The Seattle Passive Aggressive Goes to the Capitol Hill Block Party
By James Ballinger and Jake McCune
Photos by Jake McCune
Somewhere along the line, as the neighborhood that many local musicians call home grew in popularity, the once relatively-tiny Capitol Hill Block Party earned a reputation for driving locals away and hosting a wealth of shitty teens and brogrammers for one “EPIC” weekend. Given this god-awful reputation, it was a pleasant surprise to find myself witnessing great local acts and hanging out with neighborhood friends in our usual weekend spots, all while a moderately-sized music festival went on around us. Block Party, despite the warnings and ire of many a naysayer, seemed to represent a good population of actual Capitol Hill. The idea of one’s neighborhood becoming a playground for drunken strangers tends to define an average weekend on the Hill these days, but in the context of a festival it’s kind of fun to act as the insider on the inside. When the residents of Capitol Hill are involved in playing, photographing, promoting and serving at the event it’s hard to feel like locals are being pushed away in favor of gentrified newcomers.
I’m sure that someone ended up getting vomited on by a gaggle of molly-ridden teenagers, but that didn’t stop a good time from happening.
Drummer Joe Axler says that Theories formed out of a collective desire of its members to have a band actively playing shows. The precision of their performance is hardly surprising to those who have seen them over the last four years but, still, damn can these dudes play. Neumos was operating at half-mast given the relative earliness of the day, but a strong gathering of local fans and friends eventually whipped up proper crowd atmosphere. Theories did their part by shredding through a set of tracks from their newly released debut Regression, stopping only to catch their breath and count off into the next bout of grinding death metal.
SSDD (Steal Shit Do Drugs) had packed the Cha Cha to the brim by the time I arrived. I had to settle for peeping the top of lead singer Kennedy Carda’s fiery dome while buzzsaw guitars filled the blood-red basement atmosphere. The crowd density meant that security was suffering no fools: I spotted at least two aggro-bros, both were called out by Kennedy and crowd alike, both were then escorted out by a large man and a larger man. The wall-sweating and floor-shaking in the Cha Cha is enough to worry about without idiots.
“We’re Blood Drugs from Seattle. Sorry we forgot our laptops, so we’re playing real instruments instead” guitarist Kyle Bradford announces as the band launches into their set. Two songs in: “We’re Blood Drugs from Seattle, thank you so much for coming out…” A crowd member upfront shoots a selfie with Bradford while he is screaming into the mic and playing guitar, Bradford doesn’t seem to care. More songs finish: “We’re Blood Drugs from Seattle…” at this point I am convinced that Kyle Bradford of Blood Drugs is doing a bit, and I am confident that they’re all having a blast.
Capitol Hill Block Party is allowed one token non-local metal act a year and given their relative popularity, Deafheaven were a virtual shoo-in. Though the band just announced that they have finished work on a new album, their set included only tracks off of 2013’s Sunbather and a closer from their debut record. Disappointing as it was to not hear any newer material, the crowd showed no signs of care as they moshed and thrashed along to the whims of front man George Clarke. George has always captured crowds with his eccentricity and intensity, but dude has stepped his game up on some ‘Michael Jackson’ lately. Stepping away from the mic to bust moves during instrumentals, throwing in crotch grabs during his more impassioned screams, the dude IS Deafheaven’s entire stage presence. He’s hammy to high heaven, but last I checked ham is pretty tasty.
BITS OF SATURDAY:
Saturday for me basically started and stopped with Great Falls’ performance at the Cha Cha Lounge. It’s almost old hat to say that these three are the best heavy band in town at this point, but it’s just damn true. If you’re not momentarily scared or hurt at a Great Falls show then you’re doing it wrong, and you’re clearly not standing close enough to the front. I managed to catch brand new local punk act known as Validation just outside of the main stage, where High Voltage was hosting short sets from locals too new or too weird to be playing Block Party. The band blasted through about 15 minutes of short and punchy songs while Vocalist Tiffany Trammel worked the crowd, shouting lyrics smiling to friends, gathered to watch the foursome. Keep an eye out for upcoming shows from these folks, you may be hearing about them soon.
So I’ll admit this upfront and judge all you want. I skipped Block Party Friday because I got Mötley Crüe/Alice Cooper tickets at the Tacoma Dome that night. That shit ruled. But this ain’t no Crüview, so on with the show.
The plan was to get down there around 2pm Saturday, catch Kinski then post up for the all day metalfest local line-up at the Cha Cha…
I end up missing Kinski trying to park. I’m a dummy who forgot that the parking ended at eight instead of six, and it was a two hour limit instead of four, blah blah blah. Drove around a bit, found the best deal, and ended up setting on a spot that cost me almost 19 bucks due to “event parking”-which is totally sweet because I got “scrüed” out of 30 bucks the night before too. Lesson learned. I get to the gate, my backpack gets an extremely thorough search, and everything checks out- I’m in. Grenades is about to play, I grab a shot and beer to neutralize the sting of parking fees, and they start up. Fucking heavy, too. Right off the bat the band plays the opening track off their new EP Lou Diamond Philips, and then proceeds to just blast the rest of the set away.
Great Falls were up next, and it’s no secret I’m a fan of these dolls. The perfect blend of noise, riffs, violence, they tore it up playing a mix of old and new stuff from their upcoming LP The Fever Shed. Old Iron played after that, and by that point I was getting pretty loaded, and the Cha Cha was getting a little packed. After a lengthy wait at the bar, I was able to catch the entire set from the best seat in the house; the back of the club. It was good and loud, as those dudes usually are. Tasty riffs galore. Speaking of food, it’s about time I eat, because I’m getting a little drunky-poo. I head upstairs to the “outside”; grab a couple slices of Big Mario’s, and power up for the rest of the night. The place had thinned out a little by that point, so I was able to grab another beverage, and post up for Heiress. Tight as always, Heiress blasts through their set ending with the album title track “Of Great Sorrow”. I know that because I stole their setlist, something I do when I get too drunk at shows. At that point, I’d had enough. I decided to sober up, and soon after bail missing Curse of the North, and Lesbian. The good thing here is that all these great bands play out a good amount, and it won’t be the last time to see them, but I left defeated not being able to make it the entire day. “I’m getting too old for this shit Riggs…”
Sunday on the other hand, was a different experience. The Julie Ruin was the band I was really stoked on. That was the main reason to getting down there at an earlier time. I didn’t plan for the rain, so I parked as close by as I could without spending a cent and ended up getting their just before the set started. It was my first time seeing Kathleen Hanna and crew, and was pretty inspiring to watch even if it was pouring down rain. At the end of the set I was soaked, so I decided to walk over to Chop Suey who was having their “Around the Block Party” free show. It’s inside, it’s free, there are rad bands playing and dollar beers. That’s all right up my alley. I get in and catch most of Trash Fire’s set, then grab another cheap beer or two and post up for Big Trughk. Their first show with new bassist Yos-wa fucking rules too, I love these guys. So noisy, but with riffs and syrupy slide guitar sass. After that, the show closed down with a set from punk band Sayonara, another local favorite of mine. Short, sweet. I finish the night off as the weather clears up a bit, and walk back through Block Party as Father John Misty is on. I do enjoy his stuff on occasion, but after a weekend of aggressive live shows, it seemed to fit the mood perfectly and my block party experience was over for the year as I drove away back to the land of Greenwood, virtually leaving the Hill of Capitol unharmed.