CHPB KICK OFF JAM
July 22nd, 2010
You’ve heard of the “after party”, but this year Seattle festivals have adopted the new tradition of holding “launch” or “Kick Off” parties. “Before the party’s the Kick Off Party.” It’s like R. Kelly in reverse. The “Re-remix to Ignition“. When your festival already contains the term “Party” in its title, it can feel a little unnecessary or excessive. I wish that I could honestly say that it didn’t feel that way at the actual event, but I can’t. [Correction: in all fairness, this was technically a kick of “jam” not “party”. Our apologize for anyone that was dying to correct me before I was able to apologize.]
Just like the Sasquatch Festival‘s “Launch Party” equivalent, The Capitol Hill Block Party‘s “Kick Off Jam” was held at the somewhat-recently reopened historic local club, The Crocodile. Sasquatch‘s event featured performances by Surfer Blood, Atlas Sound, and local hip hop duo, Fresh Espresso. I believe it was sponsored by E-Surance. This event was headlined by Holy Fuck Holy F! with OBITZ and Unnatural Helpers opening. We were contacted by DICKIES workwear about being VIP-listed for the show. It was still a free event, otherwise, as long as you RSVP‘d on the site of their co-sponsor, FILTER Magazine.
The concert was held on Thurs. July 22nd, the night before the Block Party officially “kicked off”. Sean Prince headed down to the show with me as the “plus 1” and we were given bracelets upon entry. They didn’t seem to have much use, except for allowing us into the mostly dead area of an upstairs bar.
Unnatural Helpers took the stage in full-on DICKIES coveralls. Some might have been turned off by the idea of that “corporate” element, but DICKIES is honestly not a bad sponsor to be affiliated with. It’s not like it was Hollister; this is the clothing of choice for skateboarders and vatos. I just saw it as a fun opportunity for them to grab some free shit. Unnatural Helpers have gone through quite a few lineup changes over the years, rotating around original member/front man Dean Whitmore. Whitmore sat front and center behind his drumkit, doubling up garage punk beats with screaming vocals. The group was high energy and Whitmore is an engaging figure live. At the beginning of the set, he joked about how they were the obvious choice to kick start the entire weekend. At one point, an audience member requested the song, “Girl in the Window” and Sean Prince followed it up by screaming “Girl in a Pinto“. The barrier between audience and stage seemed to all but dissipate. It felt much more like a house party than anything. Joking or not, the rock quartet was definitely the perfect band to start off the evening. The show was energetic enough to get shit rolling, but light enough not to burn out too fast. It’s no surprise that they are booked as the openers for Mudhoney‘s upcoming European tour, because I couldn’t think of a better act to support them right now.
Obits was next and, although they aren’t a terrible band, they just didn’t do it for me. Genre-wise, they have a similar sound as Uunnatural Helpers, but their stage presence didn’t have much of a pulse. Besides guitarist/vocalist, Rick Froberg (ex-Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu) the rest of the band seemed to be mentally adrift. The set was just kind of boring. We went back up to the “VIP” balcony, when someone came up to me and gave me some drink tickets. Finally those fucking wrist bands were proving good for something. I pointed him out to Sean, who went and requested some more for himself. We left for the rest of the set and I wound up drinking and eating nachos and pulled pork at an establishment a few blocks away.
Eventually, I came back to catch Holy Fuck! and to cash in on those free drinks. The place was still moderately full but the energy that had been stirred up by the opening act must have seeped out the window. The “official” event silk screen poster (pictured above) was advertised as a limited item that would only be available to those who arrived early enough. By this time there was still a woman sitting with a stack of them, which hardly anyone even came over to claim. For me, it wasn’t even worth carrying it around.
Holy Fuck! was on stage but there seemed to be a bit of disconnect between them and the audience. With the drumkit and bass in the back and 2 tables filled with electronics facing each other towards the front of the stage, the quartet was arranged in a pseudo-circle. They were playing towards each other as much as they were to anyone in the crowd. I was standing towards the back by the bar where the sounds of disinterested drunken chatter challenged the electronica from the stage. It was clear that half of the people didn’t really give a shit and were only there because it was a free event. Holy Fuck! has garnered a solid amount of critical praise, but I didn’t experience anything that helped to separate them from any of the other myriad of the synth-focused groups which are multiplying at the moment like Mormon rabbits on MDMA. Sean bounced out with a bunch of people who were heading up to Cal Anderson park on Capitol Hill and I waited around for a little while longer before giving my last drink ticket to a stranger and hopping on a bus myself.
The whole night was fairly anti-climactic and the hype fizzled out incredibly quick. Compared to its Sasquatch counterpart, the entire concept of the CHBP pre-event feels like it was a bit misguided and destined for lackluster results. Even when the Sasquatch Launch Party was first announced, I was a bit confused. Seattle is quite a distance from the Gorge Amphitheatre where it was held and the two headliners of the launch party, Atlas Sound and Surfer Blood, weren’t even playing the actual festival. However, in retrospect, it actually makes a whole lot more sense than this vanilla soiree. Beyond just giving locals who might not be able to make it out to Eastern Washington a chance to catch a free show, the Sasquatch pre-party was also used as a public unveiling for the festival lineup. The KICK OFF JAM, on the other hand, took place about a mile from the actual block party location and was held only the night before. To make matters worse, that night was a Thursday. So, to really break it down, this was a show held on an inconvenient weeknight and made up of bands that were just gonna play the next day anyway. With the exception of Unnatural Helpers, it felt like the bands had adopted a similar attitude of “Fuck it, we’re playing again tomorrow anyway.” I have the feeling that Unnatural Helpers are the type of band that is able to throw down regardless of the environment and are accustomed to doing so, while Holy Fuck! is handling a ridiculously rigorous touring schedule already and could sense that the crowd was only there in physical form. As for Obits? I just don’t find them very interesting. Honestly, I don’t even feel like writing about this shit anymore… it’s boring me. No big deal. It was a gracious attempt at throwing a free event, but that event was one to be missed.
[all photos by Bobby Mcugh]