The pace of my walking quickened as I walked past Honey Hole, then Babeland, because I'm singing along with the Dutchess and the Duke's "Mary" as I'm hoofing it toward Capitol Hill Block Party's Main Stage instead of already being there. I'd spend the next two nights walking from Belltown to East Pike and back; a couple of very late nights ordering in pizza delivered to the Warwick Hotel so I didn't have to drive back to Tacoma either night. At the time I was busting my ass on the graveyard shift, working as a stockperson for a suburban supermarket near my apartment.
In the summer of 2009, I had just gone from blogging independently to writing sorta prolific, sorta funny, sorta too clever by half, sorta informative reviews for a friend’s website. It’s essential to learn by trying and failing, and it was from spending two, sometimes three posts a week throwing whatever I had to the wall and seeing what stuck where I learned how to sharpen my craft. Playing with structure, playing with tone, beginning to understand what I like and don’t like about all creative forms; beginning to understand why I liked the things I liked. My maiden voyage to Capitol Hill Block Party set course around the tail end of my period of going to Seattle for shows three times a week. I’d park on Madison over by Seattle University, walk over the Neumos, and leave a $5 tip upon getting my first drink.
Of course I didn’t know the direction I wanted my life to go back then; who does when they’re twenty-five? I’m a creative-minded person, a flighty air sign; the wind blows me in the direction my life goes. Especially back then. It would be a year or so before I took writing more seriously (receiving monthly freelance checks will sometimes do that to you); I noncommittally recorded an experimental singer/songwriter album at home, but was way too introverted and didn’t like where the desire for approval of being a musician was taking me emotionally. (If I had the musical talent in spite of these personal characteristics, I might have made a decent run at it anyway. But I only wrote songs in the first place to tell stories. At some point I knew giving writing a try would do a lot for my depleted soul.)
A band I saw early-ish that Friday was Atlanta’s Deerhunter, a group whose music I had a strong relationship to back then, a band who pretty much defined an era in my life. Bradford Cox’s songwriting speaks directly to those who feel ostracized, alienated, those who feel like outsiders. This was back when the band was heavy in exploring dissonance and noise in juxtaposition with beauty. Deerhunter dropped their watershed (and still weirdly divisive) Microcastle (packaged in tandem with Weird Era Cont., like Amnesia is to Kid A only much cloudier, distant, kind of non-committal). A common knock on the band is that they played noise because the music they played underneath was utterly derivative, but I saw Deerhunter as siphoning influences as ephemera -- which we all do, consciously or not -- in order to communicate a very personal worldview.
There was a lingering depression rustling inside of me, still reckoning from things that happened in my past. Whether getting lost in the squall of “Vox Celeste” or feeling smoothed over by “Agoraphobia,” listening to Deerhunter soothed me. Listening to those songs, leaned up against the guardrail, a calm came over me. There is a version of myself at Age 25 that definitely needed to feel like somebody understood me. They played in the thick of afternoon, the sun beating down on the buildings scaling a couple stories over East Pike. The notes of “Saved by Old Times” rang through the air.
The sands of time wash over my memories of meeting her, but I would intermittently hang out with a cute brunette woman whose blonde friend ditched her to make out with some guy wearing cargo shorts and a white polo-style shirt. (Polo and polo-style are entirely different things. One has Ralph Lauren’s iconic horse logo, the other doesn’t.) I waited for an opening to hang out with them after Saturday night’s festivities were over, but no such opening came. C’est la vie.
I saw Girls live for the first time with my new friend Saturday afternoon, minutes after her friend ditched her. There was a certain off-the-cuff grace to the songwriting. Later, “Lust for Life” would become sort of a hit in the indie-rock world; about wanting the simple things in life (a boyfriend, a pizza, a bottle of wine) and a fresh start with a lover. I saw Mika Miko for the only time at the Vera Stage, shouting about turkey sandwiches and having a tender heart over cowbell, blaring saxophones, and the sounds of people's sneakers hitting the concrete over and over again from pogoing. Threadbare, hysterical, short, punchy punk music; trailing the smell of The Smell all the way from Downtown Los Angeles. The sleeve of my copy of We Be Xuxa (easily one of my favorite punk records of the 21st Century so far) was nearly destroyed in the massive crowd attending the Gossip’s set later in the day.
