At first blush, the video for "Take a Chance," the new single from Durham MC Shirlette Ammons, seems quite simple. A colorful blue and purple screen announces that there is breaking news. The bulletin: "Shirlette and Anansi find their Bentley mode." Shirlette sits making hilariously serious faces at a news desk as a monitor shows her and a young girl — Anansi — wandering about town. Without digging deeper, it seems slight but cute, a funny clip for a funny song with a stomping, up-tempo beat.
But "Take a Chance" is the lead single for Twilight for Gladys Bentley, Ammons' solo debut and also a loosely conceptual tribute to the black blues singer of the title. Getting her start in New York speakeasies during the '20s, Bentley wore men's tuxedos and did growling, raunchy renditions of the day's popular songs. An open lesbian, she would flirt shamelessly with the women in the audience. Overall, she made a brave, confrontational spectacle. But in the '50s, she bent to society's disapproval, taking a husband and wearing dresses.
In the video, a news ticker fills you in on these details, holding Bentley up as both an ideal of a free-living lifestyle and a warning against allowing yourself to conform as she did. As Shirlette —herself an openly lesbian musician —raps, the text rolls beneath her. "Bentley still stands as a renegade," it reads, "who took great risks in her music and her life. People like Bentley chose to be themselves at a time when it was life-threatening."
Shirlette's lyrics concern her scrap to make it as an artist. She talks about living in a small apartment and begging friends to listen to her demos. At the end of every request comes the refrain: "Don't even ask, homie/ Just take a chance, homie." In this context, Bentley serves as a reminder of those who have struggled bravely for social change.
Shirlette will offer a preview of Twilight for Gladys Bentley with a show at Durham's Pinhook on Sept. 21. A CD sampler of tracks from the album will be available to anyone who pre-orders the album that night. Humble Tripe and DJ Play Play join her on the $7 bill. Music starts at 10 p.m.
This is the second and final—for this year at least—of a little series in which we asked music-savvy folks to give us five Hopscotch picks. We gave them a bit of latitude, though, so they could give us anything from five essential acts to five memories or five suggestions. If you didn't catch part one, which we ran yesterday, it's right here.
Hopscotch, by the way, starts in just a few hours. And now, lists:
Thee Oh Sees
Thee Oh Sees are one of the best career bands going. They're on their sixth incredible album in four years or something ridiculous like that. Somewhere between Strawberry Alarm psychedelia, krautrock repetition and classic Converse-on-a-PBR-sticky-floor body music, this is giddy ecstasy jammage with brighter, bolder melodies than an opium den full of zooted Carly Rae Jepsens.
This Melbourne guitarist can make a drone that will turn your spine to gravel. His latest record, Sagittarian Domain, is like ghostly feedback haunting and endless motorik that rides the autobahn to nowhere for 33 minutes straight. But who knows what he's going to be up to: He's released six CDs this year, and he can just as easily bonk off into creepy freak-jazz or clinical drizzle or free metal.
Lush, luxurious disco that's equal parts reverent, retromaniacal and future-funking. Dudes know their way around some Ohio Players records, but also know the rap records that sample them. Every second is like two parties at once.
Spirituals for drum nerds. He's basically Albert Ayler, Beefheart and Fennesz on a trap kit.
Ben Greenberg is making some of the best music in Brooklyn. He can wheedle like a metal god, but he uses it to build minimalist skyscrapers to heaven. Plus he produces records and might have made your favorite band not sound terrible.
First of all, if you're a music lover (and you must be or you wouldn't be reading this, right?), you would be best served spending the next three days in Raleigh at the Hopscotch Music Festival. In three years it's become one of the biggest and best music events in the southeast.
That said, there's a distinct Carolina flavor in my Hopscotch picks for 2012.
Shovels and Rope is a husband-and-wife duo based in Charleston, S.C., not an aisle designation at an old-fashioned hardware store. Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent each had solo careers before coming together as a band. Their new album is called O' Be Joyful. It's loaded with songs that feature tight harmonies, walloping drums and various guitars, banjos, fiddles and even some horns. Topics cover some of the dark corners of the South and some of the hazards of life on the road.
