Friday, September 09, 2011

Hopscotch 2011 Day 1: The Necks and J Mascis at Fletcher Opera Theater

All photos by Kevin Norris
Fletcher Opera Theater is the best venue at this year’s Hopscotch. It’s a beautiful space with great sound, sight lines and seats. Add to that a line up that will expose Hopscotchers to a wide variety of incredible acts and it’s tempting to find a seat and say put for three days.

I booked it down Fayetteville Street in time to catch the end of Rhys Chatham and the ensemble he had put together for a rousing end to “Guitar Trio.” There couldn’t have been a better introduction to the acoustics of the opera house.

As expected, it wasn’t a packed house for The Necks, but there were a respectable amount of people there for the Australian trio. Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (percussion) and Lloyd Swanton (bass) took the stage in silence and began without a word.

Abrahams set the foundation for the piece with slowly swirling individual notes on the piano. Swanton added a layer next and then Buck. The piece evolved from a collection of single notes to an amalgamation of chords. Swanton switched from plucking notes to bowing them, filling the spaces that had been there moments before.

The trio swelled together in waves powered by the bass drum of Buck. The bass drum seemed to lift audience off of the ground with every kick and the effect was magnified with closed eyes.

Throughout the set, Abrahams remained in nearly the same position – head cocked slightly toward the audience with an ear toward the piano keys – while Buck and Swanton swayed to and fro as if trying to mold their instruments into the sound they wanted.

The decrescendo of the piece was just as striking as the crescendo. One by one the players dropped out until only the rattle of percussion was left which slowly faded to the “shhhh” sound of a scraped drumhead. The final silence hung in the air leaving me with a chill that I know I will still feel in the morning.

To recover, I make a quick run up to Slim’s to get my face melted off by JEFF The Brotherhood. The group can’t be seen in the sardine can of a bar except for the lucky few in the front rows, but the sound is immense and joyfully raucous.

Back at Fletcher, J Mascis took the stage with a set up that looked like a practice space. Two guitars, a piano bench, a music stand, some monitors and lots of water were all that accompanied him. It was quite different from the only other time I’ve seen him: with Dinosaur Jr. in front of the biggest wall of amps I’d ever seen.

Mascis didn’t say much during his set other than “Thank you” and the occasional song name. There didn’t seem to be a lot of effort. To some in the audience, it was obviously off putting, but most didn’t care.

His set included several songs off of his new album Several Shades of Why as well as older favorites. Added effects allowed his acoustic guitar to sound electric and recreate the thicker textures of Dinosaur Jr. songs.

When he finished, Mascis simply walked off the stage without a word with seemingly little care for his audience. Why? No one could know for sure, but maybe the answer came in his cover of the Edie Brickell tune “Circle”:

And I quit, I give up, nothing's good enough for anybody else,
It seems
And being alone is the best way to be
When I'm by myself it's the best way to be
When I'm all alone it's the best way to be
When I'm by myself, nobody else can say goodbye
Everything is temporary anyway 
The Necks

J Mascis

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