Now in its third year, Raleigh, North Carolina's Hopscotch Music Festival has quickly become one of the country's best. Its structure is not unlike our own Northside Fest, with three nights of programming spread out over 15 venues, centralized in a walkable geographic locale. With a overflowing lineup of 175 bands in such close quarters, and a friendly couch to crash on (I've written a few things for Hopscotch and the Independent Weekly, the alt-publication that puts it on), it seemed like exactly the right time for a late summer road trip (or, if you prefer, Roooooooooaaaad Triiiiiiip!).
Click through for a report on Thursday night's stacked start featuring Liars, Screaming Females, and more. Check back for a ludicrously jammed recount of nights two and three early next week.
With my late-evening choices set in stone, wandering over to the closest venue to catch whatever might be playing there seemed only right. At Slim's, a narrow, aptly named bar in downtown Raleigh, the first act onstage was singer Tom Maxwell, who I'd later learn was a key member of the old-timey 90s buzz band, Squirrel Nut Zippers, who I hadn't thought about as an active musical entity in at least 15 years. I wrote down descriptive notes like "honky-tonk" and "sarcastic jazz?" to describe Maxwell's tight four-piece band, featuring a stand-up bass and a full vibraphone. Which, for the penner of radio hit, "Hell", seemed about right. With Brooklyn still not fully shaken from mind, I thought about how no borough hype band would dare evoke something as unhip as the Stray Cats, let alone with an athletically arranged song about the Three Little Pigs. The fact that I was in the presence of a well-known lifer of a specific-to-Chapel HIll, N.C., music scene myopically escaped me. Despite (or defensively because of) owning and liking Hot in 1996, I would have been way more of a jerk about this in my head if I had SNZ in mind ahead of time. An honestly fun diversion, and a good anti-predjudice festival lesson for Day One.
Over to the modernist-sctructure-in-classical-clothing Memorial Auditorium, where Deerhoof was just getting started. Not having seen the San Francisco band since they added guitarist Ed Rodriguez in 2008, I wasn't quite prepared for his flamboyant, flamenco-shirted heroics. As a two-guitar four-piece (Satomi Matsuzaki and Greg Saunier took turns on a Paul McCartney-style Hofner bass) there's now less space in their knotted compositions, but they've added more arena-rock power. Even upsized, Matsuzaki's ability to find moments of calm amid the racket has kept them unique and distinctive for a decade plus.
Novel for a grand concert hall, most of the crowd skipped the seating to hang by the stage, a mosh-pit in wait. Drummer John Dieterich was entertaining as-always, looking like a prog drummer whose 13-piece kit had been lost by airline luggage, leaving him to beat one or two drums to extravagant excess. Their set was overwhelmingly, virtuosically weird. Old songs like "Panda Panda Panda" had a cute-to-brutal ratio that more or less followed the original versions, but they seemed bigger and tighter and even bonkers-er, insane switches in tempo and style precisely delivered. It's never been clear to me where exactly this music came from, and I wasn't sure in the moment if it was entirely coherent (it got a shade too Zappa for me once or twice), but the skill and force is undeniable.
A long set-up for Liars gave time to swing over to the very cool, mid-sized Lincoln Theater to catch Tri-State heroes Screaming Females. It's been a good, long while since I'd been in a room that Marissa Paternoster could take entirely by surprise. Though, in a sense, with jaw dislodged and fingers shredding, she takes every room a bit aback. She is, as we well know, a rock star. Faux-meek stage banter (a mousy "this is a cool song" was as much as she'd offer) dissolving into tiny, lionine pyrotechnics, the crowd's fresh awe was fun and ultimately familiar. "Doom 84" might be the best heavy classic rock song anyone's managed in 2012: its riff hijacks your body in person, lingers in my head as I type. Hearing it resurrect from a false ending (that I totally bought), pushing out through the door to the street as I ran off, will be the lasting Thursday night memory.
(Question: How many dresses does Paternoster own? I ask not for any kind of lofty symbolic, ladies-confounding-rock-gender-roles reason, but simply because in all the times I've seen them, read about them, seen concert shots, she's worn one of two things. White collar on black or black collar on red. Does she have, like, a whole row of them? It's her super-hero uniform.)
Being pinned to the wall by that "Doom 84" riff led to a late entry for Liars night-closing set, and from the slightly thinned ranks of the concert hall mosh pit, it seems like more than a few folks didn't make it back at all. But the holdouts had super fan ardor. (Not sure I've ever heard a band beckoned back to encore with a dedicated chant of "Blood...Blood...Blood...Blood.")
While the band's 2012 record WIXIW is great for its subtle hypno-melodies (its single, "No. 1 Against the Rush", sounded super-dreamy live), the Liars live show is still plenty deranged. With a back catalog full of pagan death rituals and buzzsaw guitar punk like "Plaster Casts of Everything", they don't have much choice. I can't recall the last time I listened to the set-closing "Broken Witch," but that memorably crazed chant: "I..I am the man/ She...she is the girl/ He...he is the bear/ We...WE ARE THE ARMY YOU SEE THROUGH THE RED HAZE OF BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!" still connects, its urgency like a fresh shock of cold water in a softer, foggier indie-rock moment. Enough to give you the jitters all the way home.
Monday: A full roundup of this weekend's festivities, featuring The Jesus and Mary Chain, Lambchop, The Roots, and Lord only knows what else.