Field Report: There must be something in the water up there in Wisconsin because Chris Porterfield's project springs from the five-year period after his time in DeYarmond Edison. He was in that band before they left Eau Claire to move to the Triangle; he didn't make the move. His songs are mostly quiet and personal, but they sometimes build to an epic crescendo not unlike those of his pal Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). It's always beautiful, though, and occasionally heartbreaking—as in the song "Circle Drive," about pacing outside the hospital while his wife was seriously ill inside. He says she's fine now, and you will be, too, when you see him and his band.
Which brings me to Megafaun also friends with the above fellows but happily ensconced in North Carolina. It shows in their music: Three-part harmonies, gorgeous songs and hilarious stage banter make this an easy choice. I love these guys. Someone described them as spacey, alt-country, jazz-tinged, folk-rock... sort of.
Finally, I have to go with The Roots. If this group doesn't feature the greatest rhythm section in the world, I don't know who does. I saw them do Prince's 1999 album start to finish on December 31, 1999, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and was pretty much destroyed. And I'm a Prince fan, so that wasn't a given. They back Booker T. Jones on his latest CD (how cool is that?) and you can see them every night on some TV show that's on way past my bedtime. But see them on their own. You'll never come down.
Bull City Records
Five must-see bands is a little too hard for me to sit down and type today. Already my brain has been flipped into over-anxiety mode just thinking about all the bands I need to pack into the weekend. I honestly can't think of a festival that has better combined the fringe garage with the experimental/avant—usually two things that do not get lumped together—into one distracting weekend, and this has me racing. Hopscotch is a music nerd's best nightmare.
Jokingly a buddy said she'd like to know what my most anticipated merch tables might be. Who's going to have the stuff worth drooling over as far as this nerd is concerned? Laugh if you want, but this is a very real concern of mine. That being said, my top five (in no particular order) merch tables for the Hopscotch Music Fest...
Alan Bishop / Bill Orcutt / Chris Corsano Trio: King's Barcade, Friday, Noon.
The Cheater Slicks: Deep South, Friday, Midnight.
I will make a poor decision around midnight on Friday night and buy whatever the Cheater Slicks have laid out on their table that I do not yet own. Long ago, after a good pout, I came to the acceptance that I would most probably never find the opportunity to see one of my most favorite feedback-charged garage bands. The noisy and brilliantly buffoonish Cheater Slicks, from Columbus, Ohio, have been together since the late 1980s and at some point gave up on touring too far outside of their home area. I've really only lived in the South or Colorado for most of my show-going years, so I stopped checking for tour dates near me a good while ago. As soon as Hopscotch booker Grayson Currin sounded the call one night that they would be playing Hopscotch 2012, I'm pretty sure I let out an audible shriek. Grayson instantly achieved best-friend status that night. The Guinea Worms open, so their table gets lumped into this challenging mess. Cheater Slicks, I will be coming for your merch table and I want your vinyl.
The Spits: Slim's, Saturday, 11:30pm.
I'm not sure if the Spits will be carrying anything with them that I do not have, but I am extremely hopeful for some little remembrance piece of limited, tour-only merchandise. Actually, I do not yet have a Spits T-shirt, so I've got that going for me. This is the point of the weekend when most of us will be dog-tired, which will make merch tables an extremely uninhibited, dangerous hangout spot. Last year the Spits released the amazing, futuristic sci-fi-spiked, alcohol-addled Spits V on In the Red Records; it clogged many a year-end garage punk list. It was one of my favorite records, and they're consistently one of my favorite bands. It has been about eight or nine years since I last laid eyes on the Spits' merch table, so I'm ready.
Thee Oh Sees: CAM, Thursday, Midnight.
The Oh Sees seem to always tour with limited splits, 7"s and/or tapes. How do we know this? Because eBay swells with limited Oh Sees merch with every tour. Ugh. Sometimes we get lucky at the record store and anything left over post-tour gets released to our distributors who in turn flood our shelves. This is good. I do not condone the buying of merch for instant online flipping, but I highly condone the buying and hoarding of anything Oh Sees related into everyone's personal collection. Bridging the worlds of fuzz-powered garage-heads, psychedelic rockers, flailing spazz-rock college radio champions, genre-curious indie rockers and hyper record collectors, Thee Oh Sees command a devout, stretched audience of loyal fans. This is for good reason as they're reportedly one of the best live bands kicking around these days. In my nine-year love affair with the band, this will be my first chance to see them live. Is this embarrassing? Yes. So please do not get in the way as I get in line.