The sounds of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart wafted around the Pike-Pine corridor as a couple people I don’t remember and I staggered into the door of Pita Pit on Broadway, rumbling stomachs signifying we should halt our day-drinking and head nodding for enough time to scarf down some sustenance. The smell of Tzatziki sauce attacked my sense of smell like I had just stepped in it. What did people do before they posted photos of their food on Instagram? They just ate and talked to each other.
Even then, I felt like I was in a dream; the scrub brush doing its thing over my faded memory makes it feel more so. At that point, I was listening to C-86 every other day and making my way through listening to as many Sarah Records releases as I could, so I remember the band not serving much of a purpose in my life aside from window dressing while an indie-pop-loving young woman made us breakfast. I feel as though a few years removed from not hearing it every cool place I went might be just the thing I need to have a sympathetic environment. I’d probably like their music better now; distance makes the heart grow fonder and whatnot.
A surprise to no one, the sound of Sonic Youth’s serrated guitars and huge drums filled the air of East Seattle; they played a set mostly compiled from their then-new (and actually pretty great) album The Eternal. The only two songs they didn’t play from their 2009 odyssey were from Daydream Nation, which is like my fifth- or sixth-favorite Sonic Youth record.
Que Linda and I were super tight around the time I last went to Capitol Hill Block Party. We both had close friends who were Jesus Lizard superfans; she’d seen Sonic Youth a couple dozen times over the years. Olympia, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York. She didn’t like The Eternal as much as I did, but it grew on her over the ensuing months.
When we lose the people we love, we lose parts of ourselves we love; it’s the closing door that locks behind you.
I stood pretty much directly in the intersection of 10th and Pike and felt the heft from the stage grew hands and began to push me backward. I’d seen Sonic Youth a few times before and since; the thing which separates their live performances from any other is the level of physical confrontation. It’s like the first moments of a fight, the small space of seconds before a punch lasting over an hour.
An aspect of American life I’m personally obsessed with is the character of its cities; their inhabitants’ relationships with those cities. As time passes, everything evolves, everything mutates into something different. I write what feels like all the goddamn time about how Seattle is a pretty close to completely different city than it was in 2009 (although some things never change), and how it continues to build upward instead of grounded in our hearts.
The other day I had a drink before dinner on Broadway with one of my closest friends. She’s leaving for one of the most prestigious writing programs in America. At drinks she rhapsodized her first Capitol Hill Block Party in 2006. She was 19. I keep Freudian slipping “Capitol Hell Block Party,” which shows you, noble reader, where my mind is really at. There were two buildings being built across the street from us, filled with slots for condos. They look like the assembly of collector’s carriers meant to hold a full display case of Hot Wheels. Rooms and rooms and rooms still in the process of being built. Capitol Hill is like the home of a financially wealthy young couple never satisfied with what it looks like, so they remodel it into oblivion. Like what’s new is always better than what’s good.
We drank our beers and spoke with hope about our next frontier. We talked at length about the tarot readings we were just given, an experience that started as a question via text about being afraid of success. I'm always worried about where I'm going, like I'm traveling an unbeaten path or trying to swing a bat dizzy with a blindfold. A big part of the Two of Swords, at least as it relates to my reading, is the idea of being unsure of direction. I hoped to see her at what might be her last Block Party, at least for the foreseeable future.
I parked my car at this lot on Madison where I always used to leave my car when there was briefly a Sonic Boom on the next block over. A Burger Records tote, my trusty denim jacket, and a La Luz shirt from fifteen pounds ago; I was ready to take on this weekend of too much music and too many people. When checking in at the entrance tent to get my pass, the woman helping me smiled and remarked about how tiny my wrists are.
“My name is JPEGMAFIA… and I am so tired.”
