In case you didn’t notice the traffic road blocks and flocks of neon-clad teenagers, the Capitol Hill Block Party took over its titular hood this past weekend with five official stages of music raging for three straight days. There was elation and irritation and a lot of in between as more than 100 acts stressed the grid. Here’s Seattle Weekly’s blow-by-blow of the whole thing.
All photos by Catherine Anstett
Barboza, 5:31 p.m.
There’s more discarded Vitamin Water bottles than people in Barboza, and those who are there seem to be enjoying the air conditioning more than the music. Which is a shame, because Steve Gunn has just started his set, and he’s a fingerstyle guitar savant. He runs through a lengthy instrumental warmup, a tricky descending open-tuned pattern whose circuitousness makes it feel like it could go on for hours. ANDREW GOSPE
Cha Cha, 5:59 p.m.
It’s already too crowded to see the stage as Heavy Petting rips through some brawny, Sunny Day Real Estate–type proto-emo. Can’t imagine how packed this place will be later. AG
Main stage, 6:26 p.m.
Dillon Francis doesn’t start until 7:45, but his fans—selfie-taking, neon tank top–clad, and largely not of legal drinking age—are packing the Pike Street corridor en masse. There’s girls wearing masks of Francis’ likeness, a sign that reads “Levels is the new Freebird,” and strangely enough, a sign for local punk band TacocaT. AG
Main stage, 6:35 p.m.
Awkward white people dancing in anticipation of rapper Danny Brown may be my new favorite thing. There’s nothing quite like a drunk frat boy in a bro tank pumping his fist to electronic beats before he’s urged to sing along with the “Black Brad Pitt.” Also, artists jumping into the front row will never get old. KEEGAN PROSSER
Main stage, 6:50 p.m.
Brown, who’s been straight-up kinetic for the past 20 minutes, launches into “I Will” from his 2011 mixtape XXX. The crowd knows the words, so apparently Dillon Francis fans love filthy songs about cunnilingus. AG
Barboza, 7:30 p.m.
We’ve got wall to wall people for local act Young Evils whose gritty, melodic pop can only be faintly heard over the chatter and packed bodies. Not sure if this many people actually came to see them – or if they were swayed upon seeing the sign that promised air conditioning. Unfortunately, when there’s this many people in a small space, being told there’s AC doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. KP
Caffe Vita (VIP Lounge), 7:43 p.m.
Sometimes it’s just safer to avoid the mob of bro pumping and girls asking inappropriate questions via signage by watching the show on a screen in an air-conditioned cafe. Also, apparently Dillon Francis really likes tacos? Standout posters: “Taco Dill” (in the styling of the Taco Bell logo), and something to the effect of “Dillon will you take my taco?” (extra points to the girls who threw an actual Taco Bell bag on stage). In all seriousness, Francis was having a BALL on stage – and it’s always good when an artist ends the set with, “Seattle I fucking love you; this is seriously one of the best shows in my entire life.” KP
Pike and 11th, 7:56 p.m.
Francis has started his set and is going at a rate of about one bass drop per minute. I’m eating a taco. AG
Neumos, 8:31 p.m.
It might just be the fog being whipped portentously about by the industrial-strength fans, but Grave Babies’ music is unexpectedly dramatic. Live, the trio’s music scans more like synth- and noise-driven new wave than the skronky goth-punk of their records, and it’s a better look for them. Kudos to the singer for rocking a bleach blonde–tipped mullet like a hip Billy Ray Cyrus. AG
Main stage, 9:33 p.m.
STRFKR reaches the rollicking climax of “Mystery Cloud,” and crowd begins full-on moshing. I haven’t seen the band since my high-school days in Portland, when they were still called Starfucker, dressed in drag, and didn’t have girls riding on dudes’ shoulders at their shows. Their electro-pop is still on-point, but it’s polished in a way that’s not entirely positive. AG
Main stage, 9:38 p.m.
