Well, the euphoria of another Capitol Hill Block Party has come and gone. The 20th annual incarnation of the beloved/ horrific (depending on who you ask) neighborhood music festival lit up the Pike-Pine corridor this weekend, and Jetspace Magazine was there to see it all. My body actually started rejecting PBR, so if that’s not an auspicious sign, I don’t know what is.
As in all things, there were parts of Block Party that were great and parts that were not. Below, I ruminate on some of the highs and lows of the weekend, from performances to porta-potties.
High: Nail Polish at Neumos
Nail Polish are the coolest band in Seattle. All of their songs clock in around a minute, flaring brutally into being and just as quickly burning out. And while they’re laying waste to your ears and your soul, they stare out calmly into the audience, secure in the knowledge that they cannot be fucked with. Two songs in, they were joined onstage by two dancers, who dipped and swayed improvisationally for the rest of the set. Songs like “Chophouse Row,” (which specifically calls out the new development located just a few hundred feet away) took on a delightfully subversive cast against the backdrop of the notoriously “commercialized” Block Party. And while punk hasn’t historically created much space for queer masculinity on stage, preferring hyper-aggression and machismo bullshit, Nail Polish’s set was proof positive that swishy boys can rock just as hard as anyone and look better doing it.
Low: The beer garden
I know, I know, beer gardens always suck. I just cannot for the life of me fathom the idea of purchasing a Bud Lite for eight dollars. EIGHT DOLLARS!?!? You’ve pinned me in this corral like a bison about to be tagged, and you now expect me to fork over my weekly wine budget on two beers? Good day sir. I said good day!
High: Astro King Phoenix at Barboza
In a weekend that can seem somewhat divorced from the thriving DIY music scenes in Seattle, AKP’s set on the basement stage of Barboza was a bold assertion of the ascendency of local hip-hop. Blazing through a half-hour set that included standouts like Osaka and Destroying Angel, the Seattle MC waxed poetic on a journey through time and space. He also seemed to relish the opportunity to highlight a host of other local artists, including frequent collaborator Ike Watson, who joined him onstage. Oscillating between meditations of the esoteric and the hyperreal experiences of growing and being human, Astro King Phoenix offered a taste of Seattle rap at it’s very best.
High: DoNormaal at Neumos
I’ve seen DoNormaal perform a number of times before. She consistently delivers solid, engaging sets, but this was something more. No other performance of the weekend felt quite as momentous, like you were seeing something exciting and new and about to blow up. Joined onstage by DJ J Nasty and with guest verses by Raven Matthews on “50 Jasper Horses,” and “Chocolate Delight,” DoNormaal’s set ran through standouts from Jump or Die as well as a sizable chunk of new material. When the bros in the back started losing it, I knew this performance was something special, an omen of things to come for one of Seattle’s most talented new artists.
Low: Crystal Castles on the Main Stage
I had such high hopes. I wanted to believe that the departure of Alice wouldn’t end things, that the group could keep going. But alas, it was not to be. The light show was cool, and hearing some of the material off (II) still made my little MySpace heart beat faster, but overall it was not a good performance. Plagued by blown speakers, the whole thing devolved into a bit of an incoherent mess, and new lead vocalist Edith Frances delivered a performance best described by a friend as “Kirkland Signature brand Alice Glass.” Not great.
High: Tangerine on the Vera Stage
Everyone loves to complain about festivals, but honestly they’re honestly one of the fastest ways to expose yourself to artists you’ve never heard of. Case in point, Tangerine, whose set I decided to catch because I had an open block of time and “tangerine” is a pretty word. Regardless of my motivations, their performance was easily one of my favorite of the weekend. Breezy surf-pop is never something that I’ll turn down and Tangerine’s simple, polished performance was a welcome relief in a weekend of bands trying their absolute hardest to be larger than life.
Low: The line at Big Mario’s
“Spencer makes hella bangin fire club beats” is an actual quote by an actual human who stood in front of me while I was trying to get pizza. I was rooting for you Capitol Hill Block Party. We were all rooting for you.
