No need to be anywhere before noon, so I may have actually gotten a full eight hours. It’s usually pretty difficult to get to sleep after spending 12+ hours running all over Raleigh & watching bands. The brain has to process, and/or get over its fight-or-flight reaction.
Saturday started off in the cool darkness of Neptune’s, for a day party dubbed The Metal Lunchbox, thrown by Grayson & Tina Haver Currin. The lunches on offer were comprised entirely of things — ginger/cayenne juice, chocolate, pimento cheese sandwiches — that I’m unable to digest, but I’d had a late breakfast, and a PBR & a huge glass of water proved more than sufficient.
The Hem of His Garment — the loose Chapel Hill collective of deep seekers of drone — kicked things off in a comparatively svelte (but still plenty loud) 4-person configuration. I’ve seen them with more than a dozen performers arranged in a semicircle, all hunched over, guitar headstocks shoved up against amps, backs to the room and each other. Given that Neptune’s only holds like 47 people, 4 people were more than sufficient, though, I reckon.
My only quibble with their set was that they seemed largely to be just using their amps & not taking advantage of the bigass subwoofers that Neptune’s had brought in for the duration of the weekend. My chest vibrated, but my innermost innards never really started to throb.
Downtime between sets consisted of going upstairs to street level and marveling at how pleasant the weather was.
MAKE were up next, with a tight rundown of the central 4-song cycle from their latest album, The Golden Veil. Years ago I decided to call them “blackened space metal” and that still seems to be a reasonable description — huge drums, instrumentation that manages to be delicate & melodic while still gigantic, the duelling screeches of Spencer & Scott. They’re always fun to watch, and nowadays, with heavy hitter Luke Herbst behind the kit, they seem like they’re being propelled headlong forward by forces much bigger than themselves.
By the time MAKE were finished, I actually needed solid food. Garland had been running a special Hopscotch menu at their sidewalk window all weekend long, but I hadn’t had any of it yet. This turned out to have been yet another mistake on my part — the fried spring rolls, cut into chunks & served with fresh herbs & little leaves of butter lettuce to wrap them in, were the single best thing I ate all weekend. +100, would ravenously consume again.
I haven’t been a huge Vattnet Viskar fan in the past, so I went upstairs to Kings & caught most of a set by Flesh Wounds, who completely blew me away, despite the fact that I’ve seen them at least a dozen times over the past few years. Lately they’ve been moonlighting as Mac McCaughan’s backing band (and frequently opening for themselves as Flesh Wounds on tour as well), and maybe that’s partly to credit for the boost in their tightness without any decrease in their ferocity. Whatever the cause, they seem to have figured out how to channel all of their previously chaotic energy into a focused beam of destruction.
I’m writing this a week later, so things are starting to get blurry. In brief: Saw the last 1/3 of Vattnet’s set & was actually much more into it than I had been the previous two times. I’m still inexplicably uneasy about black metal bands with short haircuts, though.
Went upstairs & saw PIPE’s first song. Ron was forgetting all the words to a song they’ve been playing for 20+ years, so I decided it was skippable & went back downstairs. Watched some of Locrian. Still unable to accept heavy doses of synth in my metal. I know it’s a personal failing, but I own it.
Upstairs, Midnight Plus One were ripping through yet another amazing set, which also yielded the best photo I took all festival:
After Locrian, improviser in residence Greg Fox played a solo set at Neptune’s using only a snare & some kind of midi trigger setup that translated minor variations in tone from the drumhead into discrete musical notes. It was kind of interesting, but kind of limited — Greg said it was a prototype that his friend had been working on, and that he’d only just gotten to play with it. I look forward to hearing what it’s like once he’s mastered it.
As it was getting towards 5:30 I headed down to Slim’s to see if I could catch Wing Dam at a day party. Turns out the whole day party was off schedule because they had decided not to risk having a second stage outside. Happy accident, then, that I got to see some of Charming Youngsters, who apparently formed while they were in school in Greenville, NC, and have lately moved to Durham. They were really good — not breaking any amazing new ground, but making catchy, somewhat twangy indie-rock. I made a note to see them again.
Wing Dam finally set up & started playing, but something was off — the monitors, the PA, the state of the evening — so they weren’t providing the same buzz they had the last two times I saw them. This being Hopscotch, it didn’t take too long for me to decide to wander on.
