Hopscotch Music Festival
Photo by Allison Hussey
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Not every Hopscotch
is created equal. Poor weather always threatens to throw a curveball, as those who saw The Roots play a waterlogged set at Hopscotch 2012 may recall. The same goes for the looming possibility of acts throwing up a last-minute cancelation, as with Deerhunter last year
. The winds of fate have so far been blowing in Hopscotch’s favor this year; Thursday’s proceedings went off with nary a missing band or raincloud to speak of.
Friday’s shows, which include Hopscotch’s first at Red Hat Amphitheater, ramp the festival up, and it will be interesting to see how those play out. But from the opening distorted guitar chops of Wye Oak echoing in City Plaza through Kelela’s commanding final moments at CAM, the festival’s first day was largely unimpeachable.
This year included a few minor changes to the festival structure. The skronky, hellish saxophone quartet Battle Trance kicked off Thursday’s club festivities at Nash Hall, a newly established small venue on Blount Street that comes as a welcome addition to the fest. The cozy seated atmosphere felt like a natural fit for improvisational and experimental performances like Battle Trance
and the excellent kitchen-sink blues outfit 75 Dollar Bill. Especially if you compare it to, say, the Kennedy Theatre, which hosted similar acts in previous years. Festival goers often sat crosslegged on the hard floor there, so having an intimate room with real seating is a major plus.
The spacious Memorial Auditorium is also back in play this year after a two-year absence. It rang things in with a limber performance from Sneakers, a small but quietly influential
seventies N.C. proto-punk band whose members would go on to form The DB’s. The act was spirited, even if most of the audience filed in during the last ten minutes of the set. Sneakers did had the unfathomable task of opening for the main course of the night: a rare performance from beloved New York art rock titans Television.
Tom Verlaine and the other members of Television are all pushing seventy, and they still play with the studied, rigorous intensity you might expect from a band of Television's clout. They are fantastic live. There is forty years of breathless criticism to explain how great Television is, about how it splits the difference between seventies punk energy and guitar heroics to make something unique. I don’t need to add to it here.
Local bands still comprise a lion’s share of the Hopscotch lineup, and this emphasis, combined with Hopscotch’s catholic tastes, has always encouraged the discovery of music that you might not usually go see otherwise. My favorite find this year was Raleigh’s ZenSoFly
, who rocked an absolutely killer set at CAM. She’s a deft lyricist, a fantastic performer, and to my knowledge, has the only rap song written explicitly about Cook Out. Salute.
With no visuals and little in the way of stage lighting, New York’s Junglepussy also played CAM and was easily the most electrifying performance of the night, with a crowd so large the venue was at capacity for most of her chaotic set. Her brash persona is hard to classify, but brutal honesty and a healthy dose of humor factor in heavily. Comparing her to Kelis seems apt, but that doesn’t quite hit it either. But then again, what Hopscotch can
you easily classify?