The first night of Hopscotch was, as expected, a complete sensory overload. There was no easing into it, no lightly attended, laid back shows. After a year’s hiatus, downtown Raleigh was once again a whirlwind of awesome, a cacophony of brilliance around every turn.
My only partially plotted out schedule allowed me some free time early in the evening to wander in and out of several shows featuring bands I had never listened to before. The first stop of the night was a visit to the New Raleigh sponsored venue, Slims, where Super Vacations was playing. The Norfolk-based band delivered crowd pleasing surf-rock psych tunes for a solid 30 minute set. I was pleasantly surprised by their performance; with a sound akin to The Kinks or 13th Floor Elevators, they had no trouble winning over the crowd, though the limited dance area and 9pm time slot made it clear this was a band meant to kickstart the Hopscotch party.
The Pour House alley
A quick look at the Deja Mi Hopscotch calendar (if you don’t have this app, you’re missing out because it’s already proven to be a fabulous festival tool) pointed us towards Kings to catch Lower Dens. Described in their Hopscotch blurb as “murky and experimental,” this band from Baltimore somehow has missed my radar, despite having opened for the likes of The Walkmen and Future Islands. Their performance was nothing less than riveting, featuring the haunting vocals of Jana Hunter and a slow-building swell of drone pop. I managed to get right up at the stage for a quick photo, but found myself so mesmerized I completely abandoned my friend and stayed there for the remainder of the act.
I figured it was going to be hard to top that show, but eventually made my way to The Pour House, where I intended to catch one of my most anticipated double features of the fest: Weekend and Cold Cave. I was already sold on these two acts, but when Greg Lowenhagen referred to the line up as what may be “the best one-two punch of the festival,” I knew I was in for a treat. Weekend, for lack of better euphemisms, pretty much melted my face off. Their distortion-heavy, dark and pounding lo-fi, distant vocals, and understated stage presence truly wowed those in attendance.
A good portion of the Weekend crowd were early arrivers to see Cold Cave. One of the more highly touted club acts this year, Cold Cave had The Pour House packed to capacity. Sporting a black jacket, tight pants and zippered boots, lead vocalist Wesley Eisold highlighted his hardcore background by screaming into and shaking his mic around, falling to his knees mid-verse, and jumping atop speakers, while his fellow bandmate Dominick Fernow danced in a jolting, spastic fashion about the stage. The combination was intoxicating; the audience was a frenzy of dancing that rivaled last year’s Future Islands set. Recorded, Cold Cave brings to mind a modern, darker version of New Order, but live they reminded me of The Faint. This was probably the most high-energy show of the night, as evidenced by the sweat-soaked audience members who jumped on stage to dance beside the indefatigable performers.
I woke up this morning with my ears still ringing, tired, aching legs, and completely ready to tackle day two.
On Thursday, the first night of Hopscotch 2011, Downtown Raleigh made a lot of noise. Noise in the way of bands and noise in the way of the realization that Raleigh is becoming a musical metro mecca. The Hopsctoch 2011 lineup is key in this realization. The groups assembed on the three day bill aren't your heavily popular bands that fall in the typical festival category. They are bands that are either rising outside of the mainstream or have a loyal following for decades, yet again outside of the fray. This makes Hopscotch special and in turn, makes Raleigh special as a musical metropolis.
Night one for me was filled with a lot of noise in the musical sense, with a little elegance in between. As I mentioned in my Hopscotch Recommendations, most of my schedule falls on the quieter folk end of the spectrum or the agressive or flamboyant electro-noise end.
Rhys Chatham's Guitar Trio
Steve Gunn opened Hopsctoch 2011 with some unbelievable guitar work. I've never seen someone, mid-set, slap off a capo on an acoustic guitar to change chords/pitch and keep plucking as fast as Gunn was at Fletcher Hall last night. It's hard to believe that someone of Gunn's young age would have such a rich understanding of song structure and composition. Gunn's gorgeous guitar hit the heart in the right place and put feeling into the first show of this year's festival.
Following Steve Gunn was Rhys Chatham's Guitar Trio recreation featuring 11 other guitarist, all of which are playing Hopscotch 2011 with their own bands. The one chord that they each repeat at slightly different rhythms and octaves built in a crescendo that culminated with a peak of sound that could barely be held in by Fletcher's four walls.
After the first half of Chatham's set, I rushed over to see a few songs of the DIY surf-punk crew PC Worship at Slim's. The very young band had quite a young following as well and bounced between surf rock to aggressive metal. Both youthful and well composed, PC Worship put on a very energy-filled show for the group up front banging their heads quite aggressively. Lots of noise.
The noise was followed by two elegant sets by both Tender Fruit and Cheyenne Marie Mize at Tir Na Nog. The two bands, both with women singers with beautiful voices, were a great combo at the Irish pub which saw a nice size crowd for both sets.
