Capitol Hill Block Party, Day 2: Cosmos, Prom Queen, Manatee Commune, Whitney

Live Reviews
Gabe Pollak
Prom Queen // photo by Morgen Schuler

BSH. BSH. BSH. BSH. The sound of four defiant cymbal crashes spreads out across Pike Street. It's Seattle band COSMOS’ turn at the main stage. Melding hip hop, jazz, and funk in a high-energy set, the Seattle band proves yet again why they won last year’s Sound Off! contest, an annual battle of the bands for local, underage artists, hosted by MoPOP. Dishing out songs from their ambitious official mixtape debut, MOONSHINE, each of the five band members onstage, as well as two guest vocalists, JAGA and ParisAlexa, plays an equal part in the inspiring performance. Ditching the band’s trademark NASA jumpsuits for a romper, ever-charismatic frontman Campana gets up, down, and all around the main stage, spitting rapid-fire rhymes about staying true to one’s path. Meanwhile, JAGA is equally enthusiastic, at times singing and shaking so energetically that he has to rip the navy baseball cap off his head and clutch it to his chest, to make sure it didn’t fall to the ground. Inconspicuously powering the band from the back corner of the stage, bassist Manteloupe supplies funky bass lines, while, next to him, drummer Remy brings the dance beats and smooth transitional fills. COSMOS have a handful of shows coming up over the next month and a half, including a show at City Hall on August 17th. Don’t miss out on a chance to see them shine.

Prom Queen // photo by Morgen Schuler

Prom Queen leading lady Leeni Ramadan has Neumos wrapped around her little finger, and she knows it. Performing a mix of doo-wop, surf, and power pop with the support of her seven more-than-capable bandmates, Ramadan looks above the sea of bobbing heads filling the club, letting her gaze settle somewhere above the soundboard in the back, on a spot perhaps only she can see. Here, she can focus on what really counts: bringing to life the fictional characters in each of Prom Queen’s songs. She devotes a different persona to each one. For the woman refusing infantilization (“Pretty Little Thing,” a blues from 2014’s music video album, Midnight Veil), Ramadan lifts one eyebrow questioningly, and her voice takes on an extra edge, like someone has cat-called her one too many times and she’s ready to weaponize the music. For the narrator puzzled by newfound apathy for an old crush (“Can’t Seem to Cry,”) Ramadan tilts her head back and looks up, wondering. Later, after the song and the narrator have progressed, Ramadan commemorates the freedom that comes from indifference, hitting the song’s highest note over triumphant, candy shop sweet, three-part harmonies. “This is goodbye,” she declares, finally free. When the spotlight isn’t on Ramadan and her cast of characters, it swings to guitarist Jason Goessl, who is Prom Queen’s ace in the hole, squeezing solo after flawless solo out of his baby blue guitar and lending the songs an additional air of intensity. Curious to see it all for yourself? Prom Queen celebrate the release of their forthcoming album, Doom Wop, on September 23rd, at the Piranha Shop.

Grant Eadie (aka electronic musician Manatee Commune) can’t believe he’s onstage. Every few songs, he steps back from his instruments, looks up at the crowd, and shakes his head in surprise. Hundreds of fans look back at him, smiling, dancing, or bouncing one of Eadie’s manatee pool floats above their heads. Thinking about all that’s led up to this Mainstage set, Manatee Commune’s moment in the sun makes perfect sense. Since his first forays into production as a senior in high school, Eadie has put in the time honing his craft, opening for fellow Western alums and soundalikes ODESZA and playing major festivals around the country, all the while tweaking his live performance, which includes cymbals, a viola, as well as an obligatory beatpad and Macbook. Today, he’s at the peak of his powers, embellishing driving, floor-ready tracks -- The Caribou-esque ”No Reason,” from his latest, self-titled LP is a mid-set standout -- with live drumming on twin tom-toms to the right of his MPC. The music is warm, playful, and confident. To the delight of the crowd, he’s also got some truly original dance moves. Bent over his instruments, fully immersed, Eadie writhes onstage as if the sound around him reverberates through his whole body. “Hope you guys are having as much fun as I am,” he says, head down, catching his breath. The crowd cheers, Eadie looks up, and exclaims “Holy shit.” Don’t worry. We are.

Whitney singer/drummer Julien Ehrlich has a lot of problems on his hand, the crowd learns during his band’s set on the main stage. He’s recovering from a cold. He has to catch a flight to L.A. soon. His girlfriend texts him and -- though this was probably a joke -- he speculates that she’s breaking up with him. He tells us all this. Most pressingly though, there’s a large crowd to see him perform the impossible: turning Whitney’s thirty-minute debut--the lovably bittersweet folk-rock of Light Upon the Lake--into an hour of music. Here’s what Whitney do. Ehrlich commits completely to each group hit, throwing his thin frame forward into each smash of the cymbals. Between songs, he reminisces about drumming for Portland’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra at CHBP in 2011 (“fun facts,” he says abruptly after the diversion), jokes about summer romances, and invites someone -- anyone -- to bring the band tequila. Keyboardist Malcolm Brown contributes maximum enthusiasm while (mostly) seated stage right. Keeping time with the beat, he hops side to side in his seat, like a kid who can’t wait for recess. Looking stoic on the other side of the stage, guitarist Max Kakacek dispenses knotty, twang-tinged licks, at least a little reminiscent of his and Kakacek’s time in Smith Westerns, who Ehrlich also played with. Close to the end of the set, Whitney toss in a new song about depression, featuring a weary narrator “looking away from the mirror as the day go on.” Other than set closer, the wistful, rambling man on a train song, “No Woman,” this new track is perhaps the set’s highlight, though it might not sound that way at first. “If my voice just gives out, I apologize,” Ehrlich says cautiously before beginning. Accompanied by at the start of the song, Ehrlich’s falsetto sounds taut. The crowd is quiet, perhaps wondering if his voice is finally succumbing to congestion. Then, as the band approaches the second verse, Ehrlich holds one long note, his voice wavers and gains strength. The chorus lands and the crowd cheers with encouragement, as if they’ve just witnessed a kid steady themselves on a bicycle. It’s Whitney at their most vulnerable, which is to say it’s Whitney at their best.

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