Built To Spill played Friday night on the main stage.
Built To Spill played Friday night on the main stage. Nate Gowdy

Given that the festival ended 48 long hours ago this post about Capitol Hill Block Party 2015 may already qualify as nostalgia. We invite you to talk a laconic stroll through our scrapbook of memories. Please enjoy our gallery of excellent photos by Nate Gowdy and Josh Bis (and hey, don't forget these by Kelly O), as well as a pair of dispatches from Stranger staffers Dave Segal and Sean Nelson, below.

Meatbodies Alive
Meatbodies Alive Josh Bis

DAVE SEGAL:
I went into the 2015 Capitol Hill Block Party with low expectations. The lineup seemed to tilt increasingly toward the mainstream (of which I'm not a big fan), with no freaky outliers from recent years like the Psychic Paramount, Lumerians, or William Tyler on the bill. But I came away from this year's CHBP with a handful of tiny epiphanies, if no HOLY SHIT!!! moments. (Okay, the straight couple furiously groping in the Cha Cha during Lesbian's brutal metal set might qualify. They eventually got ejected by Brendan Kiley's brother, Conor, who's looking like a young Lemmy Kilmister lately—this is how he used to look.)

But, those tiny epiphanies. There was Shabazz Palaces, still majestic, still liquefying hiphop into beautiful abstraction, still stripping it down to a bizarre skeleton—weird but as soulful as a joint rolled in toilet paper. There was new Sub Pop act Strange Wilds, who could be the next Nirvana with about 33 percent more catchiness in their tunes; singer Steven gave off serious Cobain vibes, especially during “Pronoia.” There was Detroit quartet Protomartyr, filling that Fall-sized void in our West Coast hearts.

BADBADNOTGOOD, Dave begs to differ
BADBADNOTGOOD, Dave begs to differ Josh Bis

There was BADBADNOTGOOD, proving that frenetic and finesseful jazz fusion that flows at 78 RPM in a 33 1/3 world could get a crowd amped. The drummer served as their hype man, and he earnestly urged the crowd to jump as high as they could in the spirit of showing “positivity and bringing people together.” Bless his naïve heart. There was Meatbodies, with their glittery makeup and half-assed costumes coming off like a garage-rock KISS or a 21st-century Redd Kross. They were fireballs of fun energy. There was Vinyl Williams, who transported us back to 1991 with their dream-haze shoegaze pop while donning the sweetest hippie threads of the entire fest. There was Seattle trio the Gods Themselves, providing the sexiest song of the weekend with their lascivious cover of Ginuwine's “Pony.”

There was Industrial Revelation, playing to a scandalously small crowd at 2 pm, but their ever-ascending helices of refined jazz rock still moved us to tears and cheers. There was Gazebos, who maximize the funnest elements of glam (Sweet, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel) and new wave (Joe Jackson, B-52s) in songs that grip your short and curlies on first contact.

And then were was Zebra Hunt, originally on the CHBP agenda, then consigned to a slot on a private Jameson-sponsored event at Barboza. Somehow this wasn't an ideal forum for the Seattle band's smart, tensile Aussie/Kiwi-informed rock. Most of the people congregated toward the back of the room, drinking gratis booze, talking loudly, and ignoring the bracing, brilliant songs by one of the city's best bands. “We're Zebra Hunt and you're drinking free whisky,” singer/guitarist Robert Mercer said after yet another concise instant classic. Fewer than 10 people were actually paying attention, but the indifference only made Zebra Hunt shine harder. Among their tight, joyful originals, they did covers of the Clean's “Oddity” and the Go-Betweens' “Was There Anything I Could Do?”; normally, wearing your influences on your sleeve is anathema, but with Zebra Hunt it only bolsters their charm.

Forty minutes into their set, seven young women moved toward the stage (but not too close) and started dancing. One couldn't be sure if somebody at Jameson ordered them to do it for a prime photo op or if the ladies were genuinely enthused. Whatever the case, it somewhat lessened the indignity Zebra Hunt must've felt in the face of overwhelming apathy. “You must have whiskies in both hands, making clapping impossible,” drummer Mitch Leffler quipped, but nobody chuckled; they were too far away and chattering too boisterously. Maybe through this ordeal, Zebra Hunt earned their stripes.


Created with flickr slideshow.

SEAN NELSON:
As the hangover (and more to the point foot-ache) of CHBP 2015 fades into ether, one key image sticks in my mind: A tall woman in denim shorts, crouched in the middle of the crosswalk at 10th & Pike, holding a booze-infused sno-cone from the VIP area in one outstretched hand, her iPhone in the other, trying in vain to take a picture that would perfectly juxtapose the two slightly similar rainbows. I stood there watching for what seemed a perversely long time—long enough to do the following things: 1) Consider taking a picture of her taking those pictures. 2) Take my own phone out, enter my passcode, and open my camera app. 3) Realize that for me to take that picture would be mean and also hypocritical, since surely the "point" of the shot would be to mock a stranger for sharing in the same obsession for documentation that grips us all, including me, especially in that moment. 4) Remember that I have taken way stupider phone photos. 5) Decide to let her have her moment, while also having mine.

Which is basically how I wound up feeling about the whole event. The snide judgment reflex dueling with the let-people-have-their-fun, gramps imperative as one band after another played one set after another, and competing sounds collided in the air like a Flaming Lips experiment. Only less experimental. And more surrounded by condo-and-office dwelling lookiloos, gazing down from balconies and glassed in offices at the proceedings below. You want an illustration of local economic disparity in 2015? Just crank your neck 45 degrees upwards. (Or maybe that's disingenuous, too; I can't help remembering sitting in then-abandoned Stranger office in 2002, watching Sleater-Kinney headline the stage that was then at the corner of 11th and Pine, where that weird San Francisco-in-1983 mural is now, and I must confess, it was pretty fucking killer.)

