|Photos by Kevin Norris|
Niblett’s It’s Up To Emma is a brutal album, but the songs reach unbelievable levels of intensity live when paired with her burning stare and ferocious vocal delivery. This was a performance felt in the gut.
Her performance was both terrifying and cathartic. Terrifying because her anger is so palpable it’s easy to believe she might act on her macabre thoughts. Cathartic because the brooding, sparse guitar builds into gargantuan drum hits and cleansing guitar solos. She played the audience perfectly building up the tension until it just had to burst.
In the much different setting of the Longview Center, Lonnie Holley also hypnotized his audience. The old church was the perfect venue for Holley’s soulful and contemplative improvisations.
Holley started out on his own, both at a keyboard on stage and at a grand piano next to it.
“This will be only my second time playing piano,” he said before he began a story about how his parents wouldn’t let him touch the piano in his church growing up.
His solo songs were interesting, but the music reached another level when Steve Gunn (guitar; Steve Gunn Trio), Brad Cook (bass; Megafaun) and Matt McCaughan (drums; Bon Iver) joined him. The additional moving parts gave Holley’s music momentum and created a truly unique sound.
Performances like Holley’s feel extra special because they only happen at Hopscotch and only at this festival can a fan go from Lonnie Holley to a living legend like John Cale.
Cale stood on stage at Memorial Hall and sounded nothing like his age. The rock icon’s music still feels like it’s pushing new boundaries while being accessible. He added more electronic beats to his music on 2012’s Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood. Those who couldn’t decide between wanting to close out Hopscotch dancing or rocking out would have been best served seeing Cale Saturday night.
However, even a legend wasn’t able to escape the drawbacks of the cavernous Memorial Hall. The sound was great in the higher seats, but the location sucks all of the energy out the performance. Up close in the pit, Cale was fascinating to watch, but everything sounds dull and muddy.
Even so, it was incredible to end three long festival days seeing an artist who laid the foundation for many of the bands that performed earlier in the weekend.