JPEGMAFIA’s raw-ass set might be the best that’ll happen at Block Party, if only for his between-song chatter and unconventional stage presence. “I am SO tired,” he announced before dedicating the first track to Denzel Curry. JPEG forgot his laptop, so he plugged his phone into the mixer. “I just hope nobody texts me during the set,” he said. “This next song was produced by a police officer; who knew cops could make good beats?”
This Jamaican-American rapper stalked the stage like Black Flag-era Henry Rollins and barked like Bad Brains’ H.R. Dude is punk af, staggering into the crowd, surfing on bodies, and inspiring moshpits. The splenetic beats of “Real Nega” would make Minutemen’s George Hurley proud.
For “Macaulay Culkin,” JPEG asked audience members to sit on Pike Street, and most did. Is this a hip-hop first? Even though he said he’d retired “I Cannot Fucking Wait Til Morrissey Dies” from his performances, JPEG revived it because he forgot his computer. “Sorry this set is so ghetto,” he apologized, but nobody seemed to be griping. DAVE SEGAL
Many personnel changes later, Red Ribbon are now 60 percent male, but still led by guitarist/vocalist Emma Danner. So the dynamic’s slightly different; there’s a Lana Del Rey-esque languor in many of the songs they played at Neumos, but a few flaunt a surprising girth and gravity, and one track positively gallops, enhanced by Veronica Dye’s mad flute arabesques. If I could make one suggestion: grant more space to Dye’s beguiling flute motifs.
Ultimately, Red Ribbon’s songs cruise in a narrow stratum, but within it, they shine darkly. DAVE SEGAL
Let me start out by saying Actionesse's horn player, Joel Kenworthy, was not wearing shoes. Inside of Cha Cha. This may have been a first for Block Party. Maybe one of the other four members of the five-piece "post-horncore" band was also not wearing shoes, but the tight mob of people crowded around Actionesse prevented me from checking out anyone else's feets.
The last time I saw Actionesse, it was at a house show celebrating their guitarist/vocalist Ian Reed's birthday. (Now that I'm checking the record, Kenworthy wasn't wearing shoes that time either. Is this a thing?) The band went on around 11—a more appropriate time than here at Block Party (6:45)—and that night ended with Reed jumping off a piano and splatting on the floor while Kenworthy's saxophone wailed in his face. Since then, I've had a soft spot for these loud weirdos.
Block Party is a tricky challenge for performers. Bands often have to play for people who 1) don't know who they are, 2) didn't come to see them, and 3) will probably—in the case of the Main Stage—turn their backs to the performers while they Juul and take group selfies with their squad. I've seen strong acts whither when confronted with these teen Juul mobs. But fortunately, Cha Cha is 21+, and the hardcore band geeks that make up Actionesse seem to have the ability to overtake any space with their great, screaming, pouty loudness. "Damn, I'm glad I brought earplugs," was said by people immediately near me at least two times.
Brief highlights: Reed's wild wails, bassist/vocalist Paddy Moran rushing to the bathroom near the end of the set (to vomit? pee? vape?) before pushing back on stage, and "Menace," which is always a fun, rowdy track. The vibes of Cha Cha's underground fiesta bunker mixed with Actionesse's wobbly bass riffs made me feel like I was on a very exciting cruise ship to hell. If you're interested in seeing them, they'll be playing Crocodile's second annual Summer Circus next Friday. CHASE BURNS
Mitski performed on the Main Stage as the sun set behind her. It was windy and I had to squint to see her shape against the sun. I expected the crowd to be full of sensitive queers but it was mostly tired looking tech workers. Fine. Chase and I got asked about our tattoos (thanks Valentine’s), which was cute.
Mitski came out to “Cucurrucucú Paloma” performed by Caetano Veloso from Pedro Almodóvar’s film Talk to Her and it was totally A Moment for me. The smoke machine made it look like the stage was in the process of going up in flames, a constant steady burn. It fit perfectly. In her hour-long set, the Brooklyn musician managed to get through 20ish songs from across her huge catalog at a clip that did not feel rushed, but exactly the right amount, a performance that left me filled right up to the brim.
