Cousins - Raleigh Times Outdoor Stage
I got things started off at around 12:30 the final day, ready to kick things off at the wonderful outdoor stage right next to Raleigh Times, a wonderful beer bar that had outside tables and open doors that left the music waft right in.
First up was Cousins is a Triangle-area alt. country band that actually reminded me a bit of local favorites American Gun, although a bit more twangy and Southern rock-oriented (at one point I thought they were going to dive into the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post”). I hadn’t heard of them before and couldn’t find much information online, but really enjoyed the band’s electric, near punk rock charge combined with well-crafted tunes.
Lowland Hum - Raleigh Times Outdoor Stage
A Greensboro duo with a very Civil Wars-type vibe (all slow simmering romantic longing and tempestuous divvying up of the lead/supporting vocal parts) that were also pretty good. They had an interesting twist that I’d never seen before--explaining that they liked to listen to records while reading the lyrics in the liner notes, they offered little pseudo-hymnal books for listeners to follow along with, provided they return them afterwards.
Some Army - Deep South Bar
Another Triangle band, although one I was actually pretty stoked to see. They played a few shows in Columbia awhile back that I missed, but heard a bit of buzz about. Some Army is a pretty straightforward indie rock band, but one that loves the propulsive, sad-sack anthems of The National and the soaring choruses of early My Morning Jacket or a more contained, less overtly Brit. rock Coldplay. The band’s arrangements are also rarely straightforward, moving from folky harmonicas to psychedelic leads and layered keyboard arrangements, all undergirded by a rhythm section which is the key to the momentum and big moments that the band seems to effortlessly offer up. One of my favorite sets of the festival.
Doug Paisley - Raleigh Times Outdoor Stage
Paisley is an interesting folk singer/songwriter from Canada who a friend tipped me off to a few weeks before the festival. Although more alt. country-ish on record, live he has a quiet, soulful vocal presence and tightly wound guitar passages that served as a vehicle for his sharply observational songs. Think Guy Clark meets James Taylor, with a touch of Tim Easton thrown in good measure.
Mandolin Orange - Raleigh Times Outdoor Stage
This Gillian Welch and David Rawlings-style Americana duo (again, from the Triangle) has been putting out increasingly steady records over the last few years, building on the initial strengths of their guitar/fiddle/mandolin simplicity and their organic blend of two very different vocal timbres. As the songs have gotten more and more impressive, so have the arrangements, and the group now gets a full backing band and some help from a lead guitarist, creating a full-bodied sound that doesn’t detract from their original strengths, much like Welch and Rawlings were able to do on Soul Journey. My favorite moment of the set was a new tune called “Adam’s Song,” which was written in response to the Amendment One battle over gay marriage North Carolina recently faced.
Spiritualized - City Plaza
Spiritualized is, quite simply, a great band to see live. Mixing the psychedelic excess of the Polyphonic Spree with the rough and tumble melodic beauty of Velvet Underground, J. Spaceman’s rollicking and tumultouous recording and performing adventure is a fairly unique experience. Their set was a triumphant way to close out the City Plaza main stage for Hopscoth 2013.
Ryan Gustafson & the Dead Tongues - Memorial Auditorium
Gustafson has long been a folk-rock staple in the Triangle scene, and in the past I’d had him pegged as more of an alt. country guy, but this performance, featuring his local all-star cast in the Dead Tongues, had me thinking more of Lou Reed (either that or I was just on a kick where I compared everything I heard to Reed and/or the Velvets) and Bob Dylan, but it was wonderful to hear his graceful, well-spun compositions echo off the walls of such a gigantic room.
Scout Niblett - Kennedy Theater
One of the mini-themes of the festival for me, as it turns out, was women singer/songwriters who played solo or minimalist sets with electric guitars. Niblett, in a manner similar to Angel Olsen, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, and Waxahatchee, had a sparse sound that helped her set feel all the more intimate for it. But whereas Olsen gave off notes of French folk in her fragile performance on Thursday, Niblett’s British accent came through (she’s from Staffordshire, England) in a few places, which in my mind gave it a more formal and brittle quality despite these sad, serious, and heartbroken tunes.
San Fermin - Fletcher Opera Theater
“This is what the National would sound like if they were a Christian band.” - Jonathan Sharpe. I’m not sure whether he meant it as a compliment or an insult.
Low - Fletcher Opera Theater
One of the sets I was most excited for when the weekend started, and, despite a late start time, it didn’t disappoint. The most amazing part of seeing Low play their songs is just how little they need to do it. I feel like even though they play quiet, elegant music, it’s cinematic in scope. Still an electric guitar, keyboards, and Mimi Parker’s barbones drum kit was all that was needed. Well, really all that was needed was Parker and Alan Sparhawk’s two voices.
John Cale - Memorial Auditorium
To be honest, I don’t know Cale’s solo music very well, so I mainly settled on this set based on his pivotal position in the Velvet Underground, where his use of the electric viola had a big impact on the group’s sound. Cale had a rocking band with him that tore through some driving, jammy art rock songs with touches of electronica, and I got the sense (again, I don’t know the material that well) that most of the songs were off his new solo record Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood. It was a surprisingly cool set, although Cale stayed perched behind a keyboard the entire time I was there, a little disappointing for an experimental musician know for his instrumental innovations.
Sleep - Lincoln Theater
How many people picked Sleep as the last band to see at Hopscotch just to make jokes about “Sleep then sleep”? Who knows, but as band Sleep’s legend precedes themselves--a doom metal/stoner rock band who a decade ago recorded their third album as one continuous 60-minute song (“Dopesmoker”) that their major label refused to put out and took years to emerge in its intended form, the band reunited in 2009 after a decade long break from the project. I was really going for the experience, and I was not disappointed--the trio played riff-heavy, eardrum-rattling riffs and moved along at their own pace, plodding through psychedelic sounds and distortion while de-emphasizing lyrics and vocals. It was a suitably immersive sonic experience to end a festival that want to kick your butt and remind you how much awesome music is out there in the world.