We began day one of HOPSCOTCH at the Berkeley Cafe, which has long been one of my favorite venues in the city for an intimate show experience. In terms of Boston venues, it’s pretty close in size to somewhere like Great Scott or T.T.’s; the major difference between the lot being that the Berkeley serves fried food to compliment the cheap beer. A bartender and I chatted about a co-worker who was too busy for his own good, and eventually I settled in for a set by NC band AIRSTRIP. This group has been one of the most-mentioned local bands of the festival, and from their set, it became completely understandable why they’d be chosen as local support for an artist like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, whom they'll be opening for in October.
Their brand of nightmare pop-rock is just accessible enough to make it intriguing and listenable, but obtuse and noisy enough to scare away those who are just looking for something to slam a few beers to. A few bottles shattered on the ground near me, and for the rest of the night, the floor would be covered in some unknown liquid that smelled like death itself. We split soon after their fourth song, partially because I was restless and curious to see all of the good music that was going on, and also partially to show my Hopscotch partner Miles just where the fuck everything was.
From there, we went to a surprising locale. The Contemporary Art Museum (referred to as the “CAM” from here on out) is a development that I never would have imagined popping up in a city like Raleigh, and it’s even more shocking that they would let the punk righteousness of Chapel Hill’s FLESH WOUNDS inhabit their space. Referred to as “garage-revival-revival” in the Hopscotch Handbook, they sure brought the fucking noise. I haven’t heard a crazy sound like that since I used to frequent basement shows on Blount Street. Earplugs didn’t help. Surprisingly, no one was moshing, but then again, this place had the tightest security of any of the venues. The vicious noise caught me by surprise, and I was caught up in the fun the band and the audience seemed to be sharing in it all as well. Miles went to look at beer prices (“Holy god PBR costs $6”), and I fought to the front before realizing the time, and grabbed him so we could get the fuck out of there. A local-based friend of mine would later tell me about how one of the guitarists/vocalists jumped off the stage near the end of his set, and almost hit her in the face with his guitar.
After figuring out where in the hell exactly Raleigh nightclub White Collar Crime is, realizing that it wasn’t the right venue we were supposed to be at, and running into PICTUREPLANE and his entourage on the street, we got the hell back to the Berkeley. Luckily, we were just in time for BOY FRIEND, pictured above, the Austin, Texas, band that’s comprised of members of Sleep Over, and were a big hit as SXSW this year. They were fantastic, and the perfect synth-ambient pallete cleanser after the crazy blast of unexpected punk intensity we witnessed at the CAM. I was impressed by their stage presence (commanding, yet not overtly demanding attention), the heavy construction of their songs (given the limited amount of members), and the way they handled having a good amount of people who were there for Gross Ghost leave during their set. This is the kind of music one can only hope to be able to night-drive to: the ambient beauty of their tracks would merge perfectly with the blinking lights of the road ahead. The one problem with it all? They asked for the red lights to be brought up. A photographer, who I would later find out worked for a major music magazine, leaned over to me and jokingly cursed. I nodded.
From there, I made my way down to the Lincoln Theater to see SCREAMING FEMALES. This was my first time seeing them live and GOOD GOD THAT SET. Marissa Paternoster fucking attacked her guitar, King Mike laid down some solid bass licks, and Jarred Dougherty never let up on the ferocity of his drumming. The acoustics were fucking fantastic, too (The Lincoln has never been the best venue down here, but something was just straight gelling). The crowd responded in turn, and straight freaked out in a way that I’ve only seen happen two or three times before down here, and they were all in basements on Blount Street. I swear to god, I felt Poly Styrene smiling down from Punk Rock Heaven and nodding approvingly before spitting to hang with D. Boon and Ari Up. It was one of the most diverse audiences that I had seen all weekend, and the vibe really carried over on to how I saw the rest of the night. I was pretty pissed I had to leave early, but I promised that I’d meet up with my compatriot over at the Pour House for CITIES AVIV.
That didn’t exactly work out, so we moved over to a venue that I had never heard of, which was called the Long View Center. We scanned around the area for several minutes, after finding out that it was close by, before discovering that it was a giant church at the corner of Moore Square. We walked in only a minute or two late, right as JULIA HOLTER began her set. Miles was the main influence on us going over there, and I felt that I was indulging his sort of nerdy tendencies by going with him. I would soon discover how wrong I was. Her music blended with the venue in a way that was perfect as hell, and inspired me to write some flowery prose while I watched the audience cry. “The audience sat gazing with reverence,” I wrote in my notes, “as if they were watching the water of the moment turn into fine wine.” It was the kind of ephemeral set that defies certain amounts of explanation, and if I tried, I’m sure it would amount to nothing more than “you should have been there, bro.” The sound was fantastic for an artist of her ilk, and she made the absolute most of the setting. Several people were sobbing openly, and one particularly distressed girl hugged on nice and tight to her boyfriend for several songs. I was proud of Bowe for bringing me here: it truly was gorgeous and intriguing, and I felt horrible for leaving.
I felt even worse when I got to Memorial Auditorium, where I discovered LIARS as they finished playing a short set to a tiny crowd. They were the same as when I saw them at the Paradise in July, down to the outfits that they were wearing, but that was nice. I got made fun of by a disabled girl and her friend who were almost definitely on drugs on the way out, and suddenly felt a terrible discontent wash over me. Probably should have seen TRASH TALK, I thought, Goddamn it. I soon shrugged it off. Shit happens, and I didn’t want to be in a riot or anything. All in all, it was a good first day of the Fest, and a pretty good introduction for us about what to expect: lots of warm weather, lots of walking, and a good amount of drunks breaking things, all set to some pretty amazing music.
Follow Nick Johnston (@onlysaysficus) and Miles Bowe (@milesbowe) on Twitter for additional Hopscotch updates and recaps all weekend long.