As I mentioned earlier, this week marked my 20th anniversary at WXDU. I was too preoccupied (and subsequently exhausted) by Hopscotch to make any big plans, and I don’t know that I would have anyway. I’m there every week, more or less, so if I want to do a big pre-planned show I can do it anytime.
Instead I just pulled a bunch of records that I really like, and played some of my favorite songs from them. It was a lot of fun, which is pretty awesome when you consider that I’ve been doing more or less that same thing every week for the past 20 years.
I do a lot of other things at WXDU besides DJing, but I’ve never gone a semester without doing a show. It doesn’t get old, because there’s always new music arriving in the mail, every week, forever and ever. (Although I’ll admit that the vast majority of what I played this week wasn’t brand new — it felt logical & right to reach back across the past 20+ years.)
I’m always surprised when I talk to someone I know & they mention having listened to my show. It probably seems weird from the outside, but I’ve been in radio for nearly 30 years and I have always assumed that nobody was listening, while at the same time always working hard to make things as entertaining & educational as possible for anyone who happened to stumble past. My invisible nameless friends. Thank you.
It seemed like it was gonna be a weird year for Hopscotch — as I said to a number of people, there weren’t really any OH MY GOD artists for me this year, nobody where I thought to myself “how the hell did they pull that off?” Nobody where I was 100% certain that I MUST be at a certain venue at a certain time to see them.
That turned out not really to matter, though. There were a few flat moments in my schedule, sure — but that has been the case every year, since the folks who run the festival persist in NOT asking for my help in laying out the schedule according to my personal tastes.
And in fact, once I had bought my ticket & determined that I had no must-see tent-pole bands to orient my schedule around, I think I wound up spending more time listening to everyone playing the festival than I had in some previous years, and made a few discoveries that I might otherwise have missed.
(In contrast, when I go back & skim through the schedules from previous years, I see quite a few names of folks whom I skipped at the time but whom I now dearly love — maybe there were impossible schedule conflicts for some of them, but I may have also lazily bypassed them in my pre-fest listening. Lesson learned.)
So: My festival started at around 2:30 Thursday afternoon, with a day party at Kings (the place where I’ve probably spent the most Hopscotch time, if only because we’ve thrown a day party there every year for the past few years).
Day parties are tailor-made for catching up on local artists whom you’re too old/tired/lame to have seen before otherwise. I know & love the music of Doom Asylum & Nest Egg, but hadn’t seen either of them. Minimal techno performed live, and krautrocky psych jams, respectively. What’s not to love?
It was also another chance to see one of my favorite NY bands, Guardian Alien, who played Hopscotch in 2012 (twice — once on the official schedule plus a quick pick-up set at Neptune’s — and yes, after seeing them the first time I made a point of seeking out their second set). This was also the first of many sets I saw by Guardian Alien drummer Greg Fox, who was drafted at the last minute to serve as the festival’s Improviser in Residence.
Greg was ostensibly in town to play Hopscotch in one of his other bands, Zs. But in addition to the Thursday Guardian Alien set, we had also booked Greg to perform an improv set with electronic artist Jefre Cantu-Ledesma at our Friday WXDU day party. So when he got on the plane to fly in on Thursday, he had three gigs on his schedule. By the time he flew out early this morning, he had played nine.
I first saw Greg play with the transcendental black metal band Liturgy at Kings in 2010, and while he is phenomenally fast, what’s really striking is his fluidity, his relaxed grip & stance, the flow state he clearly enters when he’s drumming.
Perhaps even more importantly — particularly in the context of this year’s Hopscotch — he has the improviser’s mindset of always saying “yes, and” & then worrying about the details later. Case in point: I emailed him to ask him to play our day party, having never met him before, and only occasionally interacted with him on Twitter. He replied with an enthusiastic yes 49 minutes later.
After realizing (repeatedly, sadly) that City Plaza can ruin nearly any band for me, even longtime faves, I generally avoid it. So I sat out the sudden intense downpour from the safety of a barstool at Ashley Christensen’s newest restaurant, Death and Taxes. They specialize in wood-fired everything, courtesy of some ultra-fancy piece of kit that AC ordered from someplace far away. I browsed through a range of appetizers, had a couple of delicious (and intense, and somewhat esoteric) cocktails, and watched the sky open up.
My first official Hopscotch band of 2015 was my old friends Lud, who have been around in one form or another since the early 90s. They’re the best band in the Triangle, whether anyone else knows it or not. They only have one of their ~6 albums up on bandcamp, but since they’re all excellent, it’s an excellent one.
Stayed until the last glorious note rung out, then wandered over to the Lincoln to catch a bit of Some Army, whose long-delayed debut album is ready to go, but still not quite officially released. They spent a huge amount of time on it, so I hope it makes a suitable splash when it finally debuts.
At the Lincoln they were playing in the dark, covered by projections, which worked OK, I guess, although they’re not really a psych band & honestly I would have liked to have seen their faces. They are nice people.
There was metal to be seen, but I was trying to postpone for a bit — even my ears have limits — so I jogged over to the other end of town to see a bit of Xylouris White. Honestly, although Jim White has played on some amazing albums (including one of my Desert Island Discs, Catpower’s Moon Mix), their combo of drums + lute wasn’t holding my interest after a few minutes, so I bounced.
(This being, for better or worse, what one does at Hopscotch — it’s right there in the name.)
(The endless red/purple light at the Pour House doesn’t make the iPhone image sensor too happy, clearly.)
I was hoping for more from Boston’s Fórn, whose 2014 album, The Departure of Consciousness, is actually a pretty great slab of blackened funeral doom. And yes, they were loud, and reasonably tight, and good for any number of definitions of that word, but they still didn’t quite do it for me, probably because singer Chris Pinto’s range of screechy yowls doesn’t approach that of Mike Scheidt, and I’ve been listening to too much VHOL and Yob recently.
Or maybe I was just tired. It had been a long day, and it was only the first of three. And Friday was gonna be a doozy — I had an 8:00 a.m. alarm set so I could be in Raleigh by 10:30 for day party load-in.
So rather than stick around for Iron Reagan, or run next door to see Lydia Loveless (two things that should have been in pretty heavy contention), I found my car & headed home to Durham.