Hopscotch is akin to the Super Bowl for us here at RDU Music. We haven’t been very active this summer because we were apparently saving ourselves for this particular weekend, to which we showed up in full-force. For more of Lan’s stunning photography work, check out the RDU Music Instagram. Otherwise, you’re stuck with my humble words (with some assistance and color commentary from Yang and Jom) for this recap of Hopscotch 2017 Day 1.
Datura @ Pour House (Day Party)
The sounds of brutal thrash/death metal that were echoing down the hallway of Pur House were a welcome treat for this music fan. From the outside, I heard the deep growls ala Cannibal Corpse which segued into high pitch banshee screams, leading me to think, “Oh cool, they must have two frontmen in this band.” So you can imagine my surprise when saw those vocals coming from one female vocalist. Punishing, brutal, energetic, and loud are just some of the superlatives I can throw to describe the set by Raleigh’s Datura. Lead singer Kellie Gates’ variation in vocals gave the rest of the band so much range as a metal act, with no song sounding exactly like the other. In the short time they played, they definitely made a fan out of me, and I look forward to seeing their next performance! [Yang]
I met up with the fellas at City Plaza where Lan and I proceeded to grab a couple Goose Island Fest Biers [4/5 stars from me. I’m a sucker for the Oktoberfest style. -Ed.] and met up with our own Jom (John Michael Buscemi) to witness the official kickoff of Hopscotch 2017 with Durham’s Skylar Gudasz.
Skylar Gudasz @ City Plaza
Skylar opened with a soulful, solo piano number before inviting the full band on stage for some more tunes with a wide variety of instrumentation, including a flute interlude. It was early so the City Plaza crowd was only starting to file in but as they did so, they were treated to Skylar’s beautiful Americana folk voice.
Extended flute interlude!
Big Thief @ City Plaza
Next up was Saddle Creek’s newest darlings, Brooklyn’s Big Thief, who brought their emotionally-raw lyrical storytelling to a rapidly growing City Plaza crowd. At one point, I looked back and the place had filled up to hear Adrianne Lenker’s wounded lyrics and strong vocals. Being such a huge fan of the early days of Saddle Creek [Mayday’s Old Blood is one of the best records I’ve ever heard. -Ed.], I was hoping that Big Thief would be the torchbearer for the label’s resurgence back into the popular zeitgeist but I think they would have fared better in a more intimate venue than City Plaza. Still, keep an eye on Big Thief as they progress.
Jom had this to add on Big Thief: There was a line in a song that gave me chills though: “The blood of the man who killed my mother with his hands, is in me.” That’s pretty fucking heavy, and it was then met with some awesome, noisy, spacy, loud jamming. But just as a song started picking it up, it would end…leaving something to be desired. As the set was coming to an end, I couldn’t help but notice how the drummer, as terrible as his posture may be, was really into all the songs. Singing along as he played. I like bands that are into their own music…shows it’s something they believe in. And if Big Thief ever starts pulling off live what they do on a recording…watch out! [Jom]
I like bands that are into their own music…shows it’s something they believe in. [Jom]
Margo Price @ City Plaza
Capping off an interestingly subdued yet stylistically cohesive opening night at City Plaza was Nashville’s Margo Price who brought her brand of traditional country to Hopscotch 2017 concertgoers. The RDU Music squad did not stay long as we had places to be [I kind of wanted Margo and her band of Berklee grad, studio musicians to…”go back to Tennessee.” -Jom] but we left a mostly full City Plaza to enjoy the Nashville starlet’s set without us.
We made a brief pitstop at Parkside where I was enjoying a delightful Three Little Pigs sandwich and the Chiefs/Patriots game until I looked at the clock and my heart skipped a beat. My second most anticipated band of the 2017 Hopscotch lineup was about to take the stage at CAM! I drained the last of my beer in two gulps, threw a $20 on the table, and made for the door like my ass was on fire while Jom stayed to enjoy his ridiculous-sized burger. [Huge patties. Big ol’ slap-that-meat-on-your-black-eye-sized patties. -Jom] As I powerwalked up to CAM, I could hear Brooklyn’s weirdest sons, Kayo Dot, opening their set.
Kayo Dot @ CAM
I have been a fan of Toby Driver’s musical collectives for a very long time [Maudlin of the Well’s Bath and Kayo Dot’s Choirs of the Eye are undeniable classics. -Ed.] so I was extremely excited to see them live for the first time. Despite a set marred by technical difficulties, Kayo Dot were still able to prove that they are on a whole other level. To the untrained ear, Kayo Dot might be considered “too” avant-garde and downright cacophonous at times but I found their live set to be a mystically moving experience. This live incarnation of the band was a 3-piece but was still able to fill the air with all manner of transcendental sounds. I was physically saddened when the set ended. Afterwards, I bought a Maudlin of the Well shirt from Toby himself at the merch booth and complimented him on his 2017 slab of solo gorgeousness for the Flenser, Madonnawhore. I then grabbed another gin drink and began waiting for what turned out to be the best set of the night.
