Friday’s diverse Block Party lineup kept fans of all sorts engaged in the show from start to finish in the Carrier Dome.
Saratoga Springs-based Indie-pop band Phantogram kicked off the show in full sonic force. Dressed in black from head to toe, vocalist-keyboardist Sarah Barthel came on stage ready to rock in the most dancetronic way possible. Balancing simple, repeating electric guitar riffs with compelling drum patterns and the requisite ambient synth loops necessary to complete any dance-pop hit, Phantogram quickly won over those in attendance. Although the crowd was still small as students had yet to make their way over from Mayfest, those close to the stage started dancing from the first song with infectious energy, drawing in and riling up those who were initially more hesitant. The band played songs from their whole catalog, including crowd favorites such as Eyelid Movie’s “Mouthful of Diamonds” and Nightlife’s “Don’t Move.”
By the time California indie-rock band Cold War Kids took the stage, the Dome had really started to fill up. In order to cater to a predictably rowdy college crowd, the band intentionally found a happy median of energetic songs from their cult-favorite debut LP "Robbers & Cowards" as well as their two more commercially successful follow-ups. “We have a huge chunk of who we are that is a much softer side that we usually don’t pull out on a night like tonight,” said vocalist-guitarist Nathan Willett.
Throughout the set, Willet’s New Orleans-sounding preachy choir voice offered the perfect artistic accompaniment to the distorted electric guitar plucking of Jonnie Russell. The members took a few improvisational liberties with their songs, such as Loyalty to Loyalty’s “Mexican Dogs,” which ultimately went over seamlessly.
The band put on quite the show, their enthusiasm carrying over throughout. They even found time for a few jokes, telling the crowd that they looked “lovely in neon,” poking fun at the contrast in style between ravers ready to see Kaskade and the types of fans that usually attend their shows. Willet used a short dissonant piano segue to shift from “Passing the Hat” to “We Used to Vacation,” then followed by "Hospital Beds" to end the set.
Willet also said the band is currently recording new music for an EP or possible full-length, for the first time in the comfort of its own studio. “It’s going to give us an opportunity to… have a space that’s in LA that’s entirely ours and is very comfortable and reflects who we are,” Willet said. “It’s hard to find a recording space that embodies who you are so much.”
After a short intermission, it was time for Kaskade, Block Party’s first ever electronic dance music headliner, to perform. He followed the typical live DJ formula of building anticipation with mellow trance-house interludes before shifting to a bass-heavy super-drop, but that didn't prevent him from keeping the crowd active.
Kaskade put the Dome’s high-amplitude speakers to the test by beginning his set with a mouth-watering, ear-rattling bass role. Then just when the drool trickled from the mouths of all the ravers in attendance, the beat dropped, the pit rushed forwarded and everyone moved as one.
With over 5,000 students in attendance, the crowd danced the whole way through Kaskade's performance, which lasted more than two hours. People in the center climbed onto the nearest set of shoulders, while others ventured off to the sides to move around with some high-energy shuffles. Even the top-tier seated areas bobbed up and down frenetically. This year’s Block Party was the first to offer a general admission standing room area. This new introduction was one of many attempts by the University Union to make the show feel as much like a typical rave as possible.
Early in the evening, as students were more invigorated, Kaskade took the opportunity to showcase his mixing abilities through innovative takes on some of the most popular tracks off his 2011 U.S. Dance Chart-topping LP "Fire & Ice," including a break-beat glitch remix of “Turn It Down.” But as the evening went on and students started to tucker out, Kaskade would send a shot of adrenaline coursing through their veins with remixes of some of his contemporaries' biggest house hits, such as Calvin Harris’s “Feel So Close,” and a sleek new adaption of Oasis’s “Wonderwall.”
Throughout the night, Kaskade seemed to deliberately structure his set to tell a story. He strongly appreciates full-length studio albums, having released seven LPs in under a decade –- rare for a dance artist.
“I prefer to work this way as an artist. I think creatively and artistically it lets me spread out and do more,” said Kaskade. “When you buy Pink Floyd’s 'The Wall,' back in the day, you listen to… the rise and fall of the album. You got to listen to the entire record how it’s meant to be listened to.”