With the last bass line dropped, the final White Claw hard seltzer crushed, the 23rd Capitol Hill Block Party Starring (OMG!) Queen Lizzo is in the books. Yes, there’s no doubt that this will go down as the year Lizzo ruled Block Party, delivering on what was easily the most anticipated set during the three-day bash on the Hill.
But with more than 120 acts spread across seven-plus stages, there were many award-worthy performances throughout the annual summer fete that drew roughly 29,000 fans to East Pike Street. To acknowledge these outstanding achievements, we present our inaugural (sure, maybe) Capitol Hill Block Party Most Valuable Performer Awards — or the CHBP MVPAs, if you will.
Best wake-up call: JPEGMAFIA
For a half second you thought that maaaaaaybe this notoriously rowdy noise-rapper might phone it in as he crept to the stage, hoodie up, admittedly tired. In a sense he did, having forgotten his laptop and relying on his phone to play the beats. “I just hope nobody texts me,” JPEG said. But the rapper/producer ignited the main stage early Friday, with confrontational scream-alongs that were equal parts hip-hop and hardcore.
Most intimidating aerobics instructor: Mitski
Fans squeezed in their weekend cardio by simply watching this indie-rock star deliver her well-choreographed performance, contorting herself like a stone-faced workout class leader or grounded aerialist from atop a desk and chair. The austerity and intensity in her movements only heightened the drama and tension in Mitski’s sweeping compositions.
The set you should have seen: TeZATalks
Speaking of well-oiled choreo, TeZATalks and her backup dancer’s locked-in, high-energy routines had a small Wildrose crowd hollering with every move busted at the drop of a fresh beat. The sound wasn’t great and there might have been two dozen people in the room, but it mattered not as TeZa worked up the crowd like it was 10,000 strong with her blend of hair-raising EDM, hip-hop and R&B.
Most punk-rock moment: Tres Leches
Closing out their instrument-swapping Neumos set on Saturday, Tres Leches tore through a scorching protest song addressing how Block Party compensates local bands and its stipulations for playing. During the roaring punk opus, multi-instrumentalist/singer Alaia D’Alessandro named several bands playing Block Party and its stages, followed by the refrain “Everybody’s gonna get $250,” a nod to their payout. “You’re from out of town? Go [expletive] yourself. $250,” she snarled, alluding to bands that came up from Tacoma or, in her bandmate Zander Yates’ case, Olympia. The lyrics called out Block Party’s radius clause — a common part of festival contracts preventing bands from playing other nearby shows within a specified time frame around the date — and that the fest would take 20 percent of their merchandise sales (another increasingly common industry practice). “The next festival we’re playing is called the Zoid,” she said before leaving the Neumos stage. “They’re paying us more than $250.”
While clarifying, in a later interview, that the song was meant as a larger point about Block Party and other entities profiting off art while the artists themselves struggle financially, she took issue with the radius clause, saying the pay is not enough to justify potentially forfeiting other gigs, especially for artists that have travel expenses too. But D’Alessandro also had positive things to say about the Block Party, calling playing Neumos a “milestone” and noting that they would play the festival again (if they didn’t torch that bridge).
“We don’t want it to be an us-versus-them thing,” she said, earlier acknowledging that organizers offered to consider exceptions to the radius clause on a case-by-case basis. “This is us saying we’re hurting, here’s why we’re hurting.”
Block Party organizer Jason Lajeunesse said the festival sets standard rates for supporting acts on the smaller stages in order to work within their budget while booking “as many local artists as we can.”
“We [definitely] let artists know in advance what the fees are, and never expect someone to accept a fee they aren’t comfortable with,” he said in an email. “We are also flexible on radius clauses, and generally work with local bands if they have plans for shows around CHBP.”
It’s worth noting that a number of local acts who played this weekend have had other local gigs on the calendar within weeks of Block Party. Lajeunesse added that this year, organizers decided to remove those radius clauses for artists playing smaller supporting slots going forward.
Best … just the best: Lizzo
“I’ve been waiting for this one,” declared Lizzo, the weekend’s mostly eagerly awaited performer, after an Aretha Franklin-channeling “Worship” that featured a brief “Respect” interpolation. “Y’all been waiting for this?” Considering the mass of people crammed in along East Pike Street who basically served as her unofficial backing choir throughout her entire set (no exaggeration), yes. Yes, they had been. Between club-thumper “Tempo” and her current Top 10 hit “Truth Hurts,” we’re shocked a water main didn’t burst beneath Pike Street while the sea of human sardines bounced along. As the charismatic self-love messenger’s set progressed, each song was almost in competition with the last to see just how hyped the crowd could get, with the new-jack swing of the show-closing “Juice” winning out.
Best Sunday detox: UMI
Whatever Lizzo (or literal) hangover there may have been after her Saturday night throwdown was washed away with this Seattle-born, L.A.-based R&B singer’s afternoon performance, which began with the young artist leading the crowd in a meditative breathing exercise. Energies purportedly aligned, UMI drifted through a soul-cleansing set, her band lending a neo-soul feel and laid-back psych-blues guitar solos to her uncluttered R&B tracks as she adorably shouted out her high school friends in the front row and took in seeing herself on the big screen before imploring the crowd to meditate later on her way out.
Best daywalker: Yves Tumor
“You know I hate sunlight,” the electronic experimentalist proclaimed, reemerging after his daytime Vera stage set got off to a false start due to technical issues. It was worth the wait, as the singer/producer commanded the stage like Prince-gone-punk, knifing and twirling around looking a little like “Aladdin Sane” David Bowie meets Blade. Yves Tumor’s distorted beats, including the ominously funky “Noid,” might be more suited for a dark club, but it was one of the more adventurous highlights of the weekend.
Best Spice Girls deployment: Aminé
Not every rapper can drop ’90s girl-group smash “Wannabe” in the middle of a festival set without anyone thinking twice. Such is the swagger of this Portland/Los Angeles emcee who had the heavily vaped Sunday crowd rocking with him during his flute-looping “Spice Girl,” nodding to the pre-“TRL” hitmakers.