I think I finally figured out the key to surviving my…6th?…Hopscotch festival: Leave early. Not like “early bird special” early but maybe early enough that you can get to bed by about 1am because you have at least 2 more days of drinking, walking, and rocking ahead of you. I met up with JOM outside of CAM after Torche finished their great set on Day 1 and he was like, “I have to work in the morning.” Say no more, fam. You need a ride?
After a solid 7 hours of sleep (and another 4 of laying around on the couch), I was feeling good and was ready to head back to City Plaza to start Day 2 of Hopscotch 2017. Little did I know that I was going to stumble upon RDU Music’s hands-down favorite set of the festival later in the evening.
Birds of Avalon @ City Plaza
Kicking off Night 2 was Raleigh’s own Birds of Avalon. You might recognize some of their members from Kings and Garland. They brought a rollicking rock ‘n’ roll set fueled by dual drummers to City Plaza. Everyone had a mic so there was a nice, varied vocal approach to individual songs. I could have done without the extended, rambling jam session at the end but was overall impressed with Birds of Avalon’s rockitude.
The Make-Up @ City Plaza
Up next was a band whose reunion tour was lost on most of the unsuspecting City Plaza crowd, D.C.’s The Make-Up. About 8 seconds into their opening number, enigmatic frontman Ian Svenonius jumped into the crowd and commenced to get weird with bird noises all up in the faces of Raleigh’s musically hungry. They had an MC5 sort of feel…if MC5 were emotionally disturbed people. I will say that their glitter-encrusted mauve suits were 10/10.
Our very own Yang had this to say about the band: I didn’t know much about The Make-Up when they were announced on the bill. The little I heard of them would not prepare me for what my ears and eyes were about to see. To this very day, I still can’t figure out if my confusion borders on “like” or “dislike.” On one hand, The Make-Up brought a ferocious amount of energy to their set. The crowd, like me, was also a tad bit skeptical but they eventually took to the DC band after the first couple of songs. I would bet that frontman Ian spent more time in the crowd or balancing on the barrier and photographers’ shoulders than the actual stage. Songs were frantic and fast, and if you’re a fan of the incoherent ramblings of a mental patient in between songs, then Christmas came early. I spent a good majority of this set tapping my finger on my chin trying to process what exactly my eyes were seeing, especially at the point when he put the microphone in his mouth and began bellowing like a wild animal. Like a David Lynch film, I applauded the effort and presentation but left confused and baffled. Also, I think they set the record for saying “baby” most times in a song that wasn’t R&B slow jam. [Yang]
So many types of pills…so little time to do them.
Run the Jewels @ Red Hat Amphitheater
I had “offhandedly” mentioned to some co-workers that I was going to be covering Hopscotch again this year and the subject of Run the Jewels came up. One of the guys was hella stoked but I, being generally too-cool-for-school in addition to a pretentious music snob, mentioned that I wasn’t really into “modern” hip-hop. [I’m all about the GZA. -Ed.] RTJ made me take that viewpoint and stick it in my ass.
We trekked the short distance over to Red Hat Amphitheater and met up with soon-to-be #personalboy and friend of the program, Greg, where we queued up to see RTJ straight burn that motherfucker to the ground, which they verbally intimated that they were planning to do, early in the set. They definitely had the tools to do so but I was hoping that they wouldn’t literally do that. Some of us live here. But in a metaphorical sense, holy shit. By about the 3rd song in the set, I was bobbing along with the rest of the crowd, having the time of my life. Speaking of the crowd, could Raleigh BE any whiter? I heard a Nantucket-Reds-wearing fella behind me proclaim, “Killer Mike is, like…the hypest dude.” Truer words were never spoken, random white guy.
Killer Mike is, like…the hypest dude.
Future Islands @ City Plaza
In what would turn out to be the worst decision we made during Hopscotch 2017, we left RTJ early to make it back to City Plaza in time for Future Islands. Now I know that we here at RDU Music have been known to be…assholes from time to time, but Jesus Fucking Christ, Future Islands. I don’t know who gave you a record deal but your frontman wishes he were Morrissey but is actually a goat wearing the skin of a man. And not in a cool, death metal sort of way. More like, he just sounds like a goat. And not in a cute, Shakira kind of way. All bitchiness aside, FI is actually a pretty good band but they are not for me, despite the HUGE crowd they draw wherever they play. Godspeed, Future Islands. I hope you enjoy your money and fame without being too offended by little fish like me.
Har Mar Superstar @ The Basement
There are defining, watershed moments in a person’s musical life journey that stick with them forever. Personally, I bounced around from Jane’s Addiction to Type O Negative to Converge before I settled in for the long haul. Little did I know that I was about to have my musical worldview shaken by a Jay Sherman lookalike from Minneapolis.
I knew that Har Mar Superstar was opening for one of my all-time favorite rock bands, the Afghan Whigs, but I was perplexed when he wasn’t playing the same venue as Greg Dulli and co. at Hopscotch. Instead, the powers-that-be decided to put Har Mar into a goddamn airplane hangar underneath the Raleigh Convention Center. It turned out to be a good thing that the festival organizers did so because there is no other meeting space in town capable of containing Har Mar’s raw sexuality and musical prowess.
