September 18, 2015
This past September weekend was Hopscotch Music Festival’s sixth year, complete with its most eclectic line-up yet. This festival caters to all genres, all peoples, at all hours, so it’s not hard to find yourself whisked away in the musical whirlwind that downtown Raleigh turns into over the course of the three days. The festival was so well executed and streamlined that the entire event went by in a blink of an eye, with Thursday afternoon quickly (unfairly) turning into the last vibrations of Saturday night. The allure of Hopscotch is that it schedules big-time acts early in the evening at one main stage, City Plaza, where sets are over by 10 p.m., leaving attendees free to roam the beautiful city streets of our state’s capital bouncing between intimate theatre performances, or sweaty punk mosh pits in a tiny bar, or intellectual electronic spurts in upstairs clubs and sprawling art spaces. Ten of the outstanding acts are listed below as performances that are still ringing in my ears and leaving me hungry for next year’s festivities.
Ought 7 p.m. at City Plaza: “I am no longer afraid to die because that is all that I have left. I am no longer afraid to dance tonight, that is all I have left.” Toronto band Ought sneers out their cleverly chosen song “Beautiful Blue Sky” in slick defiance to the looming rainclouds that had been rearing their temperamental heads the greater part of Thursday afternoon. Singer and guitarist Tim Beeler Darcy uses his unique, dry-witted voice to soak up the rain-soaked streets amongst cascading layered melodies and drenching reverb. The natural overcast sky creates a perfect background for Ought’s lingering chords and tin-roof snare beats. The band’s sound is more mature than I had expected and results in a crisp live performance. Darcy is an excellent front-man and draws the crowd deeper into Ought’s enormous sound by waving his finger, playfully flirting with the crowd. Their set drizzles out into the crowd where people sway to every last drop. Ought’s seemingly break-out performance remains one of my favorites from the entire festival.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor 8:15 p.m. at City Plaza: City Plaza packs in tightly with knowing Godspeed fans weaving themselves together while a cellist and violinist sit upon the stage, carefully crafting a rising tension. Surging anticipation from the crowd creates a volcanic energy the band had to have felt bubbling from the stage. The word “HOPE” scribbled white, childlike handwriting haunts the overhead screen, mimicking Godspeed’s scribbling, dramatic screeches that intensify as each band member takes their place and adds to the chaos. Their sound is a crescendo salute to the surrounding heavy atmosphere as rain threatens overhead. The drumbeats are rolling thunder and the breeze picks up carrying chords across the darkened and beautiful City Plaza. Still the word “HOPE” blinks innocently in the midst of the din like resolution in an apocalypse. Settling into a staccato, steady-breath drumming, the crowd’s chittering has turned into dark-water stillness and awe before erupting with applause. With that eruption, the sky breaks and rain falls heavy while Godspeed steers recklessly with scathing bass and angered guitar as the violin changes from docile to foreboding. The rain falls harder and Godspeed mocks it. Some audience members leave the downpour but more committed fans raise their faces to breathe in every note dripping mercilessly down. The woven infrastructure of the crowd is so captivated in the instrumental set, people sway in their man-made ocean and have accepted the very near possibility of drowning in the sound. Just when I think Godspeed is going to succumb to the weather, they burst out again with relentless glory and give their supporters a beautiful nodding melody. The cold, the wind, the rain, nothing will deter these fans who have now raised their fists in the air in intimate solidarity, creating an unexpectedly serene moment. Fighting off the deluge, distortion takes to the frontline until finally the rain retreats leaving only a cool breeze in the wake of its path. Victoriously dramatic, Godspeed’s set was a moment of cleansing surrealism, an unwitting battle against Mother Nature (who would cooperate the rest of the festival) for Hopscotch itself.
Patois Counselors 11:30 p.m. at Slim’s: Patois is a much-buzzed about band full of absolutely brilliant musicians from Charlotte. Apparently Hopscotchers had heard the buzz surrounding them because I had to wait (impatiently) to enter the one-in, one-out packed-to-the-gills Slim’s. Slim’s is an absolutely perfect hole in the wall dive bar that I would fall in love with throughout the three days located on S. Wilmington Street. Singer Bo White warms up the crowd with a progressive awakening song full of directed and well-placed emotion. Josh Cotterino and Rob Doerman on synths, Patois propels themselves as a siren into the inching-together crowd. White beats a tambourine, slamming the tempo and making it his life raft. His voice is an echo amongst the distortion dial tone of the Counselors, and he runs into the crowd frantic with energy. Patois flexes their capabilities with wayward electronics, tightened drum and determined bass. One song walks itself onto the stage to perform as an entity. It is a psychedelic shadow and light fight and lasers charge at the steady bass drowning White in his own positive charges. Through all their sound, a constant variable remains: a steady, confident heartbeat. Channeling his Orchestra influences, White creates a free-jazz composition amongst the voltage and presses Patois into their best realm which is controlled insanity. Like with any fine art, you have to prove you know the rules in order to break them, and Patois shattered Slim’s Thursday night.
