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Friday, September 6, 2013

Hopscotch 2013: Day 1 highlights

Posted by on Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Angel Olsen - PHOTO COURTESY OF ANGELOLSEN.COM
  • Photo courtesy of angelolsen.com
  • Angel Olsen
It's funny how Hopscotch works. If you're like me, you spend hours prioritizing bands within a time slot and even planning out the most efficient way to hit several venues in a matter of forty minutes or so, hoping to maximize your time and alleviate as many of the inevitable conflicts as possible. When the festival starts, though, that well-made plan seems to go out the window once the night's vibe alters your momentary sweet spot, a friend insists that you must see a certain act, or a venue or two runs slightly off schedule. With a couple of fortuitous late starts, for instance, I was able to end my night with at least a few songs each from Jonathan Kane's February, The Oblivians, and Kurt Vile and the Violators—a clash I had been worried about for weeks. What else came up Milhouseon night one? Here are five of my highlights from Hopscotch Thursday:

1) For the second consecutive year, I started my Hopscotch with an afternoon set from Invisible Hand, and I couldn't imagine a better way to begin the weekend. The Charlottesville quartet's punchy power pop is slightly askew and unapologetically catchy, with crunchy guitars and nervous rhythms serving as an adventurous anchor for the Hand's insatiable hooks. They'll play Rebus Works around 1:45 p.m. on Saturday; while they're always great, they really seem to bring it for Hopscotch—whether playing a proper festival set or a day party—and shouldn't be missed.

2) Maple Stave made its triumphant return to the stage at Slim's, shaking off any doubts that time or distance would dull the execution of its aggressive, mathy tunes. Managing to be simultaneously punishing and nimble, the trio's songs—including some new cuts—turned on a dime, with the cascade of dual guitars and drums changing directions, hardly seeming to let up.

3) One of the fest's most buzzed-about sets, Sylvan Esso drew an unsurprisingly impressive and enthusiastic crowd, which responded with euphoria when the duo opened with its single "Hey Mami" moments after singer Amelia Meath marveled at Memorial Auditorium's size. While they were overwhelmed by the crowd, the still-green pair—which performed its first show less than six months ago—occasionally seemed to struggle with the room's cavernous confines, especially given the amount of new material most listeners were hearing. Still, "Hey Mami" and "Play It Right" sounded terrific reverberating through the hall at high volume as Meath and producer Nick Sanborn's dancing brought enough energy to assure they're worth keeping an eye on as a live act.

4) Meanwhile, Angel Olsen entranced the audience next door in Fletcher Theater with her solo performance. The theater was almost completely silent for her set—that "almost" modifier brought to you by the inconsiderate dope who deemed it necessary to take a call as Olsen launched into her final song. Still, the crowd was understandably rapt given Olsen's breathtaking vocal range and spellbinding, finger-picked guitar work and—Phone Guy aside—was another example of Hopscotch perfectly matching performer and venue.

5) As mesmerizing as Olsen was, Water Liars were easily my favorite set of the night. Granted, the Mississippi trio hit that aforementioned, momentary sweet spot just right, but boy, did they ever. I'll avoid a cheesy pun about how they blew my expectations out of the water, but while there were moments of the careful, often subtle, harmony-soaked twang of Wyoming, that heartland feel was injected with a shot of punkish energy, creating explosive dynamics as harmonies gave way to bouts of visceral yells and raw rock instrumentation that rarely reared its head on record. I'll forgive them for causing me to miss almost all of Purling Hiss, even if that wasn't what I planned. 

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