At the crack of 4:00 p.m., the anticipation-fueled quietness of a small, but growing crowd huddled around the Main Stage was broken by a loud, deafening, “What’s up, Seattle!?”, via one of the event organisers on stage. An uproarious applause ensued as local favourite The Flavr Blue filed on to the stage, easily the best opener for the 2015 Capitol Hill Block Party the crowd could’ve asked for. The band’s sound was impeccable, the stage charisma and energy – particularly that brought by lead singer Hollis, whose spastic gestures and dance moves were infectiously entertaining – was through the roof, and with guest appearances from the likes of California singer Jarell Perry and rising local producer Manatee Commune providing live string accompaniment, it was truly a sight to behold, and the endlessly energetic crowd enhanced the positive vibes the world over.
The 2015 Capitol Hill Block Party was a much anticipated local event hyped up by music fans and publications all over the Pacific Northwest. After last year’s lineup boasted the likes of A$AP Rocky, Spoon, Chromeo, and then slightly-knowns ODESZA, many were waiting with pitched tents to see what the festival organisers would put forth this year. And judging from the turnout this year, which looked and felt even larger than that of last year’s, it’s easy to see that the powers-that-be carefully constructed the lineup this year to be as crowd-pleasing as possible. All throughout the first day, there was nary a dull moment on the Main Stage.
Even Shabazz Palaces, Flavr Blue’s follow-up act, felt right at home on the Main Stage, playing in front of a large and densely-packed crowd, much to my surprise. Not that I expected them to be bad, necessarily, but their music is more the sort of thing I tend to listen to when I’m by myself with headphones on and feel like having my brain stretched apart and kneaded like a melted Laffy Taffy. But in the live setting, the beats brought forth by the duo were hard-hitting and groovy, more so than one would expect listening to an album like Black Up in the studio, and the rapping brought by Palaceer Lazaro was on point, and simultaneously low-key and enthused. Their last song, “An Echo from the Hosts That Profess Infinitum”, was a bass-intensive monster of a closer that got the audience pumped up and left them satisfied as ever.
New Zealander indie pop duo Broods took to the Main Stage soon thereafter, a band that didn’t rank that high on my “Must See” meter. They aren’t the worst thing in the world, but I tend to find their music pretty standard and wallpaper by indie-trip-pop standards. That said, they’re a pretty entertaining live band, and their performance took me by surprise. Vocalist Georgia Nott has a commanding presence as a frontwoman, and isn’t afraid to prance around the stage, jumping about and dancing without a care in the world. Multi-instrumentalist Caleb Nott is less of a force of personality on stage, and serves mainly to back Georgia up, who took up the bulk of the audience’s awe. While still not my favourite act of their kind, I left their set pretty satisfied.
Over on the Vera Stage, several others were brought on to further the good vibes brought thus far. After Yumi Zouma’s set was pushed back to a later time on a different stage, Australian music producer The Kite String Tangle brought a pretty nice, laid-back set of electronic music, which yielded a warm reception from the audience. Afterwards, following some computer complications, Mad Decent signee Daktyl came out and played a considerably more high-octane set of beats that got the crowd in a frenzy, even if the audio mixing in his set seemed a bit off, with the snares and claps surprisingly low in the mix. Still, the energy and pacing of a good live electronic set were all there.
After Daktyl had finished, I hurried to the Main Stage to catch the home stretch of performers, starting with English producer and DJ Jamie xx, that guy that, as you might expect, is a part of the band The xx. Being that his debut solo album In Colour wound up being one of the most unanimously praised underground albums of the year so far, and that he’s a key member of an indie darling that many praise to the moon and back, many were waiting with burning anticipation to see what he had to bring to the table in a live setting. The crowd was large and compressed and immobile up to 15 minutes before Jamie even came out on stage.
With a bevy of turntables, lights, and a massive disco ball propped up behind him, Jamie xx took to the stage and promptly went into what proved to be a massive crowd-pleaser, the Popcaan– and Young Thug-featured track “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”. Everyone in the audience knew right from the get-go that this was going to be a monstrous set just from this one track alone. Hands were flying in the air, many people were jumping around, shouting along to the chorus and Young Thug’s verses, and even most others in the photo pit weren’t resistant to the good times. Thus began a seamless 45-minute dance party of biblical proportions.
