Whereas Friday at the 2011 Capitol Hill Block Party was for me mostly about being mellow and dropping in on whatever sounded good, Saturday was a day of challenges: so many bands I knew I wanted to check out, scheduled one on top of the next. That blessing-and-curse combination is the hallmark of a good music festival, and the Block Party lived up to it.
However, my day began with an unscheduled (for me) and unexpected discovery. The first band I knew I wanted to see was playing at 3 pm, but I arrived at the Block Party at 1:30, with nothing planned until then. Looking over the schedule, I headed over to the Vera stage to check out a band I didn’t know called Hausu. I love when a random “let’s see what these guys are like” decision has such good results. Hausu had kind of an ’80s Britpop sound, making me think of bands such as General Public—their singer even had a bit of Dave Wakeling in his voice—but they’re from Portland, and I suspect none of them were born before General Public broke up back in 1987. Despite their apparent youth, they sounded quite polished and I enjoyed their set a lot.
I would’ve stayed at the Vera stage for Seattle band Yuni in Taxco at 3 pm, as I’ve seen them before and knew they’re good. But I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to check out Austra for the first time, playing an on-air set for KEXP from the Caffe Vita Bean Room. They did not disappoint with their live performance of beautiful darkwave, focusing on the singles such as “Lose It” and “Beat and the Pulse”.
Afterwards, I had about an hour before the big chunk of overlapping bands began, so I joined some friends who headed back to the Vera stage to check out Witch Gardens. They were a pleasant surprise, as I’d guessed from the name that they’d be some kind of heavy metal or witch-house band, and instead they turned out to play adorable twee pop-rock.
Rather than stick around for Telekinesis, I went to Neumos to see the Lumineers, based entirely upon what turned out to be me mistakenly confusing their name with another band recommended to me, the Lumerians, who played on Sunday. Consequently I was surprised to find a country-folk band onstage. They sounded all right but weren’t really my thing, so I didn’t stay long.
Getting back on schedule, I braved the packed and steamy depths of the Cha Cha Lounge to see Reporter. I’d just heard their song “Skin Like Fire” for the first time earlier in the week on KEXP, and it grabbed me strongly enough that I knew I wanted to find out more. I was glad that I remembered to do so, as they played a really fun set of trance disco trip-hop. I’d love to see them back in town on a bill with some other like-minded local dance bands such as CMYK.
Emerging from the dark and crowded Cha Cha into the sunny and open outdoors was quite a contrast, reflected musically by going from Reporter to the last ten minutes of Seapony‘s set at the Vera stage. While Reporter was smooth and sexy and sophisticated, Seapony was sunny and sad and sincere. Okay, “sad” is too strong a word, but they definitely had an undercurrent of wistfulness to their delightful breezy indie pop. I didn’t regret missing most of Seapony’s set only because they’re local; I’ve seen them before and I know I’ll be seeing more of them.
After taking a break for food, I made a difficult decision, passing up Best Coast to see Austra again, doing a full-length set in Neumos. I was pleased to find that their music held up with the longer set—they weren’t just about a couple good singles.
I stayed put in Neumos for Cold Cave, whose performance was a lot more energetic than I expected. Their recordings tend to feel cold and austere, but onstage both the singer and the keyboardist danced and flailed a lot, and the drummer of course was very active as well. I thought there was some interesting irony too in that the singer barely played his keyboard and the other keyboardist would also start some bit and let it play automatically while he danced, reflecting the highly programmed nature of their synth rock—and yet they had a live drummer, not a machine. All of that made for a good show.
Then it was time for the other hard decision of the day. At first I’d planned to see TV on the Radio, but I’d seen them once before, and so I decided I should check out Baths, an electronic artist about whom I’d heard rave reviews, playing on the Vera stage. Baths played glitch techno with a very quick active style of manipulating the controls, making him entertaining to watch. At first I found the glitchy buzzes and beeps were a little too harsh for me at the end of a long day, so I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I’d expected. But about halfway through his set, after moving out of the packed crowd to the back where I had space to breathe and move around, I was able to relax and really get into it. Also, he toned things down in the middle, from the initial bright and even spastic sound to more mellow and moody songs. Indeed, he had a variety of moods and sounds, not all upbeat and buzzy, but brought it back up to a dance party to finish, and I was thoroughly won over by then.