You’re welcome, readers. You’re so welcome. While you spent the weekend tucked in bed reading Roxane Gay’s new book (or whatever), I was out in the streets, clocking in three full days of Capitol Hill Block Party so I could report back to you. It was long and hot and full of people not-so-subtly doing drugs. Ok, to be fair, it wasn’t all bad, and I did get drink tickets, but still! It was a lot of work, ok?!
Anyway. I’m here to tell you how it all went down. This year, to spice things up, I’m giving you the snippets of thoughts/reviews as they occurred to me in the moment. Enjoy this trip through the garbage heap I call my mind. I think there’s still some puddles of chardonnay in there left over from the results of those drink tickets. Winky face. Alright, on with it.
In my guide to Block Party, I mentioned that I was interested to see how Noname translated the intimacy of Telefone into a main stage show. As it turns out, any concerns I had were unfounded; she was amazing. Her success seemed predicated that same sense of effortlessness that made Telefone such a delight, but she gained real momentum from her stellar backing band and her sense of pacing. She performed most of the songs about halfway through before transitioning into another, sometimes looping back and forth between the two. There was plenty to be interested, even if, like me, you worn that album OUT. Also props for turning a chant of “Fuck bitches, get money,” into the much more satisfying “Respect women, get money.”
I skipped Diplo because, frankly, I have enough dark energy in my life, so I can’t tell you how that went, but a friend did text me to say that he remixed a Journey song, which honestly feels like a subtweet of me. 911? I’D LIKE TO REPORT A DIRECT ATTACK.
The smartest people at this year’s Capitol Hill Block Party? The ones who brought folding fans AKA me. See ya, sweaty mortals.
Cherry Glazerr are better live than on their album. They are also more frightening.
Mykki Blanco gave, naturally, the most punk rock performance of the entire weekend. They stole a gate from backstage and swung it over their heads at the crowd (despite the protestations of one of the Vera Project staff), they snatched their own wig and stripped down to gym shorts. They screamed “We must protect trans women,” and “We must protect black children” into a crowd that included a least a few sweaty bros. It was rad. Also, one of the most interesting things about Myyki’s performance is the way that they deconstruct themselves physically progresses. I’m a snotty asshole, so I intellectualize it, but it’s also just fascinating to watch somebody slowly destroy an entire look over the course of a set. Make of it what you will.
I have a strict personal policy against tropical house, but I enjoyed Dream Journal’s set much more than I expected. Sure, there was enough synthesized marimba and steelpan to set my teeth on edge, BUT there were also two back-to-back Ariana Grande reworks. I wasn’t mad at it.
Whoever scheduled Angel Olsen during the Perfume Genius set is NO FRIEND OF MINE. There’s a reward for whoever can name the names for me.
Slow Elk play angular, crunching punk music complete with a brass section and partial drag looks. They delivered what the Cha Cha stage should always deliver: a respite from the rest of the festival and a reminder that there’s no real replacement for thrashing around in a bar with your friends.
Thundercat is just as funky IRL as one would expect, although I don’t think the crowd quite knew how to handle jazz on the mainstage. Oh well, their loss.
It’s difficult to write about Perfume Genius’ performance, because it’s difficult to wrangle my feelings about his music into something intelligible. He is so much of queerness made manifest – frail and wounded, visceral, powerfully graceful – existing in the liminal space between delicate and tremendous. Most of the set was composed of songs off his latest album, No Shape, but he also performed a few of the standouts off of 2014’s Too Bright (“Queen,” and “Grid” both made an appearance). For about forty-five minutes, we watched as he thrashed and twirled about onstage, and I felt a sense of wonder that, somehow, all of my feelings about gender, pain, sex, joy, and strength were brought forth, in all of their contradictions, on the stage in front on me.
In high school, my good friend dated a member of Cloud Nothings, so before Block Party, I jokingly reassured her that I would try not to publicly praise them too much. As it turns out, I needn’t have promised, because I have very little praise to offer. I still like them, and I still think Life Without Sound, the album they released in January is a phenomenal record – shiny and urgent and keen, the kind of album that makes reminds me that rock music made by four white, straight dudes can be interesting – but frankly, it was difficult to remind myself of all that during their set. In fairness, some of it wasn’t their fault. The speakers, after two full days of Jai Wolfing and Running the Jewels, sounded worse for the wear (after drinking multiple canned chardonnays the day before, I could relate) and the mixing transformed the whole bottom chunk of their sound into a muddy wash, even up close to the stage. But there’s just no getting away from the fact that the performance itself was entirely lackluster. Lead singer Dylan Baldi’s lyrics are smart and thorny, but it’s hard to focus on that when he’s consistently flat (actually I’d like to take this opportunity to beam out a message to all rock vocalists out there: YOU CAN’T BE TOO LAZY TO SING IN TUNE JUST BECAUSE YOU FANCY YOURSELF MICK JAGGER OR SID VICIOUS OR SOME OTHER DICK DE JOUR. Whew. Ok.). And why were they just standing there the whole time? Does anyone know? The whole thing was enough to make me want another can of chardonnay.
Honestly, cans of chardonnay aren’t that bad.
Watching Lizzo’s set immediately brought to mind what legendary R&B producer Juggy Murray once said of young Tina Turner’s voice; it sounded funky, he said, like “screaming dirt.” The first time I read that, I knew exactly to what he was referring, that peculiar combination of grit, pain, and ecstasy that erupted forth from the mouth of Anna Mae like a force of nature. Lizzo’s voice is more beautiful than Tina’s but she has the same charisma. Lizzo, clad in a white fringe bodysuit, performed as though her life depended on it, as though the sheer force of her voice and body and soul was the only thing anchoring her to the earth. I arrived at her set hot, irritated, and unable to get even pleasantly drunk, no matter how much chardonnay I drank. By the end I was transformed. The sense of joy with which Lizzo sang and rapped and danced and slapped her ass was inescapable; she loved herself with an abandon bordering on mania. She streamed parties in her wake. The sheer force of her performance made CHBP feel for a moment like an actual block party. What else could I have wanted for?
Why are those tiny backpacks so trendy right now? It seems like a fanny pack might do the same job without condemning you to a weekend spent looking like you held up a Build-a-Bear before you came to watch Snakehips.
Diet Cig are very good live and lead singer Alex Luciano is charming and energetic and sounds lovely. That said, she mentioned that it was Leo season no less that five times. LEOS OF THE WORLD, WE GET IT. YOUR BIRTHDAYS ARE SOON. PLEASE CHILL.
Overall, this edition of Block Party had some real strengths – a more clearly curated lineup, less of an obvious reliance on DJs, less visible corporate sponsorships – but felt like a bit of a step back from last year’s, which seemed to strike the perfect balance between showcasing headliners and quality local talent. I’m not sure what the right answer to this dilemma is. All I know is that canned chardonnay is the ish.