Hopscotch Music Festival
Downtown Raleigh
Thursday, September 7, 2017

Down an inconspicuous side hallway in the Raleigh Convention Center, a pair of glowing escalators will shuttle you to and from Exhibit Hall A, also known as The Basement, Hopscotch’s newest venue. Don’t be fooled by the DIY-sounding name, though: it’s no scuzzy thirty-capacity show space. Stripped of the bulky booths and partitions that large regional events like Animazement typically use, the room is absolutely massive. Upon entering, I felt as though I was walking into a cavernous City Plaza-sized industrial warehouse, buried just beneath downtown Raleigh.

The space is undeniably cool, and an impressive addition to this year’s Hopscotch proceedings. Thursday was a solid first preview of how it will sound this weekend—mostly good, a bit distant or wonky depending on how far back you stand—thanks to a strong opening night lineup that included two legacy San Francisco freak-rock acts. Hopscotch veterans Oh Sees (the band recently dropped its longtime “Thee”) threatened eardrums and good taste with their calamitous, reliably over-the-top noise rock frenzy, complete with two drummers for extra oomph. Later, psychedelic legends Brian Jonestown Massacre strafed druggier territory with a survey of material from its twenty-five-plus-year career.

Of course, there was plenty happening at our favorite established venues too. At the Fletcher Opera Theater, I saw Mount Eerie for the first time since Hopscotch 2011, albeit under very different circumstances compared to then. Phil Elverum seemed to recognize as much. At one point between songs during Thursday’s set, he apologized to the audience for even playing his new material. Clad in a muted pink t-shirt and his acoustic guitar, he nonetheless made his way through most of this year’s A Crow Looked at Me, his acclaimed record about his wife Geneviève Castrée’s passing last year. Those songs are loose and free-flowing, heavy on mundane details and uncomfortably specific memories about their personal life.

Elverum delivered unreleased new material in the second half of the set, with a brief admonishment beforehand that “these songs don’t come out for a while, so please don’t put this on Youtube.” And while the lyrical themes on the new material haven’t changed—one song is about his daughter recognizing her mother’s recorded voice in her mother’s music—they feel much more structured and edited than the stark, minimal nature of Crow. It was certainly one of the most intense shows I’ve seen in seven years at Hopscotch. Thankfully, the crowd was respectful and stayed mostly silent, short of people dropping cups at inopportune moments and someone’s ESPN ringtone going off. I probably would have laughed at a different show.

In the early years, Hopscotch was overstuffed with bizarre and memorable experimental music, and while that emphasis isn’t as pronounced this year, there are still plenty of gems to be excavated, especially on the local side. Local duo Reflex Arc transfixed a packed Neptunes with squiggled free-form saxophone and chunks of guitar noise while they darted from one end of the bar to the other, occasionally writhing on the floor. Upstairs at Kings, Floor Model’s set was a masterclass in harsh texture. Among the strongest practitioners of the so called “technoise” movement, his set was broken shards strapped to more broken shards, with an obliterative kick drum smashing the bits the whole time. Behind the noise acolytes up front, a crowd of casual observers danced along energetically for most of the set.