Here are some highlights from the 2016 Capitol Hill Block Party that paraded through my eyes and ears. Your mileage surely varied, and you can express as much in comments.
Heavy Petting at the Cha Cha Lounge: Knotty, smart instrumental rock from three white guys; would watch again. At one point the bassist noted that Heavy Petting had just returned from tour. He said, “A lot of the country is not as good as Seattle. That's my big takeaway.” Noted.
Nail Polish at Neumos: Virulent queer punk collides with spasmodic no wave convulsions. This Seattle trio are radical in every way, right down to their androgynous Asian-American and African-American dancers. Nail Polish's songs are too intense to last over two minutes. Their combustible 15-minute set full of screwballs thrown at doctrinaire punk felt urgently necessary after the noxious rally for white supremacy that had just ended in Cleveland.
Mild High Club at the Vera Stage: And now for something 180º opposed to Nail Polish... Watching Mild High Club, it felt like someone had spiked my pomegranate blue Honest Tea with Robitussin™. There's something subtly subversive and strange about MHC's woozy, Ween-meets-Steely Dan rock. They instantly converted me into a fan; I liked their Facebook page with blinding alacrity.
DoNormaal at Neumos: “Will you show off when your tits fall off?/And that is not far off” rapped rising Seattle MC/producer DoNormaal in her opening track. That's how you get a crowd's attention. Often spitting in a Jamaican cadence, DoNormaal toggled between carefree whimsy and steadfast compassion in her flows. Her persona and production style occupy the golden mean between Kimya Dawson and Tricky, buttressed with crushing bass pressure reminiscent of UK dubstep deities Kode9 and the Bug. You will feel her bass frequencies in your nose hairs, y'all.
Head Wound City at the Vera Stage: Need some neck-vein-bulging tantrum rock? The guys in this ragtag supergroup—featuring members of the Blood Brothers, the Locust, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs—engineer a cartoon holocaust of jagged noise rock and uptight metal to get you riled up in a comprehensive, fuck-the-world manner. Their set inspired five normcore women to sarcastically dance their fool heads off. (Sarcastic dancing is a scourge at music festivals and I do not condone it.) Mostly, though, HWC made me want to listen to Birthday Party's Prayers on Fire.
Tape Stacks at Barboza: Two nice women and two nice men from Beacon Hill, Tape Stacks gently transported us back to that evanescent era in mid '80s Britain when twee pop had a shot at the charts. (Research the C86 cassette in your local Wikipedia outlet.) Tape Stacks' amiable songs move in surprising ways while chiming pleasantly. The two female players alternate between drums and guitar and both sing winsomely. They covered Berlin's “Take My Breath Away” very tastefully. If K Records doesn't sign them, I'll be mildly shocked. One of the singer/drummer/guitarists teaches language arts in high school, and that's rad.
Ultimate Painting at the Vera Stage: At soundcheck, one of Ultimate Painting's guitarists strummed the riff to the Velvet Underground's “What Goes On.” Auspicious omen! Ultimate Painting may be the last easygoing, good-times, mellow-dude, VU-worshipping rock band we ever need. Their palimpsests of the Lou Reed songbook circa 1967-1970 prove that acolytes can almost be as sublime as their gurus. Flat, laid-back British voices rarely sound this sweet and they've turned the languid lope into an art form. Real talk: UP's epic last song could've come off Live '69. The band has another album coming in September and will be back here to support it. Do not miss.
Car Seat Headrest at the Mainstage: Leader Will Toledo looks like the guy you buzz to troubleshoot your computer, but in reality he's another in a long line of skinny white boys inhabiting the indie mainstream of above-average-IQ rock: Pavement, Spoon, Sebadoh, et al. I liked how Toledo, engaging in a little CHBP boosterism, said, “We're going to keep things exciting” in the dullest tone he could muster. Car Seat Headrest excelled at robust rockers and poignant slow burners, and in “Vincent,” they have a vicious, vengeful anthem that should make their encores essential for years to come. Bonus points for the cover of David Bowie's “Blackstar.”
Wand at the Vera Stage: These LA psychedelic-garage professionals may have stolen CHBP. It's very rare for a rock band in 2016 to get this JOF (jaded old fucker) excited, but Wand's super-ambitious songwriting, redolent with melodies that soar into zones that take your mind off the horrors of this election, was a godsend. They can burn with straight-ahead gusto or space out and flex art-rock muscles or wax majestically with a casual virtuosity. They have a song that reminds me of Mercury Rev's “Blood on the Moon,” and I'm a sucker for that sort of opiated, floating-in-a-most-peculiar-way vibe. Yes, Wand were fucking magic.
Clams Casino on the Mainstage: Can cloud rap work on a sunny summer afternoon? If it’s the handiwork of Clams Casino, yes. Looking like a young Bernard Parmegiani, Clams dropped some of his most popular productions in his first Seattle performance, including Lil B and A$AP Rocky’s “Be Somebody,” Vince Staples’s “Norf Norf,” ScHoolboy Q’s “Gravy,” and “Witness.” Clams imbues hiphop with an eerie psychedelic aura while sometimes inserting striated noise bursts, all the while not ignoring the funk. His tracks somehow balance the gritty with the ethereal, and they put a wonky hitch to your headnod.
SassyBlack at the Vera Stage: You may think of SassyBlack (Catherine Harris-White, ex-THEESatisfaction) as a rapper and a vocalist, but she’s also something like a cross between a motivational speaker and a comedian. She commanded the Vera Stage like a witty pro, dispensing advice (“You shouldn’t date people who have no intention,” which served as an intro to one of the tracks from her new No More Weak Dates album) and joking with the audience (“I can smell you from here. We like to keep it funky, know what I mean?”). SassyBlack excels at the subdued, seductive R&B vocalizing over stark, elegant funk beats and stalwart bass, which DJ Toya triggered for this set. Toward the end, Sassy did an a cappella called “Ode to Beyoncé” and then was joined by guest rapper One-Two and a drummer named Gerard, if I heard correctly. She’s as magnanimous with her talents as she is with fellow local artists who need a signal boost. Sassy has an abundance of beneficent light in her.
Violent Human System at Barboza: Local quartet VHS give you truculent as fuck noise rock that doesn’t neglect the groove. Down in the meat-locker ambiance of Barboza, they forged a raucous ruckus that harked back to Amphetamine Reptile's g(l)ory days. Bulbous bass and the two guitarists’ scouring gray roar will send warm feelings to those partial to post-punk’s innately grouchy demeanor. VHS’s music radiates a full-bodied disgust that taps into the way many people are feeling in 2016.