The evening ended with another combo that literally ended the night with a party that rivaled anything I saw at Hopscotch 2010. Between the dark, bass-led rock of Weekend and the energetic New Wave of Cold Cave, The Pour House was full of noise that had almost every single person moving much more than they ever thought they could to such noise-based bands. It's quite hard to describe Weekend's sound in text form but the wall of sound that emitted from the bassist (with 8 pedals), guitarist and drummer tested my ear drums (note to self: ear plugs please). I have listened to their album for months but it was nothing like seeing this sound in person.
Chayenne Marie Mize
Chayenne Marie Mize
From the moment Cold Cave pushed a button on their synthesizer to the moment they walked off the stage (for the second time after their encore), the music was full of beats that translated into a large amount of fist pumping, dancing and overall happiness from every person in The Pour House. I looked around at one moment and it was so pleasant to see so many people smiling and dancing to a band whose music is dark and brooding. Regardless of the tone, the two main members flailed across the stage in militarist poses through their set. They jumped on the speakers, pushed each other and swung their arms around quite aggressively. At moments, it seemed at their body motions were the movements making the music, rather than the machines. Waking up this morning, Cold Cave was the last music I played yesterday and it was what I listened to for the first hour of Friday. When you want to listen to a band the first thing the next morning, it means they put on a hell of a show. I could stop now and be satisfied with Hopscoth 2011, but I'm not going to...there's too much amazing stuff left to do.
One more thing - my one non-band highlight of Night One was seeing Grayson Currin, Hopscotch Curator, racing around on his newly acquired, yet previously used, bicycle. A man on a mission, Grayson stopped for a very quick chat outside of The Pour House between Oneohtrix Point Never and Cheyenned Marie Mize. He was in a rush, but happily so. He asked the doorman about the crowd inside and then I told him about the packed crowd next door for OPN. He jumped on his bike humbly saying "Wow. This is weird man, all these people seeing all of the bands I like, like noise bands, wow, weird......." Another testament about how Hopsctoch is creating a niche of music festival that isn't available anywhere else in the United States right now.
Whitney Ayres Kenerly
As someone who is still learning my way around Raleigh, and building my network of friends and acquaintances, Hopscotch seemed like the perfect opportunity to hit the ground running. Unfortunately, I – not anticipating that I would be literally running around all night – wore heels. Ankle booties may be ridiculously cute, but my feet will probably be in agony for the next week.
Beginning the night withPC Worship at Slim’s was the equivalent of announcing someone’s arrival with a gong. Loud and fast music by a band with an apparent penchant for green wigs causing bearded hipster bros to nod along with a sort of pensiveness that I’ve always found ironic in the face of punk – Hopscotch is here.
I was curious to see Oneohtrix Point Never, the more cerebral project of Daniel Lopatin, of electronic duo, Ford and Lopatin. Some people might not like just watching a guy on stage with his computer, stoically playing ambient music, but it’s an opportunity to hear the progressions build and bloom out into a space. The Pour House has the perfect acoustics for this type of sound, and if this show wasn’t so early on during the festival – when there was still so much excited chatter in the audience and people were still relatively sober – it could have been incredibly successful as a trance show.
White Collar Crime was packed for pulsating-synth-loving art rock group, Xiu Xiu. Bumping into Sam Herring of Future Islands, he mentioned that this was a favorite band of his, and with both bands’ mutual post-punk influenced styles and flair for drama, I could see why. I wanted to feel more of a relaxed dance flow, but the audience was a bit tepid. There was still some sort of subdued nervous energy in the crowd, which only loosened enough to allow dancing for a few moments.
Is Raleigh just really tame? It’s not that I don’t take music seriously, but when I’m at a show I like to get a bit more rowdy than the occasional shimmy or rhythmic forward lunge. Ultimately, I felt incapable of “being in the moment”, stopped paying attention to the music, and started noticing that one of the band members looked like Jasper from Twilight.
My prayers for a major energy boost were answered with Cold Cave, the new-wave meets hardcore meets synthpop project of Wesley Eislod. Dressed in leather jackets and thrashing about on stage with the intensity of caged animals, the band members managed to seem both obsessively passionate and yet too cool to care. Eislod apparently has a reputation for being a heartbreaker, which became instantly obvious to me. Tall and brooding, crouching down into the crowd while screaming into the microphone, then erratically whipping around the microphone and circling the stand, occasionally glimpses of his chest tattoo visible through his monochromatic ensamble of black – I started to fall in love with him. I’m sure in high school he was the weird quiet kid who was either the source of several whispered misnomers of “goth” and “dangerous”, or just a fanatic band geek; but there on that stage he was the dark and mysterious God of charisma.
As I walked home (now carrying my heels in hand as several holes crept up my tights) I thought about the how much more I appreciated Cold Cave’s music now, and the allure of bad boys. I thought about how seeing musicians perform live gives more complex perspective on music. I thought about the performances yet to come over the rest of the festival, and my hopes for a rowdier Raleigh, flatter shoes, and more musical epiphanies.