Chuck's: 426 S. McDowell St., All Weekend.
If I'm not spending money at a merch table or bar, you can probably count on me being hunched over a burger at Chuck's. I have not been there yet and have it on good faith (from just about everyone) that it's one of the best around the Triangle. Last year I stumbled into Beasley's Chicken + Honey at some point, also run by Ashley Christensen, and became an immediate convert. This year I'm coming for the burgers.
RUNNER-UPS: Odonis Odonis put out a ridiculously amazing CD on FatCat about a year ago which was not released domestically on vinyl for whatever reason. I'm planning to hit up their table for a hopeful wax-pressing of their reverb-drenched, surfy post-punk Hollandaze LP. Amen Dunes might have some form of limited, tour-only recordings and potentially some out-of-print vinyl releases, so I'll definitely be a fly around his merch table as well. His two Sacred Bones releases are great (Murder Dull Mind 12" and Through Donkey Jaw LP) and I happened to completely forget to keep a copy of his now out-of-print DIA LP on Locust Records, so... I'm hopeful. See ya there!
Program director, WXDU
My Nightly highlights:
On Thursday I’ll start my evening with Chris Forsyth & Koen Holtkamp. Their LP, Early Astral, was a favorite at WXDU this year among fans of krautrock-inspired heavy-psych. At the end of the night I’ll be bouncing around with the crowd at Thee Oh Sees. I saw them last winter in Winston-Salem at one of the most energetic shows I’ve seen in years.
My Friday has a tricky start. The Psychic Paramount will be playing at the same time as The Jesus and Mary Chain rather than opening for them like most stops on their tour. I’ll decide at the time which way to kick off my night. After catching as many metal bands as possible, I’ll end the night with a highly anticipated set from Ireland’s atmospheric black metal group Altar of Plagues.
Saturday holds a pair of sets I’m most excited about! I never thought I would get a chance to see Polish composer Michal Jacaszek perform. I’m always curious to see what musicians look like while creating such unique sounds. By the end of Saturday my ears will already be shot. I might as well finish them off with a pummeling from Sunn O))). I expect the drone-doom trio fronted by Mayhem vocalist Attila Csihar to give my body a fully immersive sonic experience unlike anything else happening at Hopscotch this year.
Go to the day parties
You can use the day parties as a way to hang out with your friends; try to catch bands that you will miss in the evening; or finally see that local group you keep missing. I’ll catch hell at WXDU if I don’t mention our party co-presented with Three Lobed Recordings on Friday at Kings. It features performers from this year’s lineup along with some favorites from last year. Say hi if you stop by!
Five final pointers
See bands that you like! Don’t fret over rare performances or sets you’ve been told you ought to see. If your favorite local band is playing, go see them and have a memorable time. Be happy wherever you are. No matter what, you are going to miss some great performances this weekend. Let go of that mindset and immerse yourself in what is happening around you. Don’t worry about fashion. Comfortable shoes and clothes and a lightweight rain jacket will allow you to stay focused on what’s important: enjoying the music. Let yourself break free from the group. Be OK with seeing different bands from your friends. This is a huge party and we’ll be tumbling over one another all weekend. Make a new friend. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you in the crowd. You never know who they might be or what tips they might have.
Samantha Crain has been one of our favorites for a long time. We love her particular combination of roots-folk-soul music and that voice, that voice.
Wye Oak has an understated intensity, streamlined stab-you-in-the-heart lyrics, beautiful harmonies, and the mysterious enchanting-ness of singer Jenn Wasner (also playing a solo set as Flock of Dimes). One of our favorite bands this year.
Altos is made up of 12 people and we are suckers for big giant bands. There is something inexplicably moving about a large group of people singing and playing together when it's done well, and this group, from Wisconsin, really pulls it off with a streamlined, authentic sound.