Clad in a grey JPG hoodie (kind of a play on the GAP logo from back in the day) and queuing up skittering, booming, gurgling, bloopy, guttural rap beats on his iPhone, JPEGMAFIA quickly took his hoodie off upon screaming lyrics and effusively dedicating his first song to Denzel Curry. After shouting and stalking the stage like Rollins in ‘82, Peggy revealed the potential embarrassment he’d have if someone sent him a text during his set. His lyrics seem to exist on the page in ALL CAPS, so it’s natural he screams his screeds from the caverns in his diaphragm.
After “Thug Tears” -- which came pretty early in the set -- a white man in his fifties made eye-contact with me and half-jokingly shouted, “I’ve experienced enough!” His smile almost looked like a grimace. Probably was a grimace.
“The first time I played Seattle, it was at Vera Project and there were like ten niggas there,” Peggy told the crowd in his many moments of appreciation. “So to see all of this, it’s beautiful.” He seems like the type who’s not afraid to fuck you up, but is very expressive of his appreciation of the crowd, passing out hugs before his primal scream.
JPEGMAFIA is a man who thrives on the chaos; signing autographs before kicking an acapella freestyle which ended in us all partying when a certain person who probably shouldn’t be named here kicks the bucket; hugging fans before summoning a tornado in the crowd. He bequeathed the apparently retired(?) “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies” sorta-kinda because his new album is still under wraps and he can’t play new cuts yet. Peggy asked us to sit in the street for set closer “Macaulay Culkin.” The songs melancholy riff hung in the air as he rapped about getting his style jacked.
Dusty Henry later told me about the group of cops visibly uncomfortable during Peggy’s set, which made my heart sing.
While the music landscape has changed quite a bit, it seems like the environment of Block Party has been preserved in amber for the past ten years.
Wobbly teenagers send clumsy texts on their phones while MItski sings her eloquently written songs about expectation and womanhood, using a wooden table and chair (like the kind I bet teachers used in charm schools) as a performance apparatus. As she sits behind, paces around, and lays on top of this desk, someone in the apartments above East Pike holds a sign that says SEND DICK PIX with a phone number underneath. I didn’t recognize the area code. Dusty, he of indie sadboy fashion and hysterical deadpan wit, and I are chatting about this solicitation as the bubbles escape from the same window in groups of eight or nine. I'm telling him about how I prefer reading Mitski's lyrics on the page than, say, listening to them in my car. But I'm digging her live performance because it introduces the songs in a new context.
The juxtaposition of Mitski’s lyrics and performance was interesting; the way she writes about loneliness and sex and death and are enhanced by the way she positioned herself around the table. A couple of teenage boys got a little too excited and is very indicative of why teenage boys can’t have nice things.
The young woman I saw wandering around the main stage earlier in a lavender mesh tanktop was holding up a pineapple so her friends could find her. My handwriting is starting to look like chicken scratch, and it’s not even all that deep into Friday night.
“This is a very special show because I’m eight months pregnant!”
I still see Que Linda in my dreams. “It’s okay you have mommy issues, my dear. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a woman to touch your face and tell you what a good boy you are.”
For the months since I first had the daunting idea to write this story in a pitch, lyrics from one of Wimps most-beloved songs was the working title I had for the piece. I’m not the old guy at the party; a good percentage of the people seeing Wimps for the last time before a surely well-earned maternity hiatus were around my age. Maybe a little older. Of course, the band played all the hits: “Vampire,” “Old Guy,” “Slept in Late,” half the songs from Garbage People, perennial set closer “Repeat.” I'm commandeering sips from Jasmine Albertson's drink as I bob my head furiously to these songs embedded in my life for the past near-decade. The merry pranksters of Seattle's music scene have been pretty much the house band of my everyday existence for 9 1/2 years, and them running through a good number of their best songs made me think of Seattle as it rolls like a smashed soda can into the next decade. Change is always upon us.
I'm looking forward to the next stage of Wimps; songs about changing diapers and the soft, pureed mush of baby food.
