Capitol Hill Block Party, Day 1: Wolf Parade, Austra

Capitol Hill Block Party, Live Reviews
07/24/2017
Matthew Howland
Austra // all photos by Morgen Schuler (view set)

Another year of Capitol Hill Block Party has arrived, bringing with it a sea of bro-tank tops, increased public intoxication, and a variety of local and national music acts. The music of Day 1 was quite good, with sets from Noname, Thundercat, and Katie Kate starting off the festival on an upbeat note. Wolf Parade and Austra remained highlights of the day, both drawing enthusiastic crowds and playing music from across their discographies.

Wolf Parade

Wolf Parade is an interesting pick to play Capitol Hill Block Party. Though they certainly have many upbeat, anthemic numbers, Wolf Parade's music has always seemed rather hermetic, enjoyed by people too socially anxious to maneuver the squalor of Block Party. This presumption proved partially incorrect -- plenty of die-hards were in attendance for Friday night's set, and they were rewarded with a set list that drew heavily from 2005's great Apologies to the Queen Mary LP. Both Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner appeared in good moods, Krug sporting a quite nice haircut which makes him resemble a young Jean-Pierre Léaud (think Masculin Feminin, not Irma Vep).

Starting off with the always enjoyable "Soldier's Grin," from At Mount Zoomer, Wolf Parade felt looser than at last year's performances at The Neptune, letting the songs stretch out and expand. Next came several Queen Mary highlights, Krug's "Dear Sons and Daughters of Holy Ghosts," and Boeckner's "Shine a Light," followed by (the undervalued) Expo 86's "What Did My Lover Say." Boeckner's guitar playing and Krug's double keyboards sounded particularly energetic on the mighty "Fine Young Cannibals," Boeckner visibly grinning throughout the song's expansive latter half.

Wolf Parade played two new songs, including the lead single off the forthcoming Cry Cry Cry, "Valley Boy." In contrast to Canada's fellow Arcade Fire, who grows seemingly more vast and broad with every new release, Wolf Parade's new material seemed smaller in scope and more fine-tuned than some earlier work and also showcases new aspects of the band's distinctive sound. The set continued with the still-arrestingly catchy "You Are a Runner," which veered straight into an intense rendition of "Fancy Claps." Boeckner's great "This Heart's on Fire" followed, then an obligatory "I'll Believe in Anything." The band's set closed with "Kissing the Beehive," the broadsword of Wolf Parade songs, that expanded over a dozen minutes. It was a fittingly strange ending to an unlikely, but clearly successful set for the much-beloved band.

Austra

Next door at the reconfigured Vera stage, Austra played a solid headlining set without monitors, managing to stay entirely in pitch. Starting fifteen minutes late after technical difficulties, Austra proved to be in good form, mostly playing tracks from this year's Future Politics release. Austra mastermind Katie Stelmanis dressed in a pink floral getup (think kimono meets decorative bathrobe) mirrored by the keyboardist's pink shirt and overalls. Though developed in solitude by Stelmanis, Future Politics transferred well to the live setting, the band tightly recreating the record's keyboard-centric grooves.

A key to the set's success was Austra's live drummer, frequent collaborator Maya Postepski. Playing against a drum machine, Postepski's rhythms bolstered Stelmanis's synth/darkwave sensibility, filling out the band's sound. Feel It Break's ominous "Beat and the Pulse" remained a clear highlight, reconfigured to better mesh with the Future Politics material.

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