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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

July 26, 2009 at 10:35 AM

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Top three performances I saw at Capitol Hill Block Party

Posted by Andrew Matson

As anyone who was there can attest, Capitol Hill Block Party 2009 was a lot of fun.

Its fenced-off blocks of Pike Street were never so packed you couldn't find a place to stand without people touching you (unlike last year), so whatever you were doing, there was a place to socialize and collect your thoughts.

The music seemed uniformly well-played and, for the most part, well-engineered. There were sound issues during some sets -- Deerhunter and Black Lips' on the main stage Friday, for instance -- but mostly everything sounded great.

Only one problem: Standing near any stage. The main, Vera, and Neumo's stages opened up to solid walls of people, and unless you were in the front row or very tall, you probably did a lot more hearing than seeing Block Party performers.

Friday, I saw a lot of acts, but spent almost the entire day Saturday presenting and wrangling performers in Caffe Vita's Bean Room. A group of people from KEXP 90.3 FM partnered with myself and my video team to film concerts every hour on the half hour; we more or less threw our own festival, and brought people in to watch randomly, by handing out tickets in the Block Party crowd. HD videos will be up soon at The crowning event from our Bean Room filming was an interview with Block Party headliners Sonic Youth, during which I sweated underneath stage lights while the legends of experimental rock made fun of me. It was an honor.

Sonic Youth played mostly songs from its new album "The Eternal," and there really could have been no better cap to a festival cohered by "alternative" rock: Sonic Youth all but invented the tag in the '80s and '90s.

Here are the top performances I saw at Capitol Hill Block Party:


The Portland band had the crowd ecstatic Friday, dancing and jumping and nearly flattening the metal fences that were supposed to be keeping it corralled. The music was sweeping synth-pop, but sometimes turned into pounding dance jams. Off and on, multiple members of the four-man band played drums at the same time, and all of them wore dresses.


Beth Ditto's voice ringing through Pike Street Saturday night was a revelation. As she took it from sweet, girly tones to her trademark gravel-blues shout-scream, it was hard to imagine a stronger sounding front-woman in all of rock. Her skintight black and white striped dress was bold, as well. Gossip's Rick Rubin-produced songs were sinister and arena-ready (my first time hearing them), and its murderous version of Aaliyah's "Are U That Somebody" is still ringing in my ears.

Micachu and the Shapes

The UK band played what was plainly the most creative music at Block Party, no small feat in a line-up filled with creative acts taking unusual approaches. Micachu's was most unusual, though: Drum sounds from rusty coffee cans, guitars played above where you're "supposed" to put your fingers, and sharply anthemic vocals put the band's music in a class of its own.

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