On the Beat

Hopscotch: From cutting edge to comfort food

Ian William Craig was a Hopscotch highlight this year.
Ian William Craig was a Hopscotch highlight this year. Photo courtesy of Hopscotch Music Festival.

With a festival like Hopscotch, which this year offered a lineup of 140 wildly varying acts, the temptation is to micro-schedule and try to cram in as many different acts as possible. But the time-space continuum can only be pushed so far, and serendipity can be a lovely thing even if it’s caused by simple fatigue.

For example, I’d been on my feet for most of Saturday and wanted to find a place to just sit for a while. That led to Fletcher Opera Theater and the weirdest, most interesting music I saw all weekend, from Ian William Craig.

Craig is an experimental artist from Vancouver and Hopscotch marked his U.S. live-performance debut. “I want to create a space for you,” he announced at the start, and he proceeded to do just that for the next hour.

Standing center-stage with a microphone at a board outfitted with what appeared to be samplers and cassette players (yes, actual cassette tapes were involved), Craig sang in a keening wail while recording, looping and mixing his voice on the fly. As he layered it all together, distortion, hums, tape hiss and other extraneous background noises became part of the sonic palette.

What emerged was a freaky sonic tone poem that rose and fell with a vaguely liturgical quality, like a mashup of ghostly Gregorian chants and whale sounds. Ordinarily not my thing at all, but I found it fascinating.

There was plenty else to see, hear and discover throughout the festival, which mostly seemed to go off without a hitch. But one unfortunate glitch happened to San Francisco’s Tycho, a group that put me in mind of what it might sound like if U2 guitarist Edge teamed up with electronic jam band Sound Tribe Sector 9 to play ambient surf music from a planet where water does not exist. It was very cool up until repeated power failures on the outdoor City Plaza stage killed the flow.

No such problems for Carrboro’s Faults, who played indoors at Deep South. One interlude in their second-to-last song was about the most intense 30 seconds I’ve experienced in recent memory, with everyone onstage bashing away extra-hard on a riff and the drummer working in some speed-of-light little fills. Can’t beat a communal adrenaline rush.

Also on the local tip, Phil Moore of Bowerbirds performed at one of the day parties with his latest venture, a two-man band called Tushka. In contrast to Bowerbirds’ stately minor-key folk, Tushka is a party with swells of keyboard, programmed rhythms and bouncy, sunny tunes.

Over at City Plaza, Saturday’s main-stage headliner was Dwight Yoakam, a definite outlier for Hopscotch this year. Yoakam played as accomplished and polished a set as you’d expect from someone who’s been a mainstream country star for three decades, but my favorite part was when he rocked out with “Liar” -- a garage-rock kiss-off that sounded like something the Monkees would have been sneering in 1966.

Right before Yoakam was one of my all-time favorite bands, X, the great Los Angeles punk quartet that has endured many travails over the last four decades. The latest is that guitarist Billy Zoom is battling cancer and unable to tour, so Texas roadhouse guitarist Jesse Dayton filled in this time around.

There’s no replacing Zoom’s maniacal rockabilly blare, of course, but Dayton managed a fine approximation. D.J. Bonebrake remains a machine on drums, and John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s vocal harmonies still cut to the bone.

It was punk-rock bliss, and not just for those of us of a certain age. I was heartened to see actual little kids jumping up and down to the old folks’ boogie.

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