If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting Capitol Hill Block Party to be as awesome as it was this year. When I think about my approach to Block Party, I picture how most professionals would approach an industry trade show. Like an industry trade show every company invited is given the opportunity to present a sample of their offerings, some companies are given bigger booths than others, you see some industry regulars, and you make friends/network with people who seem to gravitate to the same booths you do. The key differences being the “companies” are bands, the “booths” are stages, and the “offerings” are performances from these bands. What you’re seeing on stage is that band’s best sample of their show, because they want you to follow their product. They want you to be a fan of their work.
Otter Pop (left), Marshall of Marshall Law Band (right)
This year’s lineup didn’t initially “wow” me but I was more than happy to attend for three days and give each artist I saw as much attention as if I had come to Block Party to see them perform specifically. Of the 27 performances I saw, here are my top 3 acts from each day:
JPEGMAFIA – JPEGMAFIA came highly recommended by some of my younger friends. This was my first time seeing/hearing him perform. I had no idea what to expect. Having forgotten his laptop, JPEGMAFIA plugged in his phone, and proceeded to have one of the most high energy sets of the weekend. His performance was for sure “hip hop”, but this really felt like a manic “hardcore”/”punk” show. There were mosh pits, stage dives, and moments where JPEG just yelled into the mic. I decided to get in the mosh pit. With a big smile, I proceeded to slam dance with people a little over half my age. After a few kids asked how old I was and I told them I was 30, more than a few lit up and asked if they could square up with me for the next few songs. I happily obliged them, of course. I asked one kid, what does age have to do with this, and he explained, they were just impressed that someone my age was so down to get down to JPEGMAFIA. (haha)
Mitski –Mitski was the performer I was most excited to see at this year’s Capitol Hill Block Party. I enjoyed her 2018 album “Be the Cowboy” and had posted up at the front against the barrrier to see her perform live. Once I saw her with a tape measure before her set putting down tape markers I knew we were in for something special. Her performance was creative, the choreography was compelling, and her voice really drew you into the feelings she was trying to evoke. More than a few people near the front were tearing up.
Bear Axe – After Mitski, I made my way to the Neumos stage to catch Bear Axe. I’ve seen Bear Axe on lineups around Seattle but I had never seen them perform. Bear Axe put on a mind blowing performance. I would describe their sound as a mix of funk and punk. Shaina Shepherd’s soulful vocals really stood out especially in their cover of “Where did you sleep last night?”. I definitely want to see Bear Axe perform again.
Tres Leches (Upper Left), Episcool (Upper Right), Perry Porter (Bottom)
Perry Porter – If there was any performer that engaged the audience in a memorable way, I would have to give it to local hip hop artist Perry Porter. Perry was one of the early acts of the day. The stage set up were canvases with his paintings on display, a tarp and several plates with paint and brushes. Upon taking the stage, he told everyone at random points throughout the show he would invite folks up to paint his all white outfit. Folks drew in closer just to see his outfit evolve throughout the set, however when he jumped off stage still covered in wet paint and tried to get folks to mosh with him, that’s the only time members of the audience backed away. The performance was one of the more memorable of the weekend for the creative audience engagement Perry had provided.
Tres Leches – I read a Seattle Times article put out a little after Capitol Hill Block Party that described a moment during Tres Leches’ set where they performed a protest song addressing how Block Party had compensated local bands. If I’m honest, I don’t remember hearing this moment. Not saying that it didn’t occur, I didn’t hear it because I had initiated a decent sized mosh pit at the end of their set. This couple had pushed to the front during the last 2 songs of their show. The male in the couple shoved his girlfriend into me and immediately they began apologized. I smiled and said, “No need to apologize, I’m down if you’re down.” The guy smiled, and I shoved him hard into the crowd behind him. Next thing you know we were slam dancing to close out the Tres Leches set. I’ve been to around 10 Tres Leches shows and this is the first time I’ve been part of a crowd who wanted to mosh during their set. This is probably why I missed their protest moment. The fact I was in attendance for their protest song was pretty ironic. I had attended their set because a main stage performer, Saba, had effectively squandered half his set. Saba was scheduled to have an hour slot at the main stage. I remember when Rolling Stone magazine named Saba one of their artists to watch, so I was excited to see him. He began his set 15 minutes late, and once his set started the first 15 minutes was his DJ hyping up the audience. That would mean an hour long set was effectively cut in half. I bailed after Saba performed 2 songs for the Tres Leches set. At the time, I thought cutting your set in half felt disrespectful which is why I left, but after reading Tres Leches’ comments in Seattle Times concerning compensation, I feel great about my choice not indulge in his performance.