A few of the folks in the pit were also my age (only one or two a little older), but the ones whipping their hair around and pushing themselves into others were mostly younger. In my marathon of pounding back tall boys for most of the afternoon, I forgot the Cha Cha doesn’t have a stage, so I thought the band were all sitting down. The room, lit with red bulbs and the tiki-covered bar off in the short distance, come alive as “Trip Around the Sun” was dedicated to nobody since no birthdays were being celebrated on this evening. (I started a new tradition to playing the song the morning of October 2nd.) I could easily imagine her beside me if I could have finally convinced her to go to a show with me, unsurprised by my enthusiastic singing of “Procrastination.” Or laughing when it was revealed the Homerian epic “O.P.P. (Other People’s Pizza)” began as an idea right here at Cha Cha.
“Of course you love a punk band who writes songs about sleeping,” said Que Linda when I raved to her about Wimps in January of 2013. I was dreaming. She died the year before.
Should I admit in this very public space I saw the Black Tones for the very first time on Friday night? I couldn’t have been the only person who had only previously seen the Black Tones through live performances on YouTube, but I’m certainly not the only person who vowed to never miss them again.
There is a heft to the rock ‘n roll they play; a sense of big fun (“Hello Mr. Pink” was enhanced by playing up the verses of the song being broken up by periods of Cedric Walker’s choice of length) and the lack of emotional distance between band and audience. The final two songs of the set found the stage filled with family, but the special thing about their performance was the sense of community; the fact that, in that room, we were all kinfolk. We sang along in unison with the wordless coda of "Plaid Pants," we clapped along with Eva and Cedric's mom and sister while Eva made her guitar weep to open "The Key of Black (They Want Us Dead)." An energy coursed throughout the room I've only seen a few times as the band plowed through a set of songs that felt like they've been living with us for years; it felt like we were witnessing a moment. Who knows what the future holds? Certainly not me, I had the Two of Swords drawn on me. But I wouldn't be all that surprised if the Black Tones were one of the biggest names in Seattle's rock scene for years to come.
I hope Eva didn’t get too stern a talking-to by her mom for introducing “Hello Mr. PInk” as “This song is about our dad when he was a bank robber!”
Leo season cometh, and Perry Porter is spending the weekend before his solar return turning up in the crowd inside Neumos. He’s a born performer, soaking in the energy of the audience and hopping all over the stage with a natural sense of comfort.
In my rush to watch Porter’s entire set, I had to pound back a beer to start my Saturday afternoon. People are dancing in the streets, partying as hard as 3pm will allow. A guy at an animal shelter tent is spinning a colorful wheel for a trio of teenage girls. I don’t know for what kind of prize the wheel was being spun. Perry brought the heat brought the heat – only to get almost as hot as it was outside – with a bunch of solo favorites from Channel Surfing, Pretty Perry, and his immersive latest effort, Bobby Ro$$.
He wasn’t alone; he brought Blake Anthony to spit his verse from “Shake Shack,” he brought out Alfa Lashay to give her talents the spotlight during “Bust That.” He brought out two sets of painters from the audience to put brushes to his white clothes for the length of a song. One audience member drew a smiley face on his overalls, another painted the back heel of his sneakers. Perry performed in the crowd, and at one point got people to (gently) mosh around him. Being able to embrace the whirlwind of energy around you is a very useful skill for any artist to have.
To the dude wearing the all-over print t-shirt of Kehinde Wiley portrait of Barack Obama. To songs about self-love and good-ass smelling perfume. To all sorts of body parts jiggling. To Tacoma boos and receiving roses onstage. To White Claw and PBR. To songs like sounds from boomboxes in the hood from my youth. To playing shows with your best friend and the jokes and soft laughter in front of a big crowd. To your friends always finding you, no matter where you are.
If I were in Wild Powwers, the goal I’d have for the band’s set at the Vera Stage would be to try and blow the windows out of Chophouse Row. I can’t confirm or deny that’s what they were trying to do, but I felt the thump of Lupe Flores’ titanic, superhuman drum fills in my chest. It’s like having a fifty-pound stone thrown at you. Recordings are kind of deceptive; there’s no way you can tell how big a band sounds until you see them live. Especially a heavy rock band on a big stage. I doubt any set was as massive as that of the Seattle trio’s on Saturday afternoon.
