Capitol Hill Block Party 2012, Day 1: Father John Misty, Janka Nabay and More
The CHBP, as the cool kids call it (I guess, I'm kind of just making that up) has been an annual Seattle tradition since 1997, and like nearly all festivals nowadays, it's expanded into a young, hip, beardy, busty, heavily sponsored sweat-storm with a respectable lineup and still plenty of local artists to make it feel special. And though it's exploded in size, sound and status, it's also diversified. A ton. The music I saw on the first day of a multi-venue, three-day weekend ranged from beardy folk-rock to spazoid metal to introspective indie-pop to exuberant noise-rock to blue-eyed soul to something I found out was called "bubu."So let it begin. Father John Misty, aka J. Tillman of former Fleet Foxes fame, was an apt opener on the main stage, a once-Seattleite who used to sit behind the drum kit for the beloved folky fivesome. He's been a solo artist under his own name for some time, but rechristened as FJM, he now has five guys backing him up, and free from the drum stool, he's apt to unleash a set of hips that pop and sway like a young schoolgirl learning to hula hoop. He wiggled around, snapped his fingers, sipped on tequila and dug into the ground (as did his straggly-blond Fraggle Rock bassist, who mimed that diggin' well on "Hollywood Forever Cemetery"), all while showing off effortlessly explosive vocals expressing wildly graphic lyrics worthy of a novel, which apparently he started working on before writing his new album, Fear Fun).
Next, I dipped into Neumos to see what Deadkill were all about. Let's just say that FJM's Laurel Canyon rock would have been beaten and bashed and thrown off that Canyon in the hands of these f-bomb-spittin' dudes, whose killer riffs made up for their overly angry punk 'tude. I kind of came to enjoy their hostile spirit, though; when tatted-up vocalist Bryan Krieger screamed lyrics like "Gotta get my sh*t together!" I sensed the subtlest of sly smirks tempting to break through all the derision, like a tease of sunshine through the clouds (which there were a lot of outside).
I returned back to the main stage for one of my favorite new acts of 2011, Boise, Idaho's Youth Lagoon. At first glance, Trevor (main guy) and Logan (guitarist), seemed a little shy and sweet and totally awkward, until they bore into their respective instruments and let it all roar in haunting echoes, wavering drones and slow, blood-boiling builds, with Trevor poignantly expressing loneliness and lovesickness -- something the crowd seemed to wholly understand. It all culminated with the excellent "Seventeen": "When I was seventeen, my mother said to me, 'Don't stop imagining. The day that you do is the day that you die.'" His mother has to be proud.
Next up on the main stage were San Francisco psych-garage-noise-rock quintet Thee Oh Sees, who helped breathe a little life into the crowd (or maybe it was just the preamble to drunken time). Either way, their energy was infectious, and hell, even when a flying object hit the guitarist smack dead in the forehead, he seemed to genuinely enjoy it. That's rock 'n' roll, man.
After that, I caught just a slice of Allen Stone, who looks a lot like Garth from Wayne's World (I so wish I came up with that comparison on my own, but I stole it from The Stranger's Block Party guide), with a bit of "Loser"-era Beck thrown in for good hipster measure. He fancies himself a soul man, but I just kept thinking he sounded and moved kind of like Kate Hudson's ex-husband. Anyway, the kids seemed to dig it.
Best surprise of the day, however, came at the small, hidden-away Vera Stage (learn more about the great Vera Project here). I strolled up to the stage to find wiry, elite-athlete-cut arms attached to a slim man clearly born with rhythm, wearing pants patterned with hundreds of little Africas, draped in a straw skirt. This awesomeness was owned by one Janka Nabay, a Sierra Leone-born musician who is apparently a championed bubu star. I wouldn't be the person to educate anyone on bubu, but I do know Nabay and his Bubu Gang (which includes members of Gang Gang Dance and Skeletons) got this crowd a-jumpin' and a-gyratin' with a sort of free-spirited, dance-like-no-one-is-watching, tropical, Afrobeat-psych-tinged sound. Cool to see, hear and experience in the middle of the Pacific Northwest. Here's hoping there are more acts like this to shake up the next 48 hours on Capitol Hill.
Father John Misty
Father John Misty's bassist
Thee Oh Sees