From the suits of the Tech Triangle, to the heavyset bros in Wolfpack hats majoring in Agriculture, to the tattooed skinny girls with cute haircuts, to the bearded Blue Ridge mountain boys, Raleigh, NC is a schizophrenic hot mouth full of transplants, locals, and weirdos. I lived there during graduate school and could never really figure out what kind of city I lived in. Now I live in San Francisco. I hate San Francisco. I have bed bugs. It’s full of people trying too hard to BE SOMEONE, and late August/early September brings a cloud of Burning Man babble so thick you can feel the sand of bullshit in your lungs even if you’ve never been to the desert festival.
Hopscotch is nothing like Burning Man, nor is it anything like SXSW, nor is it like SF’s Noise Pop. Much like the city it takes place in, the festival is difficult to categorize or even describe, because it lacks what Burning Man or SXSW seem set out to do, which is to make a point, to posture, to make a statement. Egoless, formless, and yes, kind of messy, Hopscotch is like going home to your family who eats out at Applebee’s and plays Trivial Pursuit on Saturday nights. Sometimes your uncle wants to play metal, sometimes your mom wants nostalgic folk, sometimes your sister wants cute boys thrashing lo-fi guitars, sometimes your brother wants Atlanta rap. It is the best kind of belonging, of knowing, of loving. We’re all family. Sure, folks are there for the music — and there are “major acts” — but it’s mostly just a bunch of living rooms where everyone can hang out and get along and drink beer and sweat together. Perhaps it will change over the years as the festival gets bigger and takes more chances with experimental acts and heavily-funded big names, but for now, it is a pastiche of musical performances, like a quilt your grandmother makes to remind you of home.
Below you’ll find two takes on Hopscotch 2012, one from me (Lorian Long) and fellow TMTer, Matthew Horne.
Matthew Horne: The drive out to Hopscotch on I-40 was full of glee and merriment, promise of a rad weekend with west-end-of-the-Triangle friends (Hopscotch is seriously one of the few times Carrboro/Chapel Hill travels en masse to Raleigh) and amazing music. And the first act, a day show by Carrboro’s (and my friends’) The Human Eyes, was a refreshingly brief set of tight grooves and picture-perfect pop melodies. Unfortunately, this preliminary high was short-lived; as everyone exited King’s Barcade that afternoon, we found pouring rain and reason to hibernate until the night’s festivities began. I hate to mention the weather (actually, I don’t. I love talking about the weather), but the rain (its presence, absence, and threat) loomed over all of Hopscotch. It curtailed much of the day festivities on Thursday and threw a wrench in the City Plaza main events on Saturday.
Luckily, by 8:30, when the real deal began, the nasty weather receded and permitted safe travel without fear of wet socks and ruined hairdos. First up was the tail end of Hillsborough’s Feltbattery (a.k.a. Ben Trueblood) at the Hive. Trueblood’s table-top electro-acoustics were nifty as always, exuding a thoughtful elegance amid the distracting chatter emanating from the rear of the venue; it seemed like not-Scotchers were somehow making it into the bar through a bar entrance. Later, after gulping a few high ABV beers, I was off to the Long View Center for ex-local Chuck Johnson’s brand of American primitivism. A church on the eastern side of downtown Raleigh and a new addition to Hopscotch’s venue lineup, Long View was the ideal place for Johnson’s expansive acoustics, which ended up being one of the more memorable sets at Hopscotch this year.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t bask in Johnson’s Fahey revenants for too long, since I had to jet back over to the Hive to catch Alvarius B, who undoubtedly performed my favorite set at Hopscotch. Instead of being distracting, the din of bar chitchat heard throughout Feltbattery’s set only added to the sleazy lounge (or in my girlfriend’s words “perverted Randy Newman”) aesthetic that Alan Bishop cultivated. The second Bishop brother to perform at Hopscotch (Sir Rick performed last year; I expect Hopscotch to reanimate Charles Goucher next year for a riveting performance of Pint Sized Spartacus), Alan immediately threw down fighting words, calling everyone in North Carolina “pussies” for the state’s in-door smoking ban. Between his all-acoustic, acerbic songs, Bishop boasted such things as having trained a basketball team in China composed entirely of dwarves, who could, against the ACC, slam dunk a basketball with one hand and slap a defender with the other, all while spitting in said defender’s sibling’s cup. I’m not kidding. He actually said that. For 45 odd minutes, I was entranced by his hate and gibberish, making for one of the more entertaining performance I’ve seen in a good while.
