Matson on Music
Block Party 2012 day one wrap: Keyboard Kid, Allen Stone, Nacho Picasso
The VERA stage crowd awaiting Keyboard Kid; photos by Bettina Hansen / Seattle Times
"I see you rocking with me!"
Keyboard Kid shouted from the small VERA Project stage Friday night to a bunch of 19-year-old guys in the front row, going wild like soccer hooligans.
"I'm happy to be sharing this music with you. This that Bruce Lee swag."
With the press of a button, glitchy, instrumental hip-hop kicked its way out of the speakers and the crowd moshed like it was punk rock, chanting "Swag! Swag! Swag!" — the American rap version of "Oi! Oi! Oi!"
Keyboard Kid played electronic fare from the UK and plenty of his own "cloud rap" productions, blending songs together. And while it initially seemed like a risky move at a rock festival for him to take the stage armed with nothing but a few computers — there was no rapping, dancing or anything resembling a rock show, just Keyboard Kid and co-deejay Darwin — the audience dived into the music, jumping and waving neon swords in the air, going "ohhhhhh!" whenever a new beat came on.
Basically, it was a rave. And it felt healthy to see a rap audience* stop caring about being cool or one-upping anybody for a minute and just let it all hang out. In accordance with Keyboard Kid's "based" philosophy of hip-hop, a hippie-ish, genre-crossing viewpoint that borders on a lifestyle, it was about the music.
After it was done, Block Party split into two sections for local artists Nacho Picasso and Allen Stone.
Stone controlled a massive main stage crowd with positive lyrics and Stevie Wonder-style singing, nailing high notes and wafting neo-soul music over Pike Street. His music was smooth and perfectly equalized through the giant speakers, inspiring a warm feeling. Parents, kids, aunts and uncles two-stepped to the beat.
Meanwhile, Picasso washed the VERA Stage in a black wave of villainous hip-hop. A small cult rapped every word to his obscene sex brags, vibing to the synthesizer beats of his producers, Blue Sky Black Death. His set included the heart-hurting line of the night: "I been a bad guy / since my dad died."
The masses were clearly with Stone. But the smaller VERA crowd was more into it.
If you stood on Pike Street back from the main stage so you could also see the VERA stage down 11th Avenue, it was like having an angel on your right shoulder and a devil on your left.
Other musical highlights from day one: Youth Lagoon, from Boise, Idaho, whose piano ballads came with digital drums and ribcage-rattling bass, and Father John Misty and Kung Foo Grip, reviewed here.
*"Rap audience" because there were lots of actual rappers in the crowd