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Music journalist Travis Hay drops some knowledge and insight about local and national music news, offers reviews and offers a place for conversation on all things music.
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Archive for July, 2008

VIDEOS: NIN @ KeyArena

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

While everyone was rocking their block off at the Capitol Hill Block Party, my friend Steven Friederich was at KeyArena watching a small band called Nine Inch Nails rip through a massive set list of more than 25 songs.

Here are a few videos he shot of Trent Reznor and co.


CHBP: Schoolyard Heroes, The Saturday Knights

Monday, July 28th, 2008

10:15 It’s almost time for the weekend of music in Capitol Hill to end and what better band to close down the Vera Project stage than Schoolyard Heroes.

While I have seen Schoolyard perform on smaller stages, the tiny Vera stage could barely contain the rock ‘n’ roll insanity that was Schoolyard Heroes’ set. Within minutes of the first song, which I think was “Plastic Surgery Hall of Fame” although I’m not 100 percent on that since I was operating on a bit of a beer buzz at the time, the crowd erupted into a massive mosh pit.

The band’s set was fierce and fast, with each song becoming a celebration of bloody zombies, serial killers, vicious creatures of the night and other monsterous abominations. Unfortunately the sound was a bit off so at times it was difficult to make out Ryann Donnelly’s operatic screams and SYH ringleader Jonah Bergman’s growling yells. But that didn’t seem to bother the crowd as they all ate up every precise riff off Steve Bonnell’s guitar and each one of Brian Turner’s thunderous drum fills.

One of the highlights came during “Dawn of the Dead” when a youthful boy who was likely no older than 13, found his way on stage and Bergam stopped him mid-song.

“I know you know what’s next,” Bergman told the boy, who looked confused.

Bergman then whispered in his ear and the kid took the microphone and quietly uttered the lyric “But it was not over yet.”

Then the song continued and the crowd thrashed around in a fury, like a bunch of sweaty teens stuck inside of a washing machine on spin cycle.

From what I recall the set list was an event balance between tracks off all three of the band’s records. “Cemetery Girls” was a highlight for me, as was “Mechanical Man …,” which is always a fun song live.

11:30 To end my CHBP experience I went into Neumos to catch the last few songs from The Saturday Knights. I was only able to see one full song, since I stuck around for all of Schoolyard’s set,” but it was nice to end my Block Party weekend by watching the city’s best party rap group do its thing on stage.


CHBP: Chromeo, Akimbo, The Hold Steady

Monday, July 28th, 2008

7:30 Since I couldn’t convince my friend to catch Jaguar Love we took a break from the music and decided to eat some food and check out Chromeo.

Chromeo pumped up the crowd with electro-dance-pop that was easy to bust a move to. The duo consisted of a guitarist who also sang lead vocals and a DJ who played percussion on two tiny high hat cymbals and a row of cowbells and sang into a vocoder. They also had a light show, which was odd since the sun was shining and they were playing outdoors. Light show or not, the group delivered the dance beats and lots of people in the crowd could be seen getting their drunken groove on, so a good time was had by all.

8:00 The last time I saw local hardcore band Akimbo live was four years ago at the UW when they opened for the Blood Brothers and Pretty Girls Make Graves. At that show they nearly destroyed the small stage they were performing on and their bombastic guitars had me shielding my ears. Saturday on the Vera Project stage the sound levels were a bit quieter, but the energy was still there and Akimbo showed the crowd why they are such an awesome mainstay on the local heavy rock scene. Akimbo is pure metal.

At one point Akimbo bassist Jon Weisnewsky called out all of the people in the crowd who were watching Fleet Foxes earlier.

“I know I saw some of you checking out Fleet Foxes. That’s a sin,” he said.

Ouch! Calling out Fleet Foxes fans who jump from folk-rock to metal during a festival. Gutsy, yet extremely endearing in a heavy metal manner.

9:00 By this point in the evening I had already tossed back a few PBRs as well as a couple of gin and tonics in anticipation for what I expected to be the set of the weekend (at least for me) by The Hold Steady. Maybe it’s t he alcohol talking, but I was not disappointed.

