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Hopscotch 2013: Day Three

Even though it came out in late 1993, no song says “1994” quite as vividly as the Breeders’ “Cannonball,” and you can almost narrow it down to a specific season – that brief alternative-is-the-new-mainstream moment that ended with Kurt Cobain’s suicide in April 1994. “Last Splash,” the million-selling album that yielded up the left-field hit that was “Cannonball,” arguably stands as the last gasp of that time. Not that there haven’t been other weirdly unexpected hits since then, but they’ve been more of the quirky exception-that-proves-the-rule variety than game-changers.

Two decades on, that leaves “Last Splash” as a nostalgia artifact overdue for memorialization. Like being played in its entirety onstage, which was the Saturday-night main-stage highlight of this year’s Hopscotch Music Festival. Frontwoman Kim Deal has reassembled the “Last Splash”-era Breeders for that lineup's first tour since (yes) 1994, and they all hit their marks well. “Divine Hammer” and “I Just Wanna Get Along” were both almost as fetching as “Cannonball,” in a preserved-in-amber kind of way. Give anything enough time and it becomes a timepiece, but that’s not all bad.

British psych-rockers Spiritualized followed with a series of crescendos that dazzled but never quite seemed to achieve resolution. It was plenty impressive while it lasted but still did not leave much of an impression afterward, although that probably had as much to do with my own weariness as what was onstage. Festivals like Hopscotch turn into an endurance contest by the last night, and I was winding down. And so I resolved to stick with shows where I could sit, and spending the rest of the evening bouncing back and forth between Memorial Auditorium and the Fletcher Opera Theater next door was more than satisfying.

Local boy Ryan Gustafson offered up a fine roots-rock set of what Loudon Wainwright III might have called “Talking New Bob Dylan Blues.” Brooklyn’s San Fermin was enjoyable in a key of perky collegiate theatricality. And Minnesota's Low just flat killed it despite playing for an audience with an irritatingly high pinhead quotient – why anybody thought the trio's moody slowcore called for lots of drunk-sounding WHOOOOO’s was beyond me. If you could tune out the crowd, Low’s hushed murmurs were mesmerizing, and guitarist Alan Sparhawk’s mid-solo footwork (which landed somewhere between soft-shoe and moonwalk) was fun to watch.

So another Hopscotch is in the books. Based on crowds (or lack thereof), I would be surprised if organizers broke even this year, although a final accounting will probably have to wait until after the Sept. 21 makeup concert by Big Boi (who was to have headlined Friday’s main-stage show but postponed over scheduling conflicts). But however the bottom line turns out, the fourth edition of Hopscotch had another terrific lineup and I hope they can do it again next year.

South By Southwest 2013: Day three

Photo gallery

AUSTIN, Texas -- From a distance, South By Southwest looks like a seething mass (or mess) of cacophony, with thousands of bands playing and tens of thousands of people rushing around. But there are still plenty of quiet and incredibly pleasant little pockets to it. The trick, however, is that they're off the grid and you have to Know Someone.

This is my 26th (!) SXSW, so yeah, I know a few people by now. And so it was that I got to tag along to a private mid-day party Friday at a palatial house dubbed "The Castle," which was actually an old stone church. It had been converted into a fascinatingly odd dwelling that seemed equal parts salon and art gallery with fine artwork and deer antlers on the wall. Just being there was a treat, even if I never got over feeling very out-of-place. I wondered if any of the other 50 or so attendees felt the same way.

The occasion was singer-songwriter Patty Griffin showing off a few songs from her new album American Kid, and they all passed the "memory test" of being memorable enough to linger afterward. She played solo, jingle-jangle guitar plus stomping foot and deeply emotive singing. The cool thing about seeing people play unadorned and up-close like this is you really do appreciate just how good they are. Griffin has one of those voices that just pierces, every quaver translating into a shiver once it hits you. It was a pretty stunning display.

Elsewhere Friday, I saw Griffin's sometime singing partner Emmylou Harris with Rodney Crowell (coming to DPAC March 30 with Richard Thompson); preppy Afrobeat band Vampire Weekend; the very fine Los Angeles band Dawes (opening for Bob Dylan in Raleigh in May, word to the wise); and Divine Fits, the new local Austin supergroup led by Britt Daniel from Spoon. There was also platinum punk-pop band Green Day, playing one of the cattle-call "Big Shows" that have become a SXSW staple in recent years (Prince and Justin Timberlake are two of this year's other big names).

