Every summer, the crowds pack into Pike street between Broadway and 12th to throw a party unlike any other. Capitol Hill Block Party is a tried and true block party, rocking the streets until 12:30 in the morning, showering them in confetti, and giving both attendees and nearby Capitol Hill apartment dwellers a show to remember for months to come. This year is no different! Check the KEXP blog for coverage of the full weekend’s experience!
As I approached the main gate, notebook in hand and a smile on my face, I heard the distant tone of the Main Stage soundcheck. I followed the growing crowd to the stage – taking in the festival that I have always heard such great things about. Soft and sultry, Shy Girls entered into focus as he sang, “Burning girl, your flame burns, but please don’t burn away.” This focus expanded as sound erupted from the keyboards to the left and right of Dan Vidmar, frontman and creator of the Portland, OR, based project. The band sports a balanced stage presence as they surround Vidmar with their bodies of sound. Despite Shy’s intimate interactions between himself and the microphone, what stole the show was the multitalented and Joaquin Phoenix-looking drummer who alternated between pounding on his digital drum-pad and blasting his woodwinds through the main stage’s oversized speakers.
Shy Girls played with unexpected vigor, while Vidmar drew us in with a familiar, Timberlake-esque tone, abrupt escalations in sound emerged from the keyboards and drummer. The keys articulation in addition to the dedicated drum beat provided a foundation on which Shy Girls can lay down his lay-worthy lyricism and occasional electric guitar. The band communicated through continual glances between its members, allowing them to stay in sync. As one keyboard fell out of focus, the other took its turn. Fun and funky, Shy Girls kicked off the festival with nothing but dangerously dreamy dance tracks!
On my way to the Vera Stage, I heard a very loud sound coming from inside Neumos. To my pleasant surprise, Tennis Pro, with their vibrant bass and string sections, was rocking with their bow-ties out (literally, their classical bow-ties hung dashingly across each frontman’s neck). Playing punk that anyone can sing along to, the Pros provided a much needed pick-me-up as I receded from the danceable trance that Shy Girls had put me under. The Neumos space amplified the group’s already voluminous sound. Each section’s intervals integrated well between the frontmen’s scenes of silliness and seriousness.
Through multiple comments and commanding vocal riffs, the Pros never failed to include us in their performance. As they told their stories on the stage above us, they invited us to dance, sing and feel along with them. As the set came to a close, I made my way out to the Vera stage – stopping by Iska Dhaaf’s in-festival session at Cafe Vitta’s Bean Room.
Local supergroup CHILDBIRTH walked up dressed in hospital gowns and sharpie writing all over their arms. Julia Shapiro (Chastity Belt, guitarist), Bree McKenna (TacocaT, bassist), and Stacy Peck (Pony Time, drummer) all had their band name (“cool slut”, “cold bitch”, and “cool mom” respectively) scribbled onto their right fist. As heckler’s sang “Red Solo Cup” in reference to Shapiro’s drink at the moment, she responded with a pleasant, “shut up” before kicking off their show and introducing the band with a self-titled song. Throughout the performance, one thing became apparent: each member assumed a different method of interacting with the diverse audience. Shapiro found it fun to respond to the occasional comment or cut off an audience member with a sudden guitar riff. McKenna, meanwhile, relished in the head-banging of the audience – joining in frequently as she tore through bass-line after bass-line. Peck, however, remained concentrated and occasionally confused as her face switched back and forth between the two expressions throughout the set.
Between Julia’s quirky remarks and an eclectic collection of kick-ass songs, CHILDBIRTH put on a powerful performance. For the finale, the band invited their fellow female rocker, Lisa Frank to the stage to create yet another supergroup that they called “Know It All Dad”. As they introduced the final song, “you’re not my real dad,” the band members switched instruments and Stacy Peck rubbed the word “mom” off of her hand to replace her name with a more relevant one, “cool dad”. As Lisa screamed over the new band configuration, she accused multiple members of the audience of not being her father. This continued until Frank pointed towards Julia – who, in a surprising turn of events, claimed to be her real “cool dad”. Jokes like these along with the band’s continual references to other successful punk bands, made CHILDBIRTH’s performance at CHPB unforgettable!