The Brooklyn group not only sings narrative-driven songs about partying, drinking and partying some more, they also sings songs about the aftermath of those nights spent drinking and partying and drinking some more. The Hold Steady is after all a band that sings a song with a refrain of “I’m gonna walk around and drink some more” that is repeated several times, which means they are best experienced inebriated. So I figured when in Rome …

Hold Steady vocalist Craig Finn was all smiles throughout the bands way too short set (I think they played for less than an hour). He waved his arms, hopped around and clapped along to songs. His enthusiasm as well as his gesticulations made The Hold Steady’s set, which was heavy on material from the group’s new record “Stay Positive,” a blast.

I remember drunkenly singing along to “Sequestered In Memphis,” “Chips Ahoy,” “Party Pit,” “Stay Positive” and about six other songs. The Hold Steady, a band that will likely always be in rotation on my iPod, easily stole the show from all the other main stage bands that performed during the second day of CHBP.


CHBP: Kimya Dawson, The Builders and The Butchers, Fleet Foxes

Monday, July 28th, 2008

4:30 Kimya Dawson is on the main stage and much like The Cave Singers, which preceded her, her acoustic sound is being swallowed by the massiveness of the outdoors. Truthfully, her kid songs really do nothing for me, so I wasn’t surprised that her live set had the same effect. I understand she is a local artist and I get that she had some songs on the soundtrack to Juno, but come on, she shouldn’t be on the main stage.

Her singing was ridiculously off key (she sounded like a neutered puppy yelping crossed with Bjork) and her songs, while appropriate I suppose for an all-ages crowd, are pretty bad too. And apparently I’m not the only person who thinks so. Below is an excerpt of a conversation I had with a fellow music critic from a major publication (which shall remain nameless) in the beer garden after Dawson’s set.

Nameless critic: “What did you think of Kimya Dawson?”
Me: “Well …”
Nameless critic: “She’s awful!”

So there you have it, one nameless critic and me agree that Kimya Dawson is really nothing that special.

5:00 My friend and I decided to check out The Builders and the Butchers inside of Neumos. Apparently these PDX guys have been getting quite a bit of buzz lately (although it can’t be that much buzz considering I hadn’t heard of them until Saturday). Neumos was pretty crowded so I couldn’t see much, but from what I recall there were five band members, one playing a mandolin, two drummers and a couple of guitar players. They played mostly acoustic and their sound was sort of like backwoodsy campfire rock. They would fit perfectly opening for My Morning Jacket, or even Fleet Foxes.

5:45 Speaking of Fleet Foxes, the Seattle band with the biggest buzz at the moment are taking the main stage. As I mentioned a little while back, I was probably the last local music critic to buy their excellent self-titled record, but once I gave it a listen I was 100 percent sold.

The weather was terrific, the setting outstanding (outdoors in Capitol Hill, one of the cultural centers of the city) and the band’s music was perfect combination of serenity and beauty for a Saturday afternoon. Plus, unlike Kimya Dawson and The Cave Singers, the acoustic beauty and blissful four-part harmonies floated through the sky uninterrupted by the trappings of the outdoors. I was a little, ahem, lubricated, during Fleet Foxes set (in preparation for The Hold Steady), so I don’t remember exactly what songs the band performed but I am pretty sure I heard “Oliver James” and “White Winter Hymnal” during their set.


CHBP: The Hands, The Cave Singers, The Whore Moans

Monday, July 28th, 2008

The second day of the Capitol Hill Block Party ended up being a much different experience for me than what I experienced Friday. Friday I more or less spent the day band hopping, catching 15 to 25 minutes of a band and then jumping to the next band. I did this for two reasons: 1) There weren’t any bands that captured my attention enough to make me want to watch a full 45-minute set when I knew there was more music out there to see, and 2) I wanted to experience as much music as possible. This allowed me to see 15 bands in about eight hours, which was rewarding since I came across a couple of new favorites (The Pharmacy, Airborne Toxic Event), but boy was it tiring.