Songs for swingin lovers.
Songs for swingin' lovers. Josh Bis

Having aged out of full-blown music festival enjoyment at least a decade ago, I can't deny that the expansion of the form is a bummer. It's not my preferred mode of seeing bands I love, and definitely not my favorite way to discover anything new. (Nor is it a super fun environment to play, in my experience, but it's not show friends, etc.) It's more like sample day at Costco: a little taste of something you probably wouldn't normally want a whole plate full of. And here I am a few days later with a pocketful of toothpicks and napkins, trying to remember what I had.

Let's see: I was struck by the way Girlpool's very private sound (private like Freed Man-era Sebadoh) felt spectacularly unsuited to the environment, and the way they played with joyous abandon anyway. Giraffage (a.k.a. Charlie Yin) whom I'd never heard or heard of, exemplified everything I don't relate to about commercial electronic music (there's plenty I don't relate to about the underground stuff I've heard, but I'm undoubtedly wrong about that; maybe Giraffage counts as underground, actually, but he was above ground and on the main stage at CHBP). He built a song around a sample the iPhone marimba ringtone, adding layers until it became a drum and bass number, which I imagine has been done a zillion times, but it still seemed novel to my crotchety-ass ears. And then it kept going. And then it went on some more. And it's probably still going. My sense is that people liked it, though not nearly as much as when he busted out the hook from "Who Let the Dogs Out," and suddenly everyone was dancing like they were on camera (which they obviously were). I had moved elsewhere by the time the bass vibration caused his laptop to fall from its pedestal onto the stage, thus bringing the music to an abrupt end. It's a drag when a guitar player breaks a string or an amp blows a fuse, but man, a busted laptop is terrifying.

Wye Oak? Why not!
Wye Oak? Why not! Nate Gowdy

What else? Wye Oak, the Coathangers, and Meatbodies had no difficulty connecting with the wide gauge of the event. Porter Ray was pure celebration inside Neumos, with the refrain from "Summertime" relentlessly breaking down over sleepy, decaying beats into clever variations ("summer drinkin', summer smoke/ summer rich, summer broke"). Back outside, Flatbush Zombies' party energy was was positively aerobic (not bad for the undead).

Chastity Belt soak up the sun, gonna tell everyone.
Chastity Belt soak up the sun, gonna tell everyone. Josh Bis

Closer to home, Chastity Belt was slightly less triumphant than I'd hoped, but they did manage to part the clouds and coax the sun into shining, and not just any band can do that. It could also be that I have a fixed idea about their recent album, Time To Go Home, as a melancholy, internal experience and I didn't feel as comfortable sharing it with a couple few hundred people in the 11th Ave daylight as I would have if they'd played more of the old party jamz. That was my problem, though. They played great (though I don't think anyone who doesn't own a condo nearby would have minded the master volume being cranked up a few notches).

This was shortly after the aforementioned Julie Ruin set, which had the benefit of being a semi-homecoming —they were meant to play last year, but had to postpone on account of Kathleen Hanna's health) as well as a chance to see Hanna singing in a rock band again (along with her Bikini Kill bandmate Kathi Wilcox, killer guitarist Sara Landeau, and, was that really a longhaired Kenny Mellman in the matching tie-dye t-shirt and sweats?). No disrespect to Le Tigre, but, as the song says, oh come on. She's a punk singer. And she sounded fantastic, as did the band.

The Julie Ruin, positive vibrations.
The Julie Ruin, positive vibrations. Nate Gowdy

Despite saying she would keep her between-song banter brief, Hanna spoke quite a bit. Her gratitude and positivity were infectious, which was useful, since we were all getting rained on. The most striking line came during the intro to "NY Kids," during which she said that "as an older musician (46)," she was excited to find herself getting excited by work being made "by, like 15-year-olds."

That was the moment finally quieted the cranky dialogue in my head, reminding me that even though they let everyone in, the Capitol Hill Block Party is for young people. To judge it as better or worse or different from any other music festival with regard to the quality of the bookings (very good), the production (extra good given the obstacles), or the how you say "vibe" (ugh) is to remove from the equation the essential dimension of time. By the time Father John Misty mounted the stage, refulgent, resplendent, rakish, ever-so-slightly recherché, undeniably robust, I couldn't imagine a better climax to this particular event. The fact that every time I see him on TV or hear his music I am transported to the late '90s/early '00s Crocodile—where J. Tillman, one of the sharpest wits it has ever been my pleasure to slightly know, would routinely play joyless sets of dour songs to small audiences—could not have mattered less. His aesthetic transformation, like that of this neighborhood, city, and, frankly, world, has been nothing short of astonishing. How hard should it be to acknowledge, pressed against the window of the present tense, that an event in "your" neighborhood, the scale of which was unimaginable when it was initially yours, simply isn't for you, and that that's really fine?

Time warps and mangles us in countless ways, but the worst is when it leaves us behind.

"It's in the past," as Robyn Hitchcock reminds us.
"It's in the bracken
Did something happen? The sky just blackened
Now there's a butterfly on my face
And I'm a number in a drawer
Ba da dup."

Nice work, Capitol Hill Block Party. See you next year. Unless there's anything I can do to get out of it.

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PS, I got shut out of Jarv Dee and Gazebos, because the rooms were at capacity. Burn on me.

TTFN, CHBP
TTFN, CHBP Josh Bis