Coke Bust was in town to play the Hopscotch Music Festival, a far-flung three-day event that for four years has brought an impressive array of rock, metal, hip-hop, punk and experimental odds and ends to downtown Raleigh. But this was not Coke Bust’s festival set. Most of the people in crowd didn’t even have wristbands.
About a mile away, on a proper festival stage sitting at the end of a closed-off city block, The Breeders were performing an indie-rock hallmark, 1993’s Last Splash, in its entirety. A buddy texted when they played “Cannonball,” the album’s second song, a sweetly distorted pop-rock number that’s so subtly catchy, it’ll enter your subconscious without you ever realizing it. I got there in time for the last three songs, among them a sleek and luscious cover of The Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” Kim Deal dug into the titular suicide endorsement with unabashed glee, casting the bullet as a gateway to paradise instead of a simple exit.
For the three songs that I saw, The Breeders were great. But I also saw Coke Bust in a basement. I have no regrets.
It’s no secret that music festivals are all about choice, forcing you to pick one band over another at a certain time slot. But more than any event I’m aware of, Hopscotch is loaded with realistic options, a smorgasbord of club shows and block parties, panel discussions and daytime showcases, none of which strays too far from the festival’s downtown epicenter.
This year, you could take things at your leisure, hanging around three theater spaces in the well-appointed Progress Energy Center, checking out sets from powerfully emotional folk-rock outfits (Mount Moriah, The Dead Tongues), evocative songwriters (Angel Olsen), or delicate and devastating instrumentalists (Cian Nugent, Nathan Bowles). You could keep things dirty and loud in suitably divey rock clubs. The burly noise-punks of Pissed Jeans were in fine, raunchy form at The Pour House. The trampling grindcore dealt by Pig Destroyer was both complex and crushing within the tight confines of the appropriately named Slim’s.
You could satisfy myriad avant-garde tastes. Chicago free-jazz greats Ken Vandermark and Tim Daisy delivered an enchanting duo set, building up incredible tension and then diffusing it with conversational ease. Ahleuchatistas — who blend jazz, rock and noise in a way that’s far more aggressive — mangled minds. Drummer Ryan Oslance created thunderous clamor with chains and shells in addition to drumsticks as guitarist Shane Perlowin conjured sheets of cataclysmic distortion only to cut through them with high-speed prickles. Both duos benefited from unbeatable chemistry.
After The Breeders, Spiritualized hit the City Plaza stage, supporting Jason Pierce’s eloquent impressions of drug-addled anxiety with booming walls of spacey fuzz and melodies that just kept getting bigger. Again, it sounded great. But I soon wandered off to other haunts, cutting out after the about four songs. I hit Ahleuchatistas, Pissed Jeans and a few others before ending up at Sleep, where the hypnotic weight of their landmark doom metal lulled my excited mind.
Was the rest of Spiritualized great? I’m sure that it was. But I don’t regret leaving. Hopscotch is all about finding your own way, and I love where I ended up.