Dusty and I were right in the line of fire for free popsicles being tossed out of the window before Saba, the same window soliciting DICK PIX on a bright orange sign. Reader were straight out of the pages of Chickfactor 18 in the best way. Samurai Del had (by far) the largest percentage of bros I’ve seen all weekend. Some dude in front of me spilled some of his drink on my leg, so I split before Perry Porter stepped on the Neumos stage for the second time today. I could feel the vodka soda drying into my left leg as I stood in the sun.
You know your set is the most punk of the weekend when you’ve got a mosh pit kicking up proverbial dust over a song about the politics of playing music festivals.
Tres Leches just keep getting better and better; their songs about community and resistance and warding off unwanted touching when you just want to fucking dance; they are either the most well-practiced group in Seattle or simply telepathically in-sync. Flitting through tempos and instruments, harmonizing and crooning and shouting (as always). Switching instruments like the host of an awards ceremony switching stage outfits (as always). Alaia D'Alessandro wearing a jacket with a fur collar (for a short portion of the set) while getting warmed up with guitar wizardry and fancy footwork. Zander Yates and Ulises Mariscal's charming and affable demeanor; the latter thanking us for coming and reminding us we're all travelers looking for our best lives. Fuck borders, fuck harrassers, fuck paying local acts $250 and the main stage headliners $10,000. Power to the people.
Dim light? Small space? A perfect chance to cause an earthquake of jagged post-punk and distorted electric soul. The sounds of Ex-Licks (only theoretically) threatened to knock out the power in the front room of Pettirosso. Guitarist/vocalist Shawn Kox was celebrating a birthday. Brand new merch was being thrown into the crowd. The band gave Kox a six-pack belt. “This is the second six-pack belt I’ve gotten this year, so thanks for supporting my beer habit.” Drummer Dan Paulis’ brother was wearing the shirt of a band Paulis played in in 1993. Theirs is the type of top-notch punk bands that have always existed in Seattle over the past four decades or so; kind of garagey, loud, dirty, with sarcasm and frustration and desire seeping through its pores. Their aborted cover evokes the “fuck it, let’s just not do it” vibe that defines a great lineage of bands.
I know how uncool it is to pull out a notebook and jot thoughts at a rock show, but I’d rather look uncool than lose my thought. I’ve done both plenty of times.
People on people on people. This is why they call it a "sea of people," the current flows in all sorts of ways along East Pike. If you stand in one spot for too long, you risk being pushed away far from shore or the safety of a sidewalk. I ended up going home around nine o’clock on Saturday because it was way too crowded and my friends were on an adventure to interview Lizzo, limbs swinging every which way around and beyond the beer garden gate. I had something going on with my hamstring and both of my ankles are hurting from standing up all day. This is where trying to establish Toms as the new punk rock shoe doesn’t accomplish its task. I skipped out on Lizzo and the teenage daughter of one of my friends is going to be so disappointed.
Objective failed, cool points revoked.
Sunday began a little late, as I gave my worn out, tired leg muscles some rest. It felt good to recharge, but it eventually became time for one last march on the freeway. I think after burning myself out early because of the huge crowd (with more filing in when I was leaving, probably to catch last night’s main event with Lizzo on the Main Stage), my plan was to approach the day like a professional.
When I say “professional,” I basically mean “no chugging beers because I performed poor time management and now I’m about to be late for a set.”
Taylar Elizza Beth is standing in front of all of us at Neumos, visibly emotional and shedding tears of gratitude, noting the song she performed previously to crying in public had a chorus of “I’m not a nice bitch.” In 2014, she had barely started writing songs and pledged to herself to perform at Capitol Hill Block Party. Now she’s back in her hometown for the evening, asking in the applause from her well-attended set, bursting at the seams with the minimal bounce of pulsating 808s and skittering hi-hats. After a weekend of missing each other, my dear friend who is departing the city and I are standing and cheering and watching Taylar mid-song expressing astonishment that someone in the crowd knew all the lyrics.
Though she moved to Los Angeles last year in the pursuit of ascending to the next level, it was heartwarming to see how much playing Block Party meant to her, which was a common thread among Seattle groups playing the festival. Maybe it was the alcohol thinning my blood stream giving me a warm and fuzzy feeling about the gratitude of this city's groups getting the opportunity to show off for crowds seeing them for the first time, but I'd like to think it was appreciation.