Green Day was fun as always, but my favorite part of it was actually before they even started playing. The pre-show selection right before that was Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," which turned into a "Wayne's World" re-enactment with the audience howling along every word. That segued into the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," and everybody kept right on bouncing. Then the lights went down, Ennio Morricone's "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" theme went up, the band came out and everybody went nuts. Good, stupid fun.

Nevertheless, for all the glitz of the big-name stuff and VIP parties, the heart of SXSW remains the young hopefuls who come from all over the world hoping to be heard. Friday afternoon, I wandered into another off-the-grid club called Firehouse Lounge, where a British punk band called Young Guns was expending an arena's worth of energy to play for maybe a dozen people. Most of the audience consisted of other bands and the club's bartenders, but it didn't matter.

"We traveled 5,000 miles to be here and whether we play for 10 people or 10,000, we're gonna have a good time," declared the band's frontman with absolutely winning, charming earnestness. "South By Southwest is a new thing and we are very, very happy to be here!"

Next song, the bartender nodded along in approval as the band bashed away. The music industry and the rest of the world may be falling apart, but the dream lives on. How can anyone not love this?

Glen Campbell plays Cary


CARY – Sometimes the weather cooperates, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes when it doesn’t, things still work out pretty well. Like Saturday night, as Glen Campbell sang his iconic hit “Galveston” onstage in the rain at Booth Amphitheatre. It was as if they had synced up the lightning to coincide with the song’s lines about cannons flashing and the narrator being “so afraid of dying.”

Campbell’s performance wasn’t too long, clocking in at less than an hour. But it’s remarkable the show happened at all. This is a farewell go-round for Campbell, who announced last year that he has Alzheimer’s disease and would retire after one last album and tour. Given that an upcoming run of dates in Australia and New Zealand was just canceled out of concerns that Campbell wasn’t up for that much traveling, you had to wonder about his condition.

Then there was Saturday night’s stormy weather, a drenching thunderstorm that delayed the show for more than an hour because of lightning in the area. Concerns about the weather and finishing before curfew shortened Campbell’s usual 19-song set down to 14, but the good part was that it was all wheat and no chaff from one of the most enduring catalogs in popular music.

The “official” rock-history version of the late ’60s/early ’70s is that the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were all that mattered. For those of us of a certain age, however, the Nixon era was as much about the Partridge Family, “The Brady Bunch,” Herb Alpert – and Campbell, who had an astonishing run of signpost hits including “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and the aforementioned “Galveston.”

Campbell is 76 now, and his voice has acquired some rough edges. But he has learned to work around that, and he still puts those signature songs across in a way that makes you feel ’em. He showed off a great yodel, too, on the Hank Williams standard “Lovesick Blues.” And he showed still-excellent touch and taste on guitar, with some especially nice interplay with his son on the outro of “Wichita Lineman.” Campbell’s touring band features three of his kids, including keyboardist/banjo player Ashley Campbell, who served as foil on “Dueling Banjos.”

Overall, Campbell was in fine voice and excellent spirits, and he seemed appreciative that so much of the crowd stuck out the foul weather to see his show. Of course, there was also a fuzzy moment or two that may or may not have had anything to do with his mental state; Campbell garbled the “Wichita Lineman” line about “that stretch down south,” which came out something like “that stretch right there.”

No matter, it was still lovely and moving – his favorite Jimmy Webb-penned hit, Campbell said. Mine too. And here’s the best part about the weather: You couldn’t tell how many tears there were out in the crowd.

What to Watch on Tuesday: PBS claims to have Bob Dylan's electric guitar

Pretty Little Liars (8pm, ABC Family) - Hanna attempts to find out who's assiting Garret, and Emily has another flashback, which points her to a suspect.

History Detectives (9pm, UNC-TV) - The Season 10 premiere investigates the history of a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar to determine if it's the same one Bob Dylan played at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival (where he was booed off the stage for "going electric"). (Note: PBS is currently in dispute with Bob Dylan over this. A lawyer for Dylan says the singer still has the guitar, but PBS is so far standing by its claim that Dawn Peterson has the instrument). Also, possible Beatles autographs from 1964 Miami Beach, and a $5 thrift-store find that may have a Frank Zappa link.

MasterChef (9pm, Fox) - Paula Deen is the guest judge for a Southern-inspired mystery-box challenge.

American Gypsies (9pm, National Geographic Channel) - The series premiere introduces the Johns, a tight-knit Romani family  living in New York City. Patriarch Bob Sr.'s health is failing, prompting brothers Nicky and Bobby to battle for leadership. Meanwhile, a rival family encroaches on Nicky's psychic shop, leading to a violent confrontation.

