Live review: Hopscotch 2013

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Hopscotch Music Festival
Raleigh, N.C.
Sept. 5-7, 2013

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After four years, Raleigh finally looks like a festival city when Hopscotch hits; where previous instances of this Triangle-grown event saw folks clustered around club entrances and festival-goers trickling from venue to venue, 2013 saw the city flooded with attendees even from early on the opening night.

Parking was nuts, driving was treacherous and there was even a street preacher howling judgment and damnation several blocks up Fayetteville Street from the outdoor stage. In short, it felt like a city in the grips of a major music festival - Hopscotch has apparently reached critical mass.

With big-name headliner Big Boi postponing his appearance until Sept 21 and not appearing during the festival weekend proper, this was no guarantee; the festival's evident success, judged by crowds on the street but also by high attendance at venues even from in the evening, happened almost despite the absence of one of few names known outside of music geekdom.

Couple that with Spiritualized's questionable placement as an outdoor headliner, and you have a fest that could have just as easily succeeded as failed; while the British drug-rock legends deserve their status, there was something decidedly odd about seeing a seated Jason Pierce play a darkened City Plaza stage rather than an indoorspace like Carrboro's Cat's Cradle - which Spiritualized thoroughly rocked last September.

In previous years, Flaming Lips, Broken Social Scene and Guided By Voices brought arena-sized performances matching Hopscotch's biggest space's perennial party feel. Accordingly, the attendance drop during Spiritualized's set may just have matched the band's trademark apathetic stage presence (not to mention a less than electrical take of "Electricity").

Yet Hopscotch has never been about the main stage shows - the real magic has always taken place in the clubs. The big-timers, it's seemed in past years, are there to guarantee ticket sales.

This year, though, the clubs carried the weight - and carried it well. While 2011 saw bands playing during the Flaming Lips' set struggle with low attendance, there wasn't the same feel this year of competition between main stage headliners and opening-slot club acts.

For the first time, it seemed the majority of Hopscotch attendees were there for the club shows, which sure seems like the mark of a fest coming into its own. That said, it wasn't perfect; Friday, in particular, seemed dominated by frustrated plans and bad logistics. The big metal show of the evening - an embarrassingly stacked Vattnet Viskar, Gorguts, Pig Destroyer triple-header at Wilmington Street-dive Slim's - was all-but-impossible to get into.

It's an attractive bill, yeah, but it forced a decision: either camp out in a single venue for most of the night or maximize your wristband and show-hop. Berkeley Cafe, too, seemed too small to be a viable venue; poor Canadian philosophical dark-wavers Suuns seemed visibly irritated, crammed onto a tiny stage in a hot room as a handful of oblivious drunks threw glow sticks indiscriminately.

But even the biggest frustrations (including the prevalence of glow sticks and Frisbees thrown during sets) faded. If Hopscotch shed its training wheels this year, Friday night was a brief tumble and a skinned knee. By Saturday, the fest was back on its bike again, moving with respectable confidence through amazing sets by Califone, Inter Arma, Pissed Jeans and many more bands spread throughout our state's capitol.

I'll admit it: Friday I wondered, somewhat existentially, if there is any dignity in running from packed club to packed club, chasing some musical ideal that doesn't always materialize. But the weekend closed in a flurry of good friends and excellent music, and I knew I'd have to lose my own training wheels and do it again in 2014.

A few choice moments:

Jonathan Kane's February: Swans' founding member and Rhys Chatham's G3 drummer Jonathan Kane brought a three-guitar groove factory to Slim's Thursday night; think Earth as a blues-rock band.

Future Islands: These Baltimore via Greenville, N.C., lords of the dance treated their Friday City Plaza set like a homecoming, making theirs the essential big stage set.

Late Bloomer: Part of it was their tight, energetic Pour House set, while the other part was running into these Charlotte dudes venue-hopping during the fest itself: in both instances, Late Bloomer's excitement was epidemic-level infectious.

Mykki Blanco: Confrontational drag-rap is a thing, and it's amazing.

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