Capitol Hill Block Party 2012: Beat Connection, Grimes, Yuna, Lemolo, Kithkin, The Lumineers, Porcelain Raft, Phantogram
What I have come to realize in my past four years of attending Capitol Hill Block Party is that the daytime acts often get the shaft. It is difficult to capture an audience’s attention between the hours of noon and 4:30pm because let’s be real — everyone just wants to day drink — but if you missed out on Beat Connection’s set on the Saturday of Block Party, you missed out big time. For Beat Connection, this was their shining moment. Having performed on the Vera Stage just one year before, being a main stage act was more than just a big deal. Not only did they have an upgrade in stage space, but they were performing to the masses! With their new album, The Palace Garden, receiving rave reviews lately, they are on top of the world.
Beat Connection performed the ideal soundtrack for Saturday of Capitol Hill Block Party by unleashing a daytime dance party in the midst of their set. Is there anything better than listening to their hot new track “The Palace Garden, 4am” with the sweltering sun beating over your head and a nice cold PBR in your hand? I don’t think so. Beat Connection have undergone quite a transformation in the last year, adding more members to their group and a slew of instruments and electronic additions that have taken their music to the next level. With their undergraduate college careers almost over, I expect that we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of Beat Connection very soon.
If I could describe Grimes’ set in one word, it would be chaos. I never know what to expect when I’m caught in a set for an artist I’ve never seen before, but I sure as hell didn’t expect Grimes to be that wild. The girl was nuts. The dancing from the audience was confusing and weird, and if I learned anything from Saturday, it was that you can never really underestimate musicians and their performances. Now the Canadian-based artist is a small one, but she packs the power hard. As her set continued on, the audience warmed up to her and even pushed forward to get even closer. It was like the swarm that would not stop. I had never seen a crowd at the Capitol Hill Block Party become so enamored with one artist, but that is exactly what happened. For this set, I assumed there would be a lot of hipster bobbing and standing around. And while that was true to an extent, I also saw some people get into her set that I wouldn’t expect to. Grimes’ jeweled accessories, hypnotizing voice, and catchy tracks were all enough to make the entire crowd fall in love with both her and her partner and crime, Vancouver producer/DJ Blood Diamonds.
The crowd waiting in Neumos was loud with excitement and chatter before the Malaysian born singer-songwriter took to the stage. Not more than 30-minutes ago, I had watched her outside of the venue posing for photographs with her fans. One of them confessed to me, while holding out an unsteady hand, “I can’t stop shaking!” That fan was my own cousin. Later on, I retold that story to one of the friends I was with, to which she responded, “It’s so cool that she doesn’t even realize who she is to her fans.” She was right. It was cool. Yuna was humble in her presence and gracious to her audience throughout the entire set, and you sort of get the idea that that is just the type of person that she is.
Yuna’s set-up included a no fuss layout, back-up support on keys, and occasional laptop assistance. Her set list was a mix of both upbeat songs and softer jams, all of which put us into the feel-good mood that Capitol Hill Block Party attendees usually exude. The conclusion of her set ended with her latest hit, “Live Your Life,” produced by the notorious hip-hop producer, Pharrell Williams, in a stripped down version that most of us had never heard before. As you can imagine, it was even more beautiful than the original.
“Dream Pop – An atmospheric subgenre of alternative rock that relies on sonic textures as much as melody,” as defined by Urban Dictionary. To be honest, it is difficult to explain what exactly this genre means without experiencing it for yourself, but if you’re looking for a prime example, Lemolo are it. The dynamic duo, consisting of Meagan Grandall and Kendra Cox, are simply effortless when showing off their talent, and did I happen to mention –humble? Their presence alone has the ability to make everyone in the room turn silent. You could literally hear a pin drop, but of course, that wouldn’t actually happen because Lemolo create the only sound you should be hearing, and everyone else is just holding their breath.
As I walked into Barboza, the mysterious and newly renovated music venue located in the basement of Neumos, a hush fell over the audience. It had nothing to do with my entrance, I’m sure; rather it must have been the powerful entrance to the start of Lemolo’s set. While dream pop gives off the impression that it is a type of genre that can either make you want to feel like you are in a dream state or put you to sleep, that is the complete opposite of what these lovely ladies are trying to do. Every beat from Kendra’s drum had the hearts of every audience member beating out of their chests. Every whispered lyric coming out of Meagan’s mouth sent shivers up and down our spines. Each song in its entirety gave us goose bumps. Meagan takes her time with every single note and every beat is serving its purpose.
