2019 Hopscotch Music Festival: Jenny Lewis, Sleater-Kinney, Orville Peck, Lute, Little Brother Rock Raleigh (FESTIVAL RECAP)

When the 2019 Hopscotch Music Festival lineup was announced, a few laughs were had at the name of one Australian band on the bill: Tropical Fuck Storm. Little did anyone know that the moniker would turn out to be a timely description of the festival’s first day.

As Hurricane Dorian brought a full Thursday of miserable rain and wind to eastern North Carolina, Hopscotch slowly came to life with a slew of day parties at various downtown Raleigh venues. The outdoor City Plaza stage shows were moved to an indoor venue, The Ritz, and while it certainly wasn’t what anyone envisioned, it was the right thing to do.

Whipping winds and rain pelted the city as Kurt Vile and Sleater-Kinney delivered the opening headliner sets of the festival, and everyone was grateful to be inside. Vile’s half-mumbled vocal style contrasted sharply with the tightness of his band, though he did offer a heaping helping of hearty yelps throughout the set. His singing was, at times, a nearly comical juxtaposition of drug-addled drone and sharp shrieking. Sticking to a well-worn setlist and sounding more lackadaisical than ever, Vile nonetheless drew a large crowd and delivered exactly what they would expect – “Pretty Pimpin’”, “Wakin On A Pretty Daze”, and the verbose opener “Loading Zones”.

Sleater-Kinney was as tight and caterwauling as ever during their first show with new drummer Angie Boylan, who proved her substantial skill throughout the 14-song set. Guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein welcomed the audience with humor “on this beautiful summer evening”, and the band, in quintet formation for maximum noise, roared through a slew of live debuts, including the brooding “The Center Won’t Hold” and the synth-heavy “Hurry On Home”. A ripping encore of “Dig Me Out” and “Modern Girl” sent everyone out into the rain with heads still ringing and renewed anticipation for the next two days.

In the clubs late Thursday night, EARTHGANG welcomed J. Cole to the stage at Lincoln Theater, and A Place To Bury Strangers shattered minds and bodies with their pummeling sound at Slim’s. Friday dawned with a whole new atmosphere and Raleigh crackled with energy as day parties resumed and the city’s monthly “First Friday” celebration made things even more festive. The first “wow” moment of the day came during The Nude Party’s set at City Plaza. Their rollicking style of rock, which falls somewhere between The Velvet Underground’s evocative proclamations and the upbeat chug of 60’s garage rock, had everyone buzzing for the rest of the night.

It was the start of a particularly remarkable evening at that stage, as Orville Peck delighted and confused the audience with his mysterious masked persona and collection of plainspoken country tunes. His youthful enthusiasm and modern approach to the dusty, downtrodden outlaw country genre offers a unique and inexplicable appeal.

A few blocks from City Plaza, Dirty Projectors brought the 5,000-seat Red Hat Amphitheater to life with a personable, musically knotty set that brought Talking Heads to mind. Their ebullient show included older standbys like “About to Die” and “Cannibal Resource”, along with fresh tunes “That’s A Lifestyle”, “Break Thru”, and “Right Now”, among others. Later, James Blake closed out Red Hat with a show that simmered more than it sizzled but succeeded nonetheless. The chilly, brooding electronics and seismic bass that have made him one of the world’s sought-after producers were buoyed by just enough musicianship and personality to make the set work without turning too sleepy. A relatively subdued light show added to the stoney atmosphere on a simply gorgeous night in Raleigh.

The highlight of Friday was Jenny Lewis’ magical, mesmerizing time at City Plaza. Commanding the attention of the audience from the first notes of “Heads Gonna Roll”, Lewis held court in a shimmering dress with fluffy cuffs, playing piano and guitar at various intervals between physically reaching out to the audience and offering a flawless vocal performance. Even at 20-plus songs and with plenty of patience, this was one of those shows that just seemed to fly by.