Happiness is glitter on your face and sweat in your eyes – so thanks to the high-energy fellas of STRFKR for providing both of these. OK, the glitter is actually coming from a person-in-panda floating in blow-up boat across the crowd. And if you didn’t know – the best way to start a dance party is by inviting a bunch of furries on stage – IS THAT A PICKLE? KP
Cha Cha, 10:13 p.m.
Constant Lovers start another brutalist, snarling hard rock song, and I’ve reached the conclusion that they’re the heaviest band I’ve seen in awhile. Cha Cha’s is appropriately humid and claustrophobic, and the singer is appropriately shirtless and screaming. AG
Main stage, 10:40 p.m.
The decision to stay in the pit just because you already have a good spot always seems like a good one – until the masses decided they’re going to push as hard as they possibly can to get to the front. That’s why making it part way through the first song is an achievement. The people not bothered by constant elbow-jabs in the side seem to enjoy it – and I think Girl Talk sounds good? But the stretch of Bud Light and shame that spanned the two city blocks between us proves an effective buffer. KP
Main stage, 11:19 p.m.
I’m attempting to extract myself from the sea of revelers at Girl Talk (the music was strangely quiet and crowd was crushing), and it might be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. A tank-topped bro accuses me of not being able to “handle” the pit. A hippie raver flower girl grabs my arm and urges me to put down my phone and “start living life, man.” AG
12th and Pike, 2:45 p.m.
Catching the closing notes of La Luz due to shitty parking and a late start. Their 60s-style beach rock is going to be a good start to this scorcher of a day. KP
Vera stage, 3 p.m.
Head-bobbing California vibes coming from the stage a-la Chastity Belt. Overheard in the crowd: “This is the epitome of girl rock.” Also, they teased Nickelback’s “Photograph” – before going into a song about how you should cut off your ponytail if you’re a guy. While I’m not sure I agree about the ponytail thing, the ironic nod to Canadian douche rock was kind of metal. KP
Main stage, 3:30 p.m.
Their dramatic witch rock might be too intense for the afternoon crowd, but Sub Pop signees Rose Windows sound better than ever. I still find them a bit distant and pretentious but the psychedelic arrangements are entrancing, and by the end of the set, I’m among the believers. KP
Vera stage, 4:12 p.m.
There’s definitely a place at a festival like Block Party for electronic music like Kid Smpl’s, but it probably isn’t in the mid-afternoon heat of the Vera stage. Joey Butler’s “night bus” songs are built on deep synth pads and reverb-obscured samples; they sound good, but Barboza would have been a better fit. AG
Comet Tavern, 4:30 p.m.
There’s a lull on the main stage and I’m preoccupied by the absolute shitasticness that is the Comet Tavern. I hear there’s a “Fuck Studio 7” sticker on the mirror and blood on the toilet seat – in the men’s bathroom. Stay classy, Seattle. KP
Cha Chas, 4:43 p.m.
The space isn’t as crowded now as it is on a regular weeknight, but the lack of tools is proving a major plus. They’re still playing “Rubber Band Man,” though – so the loyal clientele who’ve braved the Block Party madness feel at home. KP
Cha Chas, 4:45 p.m.
Spaceneedles starting a kick ass set of dirty garage rock. Jim needs his pick – and people in the audience are asking the lead singer to take his pants off. Pretty surprised he obliges after explaining that it’s really hot in here. Fact: It’s not really that hot – his shoulder-length hair is just really aggressive (in the best way). #PantsOffDanceOff. KP
Barboza, 4:45 p.m.
The “Party Dungeon” is at least half full. Branden Clarke, the Bellingham/Seattle electronic/beat producer IG88 has just finished his soundcheck. A pretty nice turn out for a midday show with a lesser-known local dude. Standing on my tip-toes, I make out at least three controllers of varying size and buttonage/knobbage, which he’s using to add layers to each movement, and drop the percussion-tracks. His style is a bit eery in a very pretty soundtrack kind of way, which is enhanced by his high-def textural elements--though it can be a little slow-moving at times. Also, there is a guy wearing black-rimmed glasses, who was probably security but YOU NEVER KNOW, standing half behind the curtain at the back-left of the stage. Sometimes all you can see is like an arm and an eyeball poking out there. It’s working well. A woman named Jenny Pots is the other person on stage. She’s singing, showing restraint but also showing her range, tying things together wonderfully. TODD HAMM
Main stage, 4:58 p.m.