You would think that after seeing Kithkin perform more than five times, I would have gotten the gist of their set by now. I haven’t. The boys of Kithkin are characters to me. They thrive off of jungle rock, and the stage is their forest. Seriously, these guys brought up a potted plant once up on stage with them. If that isn’t jungle enough for you, then I don’t know what is. Kithkin opened their set with quite a few audience-friendly songs to a crowd of long-time fans, Seattle University students, and rookies just now being acquainted with the group. It is amazing to me how much they have grown in nearly a year-and-a-half. Once big on the war paint, the four boys have adopted to a more individualized style suiting each of them. So who are Kithkin, really? There is a boyscout, a poncho too hot to be worn in the Seattle “heat,” and a whole lot of mismatched mess. Their style has evolved.
What I enjoy most about Kithkin’s performances is their attentiveness to the audience. At one point, each band member would come out from their places on stage and interact with the audience. Of course, the surprise of the afternoon came from the announcement that vocalist and guitarist Kelton Sears made partway through the set, “It’s about to get interactive!” Almost instantly, a bag emerged and childish instruments were handed out to the front row including drum sticks, wooden blocks, and the coveted cowbell. In true, Girl Talk fashion – what I like to call an homage to Gregg Gillis – Kithkin invited new musicians to join them on stage. Typically, I would have called this a rip-off, but on this afternoon there was nothing I wanted more than to be on stage with them right then and there.
The weather report for the Sunday afternoon of Capitol Hill Block Party was overcast, of course, but as soon as The Lumineers took the stage, the clouds – sure enough – had parted, and the sun was floating above the crowd. The Lumineers were this year’s The Head and the Heart. The only similarity, however, might have just be the genre of music and the fact that both bands have one female member in it. From a differentiating standpoint, The Lumineers hail from Colorado instead of Seattle and secondly, I did a whole lot more dancing at this year’s set by The Lumineers than I did at The Head and the Heart’s last year. The moves may have been the same — the claps were on point and there may have been some stompage and swaying — but in terms of who did it better, The Lumineers nailed it. The number of people I saw moving at this year’s Capitol Hill Block was at its highest ever, but especially during this band’s set. During their popular hit song, “Ho Hey,” fans cheered loudly and threw up their arms with joy.
It certainly helps when The Capitol Hill Block Party organizers select bands that are family-friendly and appealing to all audiences. For The Lumineers, this worked out in their favor. Despite the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado – their native state, the members of the band kept their spirits high and encourage crowd participation as often as they could. For the duration of The Lumineers’ set, Pike Street became a folk fest that afternoon, and definitely a highlight for attendees, as everyone around me enjoying their set.
The first time I ever heard Porcelain Raft was off a mixtape downloaded from the Urban Outfitters website. It wasn’t until I did a little research that I discovered Porcelain Raft was not a group, but rather just one person – Mauro Remiddi, a true one-man show. In the basement of Barboza, I stood still and became nearly astonished that this man was producing a vibrant and booming sound all on his own. To accomplish a full set like this, you would need to be disciplined in your craft and persistent with your talent.
Similar to Lemolo, Porcelain Raft also drifts into the dream pop spectrum. Instead of being light and airy, Remiddi dives into atmospheric tones that blur the lines between what could be envisioned as a dream state and what is reality. His rifts are harsh and at times almost theatrical. At the same time, there is no mistaking that there is an exquisite beauty found within his songs. His vocals are essentially what I believe make his performance. Combined with synths, they echoed throughout the small venue space, completely changing the way we had perceived his set with each beat and rhythm bouncing off of the walls.
If you’ve ever seen Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter on stage, you would know that they are capable of producing both unique and memorable sets. In the past two years, I have had the opportunity to see them at three music festival; each time, they were different from the other. In the last year, Phantogram have released a successful LP that has not only brought them more fans, but has also pushed them further in the spotlight.
At this year’s Block Party, I was impressed by the band’s growth and how their sound has matured, enabling the audience to see just how versatile their music has become. To me, Sarah Barthel can do no wrong. Even with her airy voice, Barthel has control over her commanding presence and still manages to appear delicate, even while clad in black. Together, the two dominate, and that is apparent especially in their new material, in which they inch towards a more mainstream electropop track in “Don’t Move.” Clearly both Sarah and Josh have a wide range that they are not limiting themselves to, and by broadening their usual scope, their success can only expand.