For the unfamiliar or somehow forgetful, Raleigh’s Deep South The Bar is the Hopscotch venue that sits behind Red Hat Amphitheater—home to the biggest area shows for indie rockers that have hit it the relative big-time—with red-clad walls covered in mostly famous rock lyrics hand-painted by the bar’s patrons.
Friday night, as DC post-punk four-piece Priests held court at Deep South for a frenzied half hour in the headlining spot, they played as if they had their mind set on landing their own words on the walls that surrounded them, if not on gigs the size of those across the street. With a couple of exceptions—like “USA (Incantations),” which was left off Friday’s set—the astringent political bent of Katie Alice Greer’s lyrical sneer likely eliminates the former possibility. Still, Priests is destined to break through to bigger stages, if only on the strength of Greer’s captivating stage presence.
Beating her head and tugging her hair like she was possessed, Greer wailed while wrenching her words from somewhere deep within, staring through the crowd with an intense, vacant gaze. The band thrashed without undue sloppiness; G.L. Jaguar pulled out a few guitar windmills as his angular riffs pinballed between Taylor Mulitz’s buoyant basslines and Daniele Daniele’s hammered-out beats. At times, it seemed as if the young quartet had entered a time-warp to an alternate ‘90s universe, where their unrelenting brand of punk-rock could have ruled the airwaves and Greer would have been the bona fide star she just might become.
When seen against St. Vincent’s City Plaza set, Priests also helped illustrate both the best and worst aspects of Hopscotch’s format. While I was probably one of the least excited people on Fayetteville Street for both Spoon and St. Vincent, I’ll readily admit that Annie Clark ripped, though her overall performance seemed stilted. Through Hopscotch’s five years, I’ve yet to have a truly exceptional experience with the City Plaza shows, even when The Roots—one of my all-time favorite acts—headlined; their rain-shortened set is the only one I remember seeing until the end. Though the City Plaza acts are plenty used to playing stages that size, I’ve had a hard time connecting with them or feeling like that particular performance mattered to them any more than the rest. Maybe it’s time for a move to the Red Hat Amphitheater?
Meanwhile in the clubs, acts like Priests, who played Raleigh’s Nice Price Books this April and June, are typically in front of much larger audiences than they’re accustomed to for their out-of-town gigs. Even if their excitement isn’t apparent—Sun Club guitarist/vocalist Shane McCord, on the other hand, kept geeking out over their Lincoln Theatre crowd and took a photo to help convince his mom it’s worth dropping out of college—the result, more often than not, is a band that brings their best.