July 25th kicked off the 17th annual Capitol Hill Block Party, and thus began three days of pure energy, culture and navigational catastrophe. Day one was home to 26 bands, mainly of the rock, hip-hop and electronic persuasion. Our on-sight journalists were there for Friday and Sunday, and while Friday didn’t have as consistently strong an overall lineup as Sunday, Friday delivered several monstrously entertaining live acts, some far better than others.
Our day started as the Main Stage did – with Portland-based Shy Girls. I didn’t know anything about this act going into their set, other than their name, which I believe is a parody of the Super Mario Bros. character. I’m not quite sure what you’d call their sound – downtempo, chillwave, PBR&B, indie pop, what – but I found them to be an interesting group to watch. It reminded me of a less ambient-heavy How to Dress Well, with a surprisingly bass-dependent dynamic. On every song, the audience had their balls rocked with an onslaught of bass.
Watching Shy Girls’ set, with their smooth live antics, chill, relaxed instrumentation and a charming swooner of a lead vocalist, it was somewhat obvious that the band has a female audience in mind, and was doing everything in their power to appease them. While my panties weren’t exactly wet like basements in New Orleans, I’m glad I attended their set. They sounded pretty solid, they did a good job of wooing the crowd, and the maneuvers of their producer fellow way in the background were hilarious and cheesy as ever.
Afterwards, 5:00 rolled around, and I was exposed to three-piece punk rock band CHILDBIRTH on the Vera Stage… I made it about 30 seconds. CHILDBIRTH is one of those open-quotes “funny” rock bands that don’t take themselves seriously at all, but they seem to have mistaken humour and silliness for annoyance and nonchalance towards making anything worth listening to.
They remind me of one of those weak, unmemorable Portlandia sketches that isn’t really funny or interesting; that seems to just be placed there to pad the episode out to 23 minutes. The fact that the threesome came out dressed in medical gowns and urged certain people in the crowd to put on their “complimentary surgical masks” would lead to believe that they’re in on the joke, if there was a joke to begin with. CHILDBIRTH is essentially the “Video Games” of contemporary punk rock, so if you enjoy things like that, chances are you’ll enjoy this band a hell of a lot more than I do.
The gender politics at A$AP Ferg's set at #CHBP were somewhere between riot grrrl and a mediocre GGW movie.
— Jess Casebeer (@JessCasebeer) July 26, 2014
Up next (for me, anyways) was A$AP Ferg on the Main Stage. I had two predictions before going into Ferg’s set. Either A) it was going to be explosive and ridiculously engaging or B) it was going to be a complete unmitigated disaster on the level of The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer. I enjoy the aggression and overall larger-than-life quality of Ferg’s music, but from a performance standpoint, I could see it being too unhinged and disheveling to hold up an entire 45-minute set.
That said, though, I found A$AP Ferg’s set to be consummately fun, for all of the brain cells I had to throw to the wind during. The lengthy time his DJs got to spend doing their own thing was a very welcome addition, and they did a more-than-serviceable job of getting the crowd hyped as possible before Ferg took to the stage.
As soon as Ferg took to the stage, though, that was when the audience got maximum-level “turnt up”. From the front to the back, the crowd was pumping their fists in the air, shouting along, jumping all around and just completely losing it. With hooks that rarely ever evolve beyond “I fucked your bitch, nigga, I fucked your bitch. She suck my dick, nigga, she suck my dick…”, on a scale of 1 to Phil Robertson, the amount of stupid was reaching Tumblr-level proportions. With that said, A$AP Ferg also manages to put on a live performance that’s filled to the brim with animation, adrenaline and vibes that were deliriously joyous.
During his set, Ferg called for the audience to start a mosh pit on several occasions, my favourite instance being when he said, quote, “All the guys… start moshing. All the girls… show ‘ya titties.” Ironically, neither of those things ended up happening at any point throughout the performance. At one point he tried instigating a wall of death, which the audience didn’t even try enacting upon.
Towards the end of the set, A$AP Ferg called for a handful of women from the crowd onto the stage to dance and groove along to the remaining songs. From there, the performance felt like a PG-13 Girls Gone Wild movie that happened to be soundtracked by a great trap-rapper. While I can imagine a lot of people getting highly-offended at the blatant objectification and overall rampant misogyny of the whole event, taking it so seriously is utterly missing the point. If you can flick the off switch on your brain and take it for what it is, chances are you may find an A$AP Ferg set as momentous as I did.