Har Mar remained little more than a novelty in my mind for the last 20ish years. I was unaware that he had the voice of an angel and the sex appeal of a young Burt Reynolds. He is The Critic meets Neil Diamond. He is so unassumingly soulful that he could replace Justin Timberlake on any stage, any night of the year, and no one would be the wiser until they were smoking their post-coital cigarette.
Har Mar made his entrance wearing a wide-lapelled leisure suit and immediately commanded the crowd’s attention with his bravado and silky smooth R&B stylings. I couldn’t help but notice the crowd’s incredulous reaction. Some of us (the entire RDU Music extended family included) were blown away by Sean’s skill and showmanship while others were closer to, “Who is this weirdo making me horny?” Either way, Har Mar commanded the attention of an entire airplane hangar for a solid 45 minutes.
Har Mar’s band was a sight in and of themselves. They were all dressed in satin jackets and consisted of who I can only assume was the Tobias Funke on drums and Desaparecidos’s own Denver Dalley on guitar. They maintained an unaffected posture while Har Mar made the first 6 rows’ nether-regions wet until key moments in the set where they would join Har Mar in some minimal yet strangely effective choreography. It was magical. I lost track of myself until the slag next to me spilled her drink on me for the third time. Honestly, I was unfazed since I knew she had a good reason: She was in a hysterical fit of sexual torture brought on by one of our generation’s greatest showmen. I didn’t want it to end but I knew that the rest of the world needed to experience Har Mar for themselves as well. What kind of man would I be if I kept him for myself? This bird was not meant to be caged. Fly free, you magnificent bastard. Fly far.
After the smoke cleared, I did some amateur Googling of our Sean Tillmann and fell down the deepest rabbit hole of his superb videos and live performances. Sadly, I also stumbled upon Pitchfork’s reviews of his early 2000s albums. We’re talking 5.8, 2.0, and 1.9. Now I firmly grasp that Pitchfork’s writers have their heads so far up each others’ asses that they have ceased to comprehend the meaning of “fun,” but Christ, can anyone be so wrong? [American voters circa 2016 spring to mind. -Ed.] For the love of all that is good and pure, PLEASE don’t base your life on Pitchfork. You will end up alone wondering where your life went wrong.
Thou @ Pour House
The tease of any kind of metal was a highlight for me this Hopscotch so I ventured to Pour House to catch Baton Rouge’s Thou. There was a staggering lack of metal artists on this year’s bill, so anything heavy was a welcome treat. Vocalist Bryan Funck’s presence was felt on stage, even though the fellow never seemed to move or blink. Gripping the mic stand and holding that pose like a statue, he growled and screamed with some of the best doom metal vocalists out there. I’ll be the first to admit that after 4 songs, the rest of the show began to feel repetitive. [Yang]
Whores. @ Pour House
Whores. were definitely in my top three bands to see on the bill, so you can imagine my worry when lead singer, Christian, approached the stage on crutches and left knee in a brace. Apparently, Christian had blown out two ligaments in the same knee. If you’ve seen Whores. before, you’ll know that they play with a shit-ton of energy, so I was naturally worried that this show might suffer due to his injury. Spoiler Alert: I was wrong! Whores. brought the ruckus and the entire RDU Music staff cannot wait to catch them again at Local 506 in December with the ’68. [Yang]
The Afghan Whigs @ Lincoln Theater
To be perfectly honest, the main reason I bought Hopscotch tickets this year was that I heard Afghan Whigs were playing. My buddy Jeremy played me Gentlemen for the first time longer ago than I can remember. Ever since then, I have followed Greg Dulli’s every move: the Twilight Singers, Amber Headlights, the Gutter Twins. It may only seem like it, due to my age and the ages of the performers, but with the recent influx of bands from my youth reuniting, the Afghan Whigs may very well take the crown for Best Reunion Albums with 2014’s Do to the Beast and this year’s In Spades. [Surgical Steel by Carcass is another top contender. -Ed.] Needless to say, I was more than stoked to see them perform live for the first time in my life.
Greg and co. witchcrafted a sinister atmosphere with their stage setup as illuminated pyramids and skeleton etchings on their amps intermingled with dead priests and demons while the band burned through a setlist comprised heavily of their two most recent albums. Non-festival gigs on this current tour consisted of nearly twice the songs and included many fan favorites from the Afghan Whigs’ initial heyday but I was happy with anything they played as this was the culmination of roughly 20 years of fandom for me.
A couple of set highlights were the cover of the Twilight Singers’ “Teenage Wristband” off of 2003’s stunning Blackberry Belle in addition to a guest vocal performance by tourmate walking Spanish Fly, Har Mar Superstar for “Demon in Profile,” which Har Mar also covered on his recent EP, Personal Boy. Greg switched over to piano in order to let Har Mar’s light shine for that particular track.
The Afghan Whigs closed the night with “Into the Floor,” the appropriately-themed closing track to In Spades, setting a melancholy tone that told me that the band had to be moving on to the next stop of their tour. But at least they left me this excellent performance so that “I’ll always remember you this way…”