Deciding to rotate between only two venues that night, I returned to Long View for my last meaningful set to see Julia Holter. At first, her trio (Julia on vocals and keyboard, a drummer, and cellist) had difficulties — the levels were too high, especially on the cello — but after a song or two, the mix was worked out. In general, her set mimicked my overall thoughts on her music: scattered with a few amazing tunes (in particular “In the Same Room”) and indifference. I can’t stress how fantastic “In the Same Room” sounded in Long View. However, despite my overall tepid reaction to Holter’s set, her performance did provide a soothing come-down from a day-through-night of exhausting boozing, socializing, and awesome music. Before heading to sleep, I stopped by King’s for a bit of Pictureplane, but let’s not talk about that.
Thee Oh Sees
Lorian Long: I started the day off drunk and bra-less at a day show that never happened. No sound guy. Then, we heard there wasn’t any sound guy over at CAM, the Contemporary Art and Design building, where Thee Oh Sees were supposed to end the night. Bands were pissed, club owners were apathetic, and everyone was drunk. The great thing about Raleigh in the late summer is that it is too hot to really give a fuck about anything, so the overall lethargy of the heat lent an easiness to festival goers, allowing us to continue drinking and smiling. There is a chunk of time between day shows and evening shows, which might not be the best schedule to continue with in future years, so by the time Gross Ghost went on at The Berkeley Café, I was tired, still bra-less, and bloated. I think I hoped for a repeat experience of Hopscotch’s first year, where I saw my old friends Future Islands fucking kill the opening night, but the boys of Gross Ghost delivered an overdone sound of guitar scuzz and noisy pop that sounded stale. Their performance was energetic and tight, but I wanted a knockout, not a dull reminder that most garage pop these days is recycled plastic. As frontman Matt Dillon raised his PBR to toast the audience, I walked out in search of something different.
And this is the best and worst thing about Hopscotch — if you’re bored, you can always walk around the corner to hear something else. But if two of your must-sees are playing at the same time, you’re kind of fucked. Sets are usually limited to 30 or 40 minutes, and the lines are long. I had to decide between Julia Holter or Liars, which was a bummer, but my co-writer made the decision for me, as he had no desire to see Liars. Sweet! Liars were fucking awesome, Matt! I know people bitch and moan about their live performances — hell, I was one of them a few years ago at a sold-out flooded Radiohead show — but damn, these boys have got their shit together. They played to a mostly empty theater, which felt strange and ghostly, but totally appropriate for the kind of dread their music embodies. We were 3,000 miles away from Los Angeles, but the wasteland of those streets and animal noises of the city could be felt by the 70 or 80 folks gathered in front of the stage. Angus’ post-punk whine has turned into an aged howl, and he kept things hurting.
My friends wanted to see Thee Oh Sees, so we booked it over to catch their 1 AM set at CAM. I’ve seen them play too many times to count, as everyone in SF undoubtedly has, and I find listening to their music to be a lot like eating cheap Chinese food — every sauce tastes the same and the meat sucks. But it’s great when you’re drunk and hungry! And I was drunk and hungry. So it was fun. Eager teenagers crowd-surfed; John Dwyer played his guitar like an epileptic giant; and I jumped into the pit of white bros pushing each other just to get a taste of middle-class suburbia. Then I found my friends and we ordered Papa John’s. First night accomplished, and I didn’t try to take anyone home or puke on myself. Success!
The Love Language by Jacquelyn Huntington
Matthew Horne: Friday began with a few Buds, a mimosa, and the Three Lobed Records and WXDU day party back at King’s Barcade. The main event, a trio of Alan Bishop, Chris Corsano, and Bill Orcutt, kicked things off at noon. This was the first time the trio had played together in the United States and only the second time world-wide, and boy they didn’t disappoint. I had missed Orcutt the night before, opting to see Bishop play instead, so I was psyched for this performance. The trio stormed through early 90s Harry Pussy-sounding jams and a few Beefheart-esque mashers (I later found out via William Tyler that one was a Cream cover), all destructive and breakneck, except when they weren’t. At times, the string-wielders backed off to let Corsano demonstrate his more reductive side; at others, Bishop and Orcutt pilled on heaps of noise. After the trio finished, I stuck around King’s for a few sets (Chuck Johnson, again; Hiss Golden Messenger; William Tyler) and caught The Love Language outside of the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh (they were rather enjoyable; much better than the limited recordings I had heard), but Hopscotch was already starting to catch up with me; I was beat, and the festival wasn’t even half over.
