Pike is out between Broadway and 12th, the whole block is in a frenzy, and the noise level has almost reached normal weekend levels - it must be time for Capitol Hill Block Party 2015! The layout has adjusted slightly - both Big Mario's Pizza and Vita Coffee sit outside the grounds, making it harder for festival goers to get their two primary food groups. But for the most part, Friday got things off to an incredible start. Main stage appearances included home town experimental hip-hop favorites Shabazz Palaces, New Zealand dance pop act Broods, and the god of the indie dance scene himself, Jamie xx. Over on the Vera stage (now shadowed by ever expanding new condo space on 11th), we had excellent performances from indie jazz act BADBADNOTGOOD and a rousing closer set of dark magic from Deafheaven. Not much to complain about here. Clouds overhead, small pockets of rain here and there, and good beer and good music in better company - just another day loving life in Capitol Hill.Shabazz - do these guys ever let up? Not only do Ishmael and Tendai get the best dressed award for the day - they also get the awards for most hypnotic, coolest instruments (does the mbira on "Free Press and Curl" ever get old? Nope), and - a personal award on the band's part - best crowd interaction at a Shabazz festival set that I've ever seen. If you've checked out either of their phenomenal Sub Pop LPs, Black Up or the new, deliriously good Lese Majesty, you know that Shabazz Palaces lean towards atmosphere and big picture above singles. While this makes for insane headliner sets, this facet of their music often makes it hard for a festival crowd, preoccupied with massive hoards of people and beach balls, to really get lost in the experience on stage. But Ishmael and Tendai upped the ante with today's set. Classics like "Bop Hard" had the crowds going, but it wasn't until a new rendition of closer "Free Press and Curl" rolled around that the crowd really became transfixed in the set. At the halfway point, where Tendai breaks out the mbira and the drum track switches up, Ishmael chose a much more house-heavy approach, putting a solid four to the floor behind Tendai and throwing down an extended new verse. The three minute segment had heads turning throughout the sea of people, and by the time the band ended, there was a collective awe at the cool, organic brilliance going on at the main stage. Shabazz did their thing and pulled in a whole new batch of fans on Friday afternoon - truly an excellent gig.
If you want a great example of how to do festival-ready indie dance pop in 2015, brother sister act Broods are a pretty damn good pick. Georgia and Caleb Nott dropped their debut LP Evergreen last year to much critical acclaim. The mixture of sounds that the New Zealand pair put into their music serves a variety of interests extremely well. Never as pounding as the likes of CHVRCHES, and never as introverted as London Grammar, the two find a melancholy medium that fit the warm overcast day perfectly. This is the band's second trip to Seattle this year, as the band previously played with Mikki Ekko at the Crocodile in March. Here today, Georgia's vocals were a bit wind blown in the long block space, but they were counterbalanced by excellent stage presence from both her and her brother. Plus, the addition of a live drummer definitely helped build the action on stage. Tracks like "L.A.F." got the crowd moving and swaying along as it grew larger literally by the second (typical Friday at CHBP). Breaking out a tom drum for Georgia, the group closed with the excellent "Mother & Father", which sent the band off in wonderful fashion. I'd say Broods are welcome back in Seattle whenever they please.
It's been quite the year for Jamie xx. The London-based producer dropped his first solo LP, In Colour, two months ago, and since then, I think it's just been a whirlwind of re-listening and rediscovering just how much Jamie really packed into that record. Jamie made his name as part of The xx, the incredible minimalist pop group that released two records in the three years, each of which had enough love, heartache, and club sensuality to rip your heart right out of your chest. In between each of these, Jamie has been hard at work with his own strictly electronic work, releasing singles like "Far Nearer", remixing Radiohead, working with Gil Scott-Heron, and even reworking his own band. In Colour is the culmination of years of work for this young, brilliant producer, and its impact on all of us has been immense. Two days after the record dropped, we got word that Jamie was a headliner for Capitol Hill Block Party, and I physically stopped what I was doing at work and cried tears of joy.
