By Ryan Snyder | email@example.com
A rickshaw carrying a smartly dressed woman, probably in her mid- to late 60s, waited beside me for a green light at the corner of South and Wilmington outside the Memorial Auditorium in downtown Raleigh on Friday night. A block away, the Jesus and Mary Chain could be heard closing out a magisterial headlining set at the Hopscotch Music Festival with the sugarcoated screech “Never Understand,” a sound that elicited a dumbfounding, but not altogether unexpected comment from the well-heeled passenger.
“You would think there would be noise ordinances to put a stop to things like this,” she said with not an ounce of humility in her tone. What she didn’t realize, however, was that Hopscotch is a festival conceived as much for her as it was the City Plaza gen pop staring vacantly at the curio that is the Jesus and Mary Chain, or the beat-bathing trilla babies at Nick Catchdubs’ set. Only a few hundred feet away, fingerpicker nonpareil Glenn Jones handled his 90 minutes like a nanny rocking a colicky baby to sleep. In a festival where volume, bass and distortion were top exports, there was nearly equal foothold for the subtle, the gentle, the beautiful.
Thing is, in the sprawling musical ether that was the third year of Hopscotch, one could have spent the entire three days and nights without seeing anything remotely quiet. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however. The 14 nighttime venues spread across downtown presented a formidable challenge in maximizing consumption for even the most enterprising music fan; sticking in the tight venue cluster near Martin and Wilmington was the safest bet, though at the same time, the risk-adverse approach wasn’t necessarily the recommended one. The most far-flung venues like Five Star offered the option to simply shun the litany of goings-on, hunker down and truly own gripping sets from the banjo fiend Curtis Eller to the ultra-subdued Donovan Quinn.
Yet, transience is the trademark of Hopscotch, both suggested by its namesake and in the lifespan of a majority of its bookings. Unlike most large festivals that rely upon fading buzz and known commodities to fill out its rosters, Hopscotch offers an opportunity to consume artists that are pre-hype, nebulous and often unknown to even astute listeners. A year or two from now, many may not exist in whatever incarnation in which they were presented, their memberships having moved own to other projects and blurred into other acts. Outside of headliners and a handful of well-known names in the undercard, the next step was often a leap of faith. The temptation to indulge, however, was overwhelming. From sharing a light with fusspot sticks-in-the-mud to sharing lovely country ballads by Starlings, TN, the likelihood of two individual experiences overlapping significantly is almost infinitesimal. That’s also what makes it a true standout festival.
Hopscotch 2012: Top sets
Deerhoof: Like Can fronted by one-half of the Peanuts, Deerhoof are a indefinable mash of sweetly exuberant rock and roll noise. Vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki stood stele-still as a trio of instrumental pistons pumped away beside her. Drummer Greg Saunier’s pinpoint tempo shifts, torrential fills and lashing mop of red hair were the driving force to their relentless avant-pop attack, but his flailing choreography with guitarist Ed Rodriguez lent brute force to their often wordless instrumental hooks. Side note: Deerhoof sells easily the best t-shirts of any rock band today.
Matthew E. White: There was no number of spins of Matthew E. White’s stellar solo debut Big Inner that could have truly prepared me for his Thursday night performance at the Fletcher Opera Theatre. The album itself possesses a depth of Tartaran proportion; yet organizers invoked the one and only way to properly convey it. With his long hair and beard neatly combed and clad in a fine, pressed white suit, White was a beatific figure amidst a band constructed of pure logistical impossibility. An eight-piece horn section flanked him on his left, a full string section sat to his right and an angelic choir stood behind him. Drums, guitar, pedal steel, auxiliary percussion and piano rounded out the 30-something-person goliath that ebbed and flowed around the stories of acquitted love wrought by his rustling baritone. It was simply gorgeous in concept and execution.
G-Side: It’s been a good run for the Huntington, Ala. duo of Yong Clova and ST 2 Lettaz, but their abbreviated performance following a hitchy set by rapper Cities Aviv was tinder to the flint of Yung Clova’s dissatisfaction with touring. A breakup may not be imminent, but it’d be surprising to see them deep into 2013 barring a change of heart.
Jackie Chain: In a word, awful. Apologies to those who waited in the lengthy line outside of the Hive and suffered the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd only to see a really bad imitation of Three 6 Mafia and Rick Ross. At least Nick Catchdubs’ relentless party beats presented an end-of-night payoff.
Corrosion of Conformity: Credit Mike Dean for maintaining his usual menacing bearing during Raleigh metal gods Corrosion of Conformity’s set, because Woody Weatherman and Reed Mullin tossed kayfabe aside from the outset. Both were wearing huge grins on their face as Mullin sang the cheeky slab of riffage “Psychic Vampires,” but it was Weatherman’s incredibly sunny disposition that set the tone for what had to have been one of the top sets in all of their 31 years.
Killer Mike: Like Mike himself, the Outkast associate’s flow is larger than life. The hulking rapper’s billboard of a T-shirt was a stunningly accurate portent of the music to come with it’s “Do Dope, F--- Hope” message, and his lyrics followed suit. The middle-aged rapper, still bitter from the Reagan years, punctuated his political sloganeering with a track solely dedicated to giving the middle finger to the dead president. The surprisingly light on his feet Killer Mike filled the stage masterfully, but the guest spots by Triangle emcees Joe Scudda and Big Pooh were icing on the cake.
The Roots: It was a bad sign when Eugene Cho, founder of the 17-piece disco machine Escort, ordered food from the Marriott bar 30 minutes after the scheduled start of their set as the rains came down over City Plaza. Escort would never take the stage, but the top-billed Roots crew would, and delivered a performance worthy of their legend. Their 90-minute show invoked all of their many faces, from the bedroom funk of “The Seed (2.0)” (with guitarist Kirk Douglas filling in for Cody Chesnutt’s vocals flawlessly), to a veritable jukebox of Guns N’ Roses and Incredible Bongo Band phrases.
Danny Brown: The potty-mouthed Admiral of Adderall was superb in utterly declassing Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum. His median level of nasty would have had him banned from every venue in the country in 2 Live Crew’s time, and somehow his bratty flow exacerbated every word with an aural thumb of the nose.
Sunn O))): There was inherent danger in walking into the Memorial Auditorium in the minutes before the sinister doom/noise metal band Sunn O))) took the stage. The room was as black as their own image with a smoke machine billowing forth the only discernable movement. Then the sense of danger worsened as three shadowy, robed figures took the stage and a swell of gristly black noise blew forth and barely subsided for the next two hours. Sunn O))) is lumbering and unnerving in every aspect; guitarist Greg Anderson shambled away from the amp stacks where he toiled toward the center of the stage, fell to his knees ritualistically and summoned forth the masked Attila Csihar, who unleashed an unearthly death gurgle. Their two hours moved along as slow as eternity, but that’s all right.