[Your intrepid SunBreak staff has finally had a chance to recover fully from the extravaganza that was the 2012 Capitol Hill Block Party last weekend. Those of us who joined the throngs in music/food/alcohol consumption (myself, Andrew Boscardin, Josh Bis, and Odawni AJ Palmer) wanted to share, in the form of a super-sized photo gallery and SunBreak round table.]
Josh: I didn’t make it to the block party last year, but it felt like the infusion of new ownership brought all sorts of welcome improvements to the festival. Having art throughout the grounds and projected on the walls was a really nice touch that quietly signaled the presence of several minor changes.
Tony: I don’t have last year to measure by, either (this was my first Capitol Hill Block Party), but I had a chance to talk to a few veterans from CHBP 2011, and they all really appreciated the art presence. I definitely did.
Josh: I appreciated how more and more bars and restaurants have been brought “inside the fences” — this increased the number of music venues and improved food and drink options without expanding the footprint.
Tony: That was a canny organizational move. Not only did it widen out the scope of restaurant and watering-hole options, it made CHBP 2012 feel more like a neighborhood festival (albeit a gargantuan one), and less like a gang of drunk party-crashers stomping into the ‘hood.
Josh: Whether the result of limiting ticket sales, scaling back the lineup, or tweaking the layout, the block party rarely felt as dangerously crowded and physically unnavigable as I remember it being in previous years. But as usual, dropping a beer garden fortress into the middle of the grid induced some traffic bottlenecks (and kept all-agers out of all but two stages).
Tony: Most of the time the CHBP team kept their ducks in a row logistically, but the placement of that beer garden was one of the few genuine pains in the ass all Block Party long.
Josh: I can’t even imagine how complicated it would be to do so, but I’d really love to see those fences eliminated. If Sasquatch can do it, why not Seattle?
Tony: I agree. Traversing the entire stretch of Pike from Neumos to the Vera Stage woulda had agoraphobics in seizures. Then again, there was so much great music, walking that gauntlet proved to be worth the effort most of the time.
Speaking of the music, I saw over two-dozen bands at the Block Party, and was really surprised at how few of these artists I’d actually heard and/or heard of before. Even more surprising was how great so many of ‘em were. What stood out for you guys?
Josh: Overall, my favorite sets were Beat Connection‘s well-timed midday tropical calypso/electro, Cloud Nothings‘s epic Sunday afternoon frustration rock, and Silly Goose’s hilarious and charming Blink 182 covers.
Tony: Beat Connection were, unsurprisingly, tight yet wonderfully airy–perfect for a breezy summer day. And Cloud Nothings (one of many first-time listens for me) were aces. Andrew, I saw you at the Pollens set at Neumos. Did you enjoy them as much as I did?
Andrew: Full disclosure: I went to Cornish with several of the members of Pollens and have been a huge fan of the band for some time. Their new record Brighten and Break is wonderful and I try to catch them live whenever I can.
Tony: I love how they combine a strong rhythmic backbone with really lush multi-part harmonies. The Dirty Projectors sort of kicked off this sound, but you don’t hear a lot of Seattle bands mixing those elements so well.
Andrew: Their performance at Block Party was notable for me in that the band sounded looser and more spontaneous than I’ve ever heard them before. They gave the impression of transforming from a group that performs their repertoire live into a true live band which is truly exciting to see. I’m very much looking forward to what the future holds for them.
Tony: I heard a lot of satisfying dance music over the course of the weekend, for sure. Friday, Allen Stone’s brand of velour soul made for prime baby-making accompaniment, and Mad Rad mix maestro P Smoov’s offshoot Fresh Espresso pumped up the volume at Neumos in a big way–MC Rik Rude was an electric current through that crowd.
Spoek Mathambo‘s weld of hip-hop, electronica, and dance hall sounded great live (and his drummer ruled) on Saturday. Sunday’s rhythm-fueled highlights for me included New York electronic pop outfit Phantogram (sleek and sexy, with a hint of danger and a fireball front woman in Sarah Barthel) and Seattle young pups Kithkin (whose relentlessly percussive tribal rock literally had the audience joining the band onstage to pound on cowbells, drums, and sticks).
Andrew: Onuinu, a three-piece fronted by Portland’s Dorian Duvall, is my favorite new discovery from Block Party. Unadorned dance pop that floats on a cloud of synthesizer and guitar textures, their music had a packed house dancing all through their set at Neumos. It felt like a perfectly curated DJ set from a secret exclusive nightclub stumbled upon off of some hidden alley in Barcelona. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more from them.
Tony: What about the rock? I got my loud/fast quotient from Black Breath, a local metal quartet who delivered Motorhead riffs, from-the-gut-growls, and glorious hair-flipping in equal measure. The loud-and-proud psychedelia of Texas ex-pats Night Beats stroked my garage-rock pleasure nodes in stunning fashion. And anyone who thinks the lock-step rhythms of post-punk and the screaming anger of metal can’t combine magically hasn’t heard Absolute Monarchs, who decimated the Main Stage Saturday afternoon. Still kicking myself for having missed Reignwolf, though.
Andrew: Any description of Reignwolf (aka Jordan Cook) fails to do justice to the experience of hearing him perform live. Combining high-octane blues-laced rock songs with crushing guitar licks and the showman theatricality of a classic one-man-band, Cook’s set in front of a packed house at Neumos was a thunderous spectacle in the best possible sense.
Tony: The Cha Cha Lounge hosted a lot of heavy/loud bands, too…
Josh: The Cha Cha turned out to be one of my more favorite venues, if only because of the high levels of enthusiasm from local bands and their enthusiastic fans. It would be cool to see that lineup unleashed into the more spacious light of day (or even the bar’s back lot), but that might rob it of a little bit of its dark margarita-fueled energy.
Tony: The Cha Cha shows were so packed that I was only able to squeeze into Crime Wave’s energetic set of post-punk (and even then, only barely). The band delivered live, and their driving goth sound went strangely well with the club’s coffin-lining-red lighting and retro-lucha libre kitsch.
Andrew: I didn’t see any Cha Cha shows, but I did catch Sandrider at Barboza. They’re easily my favorite band right now. Combining crushing riffs with lyrics inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune, this power trio has seemingly inherited all of the best parts of their classic metal and hardcore forebears and distilled them into their refined and steely essence. They didn’t waste a single note of their 40-minute set, stirring the crowd into a hopping, head-bobbing frenzy.
Tony: All told, my favorite acts turned out to be the ones brimming with the most showmanship. Aside from the aforementioned sets by Kithkin, Phantogram, Absolute Monarchs, and Night Beats, I fell in even deeper love with San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees after their Friday Main Stage turn. Vocalist Jon Dwyer is an amazing anomaly–an incredibly cool-looking frontman (thin, floppy-locked, sharply attired) who literally doesn’t give a rat’s ass what he looks like. Watching his face contort like some LSD-jiggered cartoon character as he and his band pounded out their sure-rocking variety of trippy guitar rock was as amusing as it was inspiring. And Neko Case‘s hilarious between-song banter (“I shit your pants!”) somehow never obscured that bell-clear siren song of a voice, nor did it diminish the dusky power of her songs. She, like a lot of the other acts that worked the various stages of the Block Party, knew the value of embracing your art closely while still acknowledging the ridiculousness of the revelry.