Saturday I took a bit of a different approach and I watched complete sets by three bands while managing to see 11 bands total. Here are my thoughts on what I saw:

3:00 The beer-soaked blues-rock of The Hands was the perfect way to kick off my Saturday. These Olympia rockers opened their set with a 20-minute suite of songs that included a stunning rendition of “The Knife,” arguably the best track on their self-titled debut. The guitarmanship (is that a word?) was definitely the most rocking of the weekend. The band’s song-carrying soaring riffs and fist-pumping, sing along hooks give Southern rock some dank and grungy Northwest flavor.

3:40 The Cave Singers, featuring Derek Fudesco, formerly of Pretty Girls Make Graves, were a great appetizer for Fleet Foxes, which took the stage a couple of hours after The Cave Singers’ set came to a close. Unfortunately, their acoustic sound was swallowed by the vastness of the outdoors. Don’t get me wrong, the band sounded good, but it’s always a bad sign when you can hear the crowd talking over the band while the band is playing. A recommendation to CHBP organizers for next year: Either turn up the amplifiers for the quieter bands on the main stage of have them play in a club and put a louder band on the main stage instead.

4:00 My friend and I made our only stop into King Cobra Saturday to see The Whore Moans and it was well worth waiting in line for a few minutes to see this band’s dual guitar, tri-vocal assault. The screaming, singing and shouting of songs was a nice mishmash of styles that make The Whore Moans come across as a ball of pure rock ‘n’ roll that blends hardcore, punk and metal all into one deliciously tasty musical morsel.


CHBP: Jay Reatard, Vampire Weekend, Heavy Hearts

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

10:30 We snagged a balcony spot at Neumos in anticipation of Jay Reatard. The power trio shredded brutal punk-metal that has the throngs of sweaty metalheads in the crowd going crazy. During the 15 minutes I watched the band I think they blazed through seven songs. The singer/guitarist and the bass player were both playing flying-V guitars and at one point they both did rock slides (a la Jack Black in the Tenacious D film) while riffing on their guitars.

Jay Reatard put on a fierce show and I wanted to see more, but I had to catch the beginning of Vampire Weekend because a rumor was floating around that Gov. Chris “I’m up for re-election” Gregoire would be introducing the band.

10:45 Sure enough, Gov. Gregoire introduced the band. She made a brief statement about getting out the vote for Obama and I think she may have plugged herself as well.

A gubernatorial introduction aside, the crowd was massive for Vampire Weekend and the band played a tight set of its brand of Arfo-infused Anglo-rock. It sounded near identical to the record, which can be a good and bad thing depending on what you expect out of a live performance. Truthfully, Vampire Weekend doesn’t do much for me and I was hoping for a little bit more out of their live show instead of just a replication of their album, so we left the cramped confines of the main stage area and headed to see another band.

11:00 Since Jay Retard wasn’t enough power punk-metal it was on to King Cobra to catch local band The Heavy Hearts, and they were, well, heavy. Mix Fugazi with Pretty Girls Make Graves and you’re almost there. The one thing that set these guys apart from other power punk-metal bands is that they have two bass players, which creates an extremely dense, deep low-end sound.

Like the rest of the Block Party, the Heavy Hearts were loud, heavy and sweaty. Their set featured the only mosh pit of the day I witnessed, which showed me Capitol Hill hipsters actually know how to slam dance.


CHBP: Girl Talk, Thee Emergency, Champagne Champagne, Les Savy Fav

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

8:15 Girl Talk, possibly the most talented mash-up artist on the planet, is rocking the party. Dozens of fans from the crowd are on stage dancing in various stages of undress, turning the main stage into one big dance floor. There was a short line of folks waiting to get on stage and dance to Girl Talk’s laptop-driven creations and I momentarily thought about getting in that line so I could cut loose. But I decided if I’m not wearing a Teletubby costume then I’m not dancing on stage.