Big Freedia just pulled five audience members onstage to join her three booty-shorts–wearing backup dancers on the twerk team for “Azz Everywhere.” With most rappers, this might seem misogynist. With Freedia, the stage name of drag queen Freddy Ross, it’s about empowerment and positivity. I’m not sure the crowd gets it, but Freedia is getting a far better reception than when she opened for the Postal Service two weeks ago. AG
Main stage, 6:20
El-P and Killer Mike just shook hands, and kind of hugged center stage. They are telling each other how great they think each other is. This would be corny except their banter is hilarious, and they also happen to be in the middle of a very slamming set of rap music. I’d be happy, too: their collaboration has elevated their careers to new heights, and skewed the median quality of rap output a few clicks for the better. They are officially champions right now. TH
Barboza, 6:50 p.m.
One of the most impressive aspects of Block Party so far has been the diversity of local punk and rock. Three-piece FF has an enveloping guitar and bass sound that’s distinct from any other band I’ve heard so far. They’re playing sludgy, no-wave punk songs that sound like they could soundtrack a skateboarding video. AG
10th and Pike, 7:08 p.m.
There’s a dance party happening in the middle of the street while others waiting for electronic artist A-trak are singing “Happy Birthday” to a lucky lady in the crowd. She may or may not be wearing a flower crown and high-waisted denim cut-offs. KP
Vera stage, 7:30 p.m.
Naomi Punk has some truly goofy haircuts—their two guitarists sport a Prince Valiant–style bowl cut and a bowl cut–mullet hybrid, respectively—but they’re playing some of the most interesting rock music I’ve heard locally. They launch into an asynchronous odd-meter math-punk song, and their drummer, himself rocking a massive mop of curly hair, pounds away with exacting precision. AG
Main stage, 7:50 p.m.
In the same spirit as the crowd at Dillon Francis on Friday, there are so many girls on shoulders. Like, more girls in the air than seems safe. KP
Vera stage, 8:46 p.m.
It’s always nice to see electronic music that features competent guitar playing. Onuinu’s Dorian Duvall is building his songs around his heavily effects-chained guitar while his drummer provides some mid-tempo dance beats. The momentum builds throughout the Portland band’s set, culminating in a very polite dance party. AG
Main stage, 9:10 p.m.
The people hanging out of office buildings during the Purity Ring set are jerks (you know who you are). With the exception of a few trees they’ve got a prime viewing spot for the main stage – and the light show that’s bouncing off the buildings. Meanwhile, I’m trying to hold my ground in a mob of drug-induced swaying. I want to be up there. Thankfully, the act’s vibey jams are making it all kind of OK. Fine, more than OK. KP
Neumos, 9:30 p.m.
People are going nuts for the Flavr Blue. This guy in front of me is nearly missing my face with each backswing of his glowstick. With their euphoric dance music, the Seattle trio has tapped into the jugular of the party scene. It’s a bit much at times, but it’s very professional, and can be fun if you “let yourself go.” I sense a pay day in their future. TH
Vera stage, 9:52 p.m.
My wife is comparing Wild Club to Tom Petty, Soul Asylum, Blondie, the Wallflowers, and Pat Benatar. They are a little new wavey with harmonies and such. They are not grabbing me. TH
Apartment above Wild Rose, 9:56 p.m.
I’m on a deck overlooking the Vera stage where Wild Cub is just starting (and sounding eerily like the love child of U2 and upbeat Bon Iver?) The guys of Country Lips are loading their van in the alley to the right, and I’m in my happy place. KP
Main stage, 10:40 p.m.
