Capitol Hill Block Party, Day 3: Julie Byrne, Cloud Nothings, Angel Olsen

photo by Joel Andrew Simard

Julie Byrne makes a face when she doesn’t have to sing, one that expresses a sheer contentment with what’s going on around her. She leaned back and made this face – which is featured on the cover her sublime sophomore outing, Not Even Happiness – at least six times during her Sunday afternoon set on the main stage. Occasionally accompanied by a backing vocalist and keyboardist, Byrne’s pristine fingerpicking took full advantage of the breezy space she was playing in at the only moment that the main stage would be even remotely quiet. (Incidentally, the same stage Diplo’s Ritalin-mainlining DJ set and its barely-under-control-at-best audience would occupy that night.) In most festival settings, Byrne’s music would get lost in the shuffle of other stages and blaring sponsorship, but for 45 minutes, it felt like the entire street was hers to take in and make that face.

photo by Joel Andrew Simard

photo by Joel Andrew Simard

When Cloud Nothings played Block Party in 2012, they were furious and loud, producing maybe the best angst-driven mosh pit of the weekend to “Wasted Days”. Fast forward four years, and Dylan Baldi and co. are less angry, but no less furious. In a later timeslot than their previous appearance but otherwise similar circumstances (sunny, full of kids looking to push each other), Baldi played to the band’s strengths, namely drummer Jayson Gerycz, who remains one of the best drummers in the world, and Baldi’s increasingly hook-laden songwriting. The band’s latest, Life Without Sound, has flown relatively under the radar compared to their last two efforts, but Baldi is playing a long game here, building a catalog with more tuneful songcraft than angst — the thought of Baldi doing “No Future/No Past” at 50 is… not as cool as him doing it at 25 — but they remain a formidable unit on stage nonetheless.

photo by Joel Andrew Simard

photo by Joel Andrew Simard

At the beginning of one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, Angel Olsen gave the photographers in the pit very specific instructions: “Don’t saturate the shit out of me. I want to be black and white.” Fading into a sunset as a backdrop, Olsen was in full color in her sub-headlining set at Block Party, continuing this summer’s victory lap behind last year’s stellar MY WOMAN. Save for “Shut Up Kiss Me”, a song so instantly brilliant she’s going to have to play it every night for the rest of her life as an act of human kindness, Olsen’s set focused on languid, often extended versions of MY WOMAN.

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