After dealing with some car problems, we set out again to take in the vast amount of sets that Hopscotch Festival had to offer. After this second day, it’s become clear that Hopscotch is no ordinary festival. Aside from the sprawling venue arrangement (which has become increasingly common), the crowds themselves are different to your general festival crowds. Rather than the roving masses of the unwashed in pursuit of sex, drugs and rock and roll, Hopscotch attendees seem solely transfixed on the tunes. Whether reverent for the solemn acts or energetic for those that demanded it, crowds were by and large respectful (except for you, girl that kept yelling for “Car” during Built to Spill’s set, stop doing that).
I never got the chance to see The Books live. It’s not like they were touring monsters, but they played enough shows that I definitely should’ve taken the chance to catch them before their swan song. Alas, I didn’t so this year’s announcement that they were calling it quits was particularly saddening. Their dissolution might’ve been a bit more depressing if not for Zammuto rising from the ashes. Finally catching a full set from that latter band, was enough to partially stay the bad feelings associated with missing out on one of your favorites–forever. The setlist, expectedly, drew nearly entirely from Zammuto’s self-titled record from earlier this year, with the notable exception of “Classy Penguin”. Material both new and old functioned well with muscular bass playing and a generally fleshed out live sound, including some incredibly nimble drumming courtesy of Sean Dixon. “Zebra Butt”’s playful computer sound samples and the childlike instructional video enthusiasm of “The Greatest Autoharp Solo of All Time” showed a group of immensely talented musicians kicking back with a smile on a stage that would soon house some of the greatest bands of all time. They seemed more than grateful to be there and put on an inviting, intriguing set for those that chose to find their way out early. Zammuto mentioned that they usually perform with the accompaniment of a projection screen, but it wasn’t sorely missed. Seeing such incredible musicians have so much fun on stage was certainly enough.
Built To Spill
It’s pretty much inevitable that a band with a catalog as storied and diverse as Built To Spill is going to draw some song requesting hecklers, but there was one girl who outdid them all. Yelling for singles all night and squealing in utter joy when Doug Martsch and friends deigned to play them is an, uhh, interesting way to go about seeing one of your favorite bands, but you can’t blame the girl really. I mean, the opening strums of “Else”, the fuzz-laden solos on “Gone”, the immortal opening lines to “Car”, there were so many moments that reduced me to the same puddle of squealing nonsense. These dudes are absolute rockstars, even in their rapidly advancing years, the staying power of the tracks from these earlier albums (and even up through the tracks drawn from You In Reverse) is apparent when a crowd of North Carolinians is shouting along every word. Doug Martsch thanked the crowd after nearly every song, but it was they who needed thanking. Though just a random festival set, it had all the feel of a celebration of their storied 20+ year career. If this is what they can do on a given night, it’s no wonder they’re held in such high esteem.
Jesus and Mary Chain
Based on reports from Jesus and Mary Chain’s first reunion sets at this year’s South By Southwest, I had tempered expectations for their slot headlining Hopscotch on Friday night. I figured, worst comes to worst, they were going to play some of the greatest songs ever written, even if their live performance wasn’t up to their heyday standards. I’m not sure if some dramatic transformation occurred over the past six months since those shows or if those initial impressions were just incredibly off base, but the Reid brothers sounded impactful as you might have expected, even if it is a bit jarring to see Jim with graying hair and William’s expanded waistline. As the band tore through Psychocandy and Darklands standouts “Taste Of Cindy” and “Happy When It Rains”, it was clear that despite their age and time spent inactive, they remain outstanding musicians. Though the squalls of noise and pummeling force that legendarily marked early performances were notably absent, when “Just Like Honey” kicked in all was right. Attention was rapt, voices were raised. It was just one of those moments that you live for in live music. A celebration of the past, sure, but a life-affirming one for those not able to catch these songs the first time around.
Yo La Tengo
Save for the main stage acts and one particular metal act, the festival’s most regarded act was probably Yo La Tengo. Given the blessing of putting on their own show in Raleigh’s biggest room, Yo La booked the super talented pair of Glenn Jones and Chris Corsano to support them for the entire evening, playing their own sets (which sadly, I missed most of due to The Jesus and Mary Chain’s headlining set) and supporting Yo La Tengo on “Don’t Have to Be So Sad” and an epic, 10+ minute jam of “Little Honda” to close their set. James, Ira, and Georgia kept the unique surprises coming too, whether it be three new songs, a ten minute cover of Neil Young’s “Time Fades Away” to open the show, double twelve string guitars on “Black Flowers”, or a gorgeous closing rendition of Big Star’s “Take Care”. The band’s live show will almost always be a highlight of any festival, and they were a very welcome addition to Hopscotch. Ira expressed his ire for festivals, but mentioned that Hopscotch was “great”, and I’m inclined to agree.
