Phew! Still recovering from the non-stop action of this past weekend's Hopscotch Festival, even after catching a relatively small percentage of the 175 bands who performed. In close proximity around downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, I caught all or part of just 13 sets, by my count. I feel like I just mainlined music for 72 hours straight nonetheless. From Screaming Females first night show stealing, to an unexpected afternoon sidewalk show from local jangle pop legends the dBs, to the friendly bicycle taxi that got me to a downtown opera house in record time to see Lambchop, the ready sense of ease, fun, scope, and discovery was pretty tough to top.
Thursday Report: Here.
A full rundown of Friday and Saturday follows...
Most Charismatic Set: Zola Jesus
I thought seeing her climb the Guggenheim railing, wrapping in flourescent lights, as a string quartet played was probably the best I'd see Nika Danilova perform, but this late-Friday set cleared that bar it pretty easily. Working with her standard arrangements, a live drummer, a violin player, and someone manning the synths, she prowled the stage like a white bengal, copped Regular Jesus poses, and took a climactic turn on the cymbals. Pop star mode: ON.
(Note: In a festival packed with indie-rock luminary dudes, it was performances by young women that were consistently the weekend's most exciting.)
Least Charismatic Set: Built to Spill
Built to Spill brought the hits Friday night, rattling off classic indie-rock songs like "Dystopian Dream Girl", "Car", and "Carry the Zero" in an impressive string that suggested a confidence that they might never run out. They were also some of the least energetic performers around, standing in place, staring at feet, sort of ignoring a large late day audience entirely, except for a meek "Thanks" or two. They looked a little like disinterested dads up there, idly debating the best way to get the backyard barbecue lit.
Most Timeless Formula: The Jesus and Mary Chain
Scotland's legendary Jesus and Mary Chain got to a specific, natural place in rock n' roll first and never left it—the exact halfway point between sweetness and noise. Coming after them, you could tweak what they did in one direction or another, recreate it with new components, or just copy them blatantly, but you couldn't knock them off of that 50/50 mile marker. The lineage of debauched, dangerous, post-Velvets rock sort of stopped at them, either getting more polite or less overtly pop pleasing by necessity. While their set had a few lulls touring the band's late-career albums, the sheer possibility of which perfect early pop/rock song they might pull out next was a total thrill. "Head On"? Yes! "Just Like Honey"? YES!! "Taste of Cindy"? YEEEEEEESSSSSSSSS!!!!
Most Inclusive Party: The Roots
Playing jukebox for a late-night talk show has its benefits. The Roots were all things to all people during Saturday night's headline set (which had been delayed by a sudden torrential downpour, leaving my party to linger in a fancy fried chicken and waffles establishment, to no great complaints). They took time out to give tribute to Adam Yauch. They performed their haunting hit "You Got Me" so well that a surprise Erykah Badu fly-in couldn't have topped it. They played "Jungle Boogie" in full to establish a bassline to rap over, and broke out a joyous "Sweet Child O Mine" cover on guitar. Their Fallon entry-music chops where most apparent with an impromptu version of the Eurythmics "Here Comes the Rain Again" dropped just as a few return drops poked their head through the cloud curtain. Just super fun.
Band I've Considered a Great Live Act Forever Who Maybe Aren't So Much?: Yo La Tengo
I've seen Yo La Tengo more often than most any other band over the course of a decade plus, and have been glad to do so. But Friday night's full concert-hall set fell flat for me, a prime example of Velvets-derived alt-rock losing it's danger post-JAMC. Guitar feedback doesn't really add much mystery in and of itself anymore, especially when used as a focal point of 80% of a set's song. When they dropped to a hush for Georgia Hubley to voice her uncanny difference-split between Nico and Mo Tucker, it was a breath of sweet relief. But then it was back to Ira's back-to-the-audience speaker wrangling, which seemed weirdly mannered and frankly a little boring at this point. (Love the records forever, though...)
The Most Immaculately Constructed Quiet: Lambchop
Maybe the possibilities of quietude are just suddenly more interesting? Kurt Wagner's band of pros worked within an ornate hush that never rose above hotel lobby volume, but contained rich, intricate multitudes. Sitting througout in his white suit, the vision of a retired ice cream man, Wagner's odd glam/country/soul singer croak was the set's only ornery element. The back porch stillness of everything else complemented it perfectly.
Best Druid-Casual Fashion: Laurel Halo
Druid-Formal was yet to come.
Favorite Performance of the Festival: Mirel Wagner
Delayed by the torrential rains that dominated early Saturday evening, Finnish/Ethiopian folk singer Mirel Wagner took the opera stage after Lambchop, several hours later than intended. Pushing past 2 AM, Wagner was sort of tangibly tired, but still managed to produce one of the surest, simplest, more gorgeous sets I've ever heard anyone play. Note perfect to her record, but with the added presence of proximity and given an extra dose of weariness by what must have been the mother of all jet lags. Seriously, just wonderful. She plays first on a great bill next Monday at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (w/ Deerhoof and Buke and Gase). GO! GO EARLY!
Least Favorite Performance of the Festival: Sunn O))))
As theater, the impact of doom metal overlords Sunn O))) was hard to ignore. Robed creatures performing inside a column of solid fog, lit with a sick alien green that made it all look like a Broadway production of Stephen King's The Tommyknockers? Not something you'll be quick to forget. Drones so low and sustained that your whole body is vibrating in an invisible Sharper Image massage chair? Again, memorable. As successful performance art? As hilarious camp? As quasi-religious experience? Sure. Totally. Maybe?
Musically? I can't say I got much from it at all. Every song went "MWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH" and held there, loudly. During Northside, I was quite enamored of the dramatic builds and eerie calms inside San Francisco art-metal band Deafheaven's set, but this didn't move me in the same way. Is it too cute to call a drone band "one-note"? That it came on the heels of Wagner's non-theatrical raw talent, probably did it no favors for context. Oh well. Great weekend.
Follow through for some more photos from the various goings on....