Hopscotch 2015 recap, Day 2

Got in at 12:40 or so; got up at 8:00 or thereabouts. Day parties are fun, but they’re also a surprising amount of work. Next time you’re at any venue to see any sort of live musical entertainment, take a moment to ponder how many additional hours of work everyone involved put in so that you could stand around & drink beer and watch a band for 45 minutes.

For several years we partnered with our friend Cory Rayborn & his label Three Lobed on the day parties, but this year Cory is more focused on his label’s 15th anniversary, including a commemorative 5-LP box set. Side note: some of the recordings in the box set were made at previous day parties. Full circle!

So: This year we booked the thing with a little bit of help from WXYC and WKNC. I felt like it was a good idea to kind of carry on the tradition of booking weird one-off collaborations & just general crazy nonsense, so I emailed a bunch of people & asked them to find other people to collaborate with. It worked pretty well, and that part made up about half of the final lineup:

Poster by Matt Tauch

This year we upped the ante by having bands upstairs at Kings *and* downstairs at Neptune’s, which at least partly explains why my phone tells me I walked up/down 36 flights of stairs on Friday.

We simulcast the whole thing (or as much of it as we could, given the occasional overlap between bands upstairs & downstairs, despite our best efforts to stagger) & it was also recorded by our friends at NYCTaper.com, so look for it there once Jonas & Erik have had a chance to catch up on their sleep.

I wish I could tell you more about the 8 different artists & their sets. They were all very nice people & I enjoyed meeting them. I was thrilled at what I heard, and I look forward to eventually hearing the stuff I missed. Honestly, it’s all a huge bleary blur to me right now.

I didn’t manage to eat while the day party was going on, so after the last bit of gear was loaded back out, I stumbled next door to Capital Club 16 and had my traditional celebratory post-day-party dinner of two Sir Walter Raleigh cocktails & a schnitzel sandwich.

Because I really do hate seeing bands at City Plaza, and/or I’m an asshole, I didn’t go to City Plaza. I did spend a few minutes ruminating about having seen TV on the Radio at a tiny Greensboro record store called Gate City Noise in 2003. You could tell they were going somewhere, in part because they had a distinctive sound & some great songs, and in part because there were all these weird industry-looking people in the audience.

So instead I took my time at dinner, and then wandered around downtown until I found Ruby Deluxe, the new bar opened by Van Alston & Timothy Lemuel. Of course Van was there, sitting at the end of the bar, so we sat & shot the shit about how much downtown Raleigh has changed since I moved away in 1996. A lot. It has changed a lot.

Then it was time to racewalk over to Deep South: The Bar to see Naked Naps, a Raleigh band whom I have recently fallen in love with, but had never seen live, because I am an idiot. They were so great. Gtr + drums + voice, just the right mix of aw-shucks DIYness and straight shredding. I highly recommend their album OK, Bye.

Naked Naps

I liked ’em so much I did that rarest of Hopscotch things, stayed until the end of their last song. Then, still clinging to the notion that I needed to see a bunch of metal this year (as has been the case most previous years), I headed to the Pour House to see the Raleigh technical death metal band Escher.

Escher went through some struggles last year & you can read all about them in Bryan Reed’s excellent profile in the Indy. Friday night they were tight & confident, although singer James Broadhead still had to rest on a stool periodically, ongoing fallout from the car wreck detailed in Bryan’s article.


One reason I really dig Escher’s recent EP, The Ground is Missing, is the incongruous but awesome sax that appears on two tracks. Somewhat weirdly, although they don’t have a sax player (at least not currently), they still play those songs with the funny jazz-chord breakdowns where the sax parts should be happening. That just served to emphasize how much I wished they actually had a sax player. I’m sure Crowmeat Bob would be up for sitting in with them now & then.

In any case, though I stayed for their entire set, I wound up feeling antsy, and wandered off about two songs into Wizard Rifle.

The 15-20 minute gap I had before Zeena Parkins was due to start at Fletcher was filled perfectly by a stop at the Pie Pushers trailer next to the Lincoln. As a Durhamite, it seems so bizarre for there to be so many people out on the streets at night, milling about, and to see so few food trucks. Maybe that’s why Raleigh [apparently] has more of a public vomiting problem late at night on the weekends? All the restaurants close & the only thing left to pad out the booze is a hot dog from one of a handful of carts?

