(J. Roddy Walston, Thursday at Tir na Nog)
Now that I've had a few days to reflect on 2012, I can truly say this was the best one yet. I wasn't sure I'd feel that way going into it. All the bands I really wanted to see (meaning the heavy bands) were stacked on Friday night. Baroness, who had to cancel all shows after their horrific bus crash in England, were my original go-to band on Thursday. With that cancellation, I assumed Thursday would be a wash. What that really meant was I was free to just wander around and observe. In the process I found my new favorite band, Hacienda, who were at Tir na Nog. I liked that band so much that I immediately downloaded their album, "Shakedown," as soon as I got home. Unfortunately for me, I found out way too late that the band was playing a day party the next day at Slim's. I managed to get there right as they were loading their equipment out. Also on Thursday I caught the always-entertaining fallen-preacher-man blues of J. Roddy Walston at Tir na Nog and GDFX's electronic trippiness at Kings.
(Stella Lively at Sadlack's, Thursday)
Most of Thursday was spent at Sadlack's at the Guitartown party. If you remember, last year's Guitartown party was temporarily shut down mid-day for being too loud. This year organizers Jonathan Lee and Greg Rice got around the noise ordinance by having most of the afternoon bands at Sadlack's and Schoolkids. Standouts from that party were the Debonzo Brothers, who closed the party down, and the dark, bluesy Stella Lively. As you can guess, by the time the party wound down, everyone was pretty well lubricated.
(Lutie's spot, damnit! Thursday at Sadlack's)
(Lollipops at CAM, Friday)
Friday I started off at the CAM party, where I nearly wilted from the heat. I ran up front to get a few photos of Lollipops, who were worth enduring the inferno, but afterward retreated -- along with half the people at the party -- over to the one thin strip of shade running along the building. I did get to try a baguette with chorizo and chimichuri sauce from Baguettaboutit, and it was awesome! But on the way to Neptunes for the Thrill Jockey party I truly thought I was going to pass out.
(Guardian Alien at the Thrill Jockey Party at Neptunes, Friday)
I originally went to Neptunes to catch White Hills, who were playing as a duo, but I was blown away by Guardian Alien (which includes drummer Greg Fox, aka GDFX). Fox is the former drummer for Liturgy, and I've raved before about his insanely quick technique. Guardian Alien was jazzier, chaotic and otherworldly. Singer Alexandra Drewchin spent much of the time in the Neptunes DJ booth, intoning into a microphone. But when she suddenly lept out of the booth and did a crazy dance while chanting in time to Fox's rim shots, I thought I would jump out of my skin. The photo above was totally by accident, but I liked it.
(MAKE, Friday at Kings)
My strategy for each night was to take a long nap after the day shows, so I basically missed Built to Spill. I started off at Kings, where Scott Endres from MAKE was playing with a possibly broken thumb. Maybe it was a good omen because the band sounded phenomenal. New Hampshire black metallers Vattnet Viskar were up next, and they sounded great from what I heard, but they really did suffer from having a slot that was right before when Pallbearer was scheduled to go on at Pour House. That meant that a bunch of folks cut out halfway through their set, and a bunch of other folks (yours truly included) spent the first half of the set nervously wondering whether or not we should go ahead and head to the Pour House. At least they fared better than Black Tusk, who went up directly against Pallbearer. I love Black Tusk, but there was no way I was missing Pallbearer.
(Black Skies, Friday at the Pour House)
As it happened, there wasn't much to worry about. I got to the Pour House in plenty of time to get up front, catch the end of Black Skies (who sounded really tight despite the fact they hadn't played in six months) and stake my claim on a spot right in front of Pallbearer leader Brett Campbell.
(Pallbearer, Friday at the Pour House)
Throughout this entire Hopscotch, as soon as I knew they were booked to play, I had been looking forward to Pallbearer. Their "Sorrow and Extinction" album had been my No. 1 album of the year (followed very closely by Dawnbringer's "Into the Lair of the Sun God"). I was honored to be able to write the description of the band for the Hopscotch website. And wouldn't you know it, they started off with my absolute favorite song from the album, "Devoid of Redemption." Somewhere there is an Instagram, taken during that song, of me holding a "Goblet of Rock," as one commenter put it. It was completely beyond an invisible orange. If I could have built a fire onstage and offered up a human sacrifice of thanks for that one song, I would have done so.
After Pallbearer, I headed back to Kings for The Atlas Moth, a band I normally love. Their 2011 album "An Ache for the Distance" was my No. 3 album of the year (after Graveyard and Feist), and I was blown away by their show last year at Nighlight. But, man, I just couldn't hang after Pallbearer. I spent a good bit of the show sitting at the bar, thinking, "at some point I'm going to get with this." But I never did, so I went home before the end of the set, totally missing Altar of Plagues.
(Salvacion, Saturday during the Mann's World party at Dive Bar)
Saturday's big event, as far as I was concerned, was my own Day Party at Dive Bar. This is the third year I've held a heavy music day party, and the second time I've done it at Dive Bar. And each year, when I wake up on Saturday, I think to myself, "why in the hell am I doing this?" I'm always terrified that no one will show up. And I'm always a bit disappointed that I can't walk around and catch the other day parties happening that day. And, like each year before, as soon as it's over, I think "that was awesome. I can't wait to do it again!" This year, with Salvacion, Earthling and Caltrop, was by far the best. The place was packed, the bands were on it (Earthling in particular had a phenomenal set) and everyone seemed happy. There's nothing like pumping your fist to some screaming metal in a dark bar with 70 other smelly metalheads, only to have someone open the door and have daylight flooding in on everyone. That truly made it 10 times better for me. This killer show was happening in the middle of the afternoon, and everyone was happy about it.
(Earthling, Saturday during the Mann's World Day Party at Dive Bar)
(Caltrop, Saturday during the Mann's World Day Party at Dive Bar)
I had no real plans for Saturday, but a good friend (who btw ended up skipping out on Hopscotch altogether) had convinced me that Berkeley was the place to be, particularly because of Charlotte's Young and In the Way). But I'll admit that Saturday's downpour, and the fact that I was pretty much exhausted from the previous two days, meant that by 7 p.m. on Saturday, I really just wanted to hang out at home with a glass of wine. Even with missing a ful day of official Hopscotch shows, I can say that this was the best festival so far. I really can't wait for next year!