Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hopscotch Festival, Raleigh, NC, 2012

Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, the financial district, not where one would expect to find avant garde, experimental, punk, psych or metal music. Well, this weekend was different. In the midst of debutante balls, rich girls drunkenly trying to retain their balance while in stilettos, and the machismo of jocks / douchebags galore, was the third year of a fantastic music festival.  

My first experience on Thursday night was to be one of the best shows I'd see all weekend. Jon Mueller's Death Blues was a percussion led trip into primal esoterica. His brooding ritualistic rhythms pounded out a motorik blues you'd expect from a former Table of the Elements artist. Two guitars were laid on tabletops and hammered with sticks, tapping out only the darkest minor melodies. The addition of two female vocalists added to the penitent sackcloth and ashes aesthetic laid down by the low end of the dirgey upright bass. Comparable only to recent Swans in its ferocity, this band pulls no punches.

Ordinarily, I would've been disappointed by anything that had to follow an act like that but not when its a master guitar player like Bill Orcutt. The no wave noisenik from Harry Pussy played a gorgeous solo set at the local unitarian church. A half hour of twisted classical /  blues / americana emanated from this restless improviser. 

After that lovely set, I made my way over to see Liars. This proved to be a disappointment, as they were put in a giant auditorium. Boomiest show I've ever heard. It basically sounded as though I were listening to the entire thing while in the bathroom at a stadium. I'm not really sure if the set was good or not. I stayed for a cut from Drums not Dead, and left when it shifted into what felt like a cliche Brooklyn hipster dance party. 

Sadly departing, I hiked over to check out Thee Oh Sees as my closer of the evening. To my surprise, this psychedelic garage punk rock band was actually as tight live as they sound on their records. With punchy, high energy jangly pop, this band lays down nasty, addictive hooks and knows how to entertain a crowd.

Friday started with a bang. Three Lobed records hosted a showcase beginning at noon. Although I was jacked on coffee by the time the first act started, I doubt I would've really needed it. A blistering onslaught of skronking free jazz noise was a wakeup call even to those that had expected it. The brilliant trio of Alan Bishop on bass, Bill Orcutt on electric guitar and Chris Corsano on drums roared through the crowd for a few pieces, resolving in a fucked up blues number reminiscent of Scratch Acid. Just as fast as it began, it was over. In true lunatic style, Alan bishop threw condoms into the crowd stating, "Here's some expired condoms. Go fuck yourselves."

Here's two thirds of the trio from a week before:

The high energy was contrasted by the following act, yet no one minded. Chuck Johnson played a somber and lovely 12 string set that enchanted the entire crowd. His style is comparable to anyone from Steffen Basho-Junghans to Jack Rose. Impeccable and truly moving.


The utter highlight of my weekend was David Daniell's slot. What was supposed to be a solo set ended up with Daniell asking Chris Corsano and Oren Ambarchi to join him on stage. I really can't even describe how great this was. Heavy guitar drone from Daniell, with all sorts of classic Ambarchi organ-like tone and melody generation building into a wall that Corsano tore down with his sweeping washes of subtle drumming. Absolutely gorgeous.  Overheard quite a few folks saying it was the best set they'd ever seen live.

Though a couple decades younger than Chuck Johnson, William Tyler had no trouble lending his guitar stylings to the crowd. His very individual style of looping and storytelling definitely did the trick.

This is another version of my favorite piece he played.

After all of this, the festival hadn't even started for Friday yet. The great thing about Hopscotch is all the free day parties all over downtown. I took a few hours off before heading to the main stage at City Plaza for a very old, tired and boring set from Jesus and Mary Chain. Maybe they don't care anymore, or maybe they were just playing an accessible set for a mainstream festival crowd, either way it was not for me. The set list comprised latter day pop ditties that felt stagnant and sterile, devoid of any feedback or noise. All I wanted was Psychocandy, and I eventually got a piece. Yep, you guessed it, a lifeless rendition of "Just Like Honey", no doubt due to its appearance on the "Lost in Translation" soundtrack. 

Glad to get the hell out of that reunion nightmare, I caught a bit of the immensely talented Cul de Sac guitarist, Glenn Jones. Not only did his meditative playing relax me, but I got another dose of Chris Corsano, as he asked the young drummer to join him for his closing number. Keep your eyes peeled for any youtube clips of this one. It was sheer bliss. Here's a clip of Glenn solo for the unfamiliar:

I headed to the next venue, excited to see one of the many current Sacred Bones sensations, Pop. 1280. A wild, claustrophobic forty minutes ensued, as these post-punks offered up heaping servings of The Birthday Party, Chrome and Sonic Youth style no wave and synth punk. This was my second time seeing them and it was just as solid a set. 

This is a clip from the actual show that night, with my PBR obstructing some of the view:

Closing out Friday night was a driving minimal set from UK heavy psych band White Hills. Great show from a trio that sounded more like a sextet. It was intense and no frills, Hawkwind meets krautrock, just as it should have been.


Saturday evening's violent thunderstorm ended just in time for another lovely synth and guitar ambient drone
set from the duo Quiet Evenings. This couple that owns the wonderful Georgia tape label Hooker Vision, also makes music under their solo names, Grant Evans, as well as Motion Sickness of Time Travel (Rachel Evans).

The other Sacred Bones act was next on my agenda. Amen Dunes' last record really spoke to me. I honestly didn't expect his somber and haunting pop to translate well live, but it certainly did, even in a stripped down context. Great vocal style, intriguing guitar, and a very tasteful drummer.

I unfortunately missed most of the Charlotte, NC band Young and in the Way, but the brief amount I witnessed was astounding. This blackened crust band is well worth a listen. 

The welcome surprise of the entire weekend was San Franscisco occult experimental band Sutekh Hexen. Black metal meets drone in the most interesting way I've ever heard. Long quiet ambient interludes gave way to painfully loud walls of noisy yet controlled metal drone. Pummeling even without a drummer, this act really impressed me.


And last but not least, closing out the whole weekend was Sunn O))). Over two hours of detuned guitars at an appalingly low bass frequency was complimented once again by the great Hungarian black metal vocalist, Atilla Csihar. I appreciated this show so much more than usual because O'malley and Anderson walked off stage and we were treated to half an hour of Atilla's incredible vocals amidst only Moog synth tones, before another round of the standard routine. Say what you may about this band, but there's no better physiological concert experience. Truly Unforgettable. 

Here's an example, but never forget that watching videos of Sunn O))) does not do them justice. You must hear them live or listen on a stereo with proper bass response:

Overall, an amazing weekend. I would've seen more but the lineup was so good that I had to choose between one of three acts I wanted to see in almost every time slot. This was my second year of attending Hopscotch and I was once again impressed with the organization of everything. These guys do it right. I highly recommend attending in the future. Very affordable and intimate in almost every venue.  



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