NY Med (10pm, ABC) - A man with a liver disease needs a transplant and hopes to live long enough for his daughter's wedding, and a trauma surgeon finds his groove in New York after leaving New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (10pm, HBO) - Segments include a look at marching-band hazing; an interview with MLB All-Star Matt Kemp; and a report on former Olympic gold medalist Dominque Moceanu.

Bob Dylan, Old 97's and the random interconnectedness of all things

Not that it’s unusual to encounter Bob Dylan songs, but I still felt like the man’s songs were following me around on Friday night. Driving from Raleigh to Chapel Hill, I heard Peter Paul & Mary’s version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” on WKIX-AM. After that signal faded out, I switched over to WXYC on the FM band just in time to hear Van Morrison’s rendition of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Then I walked into Cat’s Cradle, where Old 97’s were playing, and they served up “Champaign, Illinois” – a rewrite of Dylan’s “Desolation Row.”

While it’s hard to argue with those other two covers, I think I dug the 97’s remake the most. There might not be a more purely likable act on the bar-band circuit nowadays, and they’ve gotten nothing but better since their mid-’90s breakthrough period.

Speaking of the mid-’90s, frontman Rhett Miller does not appear to have aged 15 minutes in the 17 years since the 97’s debuted with 1995’s “Wreck Your Life” (an album represented Friday night by a rollicking run-through of “Doreen”). Miller’s stage persona is the lovable loser who wishes he were cooler, but he’ll settle for knowing where you’ve been. And even if you’re not telling, well, he’ll still leave the back door open for ya.

The rest of the 97’s were all beyond solid, too, still rocking at the feverish pace of a runaway train (no, that name has never been an accident). They were great, and it was a surprisingly full house given that the 97’s are touring on an album that’s six months old. All in all, a real good night…

Avett Brothers keep on keepin' on

Here's another excellent little coup for Concord's Avett Brothers: They're playing Sunday night's Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, even though they're not nominated. But wait, it gets better: They're playing with Bob Dylan, as part of a three-song "special salute to acoustic music" that also includes Mumford & Sons (a.k.a. the British Avett Brothers) in addition to Dylan. That might be even cooler than the Johnny Cash star turn the Avetts did last year. "Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise" is on the set list.

The Grammys will be on CBS from 8 to 11:30 p.m. Sunday.

Robert Plant plays Raleigh

Classic-rock deity Robert Plant played Raleigh Wednesday night, still following the idiosyncratic path of misty mountain twang that his muse has been leading him down for the past few years. Click on through for the review; and check the photo gallery.

Mavis (Staples) and Bob (Dylan), sittin' in a tree...

Mavis Staples has a great new album out, which she'll show off in Durham tonight. For verbiage past and present about music and family (plus an amazing and amusing tale about her near-marriage to another equally iconic musical figure), click on through.

Stan Ridgway remembers absent friends

Stan Ridgway's new album "Neon Mirage" is one that's very much under the shadow of recent passings, especially fiddle player Amy Farris -- a friend and collaborator of his who committed suicide last October. Early in the process, Ridgway recorded a couple of songs at her suggestion, including a cover of  Bob Dylan's "Lenny Bruce." The songs she suggested wound up being particularly key tracks on the album.

"I'm happy and grateful she's on the record, although some of it was hard to finish up after she left us," Ridgway said in a recent interview. "Mixing the voice and playing of somebody who's no longer there was just wrenching. So I kind of left that alone for a while. I really didn't know what to do with it, especially 'Lenny Bruce.' The sad irony of that song's subject matter was not lost on me. Dylan probably wrote that in 10 minutes or something, which I don't say to minimize it. I find him just amazing. Planet Bob is a place we all must visit. It's really delivered more as a celebration of a life somebody has sacrificed. And the great thing Bob did with that song was to make it not only about Lenny Bruce, but anybody who has laid his body on the barbed wire and taken the knock for it."

Ridgway plays Saturday night in Raleigh. For details, plus lots more talk about "Neon Mirage," see the interview in Friday's paper. And if you want to take a listen, "Neon Mirage" is streaming here.

The Bob Dylan Christmas album: Even weirder than you'd imagine

So that Bob Dylan Christmas album you've been hearing about? Not only is it for real, what I've heard of it is a positively surreal listening experience. Enjoy (if that's the right verb).

(Found via Bull City.)

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