After a brief half-hour waiting session, Seattle-born electronic duo ODESZA took to the Main Stage. Like with Shy Girls, I didn’t know anything about this band before their performance, but they managed to bring a bright and lovable live session. They were fairly familiar instrumental beat-driven electronic music group, which is perfect for a live environment.
Right from the beginning when the duo busted out the electronic drum kits, we knew shit was going down. The group had a tightly-controlled groove and consistent flow of drive from the start to the end. Although a lot of the songs did wind up falling into the same song structure, the whole mood of the whole affair made it easy to forget that and enjoy the mood of it all. It didn’t necessarily make me interested in reading into the band’s work, but I had fun with them.
— Jess Casebeer (@JessCasebeer) July 27, 2014
Up next was by far the biggest surprise of the weekend for me, that being Matt and Kim on the Main Stage. I’d only ever heard their name when talking about how Imagine Dragons ripped off their song “Daylight”, but I’d never actually listened to their work before. Along with Spoon and The War On Drugs, they were being hyped as one of the big-name bands to see at this year’s Block Party, so I decided to check out their set.
I was not prepared for how frenetic their live performance was. Even when the group was just coming out, the audience was thrilled. They ran onstage to the instrumental of Lil Kim’s “Black Friday”, which I thought was a clever little touch. Right from the get-go, the band was climbing all over their instruments, dancing all around and shouting at the audience to “make some fucking noise”.
Their set was an hour of action devoid of a single dull moment. Rather than gawk for several paragraphs about how kickass it was, here’s a brief rundown of a few of the highlights:
- Matt Johnson was giving a brief rundown of the next song he thought they were going to play, but then Kim Schifino told him that that wasn’t the next song they were doing. In retaliation, Matt hit a button on his keyboard, and the chorus to “Wiggle” by Jason Derulo began playing, to which the audience surprisingly danced their asses off. After that, he said that if he fucks up again, he’ll enact upon plan B, and he hit another button, and the chorus to “Turn Down for What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon began playing, to which the audience got even wilder.
- Towards the end of their set, Matt played the main piano to Biz Markie’s legendary hit song “Just a Friend”, and the crowd immediately sang the entire chorus on their own.
- In medias res, they said they wanted to try something they hadn’t done in “like 6 years”. Right thereafter, Kim got up from her drum set, then began walking on the audience members’ hands, and when she was a good distance into the crowd, they began playing club-friendly electronic music, and Kim started rigorously shaking her ass for/with the crowd for a short while before returning to the stage.
They sounded fantastic, too. Matt’s abrasive singing was backed up incredibly well by Kim’s extreme drumming, and they managed to balance sounding unabashedly hot-blooded and taking care to not let the energy overthrow actually sounding good. While both the band and the audience were engaging in what is technically known as “flipping out the buttered fuck crumpets”, there was clearly a lot of attention put towards the “music” aspect of the “musical concert”, which is a huge plus in my eyes. I left their set completely enamoured, and I urge anyone reading this to see Matt and Kim live if you ever get the opportunity.
My day, like a lot of other attendees, ended with one of the biggest names on the bill, Spoon, on the Main Stage. Coming off of the success of their new hot single “Do You”, as well as their first album in four years that’s set to drop soon, I was anticipating seeing them live, to see what they would bring to the table, being one of the biggest names in 21st century alternative rock and all.
While I wasn’t completely blown away by Spoon’s set, I enjoyed it. They didn’t have nearly as involving a live concert experience as Matt and Kim, but they brought their own flavour to the table; one that felt a lot older and more mature, in a manner of speaking. The mannerisms and actions of the band were a lot more stationary and straightforward than most other acts that shared the Main Stage, which makes sense considering they were more or less a veteran band in comparison to other headliners.
Spoon happened to sound great as well. Vocalist Britt Daniel had just as much passion and personality in his voice as he does on tape, and the instrumentalists were up to snuff as well. It was very obvious that Spoon had a lot of experience under their belt, and they had their shit down to a tee. I, along with the rest of crowd, were thoroughly entertained by their late-night performance.
This concludes my review of the Capitol Hill Block Party day one…
Join me next time when I recount my experiences with what was by far the best day of all, Capitol Hill Block Party day three.