As you all probably know, I’m spending the weekend at the eighth annual Hopscotch Music Festival. You can catch up on my adventures from Thursday here. Friday was a little busier. It was a long day filled with some pleasant surprises, some mild disappointment, and just a lot of fun.
I wasn’t in a real hurry to get down to the day party stuff, so I kind of relaxed a little bit at the hotel, and that was probably a great idea. Again, because of my lax approach to prep this year, I didn’t really know what was going on during the day parties other than that I would eventually end up at Kings. At about 1:30, I made it downtown, grabbed some lunch, and just sort of walked around a bit.
I finally started into the action by going up to Kings. Chuck Johnson was there playing his new ambient stuff.
I don’t know anything about that guy, but he’s been a prolific experimental composer with many albums to his credit. His new album Balsams, which is layered and looped pedal steel guitar, has been getting great reviews, and there was a bit of buzz about this performance. It was beautiful and relaxing, but I wasn’t ready to be put to sleep.
I went downstairs and outside to regroup, but I really had no plan at all. I found out they were doing comedy downstairs at Neptunes, so I went down there for a bit. Although it was structured, it was very much open mic-style. All local guys with very little experience doing short sets. I stayed down there for three comedians. One was really awful, one was decent, and one was really good.I headed back upstairs to Kings just before the start of a set by Mac McCaughan out of Superchunk and Kurt Wagner out of Lambchop. They’ve got a new project called Repressed, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. And I couldn’t have dreamed up what I saw. I don’t even know how to categorize it. Mac was operating some electronic bits and Kurt was singing. There was vocoder and/or other heavy vocal effects, and it was a bit weird if I’m honest. There were also two girls on clean backing vocals. After a few songs, I left, feeling confused and out of sorts by what I’d just seen. It was time to head into City Plaza for the night’s main stage event. Local psych rockers Birds of Avalon started things off. I didn’t know anything about them, and although I’d heard their name before, I didn’t really know what to expect. I really liked them though. They were exceptionally loud, and they had really good energy. They use two drummers on full kits. That kind of thing always interests me. I thought I might do that thing where I only watch for a couple of songs, but I got really into it. The Make Up was next. They’ve been around for a long time. Ian Svenonius, James Canty and Steve Gamboa emerged from the ashes of DC punk band Nation of Ulysses to form The Make Up. The Make Up were active in the late 1990s before disbanding and reforming twice. I thought I had seen them once in 1998 or so, but now I’m beginning to question my memory. Their rock/punk/gospel/surf rock style is certainly unique, but when they disbanded, Svenonius said it was because everyone was co-opting their style. That style includes wearing matching outfits.
Last night, they all wore sparkly champagne-coloured suits. That style also includes Svenonius’ erratic behaviour. He rants and raves and generally acts like a person who is either on drugs or is suffering from mental illness. I’m convinced, though, that although he has some extreme views, he’s just playing a character. Either way, they had a ton of energy, and Svenonius interacts with the crowd a lot and has this incredible bravado on stage. It’s something to behold. I really liked their set, and even more than that, I was impressed by the experience. Future Islands was next. I saw them a couple of years ago at Hopscotch, and while I appreciate their stage presence, and while I appreciate the fact that they love playing in North Carolina, they just don’t do much for me. I watched for a few songs, then headed out to the club shows. I headed over to Neptunes to catch the Asheville four-piece Aunt Sis. I didn’t really know much about them other than the songs that I listened to in the name of “hopscotch research”. I really liked their set. They had a bit of a sad bastard vibe mixed with a bit of noise. They really had the quiet/loud/quiet thing working. I was reminded a lot of Red House Painters. They may or may not be named after a boutique salsa company in Western North Carolina.
Next, I walked over to Pour House to see King Woman. The band is fronted by Kristina Esfandiari, who used to be in the San Francisco shoegaze band Whirr and the doomgaze band Miserable. King Woman is something totally different, and it’s definitely closer to the doomgaze stuff she’s done in the past. This is loud, sludgy, dark, and a bit aggressive. I was at the side of the room where the double-tiered benches are, sitting on the top. Some dude came along, sat practically on my feet, and immediately fell asleep, sort of using my legs as a pillow. It was super weird, and I hopped up and got out of that spot. I don’t know how he managed to sleep with the intense noise, but he did. Just at that point, Esfandiari asked the crowd to clear a spot so she could set up shop on the floor. It was a great set, and I stayed for most of it.I left that set a little early so I could make the long hike over to CAM so I could see Mourn. They wore matching paint-splattered outfits, which made them look more youthful than they already are. I knew that they’re teenagers, but I was shocked by how young they all look. No matter, because they’re a really good indie rock band with loads of potential. This band is way better than they should be at their age. I had to leave after a few songs because I had a lot more to see, and a bit of a hike to get back to the main footprint of the festival.
For the rest of the night, I only saw bands who I will describe using “formerly known as …”.
Very high on my list for the festival was Preoccupations. The Calgary post-punk band formerly known as Viet Cong, so I headed over to Lincoln to catch as much of their set as possible. Unfortunately, I’m limited by the equipment that I have, and I couldn’t get even a halfway decent picture.
As expected, the band was loud and energetic, but something about it fell short of my expectations. They have a slightly different sound now as compared to what they did on the eponymous Viet Cong record. Frontman Matt Flegel was more screaming than singing, and something else was slightly less than I hoped it would be. Which made it easier for me to leave after four or so songs. Even though it was getting late, I still had two more bands to see.
He was in a lot of bands and a lot of solo projects with a lot of different styles. Alt-country, folk, indie rock.
One of his “bands” was Songs: Ohia, after which Songs: Molina is obviously named. Many of his projects had revolving members, but Magnolia Electric Co was consistent. And, to my knowledge, Songs:Molina is pretty much the same as Magnolia Electric. Anyway, they were playing a beautiful, heart-felt set, and they talked a bit about how much they all missed Jason. I couldn’t stay very long, though. Last up was Ó. The Brooklyn indie rock quartet band formerly known as Eskimeaux. Fronted by Gabby Smith, the band features Felix Walworth (Told Slant) on a minimal drum kit set really low to the ground. They were absolutely sensational. They were so energetic and they were really enthusiastic about the festival. I know a lot of bands stop through here while they’re on tour, and they can’t stick around, but it’s always a plus for me when I know that the performers are out there enjoying the festival. These guys clearly are. All of that aside, they totally impressed me with their set. I had it high on my list, but I sort of expected it to be a vanilla performance. Plain, but reliable. What we got was some really deluxe flavour of ice cream. I left there in a really good mood. I was reminded of how I felt when I left the Diet Cig show last year.
All in all, it was a great night, and there’s still a lot more Hopscotch to go.