On the Beat

Lud and Phil Cook lead night one of Hopscotch

From left, Sara Bell, Kirk Ross, Tim Salemy and Bryon Settle are Lud -- and they are awesome.
From left, Sara Bell, Kirk Ross, Tim Salemy and Bryon Settle are Lud -- and they are awesome. Photo by David Menconi.

Every year including this one, the Hopscotch Music Festival brings in music from all over the world. And yet as often as not, local music winds up stealing the show anyway.

That was the case in 2014, when The Whom was the most memorable thing I saw all weekend; and Thursday’s night one of year six was no exception. The epic post-rock sprawl of Canada’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor and low-tech psychedelics of Brooklyn’s Eartheater were both quite fine -- but neither could hold a candle to the Triangle’s own Phil Cook.

The Cook brothers, Phil and Brad, first gained noticed around these parts in the bands DeYarmond Edison and sadly defunct Megafaun, and they’re some of the busiest sidemen in the area with Loamlands, Hiss Golden Messenger, Sylvan Esso and other acts. But Phil Cook’s current order of business is his just-released solo album “Southland Mission,” which Thursday night’s set showed off.

I’ve seen Cook onstage dozens of times over the years, and the take-away memory is always the same: all the smiling faces alongside him. It does not seem to be possible to have a bad time playing music with Cook, who gives off a contagious sense of goofy joy.

Fronting an expanded ensemble including Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath on backup vocals (and brother Brad on bass, of course), Cook preesented the ambitious roots-music travelogue that is “Southland Mission.” The album evokes beer-soaked honky-tonks, folk-festival campgrounds, and even churches. When Cook stripped everything down to just voices and his guitar for some gospel singing, it was chill-inducingly beautiful.

Yet that still wasn’t Thursday night’s best highlight, which would be Chapel Hill’s Lud -- maybe the most local of local bands. Lud’s members come from some of the most renowned bands in Triangle music history (Pressure Boys, Trailer Bride, Shark Quest and Dish, to name a few), and frontman Kirk Ross also has the distinction of being one of North Carolina’s most astute political reporters.

I’d say it’s a shame Lud’s members have to hold down day jobs, but it’s possible that careerism might screw up their equilibrium because Lud was simply awesome. You hear a lot about the guitar heroics of Built To Spill’s Doug Martsch or Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, but I’d take Lud’s Bryon Settle over any of them.

Settle displayed a virtuosity that was simultaneously jaw-dropping and casual as he threw out fusillades of guitar-god goodness with an endearing nonchalance. Ross was no slouch, either, on a series of pile-driving raveups that seemed to have enough momentum to move the building housing Tir Na Nog forward.

“Just an old guy rockin’ out,” Ross cracked afterward as he packed up his guitar to head home.

Even though there were only maybe 20 people there to see it, I’m not sure I’ll hear anything better the rest of the weekend. But I’ll keep trying.

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