The real music somehow survives Block Party buzz

Seattle PI
Chris Nelson
Publication date: 
June 14, 2002
Thursday, June 13, 2002

The real music somehow survives Block Party buzz

The key lesson from Saturday's Capitol Hill Block Party show? Bands that draw buzz and bands that draw crowds aren't always the same thing.

The biggest buzz band at the fifth annual outdoor show at Pine Street and 11th Avenue was a female-fronted trio from Olympia (by way of Arkansas).

The Gossip plays original, down-and-dirty, hip-swinging rock 'n' roll; their show claims a place in the spotlight for a sexuality outside the mainstream, inclusive of lesbians and fat folks.

But the biggest crowd-drawing outfit was another female-fronted band. Seattle favorites Hell's Belles play nothing but AC/DC songs, dead-on down to the note-for-note virtuoso guitar solos. The premise of a mostly-female band
taking over the songs of the sex-crazed classic rockers is, of course, politically charged.

But Hell's Belles let that potential slip through their fingers, aiming for exactitude instead of examination and soaking up the crowd's ogling when guitarist Adrian Conner stripped to her underwear in homage to AC/DC's stripping guitar slinger Angus Young.

Saturday's show also saw engaging sets from local indie rockers the Long Winters and Pretty Girls Make Graves.

Grunge vets Mudhoney headlined a day with more than 20 bands on three stages.

A benefit for the Joint Artists and Music Promotions Political Action Committee and Home Alive, the Block Party continued yesterday with 20 more bands, including Sleater-Kinney, Gas Huffer and the Briefs.

No one could say Hell's Belles didn't show the crowd a good time. But their set invited a voyeuristic gaze rather than projecting empowerment.

The Gossip, on the other hand, attracted the small audience you expect from a band playing at 2:40 p.m. under a broiling sun.

Still, the kids up front danced like mad as the band themselves shimmied with an anti-MTV attitude. Offstage, members of Mudhoney and the Pretty Girls looked on in rapt respect.

With raccoon eyes from melted mascara, singer Beth Ditto unfurled her Southern choir roots in songs such as "Waves."

The message: You can be exactly who you are and still be a rock 'n' roller.

Mudhoney slalomed between crowd pleasers and cuts from the upcoming "Since We've Become Translucent."

Throngs of fans rollicked through late-'80s songs such as "Touch Me, I'm Sick." Yet even beside the classics, the new numbers held their own.

"The Straight Life" and "Take It Like a Man" reveal a lean band, still loud, still meaty, but no longer trudging through the muck -- as if, 14 years on, they're asserting, as another song title puts it, "Our Time Is Now."

Earlier in the day, Pretty Girls Make Graves made the case for their distinction as one of Seattle's most intriguing young bands. On the rarely played "Bring It On Golden Pond," from this year's "Good Health" album, drummer Nick Dewitt fired off piston-sure beats as guitarists J Clark and Nathan Thelen twisted their lines together like ivy.

"Speakers Push the Air" and "Liquid Courage" saw the five-piece group starting to stretch its arrangements just a bit beyond their recorded versions.

Except for singer Andrea Zollo, who carries herself on stage more like an animated speechmaker than a pouncing rocker, the Pretty Girls thrashed about as if their joints had become rubber bands.

The Long Winters, meanwhile, were obviously having fun playing cuts from their debut, "The Worst You Can Do Is Harm," even though those songs are filled with melancholy.

It may be the writing and recording of that material that's the tough part. Once the album is complete, the pain's transcended -- and what's left is a batch of literate songs to play in the intersection on a sunny afternoon.