How have we not heard Baobab before? They sound like a handmade present; one-of-a-kind, beautiful and intentional, in the form of smart cybernetic folk, and they are based right here in the Triangle.
Lambchop through all the years keep making great songs, and we're looking forward to closing out the whole Hopscotch 2012 with their unique existential brand of hopeful moodiness.
Owner, Local 506
Five acts I’m hoping to see for the first time....
Jesus and Mary Chain
Thee Oh Sees
...and five acts I’ve seen at 506 that I think are worth seeking out:
Shovels and Rope
I often argue that shows are compared to your expectations of the show, instead of some objective guidepost. If you are a fan of a band’s albums, then you likely have higher expectations of their live performance. So sometimes the best shows are the ones that catch you by surprise because you aren’t already familiar with the band and their music. Shovels and Rope and locals T0W3RS both blew away any minimal expectations I might have had of them before I saw them live. Similarly, both Wye Oak and local act The Toddlers developed into amazing live bands; neither were great the first time I saw them, setting the bar lower for future performances—only to have them continually raise that bar with each subsequent show. And then there is Trash Talk. I watched the Fugazi documentary “Instrument” this weekend and was thinking, why aren’t more bands this great live. Of course, the X factor in Fugazi is the reckless, unpredictable stage antics of co-frontman Guy Picciotto. Let’s just say, I think every member of Trash Talk saw this documentary and thought the same thing I did!
Of course, by writing this, I’ve invariably helped raise each act’s bar a bit...so maybe you should pretend you didn’t read this...and go see these bands with no expectations. If you can do that, then you won’t be disappointed.
We asked a handful of people who are knowledgeable about or involved in music, locally and beyond, to give us five picks for Hopscotch. We left it open to anything from five essential bands to general suggestions or standout memories.
Here's the first set. Check back Thursday for the second.
Outdoor day parties - Bring the kids along!
One of the best things about being a parent and also loving live music is seeing bands play
outside during the day so you can take along the kids. Oliver’s first show was The Rosebuds,
outside at Bug Fest. Maybe it drives some folks nuts and I was probably one of those folks
back in the day, but Hopscotch has lots of outdoor day parties which is a great way to chill and
expose your kids to awesome music, food and basketball. Then, drop off the kids and hit the
venues as the sun goes down.
Hop around or sit down?
Each year I struggle with this decision. Do I hop around and see a few songs by as many bands
as possible or stay in a few venues and see longer sets? Over the past two years, I’ve followed
my slightly frenetic nature and hopped around, unless a band’s set engrossed me. This year, I
plan on trying to sit in place a bit more. I’m going to try, but come Thursday night, I’ll probably
resort back to impulsive wandering. Good luck deciding; I don’t think you can go wrong either
Sweaty, energetic, outrageous performances
I love seeing outrageous musical stage (or floor) performances. I’m still trying my best to find a
band that will equal Cold Cave’s 2011 Hopscotch show. The following bands have the potential
for putting on a sweaty, energetic, outrageous club show and shouldn’t be missed (if you’re into
that kinda thing): Nobunny, Danny Brown, Holograms, Dan Deacon, Vattnet Viskar, Corrosion
of Conformity, Valient Thorr, Dope Body, Thee Oh Sees, Killer Mike, Trash Talk, Pop. 1280,
Pictureplane and probably every other punk-metal and electronic act on the bill.
Bands and performances you may never have a chance to see again
Hopscotch brings bands and performers to Raleigh that rarely perform together (Rhys
Chatham’s Guitar Trio, anyone?). Local bands will surely play
again in the Triangle, as will a handful of the other acts. If you want to see some bands or
performances that you may never have the opportunity to see again in the Tar Heel state or
in your life, go to these: Liars, Matthew E. White's One Incantation Under God (this year’s Guitar Trio), Arnold Dreyblatt with
Megafaun, Sunn O))), Colin Stetson, Julia Holter, Charlie Parr, Jacaszek, Mirel Wagner.
I heart bikes
The best decision you could make this weekend is bringing a bicycle along for your musical ride
around Downtown Raleigh. Hopping between venues takes much less time, and the large
concentration of bicycles in downtown makes Raleigh feel like a true 21st-century city on
Hopscotch weekend. Be sure to bring a light, helmet, lock and messenger bag for purchased
Durham friends and boutique label-runners Kyle Miller and Steve Jones compiled this list.
