[EDITOR’S NOTE: Okay, my gigantic post on the Capitol Hill Block Party is finally complete. I’ve crammed all three days into one four foot long post. There’s not even a single picture to distract you. It’s nothing but text. It features my write-up on 26 bands. It tells the exciting stories of smashed guitars, getting locked up on the roof, hearing exactly the right song at exactly the right moment, confusing all the beardy bands, and it features some of the worst music writing this side of Pitchfork.
I have also included my opinion of neck tattoos as a bonus track. Rock on!]
The Capitol Hill Block Party is a three-day music festival in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. There are four or five different stages and a lot of my time was spent trying to figure out which performers I should be listening to at any given moment. The rest of my time was spent looking at the largest, freakiest collection of hipsters I’ve ever seen gathered in one place.
- JULY 23, 2010 – Here are the highlights from the first day:
Naomi Punk – I caught about 30 seconds of one of their songs. They didn’t do anything for me, so I ditched them and went to check out a rapper called Macklemore on the main stage.
Macklemore – I found this guy to be a strange combination of laughable and likeable. His song “And We Danced” was instantly recognizable (despite the fact that I’d never heard it before) and the costumes and choreographed dance moves that went with it provided the main highlight of the first half of the first day of Block Party.
Bear in Heaven – The only Bear in Heaven song I knew going in was called “Lovesick Teenagers”. I like the studio version of that song a lot, but their six song live set was kind of dull even with “Lovesick Teenagers” thrown in. The singer’s voice is far weirder and shriekier in concert than I expected. I did get to see two kids faint, though. That was kind of cool. They got free waters from security…and maybe a cookie.
Francis & the Lights – I caught the last two songs by this band. They had a funky Prince-like vibe to them and I regret not catching their entire set.
Modern Athletics – As far as I’m concerned, this band of bespectacled geeks gave the best Block Party performance of the day. It’s almost a shame that they played in the tiny Cha Cha Lounge instead of out on the street where more people could see them. They sort of reminded me of a ballsier version of the Lucksmiths. I’m definitely going to pick up their record coming out in the fall. Good stuff.
Yeasayer – If the best part of your performance is the awkward introduction given by a local politician who didn’t bother to learn your name, then there is something wrong with your band. These guys only had two songs that went anywhere. Those songs, “2080” and “Mondegreen”, were pretty good, but the rest made me want to take a nap. Blahsayer is more like it.
Holy Fuck – The Holy Fuck t-shirt they were selling at Block Party featured a kitten wearing a bandanna with the words “HOLY” and “FUCK” emblazoned beneath it. I really wanted to buy one, but there’s absolutely no place in my town where I could wear it without getting arrested. That might fly in Seattle, but not Cincinnati. In fact, I’ve learned that most things fly in Seattle. I saw kids smoking weed in front of tattooed cops.
Fruit Bats (pt.1) – Beth and I caught the first 5+ songs the Fruit Bats played, but we were tricked by the hipster media into ditching the band for a performance by the much heralded MGMT on the main stage.
MGMT (pt.1) – MGMT might merit the hype, but I certainly wasn’t able to tell. The main stage area was packed and we couldn’t get close enough to hear much of anything except people talking about their plans for new tattoos and earlobe stretches. We stuck around for two completely indecipherable songs and then made our way back to the Fruit Bats.
Fruit Bats (pt.2) – After our disappointing ten minute MGMT break, we returned to the neglected Fruit Bats and caught their last four songs. I’m glad we went back as it gave us a chance to hear “When U Love Somebody”. That’s always been my favorite Fruit Bats song.
MGMT (pt.2) – We caught two more largely indecipherable MGMT songs as we left Block Party and walked home. Strangely enough, they sounded better and better the farther we got from the stage. They sounded best just a few seconds before we couldn’t hear them at all.
- JULY 24, 2010 – Here’s my write-up for the second day:
Beach Fossils – I’d never heard of Beach Fossils, but The Stranger mentioned that they perform “hazy, sun-bleached reverb jams”. That description didn’t tell me anything concrete, but still managed to excite my interest. “Hazy” and “sun-bleached” sounds like something I’d enjoy, but “reverb jams” didn’t sound promising. I decided to check out their show and see for myself. Whereas Modern Athletics was the big, surprise find of Block Party’s first day, Beach Fossils filled that role on Saturday. I didn’t hear anything “hazy” or “sun-bleached” and I certainly didn’t hear any “reverb jams”, but I liked them a lot anyway. They performed nine catchy pop songs (the stand-out being one called “Daydream”) and ended the show with their singer smashing his guitar into bits about five feet from my face. He then proceeded to hand out the guitar bits to members of the audience. I didn’t get any.