My friend K & I wandered down to Remedy for dinner, Fox for drinks, and reemerged at street level in time to violate my oath against City Plaza shows & check out a few songs by X. They were better than the last time I saw them, nearly a decade ago, at Cat’s Cradle. That time they’d just started touring with Billy Zoom again after a bit of a hiatus, and they had clearly practiced their asses off. All of the spontaneity was gone.
This time around, due to the sad circumstance of Billy’s cancer returning, they’d been out on the road for just 2-3 weeks with a fill-in guitarist, who was loose & raucous & excellent & who brought back just the right amount of shambling chaos to the proceedings.
I still only stayed for a couple of songs. Started walking when they started playing “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene,” which is every bit as rapey as it always was, and is a lot less defensible the older we all get (not that it was ever defensible, but hopefully our sensibilities have evolved). They really ought to retire it, but they won’t, if for no other reason than that Exene is a stubborn motherfucker. I interviewed her once on the phone. It didn’t go well. It was almost entirely my fault (I was a kid) but yeah.
Back in clubland for the final night of the festival. First stop was The Hive to catch Moenda, who include some ex-Calabi Yau folks. They, more than anyone else in North Carolina (and probably the world), sound like they frequently dip from the same well as Cantwell Gomez & Jordan. When I ran into Dave Cantwell later in the evening I learned that he had never seen nor heard Moenda. Pretty sure the converse isn’t the case.
It was early still, meaning it was still physically possible to get into Slim’s and work yr way to the front, so I stopped in to see Bandages. They were fast & loud & tight, like Motorhead fronted by a deranged ranty person. Scott Williams was playing a new-ish super-metal Flying V with extra metal curlicues & pointy bits. It had a Floyd Rose tremolo rig (Scott’s first, as I later verified on FB) and Scott was wailing away on it, to great effect.
Go see them, next time you have a chance.
My #1 top choice for Hopscotch was Ian William Craig — plus by now my stamina was starting to wane & I could really use a chair — so after Bandages I walked across town to the AJ Fletcher Opera Theater & settled in.
Canadian Ian William Craig is a Serious Musician — instrument builder, trained opera singer — and this was his US debut. For his Hopscotch set he had 4-5 cassette recorders — one 4-track and several bog-standard mono portables like we all had in the 70s. From where I was sitting I couldn’t quite figure out his process, but he seemed to be using loop cassettes (answering machines used to use them) and creating loops on the fly by singing into a mic that he routed to one or more of the cassette recorders. Mostly wordless vocal phrases.
Some of the tapes had noises on them already, I guess — plus it sounded like they were gradually losing oxide & disintegrating. It was basically like IWC was creating the Disintegration Loops on the fly with nothing but some cassette recorders and his voice.
It was stunning, and was far & away the best set I saw all weekend.
Once he was done I took the weirdly long walk around to the back of the building to the Kennedy Theatre, and caught the last few songs from Asheville’s Sarah Louise. She plays 12-string acoustic guitar, largely in tunings of her own devising. Her set was mesmerizing & soothing, and I liked it so much I bought her latest release, Field Guide, on Bandcamp while I was watching it.
After that one-two punch I wasn’t sure that I needed to hear any more, but it wasn’t even 11:30 yet, so I wandered back over towards the populated side of town & stuck my head in to the Lincoln Theatre for Chelsea Wolfe, who came on amid a cloud of fake smoke & an endless bassy rumble. I was reminded of all the things I didn’t particularly like about the last time I saw her — the awkward theatricality, the weird mix, the lack of chemistry onstage — so after a song or two I bolted.
Everyone on Twitter said that every venue had lines out front, so I figured I’d head over to the Hive to ensure that I could catch some of Zs. No line there, and I could even halfway see the stage, where Cloud Becomes Your Hand were still flailing through their tediously zany set.
Once they were done & Zs started to set up, there was apparently some issue with the drumkit, or lack thereof, so it was closer to 1:00 than midnight by the time they started. And although I love Greg Fox’s drumming, and weird-ass skronky stuff in general, I was only able to hang on for maybe 20 minutes before deciding I’d had enough Hopscotch for one year.
Final tally: Saw at least 5 minutes of 38 different bands. Drank a lot. Walked a lot. Had a great time. Will probably go again next year, despite my cynicism.