The highlight of Girl Talk’s set for me was when he played Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” over Weezer’s “Say It Aint So.” I played out a scenario in my head where the two artists actually meet and the introductions went down similar to David Letterman’s infamous Uma-Oprah bomb. “Weezy meet Weezer. Weezer, Weezy.” And yes, it’s like that inside of my head.

8:30 Thee Emergency, a band I’ve wanted to see for about two years now, is playing a terrific set of garage-rock blues. Singer Dita Voxx is getting down with her bad mohawked self, rocking the crowd as her beautifully soulful voice soars through Neumos. If you get a chance to catch Thee Emergency live you definitely should do it.

9:00 I’ve been intrigued by the Blood Brothers side project (well, okay it is not a side project, it is an actual band since The Blood Bros. broke up) Champagne Champagne because they are a hip-hop group, and hip hop is the exact opposite of the Blood Brothers.

Consisting of two MCs (one who was wearing a Nirvana shirt and the other a Beavis Butthead tee) and a DJ, the group came hard and heavy with some pretty solid beats and rhymes. The trouble with their set was that the sound seemed to be rigged for a rock show (which is mostly what was featured inside of King Cobra for the day) and, well, as I mentioned, Champagne Champagne is hip hop. But other than the sound levels being off, the energy was good and the music that I could make out, sounded good too.

9: 15 What to say about Les Savy Fav?

Well, I can tell you these guys are showmen. The singer, who looks like a balding, middle-aged, potbellied biker, is a rambunctious son of a gun. The group’s post-punk rock shredded was an excellent choice for the slot prior to headliners Vampire Weekend. The singer wore a female sex toy on his head at one point in the set, stripped down to his underwear later and he even did the truffle shuffle for a laugh. See, I told you he was a showman, Oh, and the music was great too.


CHBP: U.S.E., Truckasauras, Menomena, The Airborne Toxic Event

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

5:45 Man, four bands in a little over one hour and I am already pooped. Luckily there are vendors giving out energy drinks and there is a steady stream of free alcohol flowing in the VIP area, which should make the rest of the day more tolerable.

As I exit Nuemos I am immediately struck with the urge to dance, which means Seattle’s own instant dance party band U.S.E. must be performing. The band’s music is an infectiously grooving cocktail of Daft Punk poured over Junior Senior with a splash of Emerald City flair. The seven-member group (or at least I counted seven people on stage, including Jon E. Rock the rapping drummer, and two female dancers who also serve as backup singers) was the first band of the day to get the entire crowd moving. Everyone I saw leaving the general area of the pit in front of the stage was drenched in sweat. I assumed this was from too much busting a move with the masses in the sun.

6:15 My friend and I move from one dance party to the next and make our way over to catch Truckasauras. This was the longest line we had to wait in to get inside of a venue, but after a show two or three minute wait we’re inside and the place is packed.

If you break it down to the basics, you could say Truckasauras is a four-piece group that plays electronic music in front of video screen showing images of B movies and vintage WWF footage (notice I didn’t say WWE. That’s because I am what the kids would call “old school” and I don’t acknowledge the existence of the WWE. Tthat’s just how I roll).

If you really want to break it down to the basics, you can just say Truckasauras is awesome.

There was a keyboard, a sampler, and think I sawa a drum machine and my buddy told me there was a guy playing a Game Boy too. The music is something you’d find at a vampire rave, or at least that’s what I thought when I walked in. For some reason (likely my limited exposure to music that is played a raves) the first thing that popped into my mind when I got into King Cobra was that scene from “Blade” where the vampires are all dancing to loud techno music.

However, there were no day-walking vampires on site, just some killer techno beats with crazy images of Hulk Hogan, Rambo and Bloodsport going on in the background. It was definitely the most fun set of the day.

7:00 After watching more sweaty people dance inside King Cobra, we made our way outside to see Menomena. A lot of people were buzzing about this Barsuk band last year and I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.

I can sum up Menomena in one word: meh.