Obits – We then caught a few songs by the Obits on the main stage. They were loud and rocky and I think I could’ve really gotten into them had I known their songs beforehand. They were new to me, though, and didn’t keep my interest for more than two or three songs.
Air 2 A Bird – We then went up on the roof of Beth’s office building and just hung out for a bit. We could see the Vera Stage from up there. I enjoyed the first song by a hip-hop outfit called Air 2 A Bird. The song featured a lot of call & response bird noises–Tweet! Tweet!–and my first opportunity to shout out “Hootie Hoo!” from a rooftop. That was cool, but the music lost me once the bird noises stopped.
(Stuck on the roof) – That’s not the name of some new hipster band you’re not cool enough to know about. We actually got stuck up on the roof for a half hour. We were only rescued after Aaron dangled a hose over the side of the building and caught the attention of some people on one of the lower floors.
Avi Buffalo (pt.1) – I have a few songs by Avi Buffalo on my iPod and I was actually looking forward to their performance. Unfortunately, the vocals on their first song were so bad that we ditched them and went around the corner to the Elliott Bay Book Company.
(In the bookstore) – I looked at Willy Vlautin’s new book and a graphic novel about Bertrand Russell. Beth looked at a book about window drawings. Aaron hung around the mathematics section.
Avi Buffalo (pt.2) – I went back and caught the last two songs Avi Buffalo performed. “Jessica” and “Remember Last Time” were much better than their opening song.
Blitzen Trapper (pt.1) – My big band for the day was Blitzen Trapper. Of all the bands at Block Party, they’re the ones I liked the most going in (with the possible exception of Grand Archives). We caught their first five songs and then stepped into Neumos for a bit to check out a band called Happy Birthday.
Happy Birthday – I caught the end of one song and the beginning of another, but I didn’t like Happy Birthday at all. They might’ve been okay under different circumstances, but I found it hard to enjoy them when I knew that the far superior Blitzen Trapper was playing right outside the door.
Blitzen Trapper (pt.2) – I was only away from Blitzen Trapper for two songs at the most, but I soon became horribly afraid that they’d played my favorite song while I was away. I wanted to hear “Wild Mountain Nation” and the thought that I’d missed it soon became overwhelming. They ripped, roared, and twanged their way through the rest of their set and I became sadder and sadder with each song. Then they announced they only had one song left. I sung out the opening guitar riff from “Wild Mountain Nation” and two seconds later I heard the exact same sound echo from the stage. For the first time in my life, I stuck my hands up in the air and made those devil horn-things with my fingers. And then I sung along with my favorite song and all was right with the world.
(Sushi) – Beth and I ran up the street and ate sushi off a conveyor belt at Genki. I managed to avoid the roll with the fried green been in it and that made all the difference.
!!! – I really like chk-chk-chk, but I’ve never understood why they don’t play their best songs in concert. Sure, they played the singles from Myth Takes, but I really wanted to dance around to “KooKooKa Fuk-U”, “Feel Good Hit of the Fall”, “Pardon My Freedom”, and “Me and Giuliani Down By the School Yard”. All four of those songs are better than anything they played at Block Party. I guess I shouldn’t complain. At least I got to hear the Blitzen Trapper song I wanted to hear.
- JULY 25, 2010 – And here’s the third and final day:
Harlem – It was 2:00 and Beth and I were leisurely walking back from the farmers’ market. That’s when Beth remembered she wanted to see Harlem at 2:00. We dropped off our veggies and fancypants bread and rushed down to the Main Stage to catch the last seven songs in Harlem’s set. I liked these guys a lot…despite the fact that one of them was wearing a Porky Pig shirt. I hate that stupid pig.
Horde & the Harem – This is embarrassing, but I don’t remember this band very well. I remember there were three guys with guitars and Beth said she thought they probably met in church. It wasn’t so much that they were churchy, but something about their harmonies. I don’t know.
Maldives – Beth and I saw this exact same band last year at the No Depression Festival. I thought they were dull and disappointing then, but I loved them this time around. They only played four songs, but the last one went on forever. I would consider that a bad thing for 95% of bands, but the Maldives were doing that rip-roaring country-tinged rock-thing I like so much…and doing it well. Continuing with the t-shirt theme, one of their singers (they had eight guys onstage) was wearing a Tonight’s the Night shirt. Just like Ronnie Van Zandt.
