by Ian Robinson and Jacob Webb
Father John Misty – 4:00 – Main Stage
“When I was kid, my dad, my brother, and I would play a block party”, said Josh Tillman near the beginning of his set, “we’d play ‘Louie Louie’ for 35 minutes, the chorus of ‘Wild Thing’ for 45 more, and then I’d get a choice between a burger and a hot dog for my hard work. This is much better.” Tillman wasn’t kidding. After 45 minutes of Father John Misty‘s engaging, energetic, and often hilarious set, it seems odd that the charismatic troubadour known as Josh Tillman ever found the self-restraint to sit behind the drums in Fleet Foxes for more than ten minutes, let alone two years. Bursting out of the gate with his hips shaking and armed with the day’s best stage banter, Tillman and co.’s set was a great start to the festival for those who were fortunate enough to get off work early.
Doomtree – 5:15 – Main Stage
“Where’s your dance-party pants?” shouted P.O.S. before launching into one of his own songs. It’s probably safe to say not one of the seven members of the Minneapolis rap collective known as Doomtree spent less than a few seconds standing still throughout the duration of their set. Known for their reflective and inspiring lyrics as well as their tireless D.I.Y. work ethic, what makes Doomtree a truly great live rap collective is the intense passion buried within every single one of their songs. While it’s possible for a casual listener to miss the anthemic quality of each verse and chorus on their studio albums, when accompanied by their live energy and raw talent, it becomes instantly clear what people love about Doomtree. The audience at the main stage eventually raised their hands and nodded along, shouting whatever words they already knew or could figure out on the fly. MCs P.O.S. and Sims tore up the stage with their lyrical assaults, pressing up against the crowd barricades and dancing through their entire set while Dessa, Doomtreee’s female M.C., proved without a doubt that her vocal talents extend way beyond studio production. Be sure to check out their live KEXP in-studio appearance from last January here.
Youth Lagoon – 6:30 – Main Stage
Ever since I watched this music video for the song “July”, Youth Lagoon’s music has struck me with a subdued sense of urgency and desperation, which provided and interesting soundtrack watching the main stage crowd mill about and security guards pour out middle schoolers’ flasks. The lo-fi pop band hailing from Boise, Idaho is the project of singer and producer Trevor Powers, who was joined on the main stage by his guitar-wielding, similarly tattooed friend. The sleepy duo did their best to put on an energetic live show, and the group of fans who had packed themselves into the front of the stage were more than receptive, turning atmospheric jams into impassioned anthems and singing along as best they could with Power’s mumble-howling vocals. Nevertheless, most of the audience enjoyed Youth Lagoon’s performance from a distance, using the set as a chance to catch their breath before Thee Oh Sees took the stage.
Fly Moon Royalty – 7:00 – Vera Stage
Drawing the biggest crowd at the Vera Stage of the day, Fly Moon Royalty delivered a show-stopper of a performance on Friday evening that solidified their reputation as one of the Pacific Northwest’s most buzz-worthy acts. Singer Adra Boo fed off the crowd to give a rousing performance and producer Action Jackson’s beats were probably the most innovative of the day on the hip-hop heavy Friday lineup. Along with Allen Stone, Fly Moon Royalty were Block Party’s most loved-on local acts, which gave both of their shows a amiable, communal atmosphere, which is a rarity for most music festivals, but a key component of Block Party.
Thee Oh Sees – 7:45 – Main Stage
Around 7 in the evening, it was clear that the Block Party needed a bit of an energy boost. People were just finishing their dinner/drinks, the sun was starting to set, and there was a half-hour break on the main stage after Youth Lagoon. Once drummer Mike Shoun launched into his four-count for the first song though, that was all about to change. Completely eschewing any songs with less than 120 BPM, Thee Oh Sees blew the crowd out of their lull with their full-on assault of raucous garage rock. Within the time it took for them to play their first song, they had doubled the size of their crowd, gained a decent-sized pit near the front, and given the Block Party the first crowdsurfer of the weekend. Departing just as suddenly as they arrived, Thee Oh Sees came, saw, and conquered with an hour-long sonic barrage that proved to be one of the day’s indisputable highlights.
Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang – 8:15 – Vera Stage
Meanwhile, over at the Vera Stage, Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang brought some worldly jams with the unique stylings of bubu, which, according to the Wikipedia page, is a traditional style of music from Sierra Leone used in witchcraft ceremonies and largely popularized by Nabay himself. While much of the music seemed to go on with no discernible structure whatsoever, many festival goers had no trouble getting their groove on, including one woman who climbed atop a nearby building to enjoy the show, and of course, dance. Standing at the back, the highlight of the show for me was listening to two dudes argue passionately whether Nabay was singing in English. (He wasn’t.)
Allen Stone – 9:15 – Main Stage
Walking onstage with an ear-to-ear grin, Allen Stone looked at the crowd and instantly knew he was playing to the day’s most rapturous audience. Fully utilizing his home-court advantage, Stone and his band kicked into a series of crowd pleasing tunes with crowd singalongs that could be heard all throughout Capitol Hill. Equipped with a strong, versatile voice and oozing with charisma, Stone effectively converted every non-believer within a mile radius. After his hour-long set was finished, he graciously thanked the crowd, whose thunderous response made one thing clear – Seattle has a quickly rising star on its hands.
Fitz and the Tantrums – 10:45 – Main Stage
Despite their late set time and having to come onstage after Allen Stone’s bar-setting performance, Fitz and the Tantrums put on a show that reminded everyone why they were Friday night’s headlining act. Fitz’ brand of pop-leaning soul is custom built for festival crowds, and their party-starting charisma enthralled everyone who had stuck around to see their well-oiled machine of a performance. For those who had seen Fitz before (and with their rigorous touring schedule, it was likely that a good portion of the audience had) it was a chance for the band to air out some solid new material, and for all the uninitiated, it was a riveting introduction to one of music’s most reliable live acts.