[FESTIVAL REVIEW] Hopscotch Music Festival 2011

The Flaming Lips

I arrived in Raleigh for the Hopscotch Music Festival around 10:45pm on Thursday night.  After rushing to pick up my wristband, I headed over to a club named White Collar Crime in time to see polarizing art-rockers Xiu Xiu.  By the time they were finished, I felt like I had a good handle on the weekend that lay ahead of me – I was in for three nights of big (but not too big) crowds with a healthy appetite for adventurous music.  Hopscotch is only in its second year, but it has the potential to become one of the country’s coolest music festivals.

This year’s big addition was the stage at City Plaza, a nondescript expanse of concrete between two office buildings that was temporarily turned into a pretty great outdoor music venue.  It was the location of two big headlining shows on Friday and Saturday night that lent a little cohesion to a festival that was otherwise spread out across 11 smaller venues in downtown Raleigh.  Friday’s big show was opened by The Dodos, who appear to have gained some serious control over their frantic indie folk since the last time I saw them a few years ago.  Drive-By Truckers were next, with a setlist that focused mostly on the big rockers from the last two albums.  There were plenty of DBT loyalists present, but the night’s big draw was the final performance of the reunited “classic lineup” of Guided by Voices, who predicatably drew an audience that was on average older and drunker than most of the weekend’s club crowds.  They played a strong show, but as an outsider to the cult of GBV, I felt a little removed.  They did play the five or so songs I wanted to hear, though, and the people watching was above average.

Guided By Voices

The first City Plaza show was crowded but easily navigated.  Saturday’s show was packed.  It apparently doesn’t matter how many festival sets The Flaming Lips play; the crowds will still be there every time.  The openers were recent Tempory Residence signees Dreamers of the Ghetto (as terrible as their name) and Superchunk (solid as hell, but they’ll never be a personal favorite).  Superchunk had a strong reception, but it was clear the crowd had shown up for the Lips.  The band returned the favor by delivering the spectacle.  The space bubble, confetti, and giant balloons have been in their arsenal for years now, but it’s still undeniably fun.  The show lost some steam once the initial buzz wore off and the band started staggering Embryonic tracks with stretches of Wayne Coyne banter, but they brought the crowd back with a Pink Floyd cover and the obligatory (but still ecstatic) “Do You Realize.”

The Flaming Lips

Hopscotch’s best moments were found in the club shows, which started around 9:00 each night and ran til about 2:00.  The lineup was a ridiculously deep collection of rising indie bands and experimental rock veterans.  The latter group found a home at the Fletcher Opera Hall, a small theater with incredible sound that doesn’t typically host rock shows.  I unfortunately missed Rhys Chatham doing Guitar Trio on Thursday (I didn’t get into town until after he finished), but I did see reunited no wave icons Swans on Friday.  They opened with a droning instrumental intro that eventually became an epic length version of “No Words, No Thoughts,” the opening track on last year’s comeback album My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.  If you get the chance to see these six guys perform their carefully constructed wall of noise, take it.  Atlanta gets a shot Friday night at Variety Playhouse.

Swans

After an hour of Swans, I ducked out to catch veteran drone pioneers Earth at the comfortably grimy Kings. They ran through a 75 minute set that included material as old as “Ouroboros is Broken,” which Dylan Carlson said will be retired after the current tour. Lori Goldston’s cello complements Carlson’s creeping, Morricone-esque guitar lines beautifully.  Hopefully she’ll stick around for awhile.

Another highlight was The Body, who played Kings earlier on Friday.  The kind of doom metal they play is so sludgy and thick with low end that it’s practically noise, and it got even heavier when the core duo was joined by a second drummer.  Glorious overkill.

The Body

Raleigh’s own Birds of Avalon also did the dual drummer thing, teaming up with Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock at Raleigh label DiggUp Tapes’ Saturday day party at Kings.  The same party also featured a high energy performance from one-man Chicago band Netherfriends, who didn’t seem to notice that he was playing to a hungover daylight crowd.  He owned that room, too.  He loops percussion, guitar, keyboards, and beatboxed vocals into deliriously catchy psych-pop songs that would probably work in any context.

Netherfriends

The day parties were solid all across the board, actually, and they helped foster an environment that felt like more than just a collection of killer club shows.  Mount Eerie drew a big crowd to Slim’s for a daytime performance of spare folk with gloomy Badalamenti textures.  Nextdoor at The Hive, Softspot mixed spacey dream-pop and throbbing tribal-psych, with a frontwoman who spiked her strong vocals with a dose of theatrics.  There were other options, too.  You could hear music wandering out of bars and restaurants all across Raleigh each afternoon.

Softspot

I ended my weekend at the Lincoln Theatre, which at an 800 capacity was the largest venue outside of City Plaza.  By the time Toro y Moi started, the venue was full, with a line that ran two blocks down the street.  It stayed that way for Future Islands, who initially formed in the relatively nearby town of Greenville, NC.  The set felt like a homecoming, with the “big” songs greeted with cheers of recognition louder than I’ve heard any of the other times I’ve seen the band (which I think is in double digits by now).  It was a typically fantastic perfomance.  I was lucky enough to interview the band earlier in the day, so I’ll have more to say later this week.

Yelawolf closed out the night with a no-bullshit perfomance that included almost everything from last year’s Trunk Muzik 0-60. He performs with no gimmicks, just himself and a DJ.  He’s got the stage presence to pull it off, too.  There’s something hungry in the way he raps; you can see the edge that’s taken him this far and will probably take him even further once his major label debut comes out later this year.

Yelawolf

And then that was it. See you next year, Raleigh.

The Dodos

Drive-By Truckers

Mount Eerie

Superchunk

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