After a beautiful soundcheck, Wild Ones came out onto the Vera stage in full force, combining snare driven drum beats with surfer-rock guitar chords. Danielle Sullivan, lead singer and powerful performer, rubbed her hands together with excitement as she introduced the 5-piece suite with a smile. Their casual appearance combined with a careful movement between songs created a fluid musical environment for both the audience and the band to enjoy. Sullivan’s dancing integrated the audience, causing us to mimic her passion that we pulled from her performance. As she listened to the band play around her, Danielle would crouch and step to the rhythm. As she joined the rhythm section with her tambourine and shaker, guitarist Nick Vicario would begin to showcase his talents – his solos soaring above the coordinated relationship between the keyboardist and bassist. The two lead performers, Sullivan and Vicario, worked together seamlessly to draw the audience’s attention. Their syncopated movements highlighted their harmonies as they occasionally shifted placed in the summer sunlight.
After a quick break to eat, I headed back to the Vera stage to check out a full performance from Seattle natives Iska Dhaaf. The band opened with a squeaky guitar that repeated until we could no longer hear A$AP Ferg’s heady sub-bass. The group consists of only two members: Nathan Quiroga from Mad Rad on lead guitar/vocals/synth and Benjamin Verdoes from the Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band on drums and keys). Despite its small size, the group managed to produce more noise than half of the other performers I saw throughout the day. Quiroga’s use of a recording pedal made this dynamic possible as he built each guitar tone on top of the last.
Standout tracks like “Happiness” drew in enough passersbys and fans to fill the street with bobbing heads and swinging bodies. Quiroga performed vigorously – his face turning red after long periods of holding a single note without a single breath. Yet, as he let the air back into his lungs, Nathan would introduce another song, forbidding both him and the crowd from losing momentum between the multi-faceted musical moments.
Meanwhile, Verdoes connected with us from a location slightly off center-stage – his right hand slamming on the kit while his left added keyboard into the mix. Quiroga couldn’t help but switch instruments as well, giving up his double cut-away guitar in favor of a compact synthesizer. The two exchanged vocal lines and took turns telling us about themselves, their songs and what this all meant to them. “I just had one of those moments,” Nathan said before the last song, “… a moment when you realize that you’re doing what you want to be doing. You know that feeling?” We cheered. “There’s people here! How did that happen?!” He replied in shock. As we cheered, they smiled – Nathan looking over the crowd with content. Benjamin and him embraced after the final song in both celebration and relief.
I stayed at the stage to wait for my latest favorite performers, Holy Child. Lead singer, Liz Nistico, never failed to show us all a good time (and have a lot of fun while doing it). There was not a moment during the performance when Liz did not have a smile on her face, all the while dancing her ass off! Her three other band-mates were just as electrifying. The performers to Nistico’s left and right furiously banged their heads as they hastily switched among the multitude of instruments strewn across the stage. All the while, the drums kept us dancing with aggressively unique beats whose rhythm never failed to disappoint. The multi-layered sound continued throughout the performance until the set came to a satisfying finish – the entire band dancing to a symphony of percussion which emitted from all members of the 4-piece suite. If you missed them here, be sure to check them out at the Neptune this fall!
Another band encompassed the stage without saying a word. Man or Astro-man? had begun. The lead guitarist, Star Crunch (a.k.a. Brain Causey, who composed and performed the award-winning theme song for The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron), jumped to the front without hesitation. Almost perfectly in sync, the rest of the group followed in his footsteps. As the fog erupted from the back of the stage, the set went on – each song invariably different from the last. The only breaks seemed to be the hilariously acted-out soundbites between songs and two short introductions.