Damn convenient to have the best pepperoni slice in Durham right there at my fingertips, though.

Zeena Parkins is, I guess, the reigning champ of avant-garde harp, and for the first half of her set she gave what amounted to a master class in nontraditional harp techniques. Which was kind of the problem — from where I sat, it felt less like coherent musical work(s), and more like a checklist of techniques that she moved through, in linear fashion. Here I repeatedly pluck, palm mute, and rap on the body of the harp. Now I pull felt through half the strings & attach alligator clips to the other half.

Plus she had a snare next to the harp with the snares engaged, and they buzzed like crazy when she hit certain notes. I can only assume this was intentional, but it was also incredibly irritating.

Zeena Parkins

I was more excited by the second half of her set, which she performed on an electric harp/zither thing of her own devising. It was only around 1/3 the size of a regular harp, with maybe 20-30 strings, a half-dozen pickups, and, fascinatingly, a guitar whammy bar on the lowest four strings. She had it run through delay & sample pedals, and was able to generate all kinds of insane noises & overtones. I was too tired to move anyway, but throughout the second half of her set I was much more interested in staying.

I had already deviated so far from my “plan” that I figured I’d wander around the corner to catch the second half of Jenks Miller’s set with his band Rose Cross NC. Never a bad decision. Jenks seems to have put his “metal” band Horseback on hold — Mount Moriah have gotten pretty busy, plus Jenks & Elysse got married over the summer — but a lot of the ideas that were in evidence on the last Horseback album, Piedmont Apocrypha, have carried through into his work with Rose Cross NC: a mix of drones, deliberately paced grooves, and extended improv sections.

Jenks Miller and Rose Cross NC

The people seemed into it, too. It’s never entirely clear to me whether people are able to make the connection between bands & the names of the people in them, so I wondered how many people went into the show knowing what they were going to get, or thinking they knew what they were going to get, and how those expectations colored their impressions of the results.

By this time it was midnight, or a little bit after. I had highlighted Natalie Prass on my schedule, in part because I liked the snippets I had heard, and in part because I continue to be mildly intrigued by Matthew E White & his Richmond-based Spacebomb studio/label/house band. I’m never 100% sold on his white-suited soul revivalism, but his earlier jazz band Fight the Big Bull were pretty undeniably great, and there’s a thread of weirdness running through a lot of what he does.

Natalie’s new album is on Spacebomb, and her backing band appeared to be folks from the Spacebomb house band — guitars, keys, drums, horns. I walked in after they had started, and realized with a bit of a shudder that they were kinda vamping their way through a cover of “The Sounds of Silence” that was *really* not working for me. Too much 70s schmaltz, not enough soul. At the start of her next song, her voice seemed off, and I wondered whether she was having trouble hearing herself.

This being Hopscotch, rather than stick around & wait, I bolted, rambling around the edge of downtown to catch the last half of NYC band Big Ups, playing to around 18 people at Deep South: The Bar, aka the Hopscotch venue of band death. It’s not that it’s a terrible venue — I mean, it is, primarily due to the fact that their primary decorative motif is the worst possible selection of classic rock lyric quotes that have been lovingly painted on the walls by their regulars.

But it’s lousy for Hopscotch bands because it’s not particularly close to any of the other venues, and in the heat of the moment, it’s all too easy to look at your schedule, identify one band a block away, another band 7 blocks away at Deep South, and go for the closer one.

That’s actually one reason why I make a point of heading over there a few times during the festival: the bands can use the support, sure, but I’m also usually sick of big crowds & it’s great to be able to walk in & get reasonably close without pushing past 150 other people.

Big Ups

Plus for whatever reason, Hopscotch consistently puts bands I like over there. So it was with Big Ups, who make snarly snappy skronky gtr/bass/drums/vox indie/postpunk with lots of sharp corners and funny faces from the singer. They were exactly what I needed to top up my batteries enough to get me all the way back out I-40 to Durham to bed.

(This meant foregoing Old Man Gloom and Pile, both of whom I’d very much wanted to see, and both of whom I’m sure were absolutely amazing, but I’d been awake since 8:00 a.m, and had walked 8 miles & climbed 36 flights of stairs. Half the battle of Hopscotch is knowing when to retreat & live to fight another day.)

Hopscotch 2015 recap, Day 2

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