A Tribe Called Red – This will probably go down as the year of Lizzo. Lizzo was the reason a ton of my friends had attended Block Party. That was by far one of the most densely packed, long stretching crowds I’ve ever seen for a headliner. I made it as far as the Sushi restaurant. After about fifteen minutes of being pushed and being packed against other people, I decided to bail and go watch A Tribe Called Red. The crowd didn’t thin out until “Out of the Closet” Thrift Shop. That was one of the best decisions I made all weekend. A Tribe Called Red put on one of my favorite sets all weekend. The crowd was happy and dancing. The imagery they used during their set was powerful. It was native imagery. Not just native Americans, but native peoples from around the world. A friend pointed out to me, the images were not about glorifying the stereotype in the images but instead reclaiming it. Taking the image back, and using it as a way to teach and grow. To me, that was impressive. We can all dance, have fun, and hopefully learn, and that’s what A Tribe Called Red presented to the crowd.
A Tribe Called Red
Actors – What’s Capitol Hill Block Party without taking in a good “goth band”? From the first song, I knew I was going to enjoy this group. I loved it when the lead singer said after asking the crowd if anyone knew who they were and they were answered with a one person cheer, “Just wondered cause there’s an absence of black t-shirts in the audience. We’re just a buncha goths out in the Summer.” Dude. The fact the group was wearing all black in direct sunlight in upper 80 degree weather was impressive (haha). I would describe their sound as danceable goth music. It felt like late 80’s New Wave with an edge. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one loving what I was seeing on stage. After Block Party I bought their album “It Will Come to You” and their EP “Reanimated”. I recommend checking these folks out.
Episcool – When I was deciding who to write about, I really wanted to keep my list to three acts per day. Deciding who I wanted to feature between Episcool and Nick Weaver was a pretty big decision for me. Nick Weaver is one of Seattle’s best currently active hip hop artists. I could have easily wrote about his performance, but instead I decided to focus on a performer I’ve never seen until I saw her performance at Block Party. Episcool came totally out of left field for me. She performed probably one of the most crowd energizing sets I saw that weekend. I just happened to be wandering into Barboza, noticed the room was packed, everyone was dancing hard, and there were no camera people covering the action. I feel like this set flew totally under the radar from the press covering the event. I made my way to the front, snagged some photos and videos, but the drops were just infectious. I found myself dancing alongside the rest of the crowd to this mix of dubstep and a kind of trance electronic beat. It was great and it truly felt like the energy of the crowd was fueling the set, despite Episcool being so focused on her craft.
(Upper left) Nick Weaver, (Upper right) Bear Axe, (Bottom) Actors
Razor Clam – The 9:00 to 10:00pm slot on Sunday was one of the tougher choices of the weekend. Within the same time slot you had Razor Clam, Cuco, Kung Foo Grip, and Marshall Law Band. With his awesome hairstyle, I figured Marshall Law Band would have drawn a large crowd to the Barboza basement. Cuco in particular was a performer some of the younger crowd had bought tickets to see. It came down to Kung Foo Grip and Razor Clam. I had seen both bands perform one other time before and even if Kung Foo Grip had a memorable show (I saw them perform at Bumbershoot in the KEXP open space), I hadn’t seen a performance at the Cha Cha stage during this Block Party, so I decided to see Razor Clam. I posted up next to one of the speakers and even if it was hot in that basement, once I saw lead singer Aya being carried to the front (which I think was improvised) I knew I made the right choice. There performance was a mix of femme glam rock and soft goth sentiments. I was dancing and just admiring the amount of confidence on display in their set. I do have to apologize to the lead singer. At one point, she asked the audience if she could get a sip of anyone’s drink. I let her have some of mine, but honestly I was hesitant to give her some as it was a cheap beer that had basically gotten warm in that hot basement, and probably did not taste great (haha). Otherwise, Razor Clam put on a fun memorable set, that I would recommend others check out live. Also, check out their EP. I’ve seen them twice and loved their song “ITB”. It wasn’t until I heard their EP, that I realized what that song is about (haha).
This year’s Capitol Hill Block Party will go down for most as the year of Lizzo, but for me, I got to see a lot of performers who I would love to see perform again. I bought a lot of albums based on the performances I saw, and will keep an eye out for future line ups featuring those acts. Some performers did let me down, but the ones who shined, really shined. In a lot of cases, folks really exceeded expectations. With what was on display, I would be surprised if the stock of these performers didn’t go up after their sets at this year’s Capitol Hill Block Party.
For more videos and pictures from Capitol Hill Block Party weekend including moments I described here, check out my Instagram: Cakeintherain206