Month: September 2015
September 14-24, 2015
After Hopscotch came Hopscotch Recovery. But also a quick trip to Atlanta, where I had a decent burger at a neighborhood store/grill in Cabbagetown, saw Mr. Quintron play his Weather Warlock in an art gallery, and oh yeah, talked to students for six hours or so.
Then another 4-6 hours of studententalken at UNC. Friday night, after it was all over, we went to the Carolina and saw Grandma, which I did not enjoy as much as I had hoped I would. The script was kind of over-obvious (an old lady! is a lesbian! who cusses a lot!) and over-determined (her daughter has issues! so does her granddaughter!) and, as M said as we were leaving, it sounded like someone’s first attempt.
(of course as it turns out, the dude who wrote & directed it, generally a purveyor of vaguely screwball comedies & rom-coms, was actually nominated for an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for a Hugh Grant/Nick Hornsby thing — but I guess that probably just proves the point)
Plus, and there’s no easy way to say this, Lily Tomlin’s upper lip looked like a piece of bologna that had been glued on to her real upper lip. It was smooth and rarely moved. I don’t think she could have puckered if she had tried — a double tragedy for someone whose early career was made, in part, on puckering. She’s 74 years old. She doesn’t look 74, but she also doesn’t look any other human age.
I know she’s far & away not the only one, but it hits harder with the ones you respect & admire.
Anyway, point being, her face interfered with her ability to act on camera. Her eyes were down in there, working, but she mostly relied on just hamming the shit out of every line she had to deliver. It was depressing.
Saturday we were back at the Carolina for RetroEpics, albeit just one, Once Upon a Time in the West, which I’d already seen multiple times. I was thoroughly diverted by it, although M had read a comparatively negative review of it aloud to me right before we walked over there, so I was a little more acutely aware of its, uh, quirks. It’s kind of all quirks, actually, and is in many ways closer in spirit to a Jodorowsky movie than to “western” movies, even earlier Leone westerns.
Beyond that, I guess I’ve mostly been working & reading. Listening to music. Today I listened to the new Wyrms album, At Wizard Island. It’s pure fuzzed-out garage/psych/pop pleasure, just one hook after another, totally buried in fuzz, but still absurdly catchy. Pretty hard to argue with.
At the opposite end of one spectrum or another, I’ve also had a big chunk of Wes Tirey’s discography on repeat. He’s from Asheville, plays guitar, kinda talk-sings in that old, weird style — but he also unexpectedly busts out ominous organ parts, or goes on long improvisational flights. Cue up that Bandcamp & sample a bunch of it.
Tonight there are two shows in town that I want to go to, which is still kind of a rarity in Durham, despite the number of venues in town. Patois Counselors are going to win this round, though, hands down, no contest.
Modern construction still sometimes involves dangling from a rope.
Hopscotch 2015 Recap, Day 3
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.
Drive-in movie time!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)