Reemerging from several hours of convalescence, I tried to catch Corsano’s solo set at Memorial Auditorium. I was 20 minutes late, and I missed it. That’s right, Chris played a 20-minute set when he was allotted 45, so of course I left Memorial Auditorium for the rest of the night. This turned out to be a bad idea, since he performed with Glenn Jones and Yo La Tengo there (as well as Danny Brown, The Mountain Goats, and several acts that were performing in Asheville). Whatever, I saw him play earlier, and here’s a video!
The remainder of my Friday night was a bit scattered. I caught the beginning of Papa M’s set and the end of Zola Jesus’. Pajo’s set was more akin to his work as Aerial M, his shimmering guitar arising out of an excessively-used fog machine, occasionally teetering too closely to Explosions in the Sky for my tastes. Zola Jesus, as well, was a bit of a disappointment. The Lincoln Theater was mobbed for her set, oddly with an incredibly bro-tastic crowd, a far leap from even last winter when I saw her play the Local 506 in Chapel Hill. Everything about her set at Hopscotch seemed off — the crowd, the venue, her backing band. Maybe it’s a case of false identification, but in my head, Zola seems best with as minimal a setup as possible, her wails obfuscated by her technological limitations. Her current sound is just too slick for my tastes; different strokes, I guess.
After escaping the Lincoln Theater, I went across town to catch my final show of the night, Ital at Five Star. I caught the former member of Black Eyes perform a little over a year ago at a 100% Silk showcase, and like his Silk set, he killed it, and everyone at Five Star agreed. It was a dance frenzy of fine basement techno and a fantastic night cap on the second day of Hopscotch. And, by the way, the weather was fantastic.
Zola Jesus by Jacquelyn Huntington
Lorian Long: Friday was a random smattering of big-name acts: Yo La Tengo, The Mountain Goats, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Killer Mike, Zola Jesus, etc. It was definitely the most chaotic day, as most shows worth seeing played at the same time in venues spread across downtown. It was also the day my brother had a psychotic break and sent me 38 text messages saying he was a part of James Joyce’s pyramid scheme. It was a weird night.
I started the day with vodka in the hotel room and a vegan feast at Remedy Diner with two of my girlfriends. We walked over to Slim’s to catch Spider Bags, which turned out to be one of the weekend’s best decisions. Lead singer and guitarist Dan McGee played some impressive Southern-style punk thrash that almost meandered into noodly guitar-work — yeah, I said noodly, and you can eat a dick if you think that shit is easy or pussy or whatever; it seems hard as fuck to do — and drummer Rock Forbes (what a name!) was one of the more intense performers I saw during the festival. He threw his entire body into the drum kit and kept a pace that seemed to challenge the rest of the band. Bassist Steve Oliva was adorably sexy and kept time with his mop of hair and permanent grin. The whole thing felt real good. Afterwards, my friends and I left to do something, um, very important, like buy more alcohol and shave our legs.
We stopped by the City Plaza show to catch The Jesus and Mary Chain, but the sound was off and everyone seemed bored, so we walked over to Fletcher Theatre to see The Weather Station. Toronto-based Tamara Lindeman fit right in with the Southern
demographic, as she navigated banjo- and guitar-driven songs about making food for men who no longer love you and the sadness of open fields offering themselves to you when no one else will. I was about five beers in, with maybe two or three whiskeys, so of course I’m sobbing in the theater while my friend awkwardly texts her husband. Linderman reminded me of a blonde version of Sharon Van Etten, but with more honey and less whiskey. I seem to turn to music these days to feel nothing rather than something, but occasionally a girl has to GIRL OUT, and delicate guitar-picking and wearied vocals can do just the trick.
I tried to catch Azure Ray’s set at the Long View Center (easily the best venue at Hopscotch — a tiny, adorable church with wooden pews and low lighting), but they were too late setting up gear and looking cute in matching dresses, so I said, “Fuck It,” and ran to Memorial
Auditorium to see the last bit of Yo La Tengo. Like a good lover, Yo La Tengo is consistently impressive, passionate, and surprisng. Ira did his thing as he bent over and attacked whatever instrument got in his way, and they moved through goodies like “From a Motel 6,” “The Weakest Part,” and “Detouring America with Horns.” Like Matt said, they brought out Chris Corsano to join them on drums for “Don’t Have To Be So Sad.” The silence in the theater was heavy with respect and awe. We were watching an incredible set that was intimate in a way not many festivals allow, and Ira admitted to not being a fan of festivals with this great analogy: “Festivals are like hot dogs. You don’t really like hot dogs, but when you get to a baseball game, you really want a hot dog. That’s how I feel about Hopscotch.”
