, he's adding to it (contrary to most current country "stars").

And the band are some genuine players:  Tim Shearer on lead guitar, Billie Feather on bass, Nathan Golub on slide, and (for this show at least) SCOTS drummer Dave Hartman.  Feather takes control of a standup bass bigger than her in a way that is, quite simply, impressive.  And Golub's slide makes everyone I've seen him play with twice as good... always a highlight.  I hear great things about his solo album.

John Howie, Jr., and the Rosewood Bluff (at Berkeley Cafe)
(I didn't go sepia on these because they were country -- well, maybe partially -- it's just that the color versions were just so damn colorful it distracted from the musicians!  Maybe I'll post the color ones on the Facebook page later.)
As the sun began to wane, so did my day party experience.  The Guitartown party was another indoor-in-the-front/outdoor-in-the-back party, and Michael Rank played a sublime set of his dark roots-rock-Americana on the back patio.  The single accompaniment of mandolin lent a sweetness to the outlaw edge that's more apparent when he's with his band Stag.  Equal parts Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, and Keith Richards, No Depression calls him "a contender for the King of DIY Americana".

Michael Rank (at Berkeley Cafe)
The sun sets on a great series of day parties at Hopscotch...
The Berkeley was a pleasant way to end my day partying.  Plus, I was only a short walk from my hotel (for a much needed break before the night shows).

Between Friday night and the day parties Saturday, it had already been a great Hopscotch.  Maybe I was just choosing wisely from the musical buffett, but I hadn't seen a bad show yet.  But keep your eyes on this page; next up, Saturday night! (talk about yer lagniappe)

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