Two young dudes passed a pre-roll back and forth while MIKE remarked how shy his Vera Stage crowd was because most of them were at first reluctant to put their hands up. A good portion of them were bobbing their heads dutifully to a period-spanning collection of songs. “Goin’ Truu” and “Never Knocked” and the closer from 2017’s By the Water, the jazzy float of “God’s With Me.” He flubbed a lyric and had to start a song over. He announced, to no one’s immediate surprise, “I’m high!” MIKE's songs served as a truly appropriate soundtrack for the timeslot, just after the headlong rush of early Sunday evening. After the point where everybody is rallying in a desperate attempt to keep the energy high on the festival's final day and through the weed-fogged valley, just trying to chill. "Breezy" is a good word for it, while MIKE explores the depths of hurt, smoking weed and pacing around to numb that hurt, supicious in the cops when their Capitol Hill precinct was directly within earshot. He opens his heart to seek personal truth through the somewhat thin crowd and his DJ rocking a t-shirt with the cover of Black Flag's My War on it, rustling through pitch-shifted versions of his beats to articulate the stress and struggle and the beauty caught between the torrent.
Off to the side is a Jenga table standing tall because no one is playing it. Off to another are the DJs from Dance Yourself Clean, friends of friends, particularly friends of my friend who scored a VIP wristband and as many drink tickets for one day as I was given for the entire weekend. The heat is finished beating me down, in this, the 12th round. I pound back one last beer and hug my friend goodbye in the midst of bodies dancing slowly in the weekend's home stretch. We toast to Pizza Fests 2012 and 2015, the house parties with Krupnik free flowing, all of the Wimps shows we've attended together (or the one on Friday where she couldn't find me in the thick of the Cha Cha crowd), the wonderful dinners at Coastal Kitchen and The Saint and the two slices each we just had at Big Mario's, the many drunken nights from here to her hometown of Boulder, Montana, the hugs, the heartfelt conversations, the love. This friend of mine is one of the first true friends I'd made in Seattle; this is only the closing of a chapter, not of our friendship.
She didn't think she was going to live in Seattle as long as she had, and that makes me personally thankful.
The city changes rapidly, for better and worse. That change has been happening and moves at an overwhelming pace as it has for the past decade. Most people’s lives are the same way; the ebbs and flows, friendships lost, kept, and formed anew. As with the city, the community changes, but the good thing is community exists everywhere people live. Even when a twenty-year-old bro is pushing through a crowded expanse with his shoulder.
Underneath the cerveza logos adopting various cloaks in the form of paper decorations and inflatable bottles – Tecate, Negra Modelo, Pacifico – Razor Clam played their brand of dive bar glam to a packed Cha Cha crowd. The quintet has a sound big enough to fill the Main Stage, and the aptitude for performance to boot. They joked about playing all the songs they know before hopping into their last number, a much better version of the Interpol-influenced new-wave tinged post-punk most of the bands drawing crowds in 2005 were playing.
In my low-energy haze throughout Sunday – a light said over the sea of beers I’ve had these past few days – I’d been hearing rumblings, rumor, and innuendo that we might be in attendance for the very last Capitol Hill Block Party. I don’t like to give rumors too much credence; whether CHBP is done or not remains to be seen. Rumors are rumors until they either become facts or die. As someone who saw a hefty portion of local talent this weekend very clearly moved by the opportunity to play the festival, I experienced such a gathering of Seattle’s music community, friends in bands talking to each other on nearly every corner; celebrating being a member of this community, of being a person in this city. Through the city’s rapid and ever-present changes.
Martin Douglas' Treefort coverage continues with two stellar Northwest bands and a travel-sized pack of cold medicine.
Wimps have made a fine career out of sensationalizing the mundane. On their new album Garbage People, the Seattle punk trio deliver their best collection of songs to date with topics that range from climate change to bumming a slice of cheese pizza. Martin Douglas sits down with frontwoman Rachel R…