Seattle’s favorite “hipster band” is playing soulful cuts from their debut full-length, “Can’t Talk Medicine,” and the crowd is loving it. To be honest, I’m surprised so many people stuck around - as the river of people seemed to be flowing away from the main stage after Purity Ring. They sound pretty great – especially on “Lady Luck.” KP
Vera stage, 11:03 p.m.
The drums enter in earnest as Airick Woodhead, the Montreal musician who performs under the name Doldrums, works his assortment of samplers and sequencers. The beat doesn’t really let up for the rest of his set, and his strain of fractured, futuristic house music is livelier and less jarring than it is on record. My surprise favorite electronic set of Block Party so far. AG
Entrance gates, 2:47 p.m.
Just drug myself through the festival gates after climbing Capitol Hill on my bike, missing Sandrider’s Neumos performance by two minutes, then chug three pints of water at the Comet to gurgly results. I quickly accumulate free sunglasses (from EMP employees), and a free popsicle (from Washington Bus). I feel way cooler than I did a few minutes ago! TH
Main stage, 3:16 p.m.
Production duo Odesza is going for a Yin-and-Yang look, with one member in a white T-shirt, the other in a black one, and both playing twin silver MacBooks and MIDI controllers. It’s appropriately mellow music to open the mainstage on Sunday, and the crowd bobs along to the vaguely Balearic beats. AG
Main stage, 4:05 p.m.
I have to admit I’ve never really gotten the appeal of Hey Marseilles, but their live show is something to be remembered. As I stand here watching people with interlocked arms dancing in the sun, it clicks. Hey Marseilles’ booking at this year’s block party is filling the same role as the Lumineers booking in 2012: to make people feel. KP
Neumos, 4:22 p.m.
My friend describes Black Marble as “’80s drone pop,” and that’s generous for the two disengaged guys playing old-school synths and mumbling into a microphone on stage. We catch a couple songs before heading downstairs. AG
Barboza, 5 p.m.
Much-hyped Tacoma street rap collective ILLFIGHTYOU starts in on “Threats,” the best cut from their self-titled mixtape. The crowd wakes up, though the group is quick to remind us that “y’all still ain’t shit.” There were some weird mic difficulties that made their raps unintelligible, but the group’s abilities were clear. This was just their fourth show ever, and they’ll likely do much bigger things from here. AG
Main stage, 5:01 p.m.
Front woman Madeline Follin may be the fiercest thing that’s hit the Main stage this weekend and I kind of want to be her – and their sparkly indie-pop is definitely contributing to the heel-to-heel foot traffic. KP
Main stage, 5:07 p.m.
People are definitely rocking their Sunday best, and by “best” I’m thinking not so great. Apparently, belly shirts on big hairy men (playing with yo-yos) are a thing. Thankfully, Cults’ reverb-laced beach pop is proving the perfect distraction. KP
Vera stage, 5:17 p.m.
The boys of Bellingham-based indie rock act Learning Team are absolutely dreamy, and the kids in the front row are dancing harder than any show today – especially the guy with the flannel shirt wrapped around his head who just crowd surfed. KP
Barboza, 5:39 p.m.
A man loses his sunglasses while tilting his head back to swallow a Jell-O shot. I imagine this is a common sight this weekend. He picks them up, and continues toward the front of the crowd, where Poor Moon is setting up. TH
Main stage, 6:25 p.m.
There are three guys standing in front of me making mixed drinks with Vitamin Water and some unidentified clear liquid as we wait for Frightened Rabbits. And like the guys about to take the stage, these guys have Scottish accents. Win! KP
Main stage, 6:47 p.m.
Shimmying with strangers as Frightened Rabbits play sad songs that don’t come across as very sad. KP
Vera stage, 7:20 p.m.
Crutches in the air and a koala stuffed animal crowd surfing as Raz Simone freestyles on stage. His track “Hometown” – which mixes Adele’s song of the same name with street stories from the CD – is an absolute banger and the “turnt up” crowd can’t get enough. KP
Vera stage, 7:40 p.m.
