Photo by Grayson Haver Currin
Party in the afternoon: Gross Ghost at Slim's
I’ve never been to a Hopscotch day party. During the first four years of the festival’s existence, I worked as its co-director, meaning that those sun-and-booze-filled hours that so many relish meant, for me, afternoons of hauling gear and bleeding sweat, solving logistical challenges and pacifying Kozelek-sized concerns
. But I’ve heard a lot about these day parties, about how Churchkey Records’ annual Que Viva! tradition is an annual blast and how Three Lobed Recordings’ gig is a free experimental wonderland on a Friday afternoon. Yesterday, I finally went to both, and the rumors are true.
The Three Lobed party moved through rare configurations of musicians familiar to Hopscotch audiences, as they’re all festival alumnae. All of Yo La Tengo, for instance, drifted in and out of a slow, hour-long drone climax with guitarists William Tyler and Steve Gunn, both of whom have played the festival. Jenks Miller and Elysse Thebner led their new enterprise, Rose Cross NC, through a stepwise transition between cloudy fusion and searing mysticism. And in the first and best set of the day, local guitarists Daniel Bachman and Zeke Graves prowled from obdurate abstraction to ragged, raging blues-rock, all backed by the versatile Nathan Bowles on drums. It was the best kind of freak scene—challenging but familial, warm and weird.
Just a few blocks away, Slim’s was a sweaty, packed mess for the Churchkey shindig. In the middle of the afternoon, the line to the entrance snaked past several adjacent buildings. And inside, Gross Ghost played one of the best sets I’ve heard them play in years. They seemed to respond to the stuffed conditions of the room, working with a verve and gusto that matched the occasion.
The strength of these parties is a testament to the strength of the Triangle music scene and wider community at large. For three, even four days, area bands, organizers, venues and sponsors can fill half-a-dozen rooms for free, generally excellent shows, slammed with people you see at local gigs all the time and folks that seem to be stumbling into these spaces as strangers. These diurnal celebrations make it clear that Hopscotch, at its best, is about more than three days of music and a bunch of bands listed in order on a large poster; it’s about the place where we all live. This year, personally, it’s been wonderful to experience that from the other side of the line.
Speaking of the Triangle’s music community, special notice goes to Lonnie Walker, who opened the headlining three-band bill in Raleigh City Plaza last night in brilliant fashion. These last few years have been tough for Lonnie Walker; the band emerged a half-decade ago
with what seemed like infinite potential, their country-touched indie rock scratching itches for several demographics. But after making their debut and becoming one of the most popular acts in the Triangle, their momentum flatlined.
But they seem to be back. Their second album is finally finished (and on sale in City Plaza in a limited early edition), and last night, they sounded like a refined version of the band I first fell in love with. Frontman Brian Corum’s lyrics remain a catacomb of strange allusions and emotions, but he made it all more crisp and pointed yesterday. Former Annuals and current First Person Plural leader Mike Robinson has joined the band on bass, and his big tone—bulbous and slippery at once—afforded the crew necessary ballast in the wide and slow-to-fill outdoor space. I’m hoping the rightful reemergence of Lonnie Walker started yesterday in Raleigh City Plaza at Hopscotch 2014.
Five more notes, in no particular order:
—Earlier, I mentioned my past role in Hopscotch. One of the first artists I tried to book for the festival, back in 2010, was Tony Conrad. And we tried to book him every subsequent year, too. He finally played last night, and this morning, it still feels like a dream. His set was mesmerizing, an envelope of abrasion that tickled parts of my hearing I’d forgotten.
—I’d like to see Obnox again very soon. The three songs I caught by sneaking into a very crowded Slim’s were completely righteous rock ’n’ roll. He was aggressive and unabashed, hilarious and powerful. I never saw Abner Jay, of course, but seeing Bim Thomas made me feel like maybe I understood the feeling a little bit.
—The News & Observer published a suspect piece
about how entertainment in City Plaza (which is what the space was designed for) is a hassle to elderely residents living around the space. Fair enough, but the piece focused on Mastodon, the onetime metal act who headline tonight. If they’re louder than St. Vincent, whose Annie Clark can sometimes feel like the most electrifying frontperson around, I’ll be surprised. St. Vincent's set in City Plaza was jarring and ecstatic, even if a bit scripted and, at times, awkward.
—I’m tired of watching Hopscotch Improviser-in-Residence Thurston Moore. After his very charged, very good set
on Thursday evening, his Friday collaborations were blasé. His overly long trio set with the great harpist Mary Lattimore and drummer Ryan Sawyer never built beyond tedium, and his time spent onstage with Tony Conrad was an unnecessary addendum to a perfect set by the elder. At least hearing Conrad introduce Moore—“I first met him in 1981!” Conrad, dressed in salmon-colored pants and a bright green t-shirt, shouted while clapping his hands—was a laugh.
—Clipping. were great and exactly what I needed late last night. The trio’s mix of deadpan noise and debilitating beats filled The Pour House, and the effervescent presence of frontman Daveed Diggs was the antithesis of the shit fit Mark Kozelek was throwing across town
. Earlier in the evening, Open Mike Eagle ruled the same space, bounding between the monitors and leaning into the first few rows. It’s surprising and strange to see The Pour House, run by rock ’n’ roll lifer and sound engineer Jac Cain
, turn into Hopscotch’s best hip-hop room, but it works.