Ravenna Woods – Oh, I see what’s happening here. I’m mashing up my memories of the Horde & the Harem with my memories of Ravenna Woods. They’ve blurred into one big band of bearded guys playing pleasant folk rock. Although I don’t remember all that much about Ravenna Woods, they must’ve made an impression on Beth. She picked up one of their albums later in the day. We listened to the first four Ravenna Woods songs and then rushed over to Neumos to check out Villagers.
Villagers – Villagers is a guy from Ireland named Conor J. O’Brien. He reminded me of a young Roddy Frame playing an old Roddy Frame’s songs. That might not make any sense to you, but I can assure you it makes perfect sense to me. Not only does it make sense to me, but I consider a young Roddy Frame playing an old Roddy Frame’s songs to be a pretty good thing. Beth also liked him. She bought the Villagers CD, Becoming a Jackal, at the merch table. They didn’t have any left when I went, so I bought the official Capitol Hill Block Party t-shirt instead. It’s got a cartoon man with a gigantic beard and green shades on it.
Real Estate – As soon as Villagers finished up, I left Neumos and found myself a place in the shade over by the main stage just a minute or two before Real Estate went on. I only know one Real Estate song. It’s called “Beach Combers” and it’s awesome. I only had time for a third of Real Estate’s set and I was praying to the rock gods that they’d play it before I had to head off for my next show. Well, somebody up there (or are the rock gods down there?) heard my prayer because “Beach Combers” was the very first song they played. I listened to it, enjoyed it, and got the heck out of there. I wouldn’t have enjoyed any of their other songs as much, so I decided to leave on a high note.
S. – S. is Jenn Ghetto, formerly one of the two main singers in Carissa’s Wierd. I picked up her Puking and Crying CD the last time I was in Seattle. The songs on that album occasionally approached brilliance (especially the first song, “5 Dollars”), but more often than not they felt like little more than demos or incomplete song sketches. Her live show wasn’t as haphazard. I wasn’t sure what to expect from S., but I ended up pleasantly surprised.
Grand Archives – Grand Archives is Mat Brooke’s band. He was the other main singer in Carissa’s Wierd. He’s also famous for being the only person I’ve ever seen who looks cool with a neck tattoo. When I see a person with a neck tattoo, I usually think, “Idiot! What the heck was so important that you had to scrawl it on your neck in permanent ink?” When I see Mat Brooke’s neck tattoo, I think, “Yeah, that shit right there works.” But anyway, I was really looking forward to the Grand Archives and I’m happy to say they didn’t let me down. Beth and I caught the first half of their set from the top of her office building, but a rap group called Blue Scholars was polluting the air waves with their sonic farts from the main stage. They kept wafting in and interferring with the Grand Archives’ sound. We left the roof and caught the rest of the set down below by the stage. The view wasn’t as good as it had been on the roof, but the sound was much better. The show ended with one of the two or three highest highlights of all three days of the Capitol Hill Block Party. They played “Crime Window”. It’s just about the rockingest ba-ba song I’ve ever heard. Have you ever seen a bearded dude with a neck tattoo sing a ba-ba song? It’s pretty damn impressive.
(Plum Bistro) – I don’t know what “raw tacos” are, but they’re four times as expensive and twice as tasty as any other tacos I’ve ever had. The best part was the vegan goo on top. A very good dinner was had by all.
Dutchess & the Duke – We rushed back from Plum and caught the last four songs from a local folk group called the Dutchess & the Duke. They don’t spell their name with an ampersand, though. I added it in there because I’m a big fan of ampersands. I liked the Dutchess & the Duke and probably would’ve normally enjoyed an entire set of their music, but after three days of sun and cupcakes and bands and setlists and drunk people and weed clouds and tattoos and rolled-up jean shorts with docksiders, I was pretty much beat.
(Damien Jurado) – He wasn’t playing. He was just standing around watching the Dutchess & the Duke.
Dead Weather – The Dead Weather is another one of Jack White’s bands. I listened to one of their songs all the way through, but soon decided that my time would be better spent in Everyday Music looking for a Maldives CD. I found an EP and Beth picked up a consignment CD by Ravenna Woods. We eventually left the record store and hobbled our way up the hill and back home. We were worn out. Block Party is hard work.