The Jesus And Mary Chain
We've been looking forward to this since the day it was announced. The JAMC are one of our absolute favorite bands, and we thought we'd never have the chance to see them. After we tried and failed to see them at SXSW, Hopscotch put a second chance right in our laps, and we're not going to miss them this time.
Have a beer on the back porch at Slim's
Slim's is our home base when we head to Raleigh, and the sunny back porch is a great place for day-drinking. We hope you'll come have a beer with us during Que Viva, the day party we're throwing at Slim's on Friday with six great rock 'n' roll bands, but if you can't make it Friday, get there sometime and sip on a cold can of Tecate.
Nobunny at CAM
Have y'all seen Nobunny? If you saw him play in Craig Powell's living room with Spider Bags, you might think you know what you're in for. You'd be wrong. He's playing in a museum—we have no idea what we're in for. Absolute must-see.
Drink champagne with your burger at Chuck's
Just trust us on this one. It's on the menu for a reason.
They might be the most electrifying band at Hopscotch. See them wherever they play and whenever they play. Take a long walk afterward; it's unfair to ask another band to follow them.
Diversions editor, The Daily Tar Heel
Flaming Lips, City Plaza, 2011
Bombadil, Fletcher Opera Theater, 2011
Bombadil was one of my most-anticipated bands last year, and seeing them come back “for real” was almost too much. Their set sounded fantastic, and the theater was such a good setting for their sound. It felt like everyone in that room was just as thrilled as I was to see such this bunch of talented, genuinely awesome guys bounce back against circumstances that would have beaten most other bands.
Kooley High, Deep South, 2010
This was the last set I saw on the last night of Hopscotch 2010. I almost fell asleep against a wall. I was extremely tired but so excited to have been around for the whole weekend, and was already eager to see what the next year’s festival would bring.
Panda Bear, City Plaza, 2010
Not quite a full memory. I had a family event to go to that afternoon/evening, so I missed the earlier stuff. I was running down Wilmington St. trying to get to Ryan Gustafson (I think) at The Pour House. I could hear Panda Bear’s set pouring into the street, and all I could think was, “This is so cool. My city is cool.” It was a really weird moment, but it’s really stuck with me for some reason.
The Rosebuds and friends Day Party, East Cabarrus Street, 2011
This was just fun. I got to see several artists I liked that I was never expecting to see together (including Hammer No More The Fingers, Ben Sollee and The Rosebuds). The weather was perfect, and I believe part of this day party included free haircuts, which I thought was odd but pretty creative as far as free stuff went. It was a lot more laid-back than much of the rest of my weekend, and the break was much appreciated.
Death to False Hope Records
Red Collar, Friday afternoon at Tir na nOg, The Old North State Day Party
Red Collar was one of the first Triangle bands I fell in love with when I moved here a few years ago. Their performance outside of Raleigh Times at the first Hopscotch was awe-inspiring. Best band. Best people.
Toon & the Real Laww, Friday night at The Pour House Music Hall
I just recently met Toon & the Real Laww for a Defeat Amendment 1 event at Duke. Their performance was fantastic and had an insane amount of energy that I was not used to seeing from hip-hop artists.
Museum Mouth, Saturday afternoon at Sadlack's, Let Feedback Ring Day Party
(Full disclosure: Corbie Hill organized this day party)
I play in a band called Almost People, and Karl (Museum Mouth's singer) and I decided we are sister city bands. I'm normally not a fan of lo-fi recording but these guys are doing it right.
Temperance League, Friday afternoon at Tir na nOg, The Old North State Day Party
Chris Tamplin introduced me to the Temperance League in 2010. I love Bruce Hazel's voice and energy. Temperance League are a refreshing change in a stale genre.
Tenement, Friday night at CAM Raleigh
Tenement is everything indie rock should be. You know... like rock. They make me miss 1997. If you like the superguidedpavementtospilldrag sound, this should be your favorite current band.
Check back tomorrow for part two, including picks from Spin's Chris Weingarten and WUNC's Eric Hodge.