Sam Lachow takes the stage and brings a full jazz band with him. While his rhymes aren;t the most awe-inspiring, the mixing of genres is sexy – especially the female vocalist singing the jazz-y R&B hooks. KP
Cha Cha, 7:47 p.m.
Unnatural Helpers’ guitarist is squeezing through the crowd saying “excuse me, I’m the guitarist,” two minutes after their set is supposed to begin, which is coincidentally the length of most UH songs. “They sure don’t give you time to get tired of their songs,” says a guy next to me after a few songs. Hardly anybody appears to get tired of their songs. TH
Main stage, 8:31 p.m.
After a 15-or-so-minute delay, The Flaming Lips take to the stage. “We haven’t been in the middle of Seattle in a long time, and we were reminded of how fucking cool it is,” says Wayne Coyne, who strikes a messianic figure atop a raised platform. White cables extend from his microphone to the lighting above the stage. AG
Vera stage, 8:37 p.m.
There’s something extremely raw and vulnerable about the music Ravenna Woods makes. It’s dark and moody and haunting in the best kind of way – and hearing it all backed by the Seattle Rock Orchestra is only making it more intense. It’s a shame tonight’s lineup has them up against Wayne Coyne and co. because a larger audience could have made it even more special. KP
Main stage, 8:42 p.m.
An absurd amount of black confetti gets launched into the sky, timed with squall of guitar feedback. That stuff will be littering Pike Street for weeks. AG
Barboza, 8:55 p.m.
I’ve been meaning to give Katie Kate props for dropping Seattle Weekly into one of her verses since she dropped the line “Oh you in the Weekly? Yeah, well I was there first,” but tonight she took it up a notch by finishing “Yeah, well I was in it like eight times this week.” Which is only technically true if you count every mention in her article this week, but I’ll give it to her for creativity. TH
Main stage, 8:57 p.m.
Coyne and company are in the midst of the best song of their set thus far, an extended version of The Soft Bulletin classic “Race for the Prize.” After two verses, the drums kick in, and the awe- and seizure-inducing light show reaches another level. It’s a true spectacle. AG
Barboza, 9:14 p.m.
I’m in line for the bathroom, and have just witnessed a girl at the Katie Kate show rush back into the bathroom, shoving past the next occupant, in order to grab a bottle of (cheap) beer she had left sitting on the floor near the garbage can. I admire her drive, but would not have drank her beer if it had been offered. TH
Barboza, 9:20 p.m.
Katie Kate is putting on a phenomenal show. She gets very intense on stage, and at one point during the crescendo of “Sadie Hawkins” (which will be an instant smash hit when her record finally comes out), let out the most beautifully disturbing primal shriek, then snapped back into pop-star mode for the love-song chorus. Very dope. TH
Neumos, 9:25 p.m.
Walking through Neumos between shows, catching a bit of 18 Individual Eyes, who are playing an effulgent set, which is great because I just looked up “effulgent” in the online dictionary yesterday. TH
Neumos, 10:02 p.m.
I’ve been meaning to catch Portland dream-pop band Pure Bathing Culture for a while now, and I’m finally getting my chance. The songs from forthcoming album Moon Tides are so pretty that not even the copious amount Red Bull corporate branding can get in the way, though the obnoxious MC who introduced the band came close. AG
The Street, 10:20 p.m.
Man, Neumos was packed, which sucked, because I too wanted to see Pure Bathing Culture. Instead, I’m climbing atop a temporary guardrail and watched MTNS pound out the punishing finale of “Hut on a High Peak” on the sidewalk out front of the Comet. They are indeed ending Block Party on a high peak of awesomeness. TH
Vermillion, 10:56 p.m.
Electronic musician Airport is playing a fantastic set from inside a guitar case--well, not a guitar case I don’t think, but he’s hiding his grip of knobs behind the opened lid of a case of some sort. I think his secrecy is a respectable statement (whether intentional or not), that plays off the constant judgement of performing electronic musicians and their perceived inactivity on stage by squares who don’t know nothing. TH