It’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen Mitski live and she’s added a very intense modern dance routine to her set. It includes a lot of dynamic movement with tables and chairs and a uniform that consists of a crop top, belt, bike shorts, and kneepads. In some areas, it really helps. Like when she sang “Francis Forever” laying down on the table. Or very consciously writhed around on a chair to “Nobody.” And while I understand why she would do this—her emotionally wrenching songs must be exhausting to perform night after night so actually channeling the emotion through dance is an interesting choice—it was maybe just a little pretentious. I feel weird criticizing her!!
But God was it good to sing “First Love/Late Spring” out loud. And God was it good to hear her sing “First Love/Late Spring” out loud. “Washing Machine Heart,” too. I think it’s impossible for me to ever be cynical about Mitski. Her lyrics and music are too threaded into me—how I think, how I love, how I write—to ever feel like I don’t love her and the way her voice skips pitches. Finding her felt like a godsend in college and I remember being gutted by her shows. And though—as my job—I can see where her performance “strains,” it doesn’t really matter to me. 20-year-old Jasmyne was very present in that crowd last night and I hadn’t realized how much I missed her. JASMYNE KEIMIG
OK, Peach Pit is fine. Great, even. We watched them perform at the Vera Stage from the safety of the fenced-in 21+ section. I think I feel an impulse toward their riff heavy, Dad-Rock Lite music because it reminds me of the music the dreamy boys I knew in high school used to make—loose, flirty, I’m-not-trying-too-hard-but-please-look-at-me. Plus their hair was really shiny.
The performance was replete with all you could expect from them: crowdsurfing, long jammy riffs, awkward and overconfident audience-performer banter. They played my favorite song of theirs “Alrighty Aphrodite”—I love an extended metaphor—but Chase muttered that it sounds like Dave Matthews Band and honestly, that’s a bell that can’t be unrung! We caught the lead singer Neil Smith saying to some straight dude in the crowd, “Dude it’s ok for you to think I’m hot and be straight at the same time” and laughed. Then rolled our eyes. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Of course the two acts I wanted to see most were playing at the same time. Because that’s how the universe works. Spice things up, make you really earn it.
So I did both, kind of. At that point in the night—10:30, the Capitol Hill Block Party's peak so to speak—the mass of bodies was thick. Which meant it wasn’t easy jumping between the Main Stage, where New York electro rock band Phantogram was playing, and Neumos, which featured Seattle’s own blues punk makers The Black Tones. It was a fucking pain in the ass. But I tried, by goddess I tried.
I started at Phantogram, and it was all the big street beats, washes of synth-driven sound, and eye-popping visuals you’d expect. The giant screens behind the band offered dramatic black-and-white contrast that varied from stark dazzling stars against a midnight backdrop to blown-out video of the musicians themselves as they rocked the stage. Sarah Barthe banged her shock of bleached blonde hair as she danced, sang, and jumped between instruments.
But, I just couldn’t get into it. I felt disengaged, and part of that was being so far back, because making my way through all those people was an impossibility, but also, for some reason, it just didn’t feel loud enough. This is the sort of music I prefer to engulf me, and I wasn’t getting that. So, after some obligatory head-bobbing to “Don’t Move,” off 2011 Nightlife EP, I headed to Neumos for The Black Tones.
And let me just say, it was the best decision I made all night. Eva Walker is simply mesmerizing, a frontwoman who doesn’t even seem to have to work very hard as she croons and belts in that throaty rich voice. I love it. My friends who were in from Florida loved it and were gushing at me about her greatness throughout the set. When Eva started discussing the two things she hated most—spiders and the KKK—before launching into the slow-scorching “Mama! There’s a Spider in My Room,” everyone was right on board with her. Spiders and the KKK ARE fucking scary and disgusting.
They also played the sultry “Ghetto Spaceship.” The grungy dark “Welcome Mr. Pink.” The vintage shuffling “Chubby and Tubby.” It was all hot. The highlight of my night was when Eva brought out her mom and sister to join her on stage (with Eva’s twin Cedric on drums, of course) and they raged out to “The Key of Black (They Want Us Dead)." It was a family affair that made me feel all warm and happy and gooey inside, but also like I wanted to raise my devil horned hand and bang my head along. They closed with the seething “Plaid Pants,” and I could tell I wasn’t the only one who wanted them to stick around and play more.
I made it out of Neumos just in time to catch Phantogram’s set closing finale of “Mouthful of Diamonds” off their 2010 debut, a little twinkling cherry on top of a rather fine night. LEILANI POLK
Headed back out tonight? Here's our Saturday schedule.