This long weekend marks the eighth annual Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh. For the sixth year in a row, I’ll be here from start to finish. This year is a little different in a couple of ways. I just moved from Greensboro NC to Durham NC, so I’m closer to the festival. Because I was focused on moving, I didn’t get much of a chance to do any Hopscotch prep the way I normally do. So this year, there are a lot of bands about whom I’ve done absolutely no research. It’s still going to be a blast, and it already has been after day one.
I had intended to make it to see Memphis psych rockers Spaceface, but I didn’t get there in time. The show was in The Basement, which is the new, cavernous venue in the basement of the Convention Center. It took me a while to find it, and I missed all of Spaceface. I was, though, just in time for Atlanta noise/psych/sludge rock trio All The Saints. I literally knew nothing about them going in, and they weren’t even on my long list. Their set ended up being one of my favourite things of the night. It’s worth mentioning that the frontman reminded me of a beardy Adam Scott. It’s also worth mentioning that the drummer was absolutely pummeling his kit, which was small and mounted low. Not many skins, but a lot of cymbals. I scribbled a note that they were like a sludgier, darker Sonic Youth mixed with a helping of Montréal post-rock. Later on, I read something that mentioned All the Saints and A Place to Bury Strangers in the same breath. I’m not sure about that, but I liked them a lot nonetheless. It’s rare for me to do this at Hopscotch, but I stayed for their entire set, and I’ve marked my planner for their day party show on Saturday. I headed over to Fletcher because I had Shane Parish on my long list and Mount Eerie at the very top of my short list. I arrived just in time for the end of Shane Parish’s set. I didn’t know anything about him, but I liked the songs I previewed. I went in for one song, but I couldn’t get into it, so I went outside and had a bit of a break while waiting for the Mount Eerie set to begin. Mount Eerie is, of course, the work of slowcore giant Phil Elverum. I’ve been a long-time fan of the fiercely independent musician from Anacortes, Washington. His new critically acclaimed record A Crow Looked at Me is amazing, but it’s a really tough listen. The entire album is about the death of his wife Geneviève Castrée. She lost her battle with pancreatic cancer last July. The songs are heavy and candid and real. Songs about receiving a package addressed to her a few days after she died – something she had ordered for their daughter. Songs about the pain of having to throw the garbage from her bathroom away one last time. Songs about having to get up and make eggs for breakfast. Songs about missing the hell out of her. Songs about his own mortality. Those songs must be listened to thoughtfully and without distraction. You can’t listen to them in the car or while you’re at work, or at the gym. They’re painful but beautiful songs. When Phil Elverum writes that stuff, you feel his pain. When Mark Kozelek wrote songs about death and grief for Benji, they came across as cheesy. Plus, Kozelek is a dick.
Most of the audience knew the story of Geneviève’s death. Most of the audience knew the new songs. Still, we didn’t really know what we were going to get. We got the real, raw Phil, and it was absolutely stunning. He didn’t talk much. He knew that we all knew. He really only spoke three times. Once to “apologize” for the tone. He said that he loves playing the songs, but feels bad for the audience. Another time, during a run of new, unreleased songs, he simply asked that we keep our videos to ourselves and not release them on the internet. Phil had, apparently, been slightly heckled by an audience member in Chicago just a couple of days ago. Someone who didn’t want the new stuff. All of us did, and we absolutely loved it. In that quiet, intimate setting of Fletcher, we all felt it very much. There was a lot of sniffling and a lot of teary eyes in the house. I stayed for the entire beautiful set, and I was both physically drained from a long week and emotionally drained from that set. Still, though, there was other music to see. I headed back over to The Basement to see The Brian Jonestown Massacre. If I’m honest, I’m not really a fan of the band, but I totally appreciate the insane genius of Anton Newcombe. He’s the only remaining member of the band from the 1990s that was known for its debauchery and its prolific releases, and its inner turmoil. Back then, there was a reasonable chance that Newcombe was going to fight someone from the audience or someone from his band. He’s sobered up since then, and there’s a totally different lineup, so it’s not at all the same. Still, though, I wanted to see them just to see them. They have a deep love/hate relationship with The Dandy Warhols, whom I’ve seen several times. I just wanted to get the other side of that. Their set was really, extraordinarily loud. Even with my quality ear plugs in, it was loud. And because of the cavernous space, the sound was bouncing around a bit. I stayed for three songs, and I was a bit put off that nobody aside from the drummer seemed to care very much. The other six band members stood motionless. There should have been energy, and there wasn’t. I had one last thing on my list, so I ducked out of that set early. Finally, I headed over to The Pour House to catch some of Sunflower Bean. The noisy, bouncy Brooklyn-based indie rock trio was just what I needed. They were enthusiastic and energetic and all of that. They sounded great, too. I was a little nervous about going there because that venue is normally packed, and it’s hard to see the stage, and it gets uncomfortable for me pretty quickly in there. As it turns out, they were only about half full, and the crowd that was there was having a great time. Unfortunately, I reached a point where I just couldn’t do anymore. I had to drive back to the hotel and catch some sleep.
It was a great first night, highlighted by the sensational set by Mount Eerie. I’m quite sure that one will end up being in my top two things from the whole festival. There’s still a long way to go, though…. I’m about to head out for the day party stuff and for the long day two.