Over the course of 45 minutes, Jamie worked his way through a number of songs off of In Colour, all of which went over amazingly well with the audience. “Loud Places”, which featured Romy from The xx on vocals, got the crowd to move along to the rhythm at a steady pace, while the goofy and punchy “Gosh” did wonders in making the crowd move savagely to the comparatively hard-hitting track. Many, including myself, were spellbound by the crazy and busy visual accompaniment, most notable the massive disco ball, which was shining beams of radiant colours at the audience. Jamie didn’t have a microphone, and didn’t speak once during the set. You could tell he didn’t want to break up the flow to talk about himself or the festival or anything; he just wanted to give the crowd what they wanted: a great live set.
Afterwards, I was faced with one of the hardest and most depressing dilemmas in my entire life: choosing between seeing Built to Spill on the Main Stage, or seeing BadBadNotGood on the Vera Stage. Either would’ve been a breathtaking experience, and both bands I love, so having to choose between them was like having to choose which of my two beloved children gets to live. Ultimately, though, I decided to go with Built to Spill, because I have more of an attachment to their work, and they have been on my bucket list for a long time now. And after seeing them live, I think I made the right choice in seeing their downright amazing live performance.
Built to Spill released their eighth studio album Untethered Moon, a nice return to form for the band, just three months ago, which lead me to believe that a good deal of their set would be songs off of that LP, but to my surprise, it was a very diverse and time-spanning set that seemed to cull from every phase of their career. From the jangly rock of “Distopian Dream Girl” to the cutting depressiveness of “I Would Hurt a Fly”, their set was a wonderfully diverse assortment of flavours and moods.
On top of that, the band proved that some 20 years into their career, they’ve still got it. Their set was rocking, it was emotional, it was intense; it was every known synonym for “awesome” that’s out there. Doug Martsch’s vocals sounded just as great and unmistakable as they do on Built to Spill’s studio endeavours, and the other members were just as impressive live. Jim Roth’s guitar playing was amazing, never missing a beat, and there was a good amount of fantastic soloing as well. The two new recent additions to the band held their own as well, providing a nice sturdy rhythm section for the band to work off of. It was a fantastic set all around, and I can’t recommend seeing them live enough.
10:45 p.m. hit not too long after, and you could physically feel the excitement from the crowd. The streets of Capitol Hill were packed to capacity with thousands of excited fans, bodies ready as they’ll ever be. The intermission music only furthered the hype, my favourite part being the seamless transition from Vampire Weekend’s “A-Punk” to “Teach Me How to Dougie”, both of which got the crowd moving and shaking their money-makers in a rhythmic fashion. Then slowly, one-by-one, the members of TV on the Radio made their way across the stage, to which the crowd responded with a deafening applause. Instruments at the ready, they plowed into their first song, “Young Liars”. Those who stayed late enough to see the band were visibly happy they did, right from the neck-hair-raising opening sections of the song.
To put it simply and briefly, their set was absolutely off the fucking hook. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the band, but there were just a crazy amount of passion and energy emitted from all members. Frontman Tunde Adebimpe was on the prowl for the entire set, barely ever staying in one location for more than a minute at a time. All of the other members held their own as well, playing great, while still bringing a lot of fun and excitement to the Main Stage. Their set was tense, it was lively, it was immaculately performed, and most importantly, it was the perfect way to end off the night.
Sometime during the night, though, out of morbid curiosity, I decided to head to the Vera Stage to catch a little bit of Deafheaven, though I’m not entirely sure why. I already knew that their summery, post-rock-ish approach to black metal wasn’t one that appealed to me at all, and I’ve heard pretty mixed-to-negative things about their live show. And, well, my expectations weren’t defied. Not that it was the most absolutely horrific live show in the world – there was a good amount of stage working and they seemed to be having fun – but there was just something stilted and awkward about the way they performed their songs. There was something in the way they sounded live that took out a lot of the unique atmosphere of their studio material, leaving them just kind of sounding like a standard metal band. Then again, everyone else who was walking away from that set seemed to think it was the most amazing thing in the world, so maybe I’m just a stick in the mud.
All in all, day one of Capitol Hill Block Party was a major success. It was a consistently entertaining and memorable start to the festival, and it seemed to be curated in such a way where there wouldn’t be any lulls in the flow of the day. Even the unworkable crowd wasn’t enough to take away from what was ultimately an amazing day, and a great first day to Seattle’s wildest and most popular street party that would only get better and better as the days progressed.
(To be continued. In the meantime, check out some photo galleries below from our Facebook page. Photo credit goes to yours truly.)