It started in late October. Invariably, when I went out to dinner, a bar or a rock club, someone would ask who we'd booked for Hopscotch II. Depending on my momentary disposition, I'd either fib ("Huey Lewis!") or offer a few hints about what's actually happening ("There will be some dudes who play the guitar quite well"). By March, it had escalated into more specific guesses and rumors about headliners or other big names. Given the query, I'd either laugh, nod or try to pretend, in a few cases, that the speculation was wrong when it wasn't.
But in late April this year, the questions shifted to what I was most excited about for Hopscotch II, or what part of the schedule was most satisfying as a promoter. I genuinely love the music that almost all of these 151 or so bands make, but it is true that I do have a few favorites—things that, on any other day in any other city in the world, I would certainly not miss.
Let's get right to it, OK? Possibly my favorite piece of music ever is "Guitar Trio," a swell for several electric guitars—all strumming the same one chord, now and forever—written in New York in the late '70s by a composer who'd reluctantly attended a Ramones show in the city. Tonight, along with a cast that includes members of Polvo, Horseback, Silver Jews and Annuals, that composer, RHYS CHATHAM, will play the piece in the best venue in this city, Fletcher Opera Theater. When he's done, an Australian trio called THE NECKS will apply a similar approach—slowly build a simple sound until it oversaturates whatever space it has—to piano, drums and bass. Without any words, The Necks make some of the most poignant, heart-rending music in the world. These are, in my estimation, the two things you must absolutely see tonight and, really, during Hopscotch 2011. Of course, that comes at the expense of about a dozen other things I'd say you must see tonight, so use your intermissions wisely: For my money, PRURIENT is this country's premiere noise lord, and he has been for a few years. His dance band, COLD CAVE, made one of the best dance affirmations of the year. They both play The Pour House. FRANK FAIRFIELD, who plays Five Star, makes ancient American tunes feel brand new; WILLIAM TYLER, who closes at Five Star, is one of America's most inspiring and inspired young guitarists. APACHE DROPOUT, who play Deep South the Bar, paint the walls of their garage rock with LSD-inspired murals. Of the six days of Hopscotch we've programmed so far, this is the best; do not try to conserve your energy.
This is "A Night at Fletcher, Part II" for me: SWANS, who headline the grand opera theater tonight, are legends revitalized. Michael Gira wields a powerfully malevolent band that treats its back catalog and last year's My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky with unbiased relentlessness and force. Opener SIR RICHARD BISHOP is a pan-everything guitarist, his eclectic vision steeled by Sun City Girls and brandished on a brilliant string of recent solo albums. With keyboards and wordless vocals, Brooklyn's JULIANNA BARWICK, who plays first at Fletcher tonight, creates comfortable cathedrals of sound. But if you feel like standing, there's plenty to do elsewhere: Five Star—the surprising must-attend club of this year's festival—closes with White Ring, a New York duo that uses a wall of bass both perfectly and painfully. If you want to keep up the volume after Swans, this is your stop. Elsewhere, COLISEUM at Slim's makes rock 'n' roll with elements of hardcore, metal and good ol' "alt rock," while JAPANDROIDS at The Pour House can muster the most breathtaking rock as a duo. The back-to-back-to-back metal blast of THE BODY, LITURGY and EARTH at Kings is dumbfounding. And, in case you didn't hear, GUIDED BY VOICES and DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS are getting together in Raleigh City Plaza.
One of the chief joys of working with Hopscotch every year is presenting bands we know are about to make a lot of new fans (and deservedly so) just before they take off. This afternoon, you can see two of those acts: Boise, Idaho's YOUTH LAGOON plays Hopscotch's free ROSEBUDS-led day party, bringing their songs—which sound as if they were written for a closet-sized orchestra—to a rock 'n' roll stage at the Lincoln. And at 5:45 p.m., DREAMERS OF THE GHETTO open the night in Raleigh City Plaza; their big-voices, bigger-drums debut, Enemy/Lover, is due next month. Alabama rapper YELAWOLF drops his proper debut on the record label that belongs to some dude named Marshall Mathers next month; FUTURE ISLANDS' second LP for Thrill Jockey, which will also be available next month, should push the former local boys in front of even more faces. Both play the Lincoln Theatre. Consider today your preparation for future bragging rights. Elsewhere, it's hard not to recommend the spectacle of THE FLAMING LIPS at City Plaza and the energy of TITUS ANDRONICUS at Tir na nOg. Play hopscotch, and enjoy.