Day 3 of 2017's Capitol Hill Block Party proved to be the fest's most musically satisfying, stellar sets from Danny Brown, Torres, Angel Olsen, and Perfume Genius sounding great against the urban Capitol Hill backdrop.
Coming on at 5:15 to the sounds of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," Danny Brown effortlessly delighted a frat house crowd, performing tracks from his second (XXX), third (Old) and fourth (Atrocity Exhibition) records. Brown's outfit deserves special mention -- the rapper wore a bright pop-art button-down with matching pants, shedding the button-down partway to reveal a Gucci t-shirt. His hair, once put in bangs over his face, was slicked back. Needless to say, Danny Brown looks sharp.
On the nearby Vera Stage, Torres took the stage slightly before her 6:10 start time, launching into "Bad Baby Pie" from the forthcoming Three Futures album. Mackenzie Scott, the songwriter and primary musician behind Torres, has an unmistakable live presence, her voice emphasizing her articulate lyrics. Her live sets are charged with a taut intensity that is indicative of Scott's strength as an artist -- even in moments of stillness or silence, her voice unsettles and confronts. Alternating between material from Three Futures and the divine Spinter album, Scott demonstrated her continued evolution as an artist. Three Futures highlights "Skim," "Marble Focus," and the climactic "Helen in the Woods" are built around droning synth riffs and spare guitar work. Scott's voice and storytelling were at the forefront of every track, much to the set's benefit.
Sandwiched between two EDM acts on the mainstage, Ms. Angel Olsen did not have the easiest job at Block Party. However, seemingly quite aware of her situation, Olsen played a masterful set that defied festival convention. Olsen's backing band, clad in '50s style dress, jumped straight into Burn Your Fire For No Witness's "High & Wild" before Olsen demurely took the stage. Getting her best-known track "Shut Up Kiss Me," quickly out of the way, Olsen proceeded to play some of her slowest, longest, most beleaguered material, stretched out to give each band member sufficient space. After "Give It Up" and "Not Gonna Kill You," Olsen performed a ten-minute version of "Acrobat," transformed to match her My Woman material. "Sister" and "Woman" followed, both similarly expanded to beautiful effect. However, the question remained: why was Angel Olsen here? Assuredly, Ms. Olsen got handsomely paid for the event, so she deserves much credit for delivering a wonderful set. However, the cat-calling, largely disinterested crowd highlighted the ever-present cultural split at Block Party.
Perfume Genius acted as headliner on the Vera Stage, playing opposite the bombast of Diplo. To his credit, the ever-more-dynamic Mike Hadreas put on quite the show, demonstrating his many talents as a musician and performer, as well as his different modes as a songwriter. Material from No Shape was the primary focus of the set and tended to sound more jubilant than songs from Too Bright and Put Your Back N 2 It. Washes of synth provided by the debonair Alan Wyffles translated the record to the live setting, while Hadreas bounced and swerved in a tank top, regularly hitting impossibly high notes. "Wreath" and audience favorite "Slip Away" were clear highlights of the set, as was the comparatively heartbreaking "Hood," which remains inseparable from its poignant music video.
Old favorites "Grid" and "Sister" allowed Hadreas to enter darker territories with his sound. "Grid" in particular incorporates shades of Suicide into its sonic palate, Mike's voice on "Sister" recalling the similarly provocative Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu). These variations in tone make Hadreas's set sound particularly fresh. The night closed with the triumphant "Queen," Hadreas saluting the crowd before bouncing off stage to deserved thunderous applause.
Julie Byrne makes a face when she doesn't have to sing, one that expresses a sheer contentment with what's going on around her. She leaned back and made this face - which is featured on the cover her sublime sophomore outing, Not Even Happiness - at least six times during her Sunday afternoon set...
Energy. That's what a good live performance boils down to, and that's what both Diet Cig and Diplo (who have little more than the letter "D" in common) delivered at the Capitol Hill Block Party on Sunday night. Performing in completely different genres to completely different audiences, they both...