Monday, December 20, 2010

Super-late Hopscotch recap

Last September, the Independent Weekly held its first annual music festival in Raleigh, Hopscotch. I was one of the writers they sent out with a weekend-pass to document the Festival, ostensibly for a post-fest wrap in the paper that didn't wind up happening. I found my write-up, which I'd forgotten about, going through some old files recently, and figured I'd post it here for POSTERITY since there's little chance, at this point, that I'll be able to monetize a months-old festival review (please forgive the cynical mention of monetization; these are dark and inimical days for a freelancer). At Hopscotch, I mostly avoided the big tickets to scope out the margins, as is my wont. This was my experience:

What’s your “Hopscotch tally?” Here’s mine: 150 miles driven (i.e. 3 Durham-Raleigh round trips), 40 blocks walked, 30 conversations about how exciting this was for the Triangle engaged in, 10 pedi-cab rides declined, 7 performances witnessed, 5 venues visited, 2 hours spent getting lost on the outskirts of Raleigh, 1 panel moderated, 1 random slap on the ass from a passing college-bro outside the Pour House, 1 instance of late-night vomiting, and fewer beers than that last figure suggests. And I squeezed it all into the first two days, as I missed the final night to cover Prairie Home Companion’s “Summer Love” tour in Cary, which just as culturally jarring a transition as it sounds.

My first stop was the Five Star Restaurant to see Deakin from Animal Collective. As soon as I entered, a young woman approached me and said words I couldn’t hear over the throbbing music while proffering something I reached for reflexively, until I saw that it was flavored vitamin water and recoiled as if she were holding a snake. A hot one, made of poo. I got a beer instead and began to search for Deakin, who was nowhere to be seen. A crowd of young people faced a brick-and-mirrored corner that seemed empty. Had Deakin actually gone through the looking glass?

But no, when you got closer, there he was, in a tie-dyed t-shirt, with long, limp, center-parted hair, playing open guitar chords that came out of the speakers as glasses-rattling sheets of bass, backed by a drummer and keyboardist. If Panda Bear is for opiates, Deakin is definitely for psychedelics, juxtaposing pyrotechnic miasmas with heavy slabs of rhythm. Whenever a beat dropped, the kids in front snapped out of their euphoric stupors on cue and began to dance in the Deakin-appropriate style, which resembles a mellow seizure, with lots of “no no no” head-shaking. On the way out I was really thirsty and snagged a flavored vitamin water to drink on the walk to Kings, which was cold and refreshing and didn’t taste like poo at all, although I wouldn’t recommend mixing it with beer (#late-night vomiting).

The new Kings  is nondescript from the street: a white brick fa├žade with only the clustered hipsters outside and some soaring guitar notes from within betraying its function. Inside, I was pleased to discover how much it felt like the old Kings, where I fondly remember rocking out to the Chestpains and Sharon Jones (although not, sadly, on the same night), if it were crossbred with the mazy tiers of Ringside: lots of poured concrete, lurid murals, arcade cabinets, and artifacts from the old location such as the crown-shaped beer shelf. Locrian played as I entered, which was quite a tonal shift from Deakin: dark, sparse, and precise, rather than day-glo, caterpillar-thick, and sloshing. The room was thinly populated—this wasn’t Hopscotch’s trendiest bill—but Locrian sounded awesome and I wished I’d left Five Star a bit earlier as to hear more than two songs. Then Cloudland Canyon took the stage. The tall, skinny drummer pulled off his sleeveless black Liturgy t-shirt and carved up the band’s towering mass of VU-style reverb into lucid planes. They were powerful and proficient, although I didn’t take much away from it besides “loud.”

On Friday afternoon, I moderated the “Black Mountain College: Legacy and Inspiration” panel at the Raleigh City Museum. My friends Ken Rumble, Megan Stein, and Chris Vitiello staged a happening that included breaking glass, blending drinks, power tools, slowed-down records, thrown dice, and much more layered minutiae. It worked great, imbuing banal actions with a heroically repetitive aura. Another friend, Chris Tonelli, gave an illuminating talk on the Black Mountain poet and publisher Jonathan Williams, and read from Williams’ humorous, profane work as well as from his own. And Broken Social Scene’s Andrew Whiteman gave a marvelous reading from Ed Dorn’s Gunslinger, replete with multiple voices and lusty sound effects, before reading a poem of his own that updated a portion of Ezra Pound’s Cantos to address the touring musician’s life. Then I went home to work and nap. I overslept and sadly missed Ryan Gustafson’s set at the Pour House, but Ryan deserves special mention for being (as far as I know) the only musician to play all three nights of Hopscotch (with Max Indian on Thursday and the Light Pines on Saturday).

Arriving at the Pour House in time for Sharon Van Etten, I expected a quiet, intimate vibe. Boy, was I wrong. The venue was packed to the rafters with predominantly undergrad-aged patrons, and in the back, Van Etten’s loud, brassy rock numbers could barely compete with the crowd noise. The ballads didn’t stand a chance. I worked my way to the front by stealth and guile, and it was better, but there were still people standing ten feet from the stage with their backs turned, deep in conversation. I’m not one to expect a reverent hush at shows, and admittedly, I was often “that guy” at age 22. But this was pretty shameful. “This next song is very special to me,” Van Etten said over the catcalls and chatter, as she launched into a beautiful, dragging torch song for harmonium. She handled it gracefully, though you could see the hurt in her eyes when they flickered over the crowd. Outside the Pour House is where the aforementioned ass-slapping incident occurred: that’s what the vibe was like there, weird and crass and aggressive. It was the only time all weekend I felt less-than-proud of the Triangle.

On the street outside, it seemed as if all of Chapel Hill and Durham were in Raleigh. With apologies to Bowerbirds, I needed a break from the Pour House, and went next door to Tir Na Nog with a posse that included Josh Moore, Hometapes' Jon Polk, and a Juan Huevos raging on Amped gum and rocking a ripped white tee like Lou Ferrigno. The War on Drugs was just getting started, and the vibe was just as excitable as at the Pour House, but much friendlier and more music-focused. War on Drugs is a band I’ve slept on but won’t anymore—their deep bass lines, Technicolor shredding, and Herculean drummer were a thrill. I thought it was kind of like Tom Petty crossed with Wavves, although the latter was mainly due to the singer’s psychedelic baseball cap.

Still, I cut out early, because my unilateral soul-mate Richard Buckner was playing back at the Pour House, which was utterly transformed: the room was now half-full with people who were there not to be seen and hook up with friends, but to—gasp!—hear Richard Buckner. It was 1 a.m. by the time he went on, playing an acoustic set with his uniquely chunky and barbed guitar playing. At this point, I was pretty tired, and leaned against the wall with other battle-weary but ardent Buckner fans, letting his voice wash over me. By 1:30 I was slightly swaying  on my feet, and I said my goodbyes and made for the door. But on the stairs, I heard the opening notes of “Town,” one of my very favorites. With a resigned smile, I turned around and went back in to hear one more song.

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