Capitol Hill Block Party 7.22-7.24.11

July 24, 2011
Capitol Hill Block party is the perfect fest for city dwellers. Not an overwhelming number of acts, a short walk/bus/cab-ride from anywhere in the city up to Pike and Broadway before you're ready to rage. This year in particular for whatever reason the weather gods got behind it, decided to cooperate and we had 3 of the most beautiful days we've seen all summer (maybe now we can count the number of nice days on both hands?) Which came at a bit of a price at least for this DJ as it seemed most were less than prepared to be exhausted by taxing heat.

After getting off work and snoozing for a bit (naps are essential for enjoyable festival experiences) I awoke to realize I'd slept through Kurt Vile's set (complete regret/mistake) and ran up the hill to make sure Thurston Moore didn't fall victim to the consequences of my stupidity as well (though I'm sure he wouldnt have missed me much). The dude delivered a brilliant set on such an unusually hot day, which as I mentioned before, made it somewhat tough to appreciate. The blinding sun hanging low over the mainstage essentially crippling your vision unless you were armed with sunglasses or were willing to hold your hand in the air for an hour (a tall order, really). Thurstons band included a violinist, 2 guitars, a drum kit and a harp, quite the departure from the guitar onslaught of his day job. Thurston appeared in high spirits as he ramchackled through a set of songs of his latest offering "Demolished Thoughts" produced by none other than Beck. "Let's listen to the traffic a while, shall we?" talkative between songs, reminiscent of the last time his other band headlined the fest a few years prior. A jam at the end of the set bringing things full circle as he manages to produce feedback from his acoustic pickup and the violin shrieks from furious bow-play, making it apparently clear that Thurston's trip into acoustic territory is by no means a permanent departure from his day job.

Next up Cults played a particularly sweaty set to a packed early evening crowd at Neumos, who didn't let the all out heat assault smother their desires to dance. Cults have that hype behind them that make them that token packed early day time festival set. Watch for them to pack tents across the country again this year with their infectious singles and bratty beach vibe that make them a better version of Best Coast. "That was my first time being flashed on stage, thanks" singer Madeline is a chatty cathy between tracks, expressing her excitement and gratitude to the crowd often, and they play into her hand. Everyone's having a blast and no one's hiding it, which makes you wonder if the same experience would have been had if theyd been given a mainstage slot (which they clearly deserved). The band has the same great energy live as the record, though a bit rougher around the edges. A nod to the production clean-up and refinement that comes with signing to a major label. I'm not sure I've ever been to a set in seattle where people have actually danced this much, always a treat to see people shed their shells and reach beyond the Seattle two-step.

Ghostland Observatory capped off the night with a frenzy of lasers and a fury of dance beats both echoing amongst the street corridors of cap hill. Taking the reigns when rumored headliner RATATAT backed out, even though it was the Duo's 3rd time here in recent months, can you ever really complain about finishing off the night ass shaking, watching lasers illuminate the sky as you're intoxication level (yes you've been drinking in the heat all day at this point) reaches its maximum and the entire experience melds together in a warm feeling of fuzzy bliss. The set itself was relentless, extended breakdowns, aggressive remixes, there was no time to think, but plenty of room to breathe as things began to thin out and the crowd began to dissipate hopefully resting up for the big day they had ahead of them on Saturday (though more likely hitting the bar yet again).

Day 2 began as even more of a battle. starting just a little earlier, which meant the drinks started a little earlier, which meant the crowds and the heat came a little earlier...As convenient as CHBP is being in the city it's also tough to handle at moments. Streets like that arent meant to be packed to the brim and if you're any bit claustrophobic you'll be more than set off by the trapped feeling of thousands of people forcibly contained by a number of chainlink fences. Your sight lines obscured by tall buildings, its a bit harrowing to be honest.

Handsome furs stole the stage easily early on, powering through a set that relied heavily on tracks off their latest Sub Pop offering "Sound Kapital" It's always enjoyable to see a studio duo who don't try to flush out their sound with a full live band. Performing side by side, the barren stage keeping the energy honest as they pump out infectious pop beats that fall to waste on a mostly static crowd, fallen victim to the sunshine. The husband/wife chemistry shines through brilliantly as the two battle playfully back and forth, gushing with excitement and playing off one another throughout the set which kept delivering through the last note. A stand out of the weekend to be certain.

Best coast on the other hand, were made for festivals like this. Churning out Summery chill tunes, though much like their Sasquatch set I can't hep but be a bit bored. perfect for bedroom listening and even better if you're sittin stoned in the sun, but otherwise it just sorta falls flat. they just stand there and it gets hard to keep focused, especially in the heat. Thats one thing to be said about more aggressive music, while the songs themselves might be at times worthless banging and yelling, heavier bands sure know how to put on a show. These little indie darlings could learn a thing or two as my interest wanes and I wander away, suddenly more captivated by the double dutch circle thats opened up over by VIP (who knew it was still so cool to jump rope?)

After the sun went down, TV On The Radio delivered unsurprisingly perhaps the most emotionally charged set of the weekend to a packed Pike street. A tough year for the band after losing founding member and bassist Gerard Smith to his battle with cancer, the band seemed almost more focused and more intent on stepping up their game to fill the void he'd left. Stand out's for the set included a furiously paced rendition of first single "Staring at the Sun" and the blaring attack drums of "Wolf Like Me" sped up to provide maximum intensity and an almost frenzied delivery. Probably the biggest name on the bill this weekend, TVOTR did not disappoint as they provided the seattle debut of a number of songs off their latest, "Nine Types of Light" without neglecting their back catalogue in the slightest.

Day 3 is an entirely different animal. With attendance at easily half of the rest of the weekend but not for lack of talent on the bill. It's just tough for most to rally through a full 3 days of pounding drinks on the pavement under the blistering sun. Plus most people have to wake up and actually go back to living in the real world the next day (and some of us even have to write CHBP reviews). Which is where it's important to notice that CHBP isn't just a festival about the music. Existing in the city is cause for it to very much become a social event where many people likely haven't heard of whoever they're trying to talk over. As with any festival, there are plenty of people there to see and be seen, to feel trendy on their one trip a year to the hill, and brag to their friends back at the office.

These were no the people watching Battles. Again braving the heat the band played to a surprisingly large crowd at the mainstage blasting out their bizarre version of....whatever you'd call their music. It's tough to define, Battles bass driven psyche guitar battle with your senses. Imagine a more challenging version of Primus perhaps, with guest vocals (digitally at least) by none other than Gary Newman (though if you're my girlfriend you're still standing there saying "who?") The backbone of the whole project is easily drummer John Stanier. WHAT A BEAST. With his signature raised cymbal porturding from his kit as a flag marking their territory he delivered a skin pounding, earth shaking performance which made it nearly impossible to look away even as the sun sucked the last remaining bits of life from you on day 3 (which hopefully you slowed down the drinking for because by now your liver probably doesn't want to be on speaking terms anymore).

And that's where things end for this review. It was quite clear that Explosions In The Sky had things on lockdown when they took the stage a bit later with their loopy guitars and extended spaced out post-rock jams. But by then exhaustion had set in, and it was apparent many agreed as they played to a crowd no bigger than any of the midday acts previous. While it would have been nice to enjoy, this reviewer opted for a hamburger and a couch to lay down on, bringing a fun weekend to a close, a thumbs up to the weather (which has since turned back to sh-t) and an almost certain "yep, I'll be there next year".