Museum Mouth 1 p.m. at King’s Barcade: Ever the comedic host, drummer/singer Karl Kuehn hilariously starts their set off by saying, “Excuse me, are there any photographers? Okay, when I play, I look angry or like I’m shitting, so can you please just do me a favor? I’m going to pose and my bandmates are going to pose and if you could snap a few of those good ones, we’ll get started off right.” Now that formalities are out of the way, Karl beats out a simple offering song about how much he loves people before immediately launching into a raucous set of two-minute long bursts. The three members seem to exist to play music, it so effortlessly streams out of every bone in their body. Their set is a calculated recklessness. During “Alex Impulse,” guitarist Graham High wails into a graceful spinning solo and he stands like the sound he and his friends are creating is the only thing holding him up from collapse. Karl, who I forgot to mention and probably should mention, is wearing a t-shirt depicting Ben Affleck carrying a large puppy. This attention to unique and funny details is what’s so immediately memorable about Museum Mouth in their music as well. “Drool” is a soaring melody cut short by alliterated drums. The nearly full King’s Barcade is one giant smile from person to person and someone in the crowd yells out, “We love you Karl!!” until the stage as well is one massive smile and suddenly it’s as if everyone is a friend of a friend. During “Wave Emoji” an artist makes their way up front and sketches an abstract portrait of each member. Scribbling furiously and lashing at the page one minute, then carefully shading the foreground into a composed figure, this artist has unknowingly becoming a performance art piece for the band, as each stroke of the pencil reflects Museum Mouth’s own fervent and careful grace. For the last two songs, High and bassist Kory Urban switch respective instruments, as if this band wasn’t clearly already very talented. Their hijinks and silly stage banter have won over their fans, but it’s the high quality of music they play that no one can seem to get enough of.
Natural Causes 9:30 at CAM: After multiple failed attempts to see Carrboro band Natural Causes, I finally made it to their late show at Contemporary Art Museum, or CAM. Call it serendipitous, but seeing a raw punk band in a white-walled art museum was the absolute best environment for their distorted synth rage, and I was glad I happened to miss the prior sets. The huge open art gallery allowed their sound to grow into its own undisturbed work of art. The three-piece was set up in a line formation, with the drummer centered closer than what would be standard. Speaking of the drummer, he played his heart into his set, already shirtless and sweating by the second song. The empty space comes alive with artsy noise, thick and deliberate like a messy Jackson Pollock while also conveying the layered technique of a silent Monet. The vocalist/guitarist Ben Carr breaks a string halfway into their set and asked anyone in attendance for a spare. Not finding anyone who could answer his plea, he says, “No? Fuck it.” And lunges into a Ramones straddle, shredding and executing an impressive guitar solo regardless. Simple white lights softly flicker on and off as if Natural Causes were a prized masterpiece on display. I think they could be a work of art, like a punk moment captured in time, not with acrylics but with raw energy against the endless blank canvas walls. Someone finally hands the Carr a fully-stringed guitar beautiful cream-colored Fender and aghast he says, “oh shit, I feel l like a boy in the men’s section,” and rips into another song, handling the guitar with apparent ease. This stuck out to me as a note of Natural Causes’ clear and rapid rise to relative fame. Carr has cleverly summed up his anxious growing pains as the band matures into their flourishing fan base and new record deal with Sorry State Records.
Loud Boyz 10 p.m. at Slim’s: Back to ol’ reliable Slim’s which is once again packed with a one-in, one-out wait where I wasn’t about to miss the band causing the most buzz on the Hopscotch ground floor, Loud Boyz out of D.C. Even from outside I could tell the sound bustling inside was the place I needed to be. Finally making it inside, the venue shook from pure uninhibited punk. Loud and fast and intoxicating. Heavy bass coerced a moshpit and the crowd was drenched in sweaty exaltation. The lubricated audience punched against the force of vitality coming from the demanding singer who roared into the crowd over chugging, gripping chords. Moshers slid onto the stage and propelled themselves back into their peers who caught them with pride and began a carousel of spilled beer and swirling bodies. The singer’s face lights up and in his eyes you can just tell he and the rest of the band are having the time of their lives. The bassist jumps on top of the amp– shattering shot glasses and littering beer cans onto the floor at people’s feet, but no one cares because everything is already in such flawless disarray. After the set, the audience, invigorated by the slap in the face hardcore, bustles outside for what seems like their first breath since the Loud Boyz’ set began. They are revitalizing and refreshing, and I will declare the most punk rock show I have seen in a long time. In honest punk fashion, the crowd and the band became one, enjoying the end all be all of spirit in the small bar. Everyone took care of one another and celebrated each other’s individuality, an extravagant camaraderie.