They, at first, introduced themselves as the “Yin Yang Twins”, causing the audience to pause from banging their respective heads to laugh in reply. The band quickly delved back into the music as the hypnotic visuals behind them entranced our already stimulated retinas. Though the music was commanding, what really caused an uproar was the two lead guitarists’ use of the stage. Star Crunch and Avona Nova (Samantha Erin Paulsen, former guitarist/vocalist for We Versus The Shark) stepped out towards the audience again and again until the two were inches away from our fingers. At one point, Nova allowed audience members to touch both her and her guitar as she stood on the band-guard – tearing the steel away from her electric guitar strings with every strum.
During the last song, the keyboardist emerged from behind her machine and set up another piece of equipment at center stage – a Theremin. After a noisy and exciting final song, the band freaked out! While Nova and the keyboardist found different things to play the Theremin with, drummer Birdstuff (Brian Teasley) took apart his cymbal stand and used it as a pike with which to pierce both his tom and snare drums! The crowd cheered with encouragement as they screamed through their rock-ish smiles.
I made my way over to Neumos where I would spend the rest of my night relishing in two remarkable up-and-coming acts. When I entered the room, three members of the band stood tuning and reading through their music. After standing in place for a few minutes, they began to play softly but diligently – each instrument’s sound slowly entering the room. After a brief moment of her band quietly jamming along to the electronic beat, Shaprece welcomed the stage, the rest of the performers in-toe. She adorned a necklace handed to her by a member of the front row and, just then, all eyes were drawn to the beautiful figure dressed in red.
Her body spoke with its movements. Words flowed seamlessly from her lips as notes followed fluidly from within her soul. We swayed in motion as we listened carefully to her lyricism. Between her content compliments towards us, Shaprece’s voice pulsed through the air as her string-based band filled the spaces in-between. Each beat caused us to dance among the scenery painted by her vibrant vocalization. Despite her commanding presence, I couldn’t help but notice interactions between other performers. Two of the basses (an electric bass and an acoustic cello) communicated constantly in order to carry the essential section of the soul-oriented show. The two players, in addition to the bass electric guitar, provided the basis on which Shaprece could build her vocal riffs and momentous melodies.
Shaprece played songs both old and new and we got to know her through the progression of her music. Not a soul in the room could stop moving in a synchronous motion. Any command she gave, we followed. We sang along to a disco rendition of Bon Iver’s “Woods”, cheered for Shaprece’s sister performing alongside her, and even chanted, “I love you!” To which she replied with a laugh, “I feel intoxicated and I haven’t even had a sip!” It seems that we enjoyed her performance almost as much as she and her band enjoyed ours.
The final performance of the night supplanted Neumos’ success in this year’s first day of CHBP. Following Shaprece’s engaging set, we had our expectations set fairly high; what was still to come, however, would blow them all away. Ayron Jones and The Way dedicated their first song to The Stranger as Jones sang about his pride of the Puget Sound area. Dressed in all black, Ayron finally returned to the stage that he shared with Sir Mix-a-Lot just a few short months ago. In that time, his popularity (as well as his band) has grown significantly.
The subsequent boost in ego shines through beautifully in the group’s performance. Each song selects moments of intensity to captivate the audience and draw attention to a specific performer. For the most part, this focus remained on AJ as he tore his axe to shreds. With every solo break, Jones’ guitar tore through every available speaker as it effortlessly moved between relative keys. Yet, The Way’s drums and guitar provided more than just a backdrop to Jones’ solos. Each artist took his turn showcases his particular talents multiple times throughout the set. Among the many guitar breaks, multiple instances of drum solos and bass runs pulled us closer towards the stage just to get a glimpse of the action.
When we were all as close as we could get, Ayron brought the action to us. At first I wondered why he brought a Squire Stratocaster on the stage to replace his signature strat. After he returned to the stage from crowd surfing, I did not need to wonder any more. With a few swift movements, Jones obliterated the guitar, newly applied red paint flying across the room into many lucky audience members’ hands. Despite these moments of high intensity, AJ and The Way’s set remained balance with ballads and vocals sharing the limelight with the artists’ overpowering solo performances. I am excited to see how they continue to develop from three overly talented musicians into a cohesive musical group!