The toughest decision of the weekend was deciding between Killer Mike and John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats playing a heavy metal cover set on piano. Heavy metal prevailed. The title of Darnielle’s set was “Nearer My Hateful Mankind Plague to Thee,” and yeah, it was pretty much the best thing ever. Darnielle translated every guitar riff to a corresponding piano chord and took his motherfucking time, allowing the lyrics to do all the work against the melancholy of the piano. Songs like Ozzy Osbourne’s “Shot in the Dark” and Ronnie James Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark” were lush and gorgeous. Darnielle told us he only spent the summer working on these arrangements, but holy shit, it seemed like he’d been working on them his whole life. The delivery was unbelievable. After the covers set, he came back out and played some Mountain Goats stuff. “Genesis 30:3” was a highlight, as was “Ox Baker Triumphant,” which Darnielle introduced with a brutal story of how his abusive father took him to wrestling matches and how “some days were better than others.” I’d argue that Darnielle is the best living American lyricist we have, and Raleigh seemed to agree, as the theater was completely packed until the show ended at 2 AM.
sunn 0))) by Stuart Chalmers
Matthew Horne: Saturday began with a daze of day shows (I can’t even recall what I saw) and mounting fatigue. But I was determined to knuckle through it. I had to see Kevin Drumm, and I had to be awake for the set. It’s fucking Kevin Drumm, one of the top 10 performers in the world (that’s not my opinion, it’s a cold hard fact), and he seldom plays outside of Europe. I was a tad concerned, because Drumm was playing Memorial Auditorium and several friends had terrible things to say about the sound in that venue for other acts. Drumm’s gear was set up in the corner of the stage since sunn 0))) amps took up the entire freaking stage, and as he walked on stage, the lights were dimmed so much so that it was impossible to make out what he was up to. My concerns were assuaged immediately as Drumm began, entering with a gentle probe that slowly built into a room-filling squalor. Drumm made the incredible size of Memorial Auditorium work for him; sounds seemed to be bombarding me from all over the venue. About two-thirds of the way into his set, Drumm backed off and let a piercing Toshi Nakamura-esque sine dominate, which evoked an involuntary, full-boded reaction within me. Fucking awesome.
After basking in the majesty of Drumm’s set, I wandered around Raleigh for two hours, killing time for sunn 0))). When I returned to Memorial Auditorium just past midnight for their set, the venue was already three times more crowded than it was for Drumm’s set. Twenty-three minutes later (by now, the entire lower level of the rather large auditorium was full), sunn 0)))’s fog machine had filled most of the stage and their assault began. This was the first time I had seen sunn 0))), and I immediately realized how pointless their recorded material is. In contrast to Drumm’s set, which evoked an internal physical response, sunn 0))) exerted themselves onto the audience, an experience that is impossible to achieve through almost all home sound systems. But while I could feel their brutally loud sound, their set lacked some musicality, and I found myself dozing off only 10 minutes in. I was extremely tired by this point. I was done.
Now, all I have is this cold and a crap-ton of amazing memories.
Lorian Long: I tried so hard to make it past 5 PM, but when Double Negative takes the stage outside a bar at only 2 PM, you know you’re kind of fucked. I missed them the first year when they shared a bill with Fucked Up, but I kind of liked watching them sweat on an outdoor stage under the sun. Their hardcore sound was a welcome relief from the garage pop-/alt-country-saturated weekend. Frontman Kevin Collins told us some guy tried to stab him this weekend, and then he advised everyone to “punch a baby instead.” It was great. I jumped around and drank, like, five cups of this Tart Lychee Beer and decided to take my clothes off and go swimming in a saltwater pool instead of watch Megaboring, I mean, Megafaun. And everything post-pool is a blur. I think it rained. I think I tried to sleep with my married friend. I think I walked into a bar playing John Mellencamp and started crying. I do remember waking up the next morning and telling my girlfriends we had to get up or else we would miss sunn 0))). I feel terrible for bailing, but thank god Matt had his shit together. After all, this is North Carolina. We look out for each other.