Today, Jamie brought the set we've all been waiting for, and holy smokes, it truly couldn't have been any better. Upon emerging from the side stage, Jamie reached into his crate and pulled out The Pursuasions' "Good Times" and let the whole track play between he dropped into his own "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)". From there, that's all there were: good times. Jamie dropped "Good Times" to half time and threw a Skepta verse over top of it, before transitioning into Wiley classic "Gangsters". Within 15 minutes, Jamie had already jumped through soul, R&B, grime, dancehall, hip-hop, and house. If that doesn't tell you something about the man onstage, I don't know what does. Plenty of Jamie's material made it into the set, including "Far Nearer" and his "Bloom" rework. Pretty sure I heard some Daphni in there, as well as classic hard house, Fela Kuti, and plenty of others. But the pinnacle of the set came at the end, as Jamie brought the crowd to a standstill with his own "The Rest Is Noise", before launching into his amazing UK dance tribute "All Under One Roof Raving" before ending with the marvelous "Loud Places". It's impossible not to get lost in the emotion of Jamie's music. The bones may be made of house and dance music, pulsating with massive bass shaking every window on Pike street, but Jamie gives so much heart and soul to his music that you can lose yourself completely in a DJ set without even thinking. The backing track faded, and "Loud Places" became a crowd singalong as Jamie bid farewell. This set was quite a moment for Friday's crowd, and it will be a hard bar to surpass for the rest of the weekend.
I feel like BADBADNOTGOOD are like a modern day version of A Certain Ratio. Their fame and acclaim have come from different places, but after a few years of shuffle, they are showing us that jazz is rad and it belongs in the modern festival context. The Toronto band's first couple records were instrumental, live jazz takes on hip hop records, from the likes of Ol' Dirty Bastard to Earl Sweatshirt. The interpretations were refreshing, but the band pretty quickly realized the general futility of this kind of schtick, and so with last year's III, the went full jazz, all original, and proved they are a one of a kind act that the scene needs right now. In return, the gods listened, and this year, the band released a full LP with Ghostface Killah, Sour Soul, that finds the band doing a fully original project in the vein of their original mission. While Ghostface was nowhere to be seen at tonight's event, BBNG brought 100% of their magic to the stage for an excellent and refreshingly freeform set of jazz to keep the night rolling. The band showed off an excellent, sax-heavy cover of Flying Lotus's "Putty Boy Strut" that had both new and old fans freaking the hell out. Other places, the band just grooved and the crowd ate it up, mostly just excited to see such a different act show up here on Friday. There really wasn't a box to put BBNG's set in, and that was a great feeling.
I feel like there are really only two ways to go out at the end of a festival day: with either a total crowd pleaser, or through brutal fire and flames. While TV on the Radio killed it on the main stage, Deafheaven happily brought the latter of these two items. The band's 2013 LP Sunbather brought the band from a relative unknown to the generally best rated act of the year. As the band prep their follow up, they continue to play live days to keep blood running hot. Here in the dark, packed out 11th street alley, that's exactly what they did. Kicking things off with everyone's favorite metal 2013 metal song "Dream House", and careening on a ten minute journey from there, Deafheaven did their thing in marvelous form. Frontman George Clark (now with ridiculously cool blonde locks) got all up in the faces of the front row, demanding a massive push forward and nothing but complete devotion to the track, while Kerry McCoy led the band on stage with merciless guitars. While the mosh pit was truly something marvelous, the sloped surface of the street added an extra dimension of hot and sweaty fun to the whole mess. Blasting through plenty of Sunbather as well as the incredible new single "From The Kettle Onto The Coil", Deafheaven closed out the night at the Vera stage with all the bloodlust and fury that their fans could hope for.
Check back to the KEXP blog for more Capitol Hill Block Party cover all weekend!
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