— Ryan Nichols
Tearing myself away from conversation with a bouncer who proudly displayed full tattooed sleeves of Star Wars characters (they looked awesome), I dashed into Zola Jesus just as she began, catching her band building up to her entrance. Exhausted from the past 48 hours I elected to take advantage of the elevated, seated perspective the bar’s balcony offered. I’d seen Niki Danilova’s Zola Jesus project thrice before, most recently at San Francisco’s Outside Lands, so I essentially knew what to expect.
Far from withdrawn, Danilova had a penchant for massive performances, thrashing about — always barefoot — with whatever tools she needed for each song, building her experimental classical vibes into explosive live moments. I was interested in the massive difference of this setting from any I’d seen her in – always large stages, with large audiences. Tucked away in a bar, though it was admittedly packed to the brim, Danilova had a far more intimate venue to work with.
She made great use of it, tearing through equally irresistibly danceable and awe inspiring renditions of songs primarily from Conatus. At one point, as she leapt into the audience, I could hear her voice growing closer and wondered where she might be, as she suddenly materialized next to me, small in stature but flooded in charisma, getting in everyone’s faces as she belted out her grand wails. The show ended much as her Outside Lands appearance, with Danilova bidding the audience goodbye as her band played her off, only to dash back on stage and crash the cymbals repeatedly with her hands until they combined with the feverish crowds screams into a cacophonous mass of sound. Repeated trick or no, it was still massive.
— Chase McMullen
As soon as Zola Jesus had left the stage roadies emerged, increasing the stage’s bass potential and laying wet towels about the stage for easy access. In short, it was obvious it was time for some R.A.P. Music. Mike entered, immediately barraging the crowd with “Big Beast”, spewing his venomous attacks with even more tenacity than on the recorded version. Then he paused, sauntering about the stage to take in his crowd, reaching out to the frontmost rows to shake hands and express his excitement over appearing tonight, and his appreciation of his audience. Needless to say, what makes a great rap show is the MC’s ability to host, to entertain his audience through more than simply his verses, inevitably drowned out somewhat in a live setting. In this regard, Killer Mike was an absolute master.
Moment by moment, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, dragging his girlfriend on stage to jokingly parade her around (“This is so you know your favorite rapper ain’t on some average shit!”), and generally creating a genuine feeling that he truly loved his audience, emotionally investing himself throughout the night. Upon dropping the beat for the massive “Reagan”, Mike began talking about the politics of the song, leading the crowd in a near endlessly repeated refrain of, “Fuck Reagan! ….and, still, fuck Reagan!” Ending the song, he paused, going through a portion acapella, “for anyone who thinks I just put Obama in the song because it rhymes with some simple shit,” then, indicating his shirt, “I bought this today, it says, ‘Do dope, fuck hope!’…and I’m not saying don’t vote, please, don’t say that. I’m saying if you’re going to vote, make sure the mother fucker you’re voting for is going to do something for you. Because, you know, if you rely on hope, you don’t know if that’s going to pan out, but a little dope will always get ya high.”
Mike also performed an emotional rendition of “Willie Burke Sherwood”, explaining how he had been raised by his grandparents, how both had passed away, and that he’d written the track for his grandfather. Following his first verse, he stopped and, half laughing, said, “I’m never ready when I play this damn thing live, I always start to cry.” The audience cheered louder than ever before in support of continuing, and Mike, clearly moved, laughed, “I love and I hate you motha fuckas right now.” The rest of the set was equally irresistible, including a surprising rendition of his verse from OutKast feature “The Whole World”, an appearance by Rapper Big Pooh, and, finally, “Kryptonite” as a closer. As he reached this song, Mike warned, “For anyone out there who’s a lady, may be smaller, or for any of our brothers and sisters who may be in a wheelchair, watch out for them…because this song tends to make motha fuckas tear shit up,” leaping right into the front of the audience as the moshing hit its peak, I was directly in front of him as the crowd bum rushed his location, getting squashed between the MC and his fans — the truly ideal ending to a flawless performance.
The Mountain Goats
To end my night on Saturday, I headed over to Fletcher Opera Theatre to catch what seemed to be the tail end of John Darnielle’s evening of performing heavy metal covers on piano, in addition to playing rare Mountain Goats songs. When I arrived, I learned I missed the metal covers, but Darnielle was deep in the heart of his rarities set. So his diehard audience was treated to songs about Mario, wrestlers, and knowing the unfairly treated kid in your high school. But the evening’s true treats were the specialties. You can see John play songs on his acoustic guitar anytime, but rarely is there piano (and rarer still a three piece set of backing vocals). The vocalists especially helped on singing All Eternals Deck standout “High Hawk Season”, which may be the only time that song has been performed in its original form. After John left the stage at 1:55 in the morning, he came back almost immediately after and declared a hard curfew at 2am, saying they’d be shut down, so he’d only do one more with the house lights up. Darnielle announced the next tune as “not rare whatsoever” and sat down at the piano to sing “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton”, sending audiences home from Hopscotch night two with a little bit more satanism on their side.