Spirits were high in Capitol Hill this weekend, as was the ratio of space bar music to instrumental bands.Celebrating its 18th year as a festival, Capitol Hill Block Party in its current iteration is really only four years old. Or at least that last day is. You see it takes three full days to really call yourself a festival. It’s how you get Jack White, The Flaming Lips or MGMT to play. And while rock ‘n’ roll has been a defining feature of CHBP’s past, there seemed a notable lack of salty musicians strumming on the ol’ geetars. Instead, a population of laptop-wielders seemed to lock down a sizable amount of prime time on the main stage, to this writer’s chagrin.
There’s a magical limbo we get lost in listening to live music; the throb of the melody, the raw energy, the glorious mistakes and snapped strings: each contribute to a sense of communal losing yourself. Play the hits and we promise to dance until bloody-footed and tenitus-stricken. We commit ourselves to sonic hypnosis. Drink your beer, let your hair down. Take out the earplugs. Rock on.
With DJs, the performance often comes in a box. Unpack. Press play. Repeat. The mood is usually drug-addled or bored, or both. The energy, palpably manufactured. At least that was the scene in the hot summer sun, Sunday afternoon when xxyyxx’s set droned on like a bonus track of back-feeding guitars and Enya’s sounds of nature; it was sonic combustion at its most uninspiring.
Thank god then for RAC, an artist who knows how to spin audio flax to gold. He weaves tracks, beloved or not, into pure joy. His remixes are definitive; his style unnaturally respectful. He makes Girl-Talk look like he’s trying too hard. The man is more producer than DJ. But no one ever wanted to see George Martin perform. When RAC hit the stage on Sunday, the crowd had thinned but he quickly won wanderers back. While onstage, the man proved an ability to drink a PBR tallboy while doing his craft. (And is it just me or does a DJ who is constantly fiddling with dials onstage look unprepared?) Ultimately, the same issue befell this power duo onstage: there’s just not much to watch here. There’s no need to project a man twisting knobs on the big screen amiright? Even for a guy with a soundscape this unified and composed, I find little joy in watching a man unpause preprogrammed noise while slurping a likely lukewarm shitty beer. Next.
Closing out my weekend, War in Drugs was an explosion; a wall of sound that couldn’t be taken down by Miley’s wrecking ball. Granduciel’s a great guitarist with a croon like Dylan and an attitude like Gallagher. The War on Drugs is at war with the future of music. They’ve got a foot in the past and a fistful of picks to rip through to prove it. Their nonchalance is borderline epic. Their shredding is sexy. They rock steady and they rock hard. What drones on the album throbs on stage They’re so rock solid in their tempo, you may as well call them the War on Metronomes. They didn’t follow the golden rule of rock and rock: start high energy, mellow out, close out blaring. They lacked the parabola that whips a crowd into a frenzy. They softened more and more as the sun set behind the Shell station.
When Spoon took the stage Friday night, it seemed clear their fan base was thin amongst the crowd of neon-colored ravers. But by the time they busted out “The Underdog” midway into their set, the crowd was already theirs; putty in their hands; proving it takes more than a guy and his laptop to make a show truly magical. Britt Daniel’s stunning vocals sounded lifted from the album. Only those brassy horns went missing. He wailed on crowd favorites like “Don’t You Evah”, “I Turn My Camera On” and “Don’t Make Me a Target” and deep tracks like “Cherry Bomb” and “I Summon You” alike. The energy was magnetic. We committed ourselves to thrash like animals. Seattleites even moshed. Spoon dished out the fest’s salvation in their grandiose rock-steady routine. Rock and roll saved the day. They were the weekend warriors.