Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hopscotch Saturday Night (9/6/14)

After a full night and day at this year's Hopscotch Music Festival, I wasn't sure if it could get any better (or how much more I could take :)).  I planned ahead and got a room for the night to chill a bit between day and night shows Saturday, and to have a place close by to crash after it all.  So my take on the City Plaza shows for the evening was, well... nice stage set up, lot of thudding volume. 

Death (at City Plaza)
Mastodon (at City Plaza)
Actually, I did get down to City Plaza before Mastodon finished up.  Great metal, but not really my thing.  The surf was up, 6-foot swells.  I probably should have caught some of Death, though.  Their debut album, ...For the Whole World to See, was punk before punk was punk. 
More Mastodon

Thus far this isn't much of a Hopscotch report.  But I wasn't really planning on hitting the big City Plaza shows this night.  I was, however, planning on starting my night with locals See Gulls.  So I headed over to Deep South for their 9:00 set, the first club time-slot of the evening.  Turns out, the buzz was louder than I thought (but not undeserved) for this band, and I ended up in line with about a hundred others waiting to be let in.  Deep South definitely had it's share of the Hopscotch crowd for this and other shows.
See Gulls... well, the line for them, anyway (Deep South)
Okay, actual band coverage starts... Since I waited in line until See Gulls finished a short set (hell, I'd seen them play earlier in the day; and last weekend, and a couple of weeks before that, etc, etc.), I figured I'd stick around to see Coke Weed.  I don't know, I'd just felt the need to see a band from Bar Harbor, Maine.  Seriously, I'd heard good things about them and really did want to check out their set.  Their more rocking take on Mazzy Star was an at once an intense and pleasant experience.  Dreamy, but still heavy.  Vocalist Nina Donghia was a standout.
Coke Weed (at Deep South)

Headed to the next show, I was going to try to see the quirky indie-pop of Krill at Kings on the way to the Pour House (see later).  But again, lines.  It was ridiculous.  Hopscotch may be growing too big for its britches.  Nah, not really.  You just have to plan carefully, and not expect to see quite as many shows if you want to one particular show. 

Besides lines at clubs.  Hopscotch was spilling out into the streets in other ways.  Music was everywhere, from unexpected big-stage day parties, to random set-ups in alcoves. 
The "one particular show" I was planning on seeing this night was the much-anticipated full-band set by local heroes T0W3RS.  So I made sure I was at the Pour House plenty early, and caught the tail end of local DJ Holygrailers.  I'm not very informed about the whole DJ/dance/producer thing.  But having been a fan of Bollywood and Arabic music for years, I appreciated the mix of South Asian samples (at least in the song or two I heard) into Nikhil Shah's jazzy, down-tempo beats.