However, to give them the benefit of the doubt, I only caught two songs and I my eardrums were still abuzz from the crazy awesomeness that was Truckasauras. So I’ll give Menomena a second chance and maybe scope out their MySpace page later or something.

7:15 And the winner of band with the coolest name at CHBP is … The Airborne Toxic Event.

These guys wowed me in a way similar to how The Pharmacy impressed me earlier in the afternoon. The four-piece consists of a guitarist, bass player, violinist/keyboard player and drummer and they play high-energy pop-rock for the masses. They remind me a little bit of Seattle band The Blakes, except much less polished and, of course, the addition of a violin. If there is one band I could see coming back to CHBP next year and playing the main stage it’s these guys. I expect you’ll be hearing more out of The Airborn Toxic Event in the future.


CHBP: Common Market, Black Whales, The Pharmacy, Head Like A Kite

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

This marks my first year attending the Capitol Hill Block Party and upon arrival I was impressed by two things: 1) The number of vendors that were crammed into such a small area and 2) that I was able to find a parking space on 12th and Pine, right next to the outer perimeter of CHBP.

Here is what I heard and saw taken directly from the pages of my notebook:

4:20 The first band I caught was Black Whales over at King Cobra, which was a 21+ stage. The local band had a pretty generic indie rock sound, but that’s not to say they sounded bad. In fact, the sound at King Cobra was pretty good, rivaling that of Neumos, another 21+ club stage for CHBP, across the street. I arrived late and was only able to catch one of Black Whales’ songs, so I will pass on further criticism. But if I had to label the band’s sound I would stick with the generic indie garage rock tag.

4:35 Common Market’s Ra Scion, one of the slickest MCs spitting rhymes in Seattle, took the main stage rapping over Lil Wayne’s “A Milli.” The bass was booming from the main stage’s sound system, which made it difficult to make out what the socially conscious rapper was saying, but from where I was standing it sounded like a freestyle

At times Ra Scion’s words were swallowed up by the massive sound system, but that didn’t seem to bother the crowd, which continued to grow throughout the main stage as Common Market’s set. Block Partiers were eating up the fresh, intellectual offerings of Ra Scion and showing their appreciation with hands waving, heads bobbing and bodies moving everywhere. The group delivered tracks for its self-titled debut as well as the recently released EP “Black Patch War” and the title track to their sophomore record “Tobacco Road.”

5:00 The Pharmacy is the first band of the day that impresses me. Simply put, The Pharmacy is a straight shot of rock ‘n’ roll with no chaser. The group’s straight-ahead approach of loud guitars, driving rhythms and catchy melodies is undeniably awesome. If you combine early The Who with The Strokes you’re pretty close to this stellar Seattle band’s style.

5:30 Aside from taking their name from a Shins song, I know nothing about Head Like A Kite, but my buddy is really, really into their new record so we dropped into Neumos to check them out. The first thing we notice is some goofy looking guy on stage dancing while singing backup vocals. He was definitely taking away from the band’s ethereal sonic textures and melodies.

After one song the dancing dude (who kind of looked like an awkward cross between Chester Bennington and Quentin Tarantino) left the stage and now it is just the drummer and guitar player making noises with an assist from an electronic loop-making device. From where I was standing I thin I saw a keyboard on stage too.

The singer picked up a telephone receiver and sang into it for a song. The created an echoey, electronic vocal effect that fit naturally over the droning electronic loop. Unfortunately the loud, repetitive electronic noises got old fast and I found myself wanting to head out of the dark confines of Neumos and into the sunny outdoors. We stayed for the rest of HLAK’s set and my friend informs me he was disappointed because they didn’t play anything off their new album that he recognized.


Oh yeah, here’s where you can find Block Party coverage

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

I forgot to mention that I plan on posting capsules of all the bands I catch at the Block Party here on Spin the Black Circle. So check back on Saturday, Sunday and Monday for reviews and photos from the annual Capitol Hill hipster music fest.


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Music journalist Travis Hay drops some knowledge and insight about local and national music news, offers reviews and offers a place for conversation on all things music.