Music — July 28, 2016 11:48 — 1 Comment

Capitol Hill Block Party

Capitol Hill Block Party was a Sunday out of the sun with (mostly) Seattle artists. My plan for the experience carried a few rules: 1) My Block Party exposure would be Sunday only 2) I decided to just check out local bands I hadn’t seen live before (which I mostly stuck to) and 3) I had to be home in time to put my son to bed, so I’d cede the sprawling CHVRCHES set to all the young dreamers. Set schedules conspired to keep me indoors, hustling up and down the stairs between the Neumos and Barboza stages, out of the painful glare of a spicy summer sun.

Portland’s Double Plus Good started things off at Neumos with a set of one man, lo fi, chamber pop. There was crooning, Brill Building-inspired love songs, toy orchestra synth samples and traces of fuzz. The songs were dramatic, catchy and languid at times, reminding me of the things that make Jens Lekman’s music work so well. Thankfully, with this, my Block Party was off to a promising start.

Seattle’s Jamie Aaron Aux took the Barboza stage with a solo set later, a more folky and introspective showing than Double Plus Good’s romantic bedroom pop. Despite some booming drum machine and guitar distortion, Jamie Aaron Aux’s set was nuanced and introspective. There was a moment when things got a bit dancey and the crowd was treated to some nifty guitar playing (whereas Double Plus Good’s guitar solos would be best described as “charming”) before the songs gave up their shape and became more pieces than proper songs. While Aux’s music would likely be better served in a less frenetic, Jello-shot laden setting, I thought her set was compelling, ambitious and refreshingly subdued.

Heading back upstairs to Neumos, I saw the Spider Ferns bring a more polished, powerful version of their slinky, vocals-driven electro-pop to the stage than I’d seen before (this was the one local band that wasn’t new to me). As the afternoon waned, the room filled in quite a bit more with revelers who got swept up in the Spider Ferns’ dreamy vibe. I find bands with married couples kind of fascinating and perplexing, though Kelly and Alton Fleek seem more in line with the aesthetic compatriotism of Dean & Britta than the disastrous beauty of Richard and Linda Thompson.

Returning to Barboza, Colorworks delivered a set full of quirky, sunny, Sixties-inspired guitar pop to an appreciative crowd. The band was game to put on a good show, showing no signs of slacker indifference or an aversion to rock band enthusiasm. More refined than then the average sludgy psych rock outfit, Colorworks boasted a full, well-developed sound marked by careful arrangements and shifting sections that evoked XTC and the Posies more than the Black Angels.

The Rambling Years brought a set of high-powered Americana bathed in traditional rock and roll and country elements to a noticeably more packed Neumos. With a saxophone and synth likely set to “70’s FM radio hit” at their disposal, they were flat-out Springsteenian in their aesthetic and impact, even going as far as covering “Atantic City” in the manner of “Born to Run.” While the first few songs were barnburners that won over the room, the band slowed it down and showed their roots with a faithful cover of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” that transformed the vibe from JFK stadium in 1985 to the Conor Byrne in Ballard on a Wednesday night without losing anyone. I was really surprised and impressed. While the Rambling Years was the most musically traditional of the bands I saw, they somehow felt the biggest and least local.

Violent Human System, or VHS, brought their jagged, bracing post-punk to Barboza’s mercifully air conditioned confines and blew the room away. They were skronky, throbbing, and heavy as hell, awash in guitars squealing through harsh, 80’s sounding chorus pedals and kaiju-sized drum bashing. This was the kind of noisy chaos I expected to soak in at Block Party (going back to an insane set from Partman parthorse at the Cha Cha years back). It wasn’t always easy going, but it was exhilarating.

Hip hop group Nu Era came out at full bore from the first beat, with all four MCs running a weave across the Neumos stage that lasted the entirety of their set. Their show was a dizzying blur – one song bled into the next with precision and the kind of bravado that’s refreshingly foreign to someone like me who’s been going to mostly mumbly indie rock shows for years and years. They got a hot, drunk and tired Neumo’s bouncing a bit, but the crowd couldn’t match the frenetic energy onstage.

And with that, I headed off to catch the tail-end of bedtime and marvel at the near bottomless well-spring of good bands performing in Seattle.


Jon Rooney is a Seattle-based writer and music lover.

One Comment

  1. Merle says:

    The Ramblin’ Years is their official name! “Atlantic City” was also misspelled. Thank you for writing this enlightening article!

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