Capitol Hill Block Party Saturday: Major Lazer, Grimes, and the Thrilling Horror of a Sold-Out Crowd

Jim Bennett
Diplo/Major Lazer
If Friday's relatively light crowd had anyone worried that a few early clouds or this year's possibly more modestly scaled (or neighborhood-friendly?) line-up was going to mean a quieter, calmer Block Party, Saturday's sold-out crowd proved that they needn't have sweated it.

By the time Grimes took the Main Stage at 7:30pm, the crowd on the all-ages side was packed in all the way back to to just past the Comet. I saw one shorter girl straight-up sobbing because she wasn't able to see Grimes. You could definitely hear Grimes, though. For as much as I've overused the word "wispy" to describe Claire Boucher's electro-pop sound (and I'm just now realizing maybe because it rhymes with lispy), Grimes' beats and bass sounded plenty, surprisingly robust even in the back. "Oblivion" sounded as sweetly lurking as ever, though with a feedback spike here or there. There's a second speaker stack just west of the Comet that helps, but apparently it was plenty loud onstage too, where Grimes noted, "fuck yeah, the bass is like moving my shit everywhere," before said shit was emergency duct-taped down by Block Party's intrepid Jason Lajeunesse. From far back, Grimes just looked like one big black anarchy t-shirt and a long blonde wig bouncing around the stage, but even in the cheap seats you could see her exuberant dance moves and facial expressions as she looped and layered her vocals or played keys or beats. Grimes is ending the summer with a Canadian tour opening for Skrillex (and Block Party's Saturday headliner Diplo), and yesterday's set was proof that she's more than ready to telegraph her sound and her style to larger, dance-friendly audiences.

About that Diplo: I was hearing bros hollering for "Major...Lazer" in fake patois as early as Friday evening, a full 24 hours before Diplo and Switch's goofy, dance-hall inspired party was set to go on. By the time they were playing, around 11pm, the crowd was, to my old-ass eyes, impassible, if not actively terrifying. Squinting from the distance, you could see green lazers and purple lights, and scattered t-shirts helicoptering over the crowd. On stage, I know total insanity was breaking loose. No signs of daggering east of 11th and Pike, though. I heard a jumpstyle track mixed into a dubstep track, and then my notes suddenly stop. (Reviewing my tweets from the Grimes-to-Major Lazer hours, however, reveals an intensifying spiral of crowd-related anxiety, from "Everywhere is a shitshow. #CHBP" to simply "I'm gonna die in here. #CHBP")

But here's some other stuff from before that...

Started the day at 2pm (!!) with Stephanie on the Vera Stage. The local no-wavey punk band has been recording with go-to producer Erik Blood lately, and I was curious to see if time in the studio had affected their onstage sound. Previously, I've found their songs deft and hooky, all muscular drums and high bass lines weaving against guitar and keys, but I've struggled with frontman Wil Adams' reverb-y vocals. Sometimes the effect seems used to mask slightly strained singing, but today the vocals were mostly tuneful and restrained, and the few growls and whoops, on "Ice Cream" for instance, sounded solid and well placed. Stoked to hear some new recordings now.

Caught a couple songs of Absolute Monarch's shredding and was impressed with both their guitar-bass-drums heaviness, and at times, as on their last song, the emotive nuance that Joel Schneider's vocals managed to squeezed through that heaviness. If that makes any damn sense.

So, yes: You can't look at Seattle sextet Pollens without seeing Dirty Projectors. Tall lanky guy playing guitar? Check. Girls singing three-part harmonies? Check. Sprightly global pop rhythms? Check. Private school cred? Well, Cornish isn't Yale, but. What makes Pollens different, besides having several years fewer under their belt as a band, is their more conventional approach to song structure and vocal arrangements. Where Dirty Projectors splay their songs into sometimes jarringly discrete parts and splinter their vocal harmonies between singers--so that a melody comes together while jumping dizzyingly from one voice to another--Pollens pile on the layers and fall into easier grooves. It's a fuller but maybe less uniquely dazzling sound. Still, even if you can't avoid the comparison, there are worse sounds to have a solid local version of.

South Africa's Spoek Mathambo turns out to be a wildly shameless hypeman live, his fusions of rock, rap, and electronic music serving largely to underscore his exhortations to make that proverbial "booty shake." It seemed like a tough sell at 3:30pm--and like it would have made a ton more sense if Spoek Mathambo was playing immediately before Major Lazer--but maybe such shamelessness was exactly what the afternoon crowd needed, because sure enough, as the bass dropped, so too did the anatomical low-ends.

This was my first time seeing Beat Connection expanded from shimmery indie house duo to full four-piece synth pop band, and all I could think was that they really should have just changed their name. There are still beats, sure, but they seem pretty far from being the band's main point of, if you will, connection. (That I still can't get over a band being named after an LCD Soundsystem b-side from 10 years ago merely means I'm old.) New singer/guitarist Tom Eddy has an almost Vampire Weekend thing going on with his voice, and the band's breezy sound (and horn section on "Silver Screen") seems like a good fit for that. "Think/Feel" with guest vocalist Chelsea Scheffe was a highlight.

I'm thinking the crowds will be a little thinner, and a lot chiller, today, what with the easy listening Main Stage line-up of Lumineers (eww) into Phantogram (eh/zzz) into Neko Case (unimpeachable, obviously). As much as the crazy crush of a crowd is part of the thrill of a music festival, I sort of hope so.

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