Le1f 12 a.m. at King’s Barcade: New York rapper and producer, Le1f, puts the sass in badass. Adorned with a New York Fashion Week-worthy hat, slick with oiled skin, Le1f’s arms snake exoticly on the dimly lit stage. Half drag show, half rap, Le1f commands to the DJ behind him, “turn up the beat I’m feeling hot & cute” which makes the incredibly brimming audience flare into an uproar, as if to agree that they were also feeling hot and cute. Although I’m unsure of the capacity level for King’s Barcade, which is an upstairs venue, the entire show had the floor bouncing. People danced close and provocatively, spilling their cocktails and their inhibitions onto the floor. During each song I was sure the floor would crack and we’d all tumble into Neptune’s, the venue below. Leif sips seductively on his lyrics and flicks them out to the adoration of the crowd. He is absolutely mesmerizing and brinks on royalty.
Susto 1 p.m. at Stephenson Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre: The Indie Carolina Showcase Day Party took place outside at the Little Raleigh Theatre right next to the Raleigh Rose Garden, an exquisite piece of land off NC State’s campus, which is full of all types of trimmed and blooming roses. An Americana folk band from Charleston, SC, Susto eases the crowd into their sweet sounds by choosing “County Line” as their first song. A complimenting love song to the peaceful Carolina day. Children dance carefree to the cruising, country vibes. Like Southern gentlemen, they express admiration of Raleigh’s many attractions, before striking into “Black River Gospel” which as luck would have it is a soft, soothing midday sermon amongst the cedar trees that line the back of the stage. Playing outside in an informal environment allows the band to focus on the carrying vocal melodies and sunrising guitars that have been keeping the rain at bay. They play a working class, Southern-bred tune called “Black Jesus,” Singer/guitarist Justin Osborne’s emotional, gravelly voice comes through as an alt-Americana soul session, singing the blues of being poor and watching the world change too quickly through a Southern drawl. Ending on the classic hit, “Friends, Lovers, Ex Lovers: Whatever,” which provides opportunities for the band to really shine in vocals and the sunny, magical composition between guitars. The drumming is a sprawling cruise-control down a setting highway horizon. Fading like a lost memory, the band paddles downstream to the poetically misunderstood love song “Dream Girl” dedicated to the heart and the chorus ripples out “I can’t stay here no more, I can’t stay here no more.”
X 7 p.m. at City Plaza: Legendary Los Angeles punk band, X, was the driving force of Saturday night’s City Plaza show. X was a huge influence in the first wave punk scene and have consistently proven themselves as powerhouses in genres ranging from folk to rock. On stage, the fabled band are confident and sleek, ripping through their songs like the professional badasses they are. Their signature sound and voice are unbelievable live, they are so attuned to their instruments and each other that they are an unstoppable vehicle. They easily stand their ground as one of the biggest and best punk bands of all time even in 2015, song after song. Expert guitars and guzzling melodies crash into an exuberant crowd that are fully aware they’re witnessing a timeless band and experiencing a moment most thought they’d never experience.
Waxahatchee 12 a.m. at Fletcher Opera House: Entering into the pin-drop silent auditorium, every seat filled is bewitched by young singer songwriter, Katie Crutchfield, hanging on her every last strum. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and perched calmly on a simple stool, her angsty words float powerfully among the auditorium. The only sound the audience can attempt to utter is feverish applause after each song, otherwise completely enchanted. A hit off ‘Cerulean Salt’, “Swan Dive” reverberates defiantly, filling the empty space on the huge formal stage. Expertly, Crutchfield lets her captivating voice hover like a settling fog in the dark opera house. Crutchfield is met with pure awe and jaw-dropped devotion from the crowd. It’s hard to think of another lone singer who could achieve such silence and reverence at midnight, at a festival, in a major city, on a Saturday night. Her sincerity is breathtaking, coming to a head when she soulfully covers Lucinda Williams’ “Go Back to Greenville.” Soothing out a tangible narrative to the secrets and fears we all hold close in our hearts and within our own walls, Crutchfield is an honest and raw emotional weight. Her performance was poignant and shook me to my core.