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July 2009: Capitol Hill Block Party

On Saturday I went to the second day of the 2009 Capitol Hill Block Party. With Hotels on early in the afternoon and Sonic Youth headlining, I knew I didn't want to miss this event. As it happened though, I ended up only seeing one other full set in between, by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but I did catch some of New Faces and The Thermals as well.

Hotels had a short but awesome set inside Neumos early in the afternoon. Despite the heat in the mid-80s, the boys were still dressed professionally in their button-down long-sleeve staff shirts and trousers; also despite the heat, they played to a full house, with people lined up on the balcony as well as filling the main floor. They opened with their new single, "The Bat Watusi", but played no other new ones; no matter, I haven't got tired of the current songs yet. I noticed that they've been making a point of introducing "Farewell to Love", and I like that, pushing the catchy instrumental is a good idea, and it makes me hope they'll do another. There was also a funny moment during that tune when lead singer Blake Madden pretended he was about to sing just as they went into the main guitar "verse". It was a good time and I expect they made a bunch of new fans.

A bit later at the main stage, I listened to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (I can't say I saw them, because it was impossible to see the stage without being very close up). This indie-rock quartet had been catching my ear on KEXP, so I was interested in hearing them live. Listening to them, I felt they had a really strong late-'80s/early-'90s alternative rock vibe, resembling a blend of The Jesus and Mary Chain with Sugar. The beginning of one song in particular sounded to me a lot like Sugar's "If I Can't Change Your Mind", enough that for a moment I thought they were starting a cover. They did sound very good, particularly the sweet (but a bit drowned-out) male-female dual vocals, and I enjoyed the set.

While having a very tasty pizza from Via Tribunali, I caught the end of New Faces' set on the Vera Project stage. It was long enough to keep me interested in hearing more from them, not long enough to develop more of an opinion about them. I also heard The Thermals' set on the mainstage, but mostly as background music, not really paying attention. My ears did perk up when I recognized they were doing a cover of The Breeders' "Saints", and after that I recognized a couple others as reasonably good catchy singles KEXP's been playing, which was enough to make me think perhaps I should pay them a little more attention in the future.

Throughout the day, KEXP was holding semi-secret performances in Caffé Vita's coffee bean warehouse. I was able to get a pass in to see them, but ended up missing Truckasaurus in order to meet up with a friend. However, we did get in to see a short interview with Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. It had been billed as just an interview with Thurston Moore, but at the last minute the other two decided or were asked to join in; unfortunately, this resulted in a rather lame interview as the interviewer (Andrew Matson of the Seattle Times, not a KEXP staff member) was unprepared for them. (That said, I'm not convinced he would've done better with just Thurston Moore.) Still, it was pretty cool to be that close and hear some of their opinions on music and the industry. (Ironically, in response to one question they made rather disparaging remarks about blogging, so you may consider this post to have the Sonic Youth Stamp of Disapproval.) (Also, you can view the entire interview here on the KEXP Blog.)

What wasn't pretty cool, I found to no surprise, was trying to be close up to the stage for their performance. The area was pretty packed already for Gossip, but my friend was determined to be right up front, so when Gossip's set ended we slipped and shoved as best we could as far as we could, getting pretty close. Once there, though, I found that the seething mass of people in the center, deliberately or not, kept pushing outward in waves, causing many people including myself to stagger and nearly fall over. After a few times, I knew there was no way I could possibly ignore that and enjoy the show, so I retreated out of the mob before the band started playing and everyone went truly insane. 

As for Sonic Youth's set itself, to be honest I was distracted by unrelated issues and didn't get to enjoy it much, though I did stay and listen. Once I'd made my way out of the crowd, about a block away, I found that the sound quality didn't seem very good. I had crossed over to the 21+ side of the street, which was less crowded overall, so i gradually made my way back closer to the stage, ending up about half a block away, and the sound did improve closer up. Most of the music was from their latest album, The Eternal, and I did like the ones I recognized from airplay, I just wasn't able to concentrate on the music enough to give it a proper listen. Hopefully I'll have a better opportunity someday to enjoy Sonic Youth in concert.


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