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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 29, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 30
Capitol Hill Block Party a sizzling success
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Capitol Hill Block Party a sizzling success

by Jessica Price - SGN Contributing Writer

For one weekend each summer, the intersection of 10th Avenue and Pike Street on Capitol Hill becomes a hotbed of the most cutting-edge live music crammed into one four-block area (with beer gardens) - or a sweaty, deranged mass of festival-goers crammed into one four-block area (with music), depending on your point of view. It ain't pretty, but it's the Block Party, and it's our neighborhood's annual summer mini-fest that isn't so mini anymore.

At its best, the Block Party brings the best new music from Seattle and around the country to our literal doorsteps with bands like TV on the Radio, Ghostland Observatory, Les Savy Fav, Battles, and the elder statesman of alterna-rock, Thurston Moore. Last year, Jack White even made an appearance with Dead Weather. The festival-goers love it, the neighborhood seems mixed on it, and the staff working the festival's many checkpoints seem, well, downright cranky.

And who can blame them? The Block Party now boasts four official stages, two main entrances, multiple beer gardens coupled with all-ages areas, over 80 bands spanning three days, and about a dozen confusing checkpoints, signs notwithstanding. Revelers in varied states of sobriety are expected to understand that they need multiple stamps, a ticket, and possibly a 21+ wristband (plus another stamp) if they plan to re-enter - an arrangement that didn't seem very effective this year, even for the sober and simply confused. In fact, the rude treatment by some of the hired hands was the biggest complaint I heard all weekend. But that's another story.

The reason for the festival is music on the street in the summertime, and for that noble purpose let's hope that the Block Party will eventually get it all figured out. Here are some highlights from the Capitol Hill Block Party:

Lisa Dank (Neumos)
Lisa Dank is nothing if not a self-made neighborhood superstar. Witnessing Lisa live is like seeing a club diva from a far-off country. It's a little bit plastic, but infectious and charming, even if you don't really understand what's going on. Her DJ is good, the beats are booming, and trannies in white belts abound. Lisa has finally found something she's good at, even if her back-up dancers haven't quite memorized their lyrics. Suspicious onlookers smiled in mild amusement at Lisa's gutsy antics and bouncing bust. It takes a lot to work a crowd at 2 p.m. on a Sunday, but Lisa Dank turned it out.

Handsome Furs (Main Stage), Best Coast (Main Stage)
While crowds had started piling in Saturday evening to catch the Main Stage lineup of Handsome Furs, Best Coast, Les Savy Fav, and TV on the Radio, it was still possible early in the night to fully appreciate Canadian husband-and-wife duo Handsome Fur's set of feisty electro-pop. Alexei Perry and Dan Boeckner (also of Wolf Parade) look like they were born to be big, beautiful rock stars - which never hurts when playing outdoors in heat and full sun. Best Coast followed with a straightforward set of sunny girl-pop. Though a little precious for an outdoor festival, their album Crazy for You is one of my favorites from 2010.

Lumerians (Neumos), Battles (Main Stage)
Sunday's most unexpected discovery came from phenomenal Oakland band Lumerians, who followed Lisa Dank on the indoor Neumos stage. Lumerians, who in six years have released two full-lengths, are astonishingly magnetic live, weaving a complex, sci-fi rock vibe so powerful you feel a contact high. Aside from this sleeper hit, the most talked-about band of the weekend was Battles. Although guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Tyondai Braxton is no longer with them, Battles were better than ever with what could only be described as brilliant live alchemy. The band's lineage to Don Caballero and Helmet are only a small part of the story. Battles has taken their original math-rock bloodlines into the stratosphere with precisely haphazard electronic clicks and grooves (and the likes of guest vocalists such as Gary Numan on their newest album, Gloss Drop).

My Goodness (Main Stage), Virgin Islands (Vera Stage)
Two-man blues-soaked rock band My Goodness was recently picked by Spin magazine as one of six 'Northwest bands you need to know,' and with very good reason. By virtue of being a ferocious duo, singer/guitarist Joel Schneider and drummer Ethan Jacobsen won't escape the White Stripes comparisons; however, Joel's voice finds a mighty subtlety that Jack White's shrillness cannot (and they sounded huge on the Main Stage). Also hailing from Seattle was Virgin Islands, led by Michael Jaworski (also of The Cops). The band effortlessly served up thinking man's post-punk to the afternoon crowd at the Vera Stage. On playing the annual Block Party, Michael had this to say: 'I was at one of the first Block Party shows around 13 years ago, and it's amazing to see how it's grown over the years. I feel like we're extremely lucky to have it in Seattle. Capitol Hill is by far one of the coolest neighborhoods in the entire world, and it's such a great summer party with incredible music.'

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