Holygrailers (at the Pour House)
There wasn't a long line at the Pour House yet as I had thought there would be... but it's a big place, and I arrived early.  Still, as Holygrailers' set continued, the crowd and the excitement grew.  He was a good choice in style and temperament to set the stage for the set to come, which would prove to be the best set of Hopscotch. 
I've written about T0W3RS many times here before, and Derek Torres' sets have always been great; whether in the original 5-piece "rock" band format, or in the more recent, "dancier", solo incarnation he's since adopted.  But Saturday at Hopscotch was to be a coming out of sorts.  In anticipation of the forthcoming album, TL;DR (Phuzz Records), Derek rounded up a band consisting of members of Chapel Hill's Virgin Family Band and others, along with a team of acrobats to complement his own acrobatic dance moves.  This was T0W3RS' new, more electronic/dance-y sound (and songs) with his older, more rock'n'roll, set-up (and then some).
It started with three from the older material, including the hypnotizing Scout/ from If All We Have Is Time, the keyboards and repeating beats of which perhaps gave us an early hint of where Derek would be taking his music.  Two silver-clad acrobats joined him onstage (including another Torres, his sister Kaci), creating a slow, shimmering backdrop for the song.  Then, members of the band gradually trickled onto the stage as he moved into his later material.  First were Mobius and Bounty from the Wyatt EP, the last proper T0W3RS collection, released at Hopscotch 2012 (by cleverly hiding tapes of the songs around downtown during the fest).  Then came the newer numbers which, never having heard with a full band (usually performed with pre-recorded music and some guitar and synth), sounded GREAT.  Shoulda figured, since they're great songs.   
Silk Hope/MPDB, Elasticity, Instillation, and a few more of the newer songs were interspersed with the great older ditty, Eee!, and even a little Don Henley! (yes, there was a singalong about some boys and the season)  Philip Pledger from Estrangers and Phuzz Records joined the band onstage for MPBD.  Josh Moore and Josh Kimbrough were also up there.  They closed with what's become a crowd favorite, The Situation.  I mention "the old stuff" a lot up above.  But really, since T0W3RS went solo and shifted gears, I haven't liked the music any less.  Torres is just a great songwriter and performer who is (hopefully) positioned to break way beyond the Triangle with the upcoming release of TL; DR. 
T0W3RS (at the Pour House)
Okay, it's a lot of photos.  But hey, it was a spectacle.  Towards the end, the acrobats even took to the rafters...
Here's a still from a video posted earlier, Derek enjoying his dual drummers...
...who jammed and drove the whole set.
Advantage of being close to the stage?   A free pick with every beer!
T0W3RS' set took what remaining energy there was at Hopscotch, blew it up, and scattered it all back into the crowd in a flurry of baloons, bubbles, and dancing.  We were all spent and satisfied.  But I wanted to keep my brass band-closer tradition going (2012:  No BS! Brass Band, 2013:  Slavic Soul Party!), and time was running out to get over to Kings Barcade for that.  However, the wonderful Eternal Summers was hitting the Pour House stage (once the T0W3RS army broke everything down), so I had to hang around for at least a song or two. 
Plus, I had to keep my indie quota up. 
Eternal Summers (at the Pour House)
Okay, barely made it to Kings for a song or two (thankfully, no more line).  Apparently, I missed the part where What Cheer? Brigade had worked the joint into a frenzied mass of maniacal bouncing bodies... so that was going on.  Not the New Orleans kinda bounce, but the kind that could very well have brought us all down two floors into Neptunes.  BTW, what is it with brass band names and errant exclamations? NOLA brass bands don't do that!  "Rebirth! Brass Band" "Soul? Rebels!"  Nah, doesn't sound right.  But these horns sounded right.  Punkier and jumpier, and with a lot more percussion than their New Orleans cousins.  But every bit as much fun.  And, as befitting any proper brass band, they took their set out to the street to close with an impromptu parade or sorts. 

What Cheer? Brigade... Oh, and of course, Hopscotchbunny (at King's Barcade)
By the time the band jumped on the bar, it was just to crazy for me to focus. 
Here's a sampling of the controlled chaos What Cheer? Brigade brought to the stage at Hopscotch.
And here's a bit of the parade's result... cops didn't like the ruckus spilling out onto the street (especially when somebody threw a drink at them). 
Ferguson-style chants aside, it all dissipated pretty quickly.  In the end, a good time was had by all (except maybe the girl who threw the drink).  Hopscotch needs to make a point of booking a brass band at the end of every Saturday... I think one of the previous years was on an earlier night.  Maybe make next year's a New Orleans one?  But What Cheer? Brigade were great; and from Rhode Island, no less!  They epitomized the variety of what was probably the most diverse Hopscotch to date. 
I was feeling somewhat burned out on music the week before Hopscotch (it's a periodic malady; I'm getting treatment), and worried I just wasn't gonna be up for it this year.  I had just caught most of Merge 25, which would be hard to beat, and seen maybe one too many great local shows lately.  But after the first few minutes of St. Vincent's Friday show, that feeling dissipated, and by the end, I found myself already anticipating next year. 
How Strange It Is... Hopscotch 2014 Summary
Best Set:
1) T0W3RS (Pour House)
2) Tie - St. Vincent (City Plaza) & Zack Mexico (Deep South),
3) Free Clinic (the Hive, day party)
Best Day Party (okay, the only 3 I saw, but there was a reason):
1) Phuzz Sounds 3rd Annual Day Party (the Hive)
2) Spazzscotch III (Slim's)
2) Negative Fun, Self Aware, and Cherub records Let Feedback Ring! Day Party (Legends)
Honorable mention)  Potluck's 2nd Annual Rock'n'Roll Pizza Party Thursday (couldn't make it, but the lineup alone merited at least this)
Best Hopscotch Venue:
1) Slim's
2) The Hive
3) Deep South
Biggest regret... Nah, no regrets.... show I most wish I had caught:
Dent May (Deep South)
This guy's Brian Wilson-in-a-dance-club bedroom/chamber pop is on my constant playlist these days.  Hopefully, he comes back next year, or sooner. 

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)