Pallbearer @ CAM
Little Rock’s Pallbearer have been making waves in recent memory with their last couple of records under the excellent Profound Lore label but I never gave them much of a listen. Their dense and impactful live set at CAM let me know that I was woefully late to the party. Huge, sludgy riffs with some surprisingly elegant vocals for a “doom metal” band proved to be a killer combination. All I could do was bang my head and sway along with each funeral dirge as amateur photographers struggled with the lighting while bassist Joseph D. Rowland fought to get back in the game after he blew his bass cab. Seriously, the CAM stage must be cursed. Either way, I hope Pallbearer was able to see my face melt from the front row because I was viscerally affected by their adroit hooks and soaring solos. Pallbearer made a believer out of me after about a song and a half.
Pallbearer did an amazing job of fighting through the technical hiccups and overall suspect acoustics that CAM is notorious for. [Yang]
The Tills @ Pour House
Oh man! The Tills are based out of Nashville and come out to Raleigh a couple of times a year. They have yet to disappoint me, and tonight was no different. I’ll start by saying…haircuts. This year’s Hopscotch theme is haircuts. Haircuts that may or may not be infused by Schedule I substances. Haircuts that frontman of The Tills, Harry Harrison, described to me one day as “Me and Marty (the drummer) are bringing back the haircut. People get a haircut all the time, we’re not bringing the act of haircuts back…but look at my hair!” It looks like he just got some scissors and cut some bangs, cut some stuff from the sides but not all of it, got what he could off the back and balanced out the top. And the drummer, I grew up with this guy and know that he’s a free spirit. Lan described him as, “The type of guy that would pick up lonely wives on the beach.” And I can almost guarantee he’s done that before, so just picture that person. Harry and Marty are both happy dudes, living the lives they want to live and making music with energy, spirit, enthusiasm, volume..and just pure joy. Their live performance perfectly portrays that spirit. This was the first band that I saw that really brought life to the crowd. People dancing. Faces smiling while singing along with the band. And it’s hard to not feel that when Harry is flash dancing in a polka dot patterned shorts and shirt ensemble while ripping off energetic British riff after riff. There were 5 guys on stage playing their hearts out for a crowd that was sweating out their own hearts. I’ve known Marty to finish a show in his boxers, but tonight he just ended it shirtless. Singing duties were shared across the band, and the set climaxed with a stage dive from Harry. If The Tills are ever coming through town, do yourself a favor and bring some friends to their show, drink some cheap beer, and have a blast! You won’t be disappointed. Until that day though, go buy their records. Their latest album Canon is available on vinyl from their Bandcamp site. The song “Cold Ones” is a must listen. [Jom]
The type of guy that would pick up lonely wives on the beach. [Lan]
The Oh Sees @ The Basement
What venue is The Basement? Where is it? Oh, it’s in the Convention Center? Ok. Ho. Lee. Fuck. As soon as Red Hat Amphitheater shuts down for the season, shows should pick right up at “The Basement.” This was hands down the best venue of the festival. It was like an airplane hangar with a huge stage in it. It could have been loud and echoey and shitty, but the sound was mixed perfectly. Plenty of natural reverb, but nothing too washed out. Whoever put this together deserves a raise!
The Oh Sees are a band that I’ve heard all this buzz about, and apparently so had a lot of other people because the venue was packed. Overall, I was very impressed with the Oh Sees. Two drummers seemingly in a competition to see who could play harder, louder, and better kept the rhythm upbeat and energetic. One loud-ass, clear acrylic SG-shaped guitar drove riffs to new levels. This band brought it in an incredible venue that only had more in store for us the rest of the weekend.
The only downside here was the line for drinks at the venue was REALLY long. But at midnight on a Thursday, with a workday steadily creeping around the corner…I think it was for the best I didn’t have another drink. [Jom]
Torche @ CAM
A perennial favorite of mine since buying their 2005 self-titled debut for Robotic Empire, Florida’s Torche brought the ruckus with them on this particular trip to our fair City of Oaks. I have seen Torche perform live about 5 times now and this might have been my favorite set of the bunch, despite the technical difficulties that prevailed throughout the entire night at CAM. Frontman Steve Brooks had a hard time hearing anything out of his monitors and eventually decided that he would just rock the fuck out sans the ability to hear himself. He didn’t miss a beat but was noticeably irritated for a hot minute there.
Torche seemed like they were all having a good time during their high-energy set at CAM. Especially drummer Rick Smith who was playing so hard and with such zeal that stagehands had to bring out some mic-stand bases to put in front of the kit to minimize movement. Rick was undeterred. He banged so hard that bassist Jonathan Nunez even had to stand on them to keep Rick from vibrating the kit the entire 6 feet off the front of the stage. All that energy from Torche made for a supremely satisfying set.