2024 Kilby Block Party: Day Two Review

“I don’t feel the heat—I’m like a friggin’ lizard who’s been hibernating all winter.” So said Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch between songs at day two of the 2024 Kilby Block Party on Saturday. As for the rest of us? It’s fair to say we felt the blistering temps, marking a big change from the often-overcast opening day, and requiring nearly hourly sunblock applications and multiple trips to the water stations, all for the love of the music.

Speaking of which, Saturday was a more uneven day than its near-universally excellent predecessor, proving that even the great curators and tastemakers at Kilby Court can fumble once or twice or, in one notable example, can choose an important and beloved band that simply didn’t bring the goods. More on that later.

My day started with the tail end of New Zealand’s Fazerdaze, in a rare appearance as part of their first American tour in six years, and I wish I’d made it for the entire set; they produce shimmery shoegaze at its best. I made it through all of Water From Your Eyes’ afternoon set, an accomplishment not without its struggles. The Brooklyn band opened with a taped noise assault, as if to weed out the faint of constitution before the first proper song. This was, indeed, a harbinger of most of the group’s bludgeoning set, complete with distorted and mostly incomprehensible vocals, which I’ve noticed is a trend these days, because vocal clarity is for squares, I guess? At its best the band conjures Sonic Youth at its most experimental, and can lull its listeners into a kind of hypnosis through sheer repetition. But a little goes a long away.

Next up on my docket was Wisconsin’s Slow Pulp, of whom I was only passingly familiar, and I left the set a fan. Their sound is rooted in scrappy ‘90s indie rock like Velocity Girl, Superdrag and early Built to Spill, all hallowed touchstones, played with two, and sometimes three guitars and led by a singer, in Emily Massey, who can really wail. This was their first festival show of presumably many to come.

Then came a couple of bewildering late afternoon and evening sets, the only extended stretch of Kilby where it seemed like things were going south. I had little patience for Yellow Days, which came across, in the admittedly scant time I gave it, as a swollen and affected ‘70s psych-rock throwback complete, with annoyingly reverbed vocals and an onstage dancer dressed as a TWA flight attendant with a cigarette. Charitably, perhaps I just didn’t get it.

As for Dinosaur Jr., the legendary indie-rock progenitors, hopes were high but quickly dashed through sloppy execution—even by Dinosaur Jr.’s shambolic standards—and audio problems resulting in weird fluctuations in volume, and the occasional disappearance of J. Mascis’ vocals. The shells of great songs were there, and Lou Barlow ferociously attacked his bass as if it owed him money, but this was a mess. In summary, I overheard a fan in a Dinosaur Jr. shirt offer this assessment: “They sound like shit.” He wasn’t wrong.

Any disappointments from the sagging middle of day two were forgotten by the time Belle & Sebastian delivered a jubilant set spanning most of the albums in their storied career of nearly 30 years. Bangers like “Nobody’s Empire” and “So in the Moment” sounded like they beamed in from some dancehall in Ibiza, while early staples like “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” and “Expectations” let Stuart Murdoch’s witty writing take center stage atop more minimalist arrangements.

This was my fourth time seeing Belle & Sebastian, and so I’ve gotten to witness Murdoch’s evolution into the consummate entertainer he presented at Kilby, whether he was dancing on his piano or singing “Piazza, New York Catcher” from the audience, in the stretch of space between the GA and VIP areas. Belle & Sebastian may be a nonet, with much interesting instrumental color, from trumpet to recorder to cello to harmonica, but in some ways it’s the Stuart Murdoch show. Sporting a fedora, he resembled Leonard Cohen and brought a similar patrician panache to the proceedings, especially when calling fans onto the stage to dance through “The Boy With the Arab Strap” and “I Didn’t See it Coming” and then interacting with them onstage, almost like an old-fashioned lounge act. Belle & Sebastian is the best of a legacy band, one that honors its past while moving forward in new directions.

After catching a few songs from Santigold, who looked and sounded excellent (despite some self-consciousness on her part due to the acoustic dynamics of the Lake Stage) in a theatrical show complete with costumed, choreographed dancers, it was on to the dual headliners: Two of singer-songwriter Ben Gibbard’s enduring projects, Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service.

For more than a year, Gibbard and his bands have been playing their seminal 2003 releases Transatlanticism and Give Up in full, in honor of their 20th anniversaries. Both releases have enjoyed a sprawling shelf life and garnered new generations of fans; I overheard one fan saying that they were the soundtrack of her middle school years, which aged me pretty quickly; for me, they came out when I was in college, and the CDs earned endless airplay in my (aging me again) Discman.

By this point, these concerts are note-perfect and down to a science, from the band’s flawless execution to Gibbard’s classic frontman charisma to the lighting array, often bathing the singer in cones of orange, the color mirroring the album’s iconic artwork. The LP’s spacious and slow-building title track was a highlight, with countless fans waving their smartphone flashlights in the air, as was “Passenger Seat,” as a drone flew overhead to capture the scene, perfectly timed to Gibbard’s lyrics about looking upwards at shooting stars or satellites. It was great to see how those synth spasms in “They Looked Like Giants” are created live, while drummer Jason McGerr was the band’s secret weapon, his beats providing a metronomic foundation for the group’s layered excursions.

As for the Postal Service, I’m sorry, reader, but I didn’t take any notes during the set, because how could I interrupt nirvana? From memory, the group, complete with the joyous presence of Jenny Lewis on guitar, vocals, and percussion, performed in all white, with similarly streamlined monotone lighting, again capturing the album’s visual aesthetic. As fine a performance as Death Cab For Cutie gave, Gibbard certainly ordered the tour correctly: The Postal Service was mesmerizing from the first second to last. I associate the LP as a work primarily of synthpop, but it was exciting to watch the variety of live music that flowed seamlessly in and out of Jimmy Tamborello’s electronic arrangements. I teared up easily during the duet “Nothing Better,” and like everybody else, I went bