(Author’s note: This is the second of two reviews of the two days of the Seattle Capitol Hill Block Party I happened to attend – Friday and Sunday. If you haven’t read our review of what Friday had to offer, you may want to read that first before continuing.)
After opting out of going to day two of the Capitol Hill Block Party, I was very much anticipating going on the third day, as I feel like it had the strongest of an overall lineup. On both the Main Stage and Vera Stage (the only stages I could access) were more a handful of worthwhile singer-songwriters, rock bands, rappers and electronic producers, and luckily they were spaced out with little overlap.
My day started out with the Sunday artist I was most excited to see, Angel Olsen, on the Main Stage. Olsen is an indie folk singer-songwriter that’s been working for about five years. I like to think of Angel Olsen as the female Conor Oberst. Both have very melancholic and heartfelt lyrics that could be classified as emo, both have a very emotive and crestfallen vocal delivery, and both have very varied forms of accompanying instrumentation. She had a new record come out towards the beginning of this year called Burn Your Fire for No Witness, which I highly recommend you listen to.
I really enjoyed Angel Olsen’s extended set on the Main Stage with her backing band. Her setlist had a nice mix of material off of Burn Your Fire for No Witness and her debut record Half Way Home. The live environment meant that there was a lot cleaner of an overall sound than the lo-fi recording of her albums, which offered up a nice change from just listening to her on tape.
From a performance standpoint, Angel Olsen and her backing band were as understated as they needed to be. Olsen’s interactions with the crowd were pretty minimal, and never did she ever resort to shouting at the audience to “make some fucking noise” or anything on that level. The time in between songs was quiet and atmospheric, and Olsen came off as somewhat standoffish in her shy exchanges with the crowd. But that wasn’t to its detriment, as I felt it worked in perfect harmony with the very personal emotions conveyed through her music.
I was very much smitten by her and her band’s sound as well. I’ve always admired Angel Olsen’s ability to put an impressive amount of emotion, conviction and downtrodden personality into her voice without coming across as pretentious or melodramatic, and luckily such expression translated just as well into a live performance. My personal favourite song she performed was “Lights Out”, a slow, whisper-quiet song about confused feelings towards a crumbling relationship, which managed to capture the hearts of the entire attending audience. It was a truly genial set in its own right, and I’d definitely love to see her perform again.
Shortly after her set, she was doing a signing at the merch tent, and so I went, bought a shirt, got an autograph and a picture with Olsen, which you can see below. It, as well as her Main Stage performance, was a great highlight of my weekend.
About 10 minutes later, I headed back to the Main Stage to catch the next act, electronic producer XXYYXX on the Main Stage. XXYYXX is part of a burgeoning style of electronic music known as “future beats”, which is a largely-experimental and usually-instrumental take on beat music that takes cues from other genres including ambient, plunderphonics and industrial.
Though I personally am a huge fan of this style of electronic music, I found XXYYXX to be an ill fit for the Main Stage in the middle of the day. Like a lot of his peers, XXYYXX’s music isn’t necessarily created to be danceable, but rather otherworldly and abstract. In a live environment, I find this kind of music is best suited to a small, dark indoor venue, as it perfectly encapsulates the mood of the music.
While I did enjoy XXYYXX’s set quite a bit from a musical standpoint, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was out of place for the Main Stage. Whereas the audience was dancing like mad and having the time of their lives for other electronic acts like Odesza and RAC, the most the audience got out of XXYYXX’s performance was slight head nodding and moving their bodies a little. Which, again, is the kind of response this kind of music elicits, but again, for the insane crowd the Main Stage draws, I felt it could’ve done with a more upbeat artist. Still, I enjoy XXYYXX’s music, and I enjoyed listening to what he brought to the Block Party.
After opting out of seeing RAC due to a lack of interest (though I did catch their solid remix of one of my favourite songs, “Lights” by Ellie Goulding), I ventured my way to the Vera Stage to catch a band I’d never heard of before, Tanlines. They were pretty much an alternative dance group – lots of synthesizers, minimal, but noticeable electric guitar, and a lot of bright, vibrant dance beats. It sounded like something straight out of an alternative radio station, and was also great fun to be a part of live.
As they stated during, Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm debuted a small amount of new material during their brief half-hour set, presumably off of a new upcoming album to follow up 2012’s Mixed Emotions. Both their new and old stuff was brimming with colourful textures, sugary guitar leads and matching vocals courtesy of Emm. Despite their set being surprisingly short, they managed to fill the time in a great way, rarely breaking up the flow of the music. Their set was miniscule, but effective, and I’d see them live again.
I had a bit of time to kill before The War on Drugs hit the Main Stage, so I decided to check out the next performing artist on the Vera Stage, one Raz Simone. Raz Simone is a Seattle-born rapper under the 300 Entertainment record label, the same one that distributes releases from the likes of Young Thug and Migos. Compared to both of those artists, though, Simone’s music is noticeably more soulful and instrument-heavy, utilising a full band that includes a cello player, clarinet player and keyboardist.
Though musically I wasn’t terribly into what Raz Simone had to offer, I did find his live show to be very interesting and engaging to be a part of. Immediately after just the first song he was off of the stage, into the audience. From there, he instructed the audience to do a number of things – make a circle around him, sit on the ground with him like a story-time (which, trust me, was like kneeling on a bed of knives), and then forming a circle around him and running into him like a mosh pit. It was certainly one of the most demanding live performances I’ve ever been to, and it was definitely a fun way to pass the time.
Up next was one of the most touted headliners of the whole event, The War on Drugs. The crowd for this one was inevitably going to be huge and non-maneuverable. The War on Drugs is an adored shoegaze-inspired indie rock band, whom is at the peak of their popularity at the moment thanks to the critically-acclaimed LP Lost in the Dream that dropped earlier this year.
Although I wasn’t necessarily disappointed by their set, I wasn’t exactly squirting euphoria out of my nipples either. The War on Drugs’ set was exactly how their music is – dreamy, calm, kempt and somewhat uneventful. While they did have more drive in their live performance than, say, Kithkin, their set really lacked any “wow” moments, and my memory of their set blurs together somewhat. The rest of the crowd (as well as my editor, who caught their set) seemed to think they absolutely blew the roof off the place, though, so I guess their performance was a success.
After somehow managing to escape the crowd during their set, I got out and headed to the Vera Stage to catch electronic producer and drummer Slow Magic, whose set wound up being one of my favourites that day. Slow Magic is an electronic music project that can best be summarised as being a cross between an ambient chillwave artist with tribal music in its heavy emphasis on drumming, as well as his iconic tribal mask. The end result blends together surprisingly well, and is fun as fuck to see live.
Surprisingly, all of Slow Magic’s music seems to be created live and on the spot. The electronic side of his sound (which is most of it) is very much textured, layered and highly detailed, so it must be a fucking lot of work to get it to work so flawlessly. Easily the most awesome part of Slow Magic’s live set is the drumming aspect. On top of all of the mixers, MIDI boards and other complicated electronic equipment, the illusive musician performs with two floor toms, and absolutely tears them up. During one instance, he brought out a single tom out into the audience for a whole song and beat the hell out of it like it was wearing a Never Shout Never T-shirt.
For never actually speaking a single time (part of the mystery persona), Slow Magic managed to get the crowd to completely go Hamtaro. Whenever the upbeat parts of his songs would come in, I and all the people around me were jumping all around with our hands in the air and taking in the moment. Anytime he made his hands into a heart and held them in the air, nearly the entire crowd followed in his wake. It was another major highlight of my weekend, and I’m hotly anticipating seeing Slow Magic again next time he stops by Washington.
Though I badly wanted to, I didn’t even bother trying to make my way through the crowd to see A$AP Rocky on the Main Stage, so instead I stayed at the Vera Stage barrier dead-centre for 45 straight minutes to ensure I’d have the best spot possible for one of my most anticipated bands of Sunday, the Dum Dum Girls. The Dum Dum Girls are an all-girl four-piece guitar-pop group in a somewhat similar vein to bands like Cults and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
Dum Dum Girls opened their set with “Cult of Love” off of this year’s Too True record. Right from the first smacks of Sandy’s drumsticks to open the track, I was in love. The group’s sound from beginning to end was fantastic. From the gripping triadic guitar work to the gorgeous and sweet vocal harmonies of the four girls, their sound was loud, but captivating, just as I’d hoped it would be.
Their set was an hour of wonderment and pure, raw energy. The songs they chose to perform had a nice balance of crowd pleasers, mid-tempo jams to cool off, and larger-than-life arena bangers (most notably with “Coming Down”, their set closer). Plus they played “Lord Knows”, my favourite song of theirs, which was definitely a plus.
Despite them playing at the exact same time as arguably the biggest name on the bill – A$AP Rocky – they managed to amass a considerable crowd to the Vera Stage, and I can only imagine they were rocked as hard as I was. My editor – whom had never heard of them before their set – said that they were the best he’d seen all weekend, and that he was blown away.
After their set, they were throwing out their crumpled-up setlists, and I was lucky enough to have caught one, which you can see down below. It was a perfect way to end an amazing day.
All in all, for my first ever Capitol Hill Block Party, I had a fucking lot of fun. Over the two days I went, the highlights for me were Matt and Kim, A$AP Ferg, Angel Olsen, Slow Magic and Dum Dum Girls, all of whom I’d be more than delighted to see again. I can only hope that the Capitol Hill Block Party of 2015 will have a lineup as diverse and unrelentingly entertaining as this one was.
(Below are a handful of amateur pictures taken at the event on day three. Photo credit goes to me.)