Capitol Hill Block Party Sunday: Neko Case and Phantogram Wrap Up the Fest

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Chona Kasinger
Neko Case
On the final day of any festival, tired feet, sore backs, and a reluctance to wade out of the beer garden one more time puts a damper on enthusiasm. Clouds and cold breezes don't help (though congrats to the Block Party organizers on the success of their anti-rain dance). Sun may be integral to Block Party pleasure, as this correspondent didn't truly enjoy a set until the rays hit the stage during Phantogram at 6 p.m., despite wandering the grounds since 2.

The word of the day at Neumos was garage, starting with Atlanta band The Coathangers. Their four members, all women, screamed like the victims in a horror film and traded instruments (and scuzzy hooks) with the greatest of ease. Later, Milwaukee's Jaill proved that a straightforward bar rock band can still get a Sub Pop deal in 2012. Then King Tuff, who I saw on the Havana stage, or "cubicle" as he called it-- bands played in a DJ booth that came up to their waists-- brought the second legitimate riff of the fest with his song "Anthem." I don't care if it's a tongue-in-cheek parody of arena rock, that riff rules.

On the main stage, Cloud Nothings sounded too angry for their early time slot, while the friendly stomp-clap-folk of The Lumineers made a friend wonder, "How do you write music that bland?" Portland's Blouse, playing inside Neumos, were an unexpected highlight with their reverb-ed out indie pop reminiscent of The Sundays or The Darling Buds. I'll definitely check out their album. Down in Barboza for KEXP's session with Porcelain Raft, the Italian solo artist spun bass-heavy laptop jams like a one-man Passion Pit, never mind that you couldn't hear the guitar he was holding.

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Chona Kasinger
Phantogram
New York duo Phantogram took the main stage to a rare burst of sun that clashed with their black-clad, gothic appearance. Fortunately, their layered electronics and airy vocals sounded perfect in the late-afternoon rays, and caused all the scantily-clad 15-year-olds who heard "Mouth Full of Diamonds" on Skins to dance mightily (while snapping profile pics, of course.)

Closing down the main stage, Neko Case brought the most soothing-- and entertaining-- set of the fest. In between hits like "People Got a Lotta Nerve," she riffed on coconut cupcakes (ate too many before the show) and bodily functions ("Poop and pee... wooo!" = actual quote.) With seven guitars on the stage, a pedal steel, banjo, and a backup-singing drummer, her band sounded great, and it was a relief to hear some analog sounds at a laptop-and-synth-heavy festival. The audience, who I'd wager were much younger than a typical Neko Case crowd, ate it up, singing along and laughing at every joke. She kept the momentum going throughout, and though it seems a strange choice for a Block Party headliner, her set was easily one of my favorites of the fest.

So. Under new management, how'd they do? While some moments left me wishing for lineups of years past (and wondering why bands like The Walkmen, Wye Oak, and Dirty Projectors were coming to town within days of the fest), overall it was a solid experience and a great opportunity for those unfamiliar to check out much of the talent our region has to offer. I saw some outstanding sets-- Twin Shadow, Grimes, and Father John Misty come to mind-- and discovered some new locals. The biggest stinker award goes to the weather. It just isn't Block Party without getting overheated in the beer garden.

Check out our Capitol Hill Block Party slideshow for more photos!

 
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