Entertaining to a fault and almost incomprehensibly talented, Lewis left many wondering how she’s not more popular. The setlist spanned her considerable musical existence. There was delectable solo material like “Red Bull & Hennessy”, “Wasted Youth”, “See Fernando”, and the positively show-stopping “Little White Dove”; Rilo Kiley tunes “Silver Lining”, “With Arms Outstretched” show closer “I Never”, the latter of which featured her longtime collaborators The Watson Twins; and more Watson Twins sit-ins on “Melt Your Heart”, “Rise Up With Fists”, and a cover of The Shirelles “I Met Him On A Sunday”. Displaying an otherworldly knack for unforgettable melodies and a stunning stage presence, Lewis and her band were utterly perfect at Hopscotch.

If Lewis won Friday evening, Deerhunter won the wee hours of Saturday morning. Bradford Cox and band brought their best effort to Hopscotch, threatening to destroy the Lincoln Theatre with a thundering display of wild, noisy, expansive sounds. Then the sun rose on one of the best days of music that Hopscotch has hosted.

A full day of hip hop and soul unfolded at City Plaza, including an uneven, meandering set by Lute. A Dreamville affiliate, the Charlotte rapper claimed drunkenness during his 4:30 PM slot, which sporadically included random verses, half-songs, and a guest appearance from Raleigh’s King Mez. It was a sharp contrast to the polished rock/soul/rhythm & blues fusion of Raphael Saadiq that followed. Saadiq filled the concrete canyon of Fayetteville Street with songs that featured his powerful, instantly recognizable voice and fantastic instrumental work. He channeled everyone from Prince to Tony Toni Tone to Stevie Wonder, even during an extremely brief set.

Perhaps the most anticipated show of the weekend closed down City Plaza. Little Brother, the legendary and celebrated Durham duo of Phonte and Big Pooh, proved why they were once one of the most acclaimed hip hop acts in the nation. They displayed their intrinsic chemistry as they deftly traded lines on new tracks from their first album in 9 years, May The Lord Watch, along with a slew of underground classics like “The Becoming”, “Speed”, and “Good Clothes”. It was a hair-raising performance that will certainly go down as one of the most memorable in Hopscotch history.

Overlapping this beat-heavy perfection was more beat-heavy perfection at Red Hat. Traipsing between earshot of the two venues during Saadiq and Chk Chk Chk (!!!) was a flustering sensory delight, the former’s hitmaking style merging wonderfully with the latter’s irresistible dance-ready rock group therapy. !!! may have updated their setlist a bit to highlight recent material, but it still packs the same enthusiastic wallop that they’ve always excelled in providing.

The main event at Red Hat featured two electronically inclined groups – Phantogram and Chvrches. While Chvrches traffic in a mostly upbeat pop style wrapped around the vocals of Lauren Mayberry, Phantogram are an entirely different animal. They aim directly for your brain with their dark, forceful gale of body-moving rhythms, inward-looking vocals, druggy atmospherics, and synapse-popping production.

Opener “Black Out Days” was an overwhelming way to start the show, yet somehow the band gained intensity as they moved along (and they are a *real* band – not just a bunch of electronics manned by faceless humans). “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” leaned into rock territory, while “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “Run Run Blood” showed off their propensity for melding hip hop, EDM, synth pop, and psychedelic styles into one jaw-dropping whole. “Cruel World” was as deliciously catastrophic as it should be, complete with perfectly realized visuals that drove home the song’s gravity. The hypnotic “Fall In Love” and ethereal set closer “Ceremony” made for a stunning psuedo-coda before they closed the amphitheater for the weekend with a melancholy take on “Answer” and, of course, the one everyone knows – “When I’m Small”.

Stacked with headliners and brimming with underground gems as usual, the tenth iteration of Hopscotch firmly cemented the event as North Carolina’s premier music happening and a vital part of Raleigh’s cultural fabric.




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