Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hopscotch '11 - Day Three Review

The Myxem crew awoke battered and beaten on Saturday morning; two full days of Hopscotching can really kick your ass. Regardless, this was our big day and we were going to enjoy the hell out of it. I was about thirteen years old when I first heard the Flaming Lips. I was an awkward eighth grader who listened to a lot of classic rock and watched a lot of VH1, where they played a clip of "Do You Realize??" during just about every commercial break. It was this that inspired me to check out the whole album, which led me to the Soft Bulletin, which led to Clouds Taste Metallic, and the rest is history. Today would be my first time ever seeing the Lips live, a moment that my awkward teenage years had been building up to. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. But, before that glorious moment, there was lot on the agenda: bands to see, day parties to attend, and a whole lot of walking around.

Grant and I began our day at The Pour House, where Trekky Records was having their second annual Day Dream showcase. I attended the event last year, which was the first time I ever heard the lovely Sharon Van Etten's sultry country balladeering, and had an absolute blast. This year, I only stopped in briefly to catch Midtown Dickens, a folksy four-piece from Durham, NC, and one of my personal favorite Triangle bands. In addition to highlights from their previous records Oh Yell!  and Lanterns, the quartet came armed with a handful of new songs the evolved their already pitch-perfect bluegrass sound, leaving me anticipating some new studio recordings. Midtown Dickens remains as electrifying as ever, and I will continue to catch them live at every opportunity I have.

From there, we met up with Kyle, who had been next door at Tir Na Nog enjoying some lunch and catching Family Dynamics at the Hometapes day party, and headed off to the Rosebuds & Friends' Block Party outside the Lincoln Theater. We arrived in time to get our bearings and hear the last few songs from the excellent Hammer No More The Fingers before finding some shade near the stage to settle down in. From there, we were treated to the first of two major surprises of the day: Kentucky-born cellist Ben Sollee. To say I was blown away would be an understatement; Sollee's crooning voice and top-notch cello skills were immediately captivating (especially on his unexpectedly danceable cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come") and his charming melodies were stuck in my brain as we walked off towards our next destination. I separated from the group briefly to stop off at City Plaza, where a last-ditch run of tickets from the otherwise sold out Flaming Lips show were going on sale, to wait in line with a friend who had come into town to see them. After the purchase was complete, we headed off to King's Barcade to enjoy the last band on the DiggUp Tapes day party roster, Birds of Avalon, featuring Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock. Their strange breed of psychedelic garage rock was a perfect end to the day party portion of our excursion as we headed off to City Plaza yet again.

After finally traversing the massive crowd at the entrance, we settled in with Dreamers of the Ghetto as we braced ourselves for what was sure to be an interesting experience. They were enjoyable; maybe I was just giddy to see Wayne Coyne and crew, but they hard a hard time holding my attention. Still, it sounded pretty and I didn't dislike it. Superchunk came up second, and had quite the commanding live presence. They rocked through all their classics and received no shortage of love from the crowd. Still, the giant disco ball hanging over the band was a constant reminder of the main event (frontman Mac McCaughan jokingly remarked, "We'd like to thank the Flaming Lips for letting us hang this disco ball in front of all their stuff.").

Then, the moment arrived. We stood watching the crew (and Wayne Coyne himself) set up the elaborate stage props for what felt like an eternity until the band emerged. Wayne gave us a few warnings regarding strobe lights and his space bubble ("...don't freak out...freak out when we're playing music, but this is the only part of the show where we don't want you to freak out.") Sure enough, when the band took the stage, Coyne rolled out in his plastic orb on a waiting and enthusiastic sea of festivalgoers. He finally returned to stage and came out swinging with "She Don't Use Jelly" early in the set. From there, they brought out all the essentials ("Yoshimi Pt. 1", "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song", and "Is David Bowie Dying?" were particularly notable), oceans of confetti and strange-smelling smoke, and giant laser hands (coupled perfectly with the aforementioned giant disco ball). They paid faithful tribute to the last two tracks on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and came back out for a beautiful encore of "Do You Realize??" after leading the crowd in a group chorus of "Happy Birthday" to a lucky woman in the front row. I spent the better part of a decade waiting for the day I would see these guys perform and was not let down in the slightest.

As awe-inspiring and life-affirming as the Lips were, they were just the beginning of the real festival. We wandered wide-eyed away from City Plaza toward the Lincoln Theater, where Toro Y Moi and Future Islands were slated to appear. The line stretched around the block and the club was already at capacity, so Kyle and I decided to cut our losses and join Grant at the Fletcher Opera House. It's such a wonderful twist of fate that we did, because what we saw there was truly mind-altering. Bombadil, a recently reunited quartet from Durham, absolutely took my breath away. I just fell in love with every note I heard. I wish I could aptly describe what I heard or how I felt about it, but I struggle to find words that properly encompass the raw emotion, polished sound, and dignified stage presence (they were even snappy dressers) I encountered. I was most struck by the haunting solo piano performance of "Matthew," but that's just me struggling to choose a favorite moment . Everything about Bombadil's show was gorgeous, and I wish I had just skipped the Lincoln entirely and seen the whole thing. Their new album and CD release show are in November, and you can officially color me excited. We stuck around Fletcher to see Lost in the Trees, one of my very favorite acts from the Triangle's local scene.

Having seen them countless times before, I reluctantly left their powerful set
early to check out one of my most anticipated acts of the weekend: New Jersey lo-fi punk outfit Titus Andronicus, whose most recent album The Monitor has seen constant rotation in my library. Their show was everything I hoped for, with the pulsating intensity I've come to love at punk shows as the band shredded away. The pit was violent, the floor was packed shoulder-to-shoulder, and the dude standing next to me was so drunk that he was having a hard time standing up (his friend asked me to take their picture together for blackmail and I obliged). It was perfect. Walking towards the car, I was distraught that it had all come to an end. Come hell or high water, I'll be at Hopscotch again in 2012.

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