High: Thunderpussy on the Main Stage
This performance included the holy triumvirate of gold lamé, smoke machines and choreographed high dancing so it was an automatic high, but add to that the rollicking bar-rock stylings of the ladies of Thunderpussy and you easily had one of the best and most distinctive performances of the entire weekend. It was amazing. There were high kicks! Back up dancers! Women snarling the word “pussy” into the mic like Axl Rose when he yowls “so far awaaaaaaaaay” in Welcome to the Jungle. An extravagant infusion of pure rock and roll, Thunderpussy came in like a fabulous, glittering bar brawl. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
High: Car Seat Headrest on the Main Stage
This performance lived up to all of my expectations. Car Seat Headrest sound great live, their songwriting still rings with a kind of literate apathy, and lead singer/progenitor Will Toledo gave no shits. “We’re gonna start with the hits and then we’ll move to the deep cuts,” he promised a few songs in, sounding like the least enthusiastic algebra teacher you’ve ever had. I don’t know that they ever got into the really deep cuts, but that’s understandable when you have the massive catalogue that Toledo has amassed. Plus, nobody was going to complain about them running through the hits from Teens of Denial. I left a little before the end of the set, but apparently there was guitar smashing involved.
High: Wand on the Vera Stage
My friends and I wisely decided to avoid the mind-bogglingly large crowd who amassed to see Odesza, and opted instead to head over to the Vera stage where LA outfit Wand put on one of the best shows of the entire weekend. With songs that shift viciously from art rock to hardcore to mall punk, Wands are difficult to pin down but easy to fall for. Drummer Evan Burrows is the real engine of the whole machine, managing the stuttering shifts and driving the group forward through a collection of songs that seem to break apart and recoalesce rather than just beginning and ending.
High: SassyBlack at the Vera Stage
Attending all three full days of a music festival with minimal alcohol and no weed can start to feel a lot like work. SassyBlack (real name: Cat Harris-White), one half of now-disbanded local treasure THEESatisfaction, was a welcome relief from my festival fatigue. Handling the stage with the verve and confidence of a professional, her dialogue between songs was almost as entertaining as the songs themselves. “I just got off a plane a while ago,” she informed us. “I did! Peep my Instagram for the facts!” And the music- like a swirling Indica haze than transports you past planets and moons. She sings, raps, intones over shifting beats that sound both primordial and space-age. Near the end, as if she hadn’t already won us over, she performed an acapella Ode to Beyonce, followed by a nebulous cover of Hold Up.
High: The entire Cha Cha lineup
For a festival that ostensibly “sold out” long ago, CHBP had a whole lot of pretty amazing homegrown talent on display. And nowhere was this more evident than in the lineup at Cha Cha, which featured three (five if you include the two free pre-shows) days of the finest that Seattle underground rock has to offer. Seriously, it was a dream. Mommy Long Legs, Lisa Prank, Dude York, Steal Shit Do Drugs, Sashay, Boyfriends, Heavy Petting, Acapulco Lips, Bread and Butter, and more. When Vincent Morales, lead singer of Sashay proclaimed “Anybody who means anything to this community is playing here tonight,” he wasn’t kidding.
I should have known better. I should have seen the crowd and faltered, but my nostalgia was too great. I thought I could weather a storm that was far too powerful and awful but I was vain and in turn I was almost destroyed. Ok, so not exactly destroyed but it was not a good time. This was one of three shows that I really tried to catch at the main stage. I got there forty-five minutes early and was still smashed, and at one point had to subtly elbow a sweaty, rolling bro in the stomach so he would get his swampy body off of me. And then the show actually started, and all the warm fuzziness that I had cultivated, remembering my time at an infamous Spokane all-ages venue called The Big Dipper (now defunct), was blown to smithereens by the orgy of streamers and inflatable animals. I realize that this kind of set, in which people crowd surf three separate times and the band wears astronaut suits, is the sort of thing many people go to a music festival to see. Honestly though, the whole thing felt like a pandering attempt to cover up the fact that to anybody other than a fifteen-year-old drunk off one beer, STRFKR make pretty mediocre pop music.
Ok haters be damned, this was a phenomenal set. To be fair, it did take what felt like a century to set up the backing light show, and Lauren Mayberry’s stage movement onstage did look rehearsed. But by the end of the set, nobody cared. Chvches make slick, bullet-proof synth pop music and that’s exactly what their live show was. Mayberry’s vocals were rock solid and her banter between songs was goofy and delightful. Additionally, the fact that their bassist was simultaneous playing his instrument and six separate synthesizers should not go without notice. Pushing through people and camping out to get to the front was a grueling waste of time, but if I was going to choose to become an obnoxious festival kid at any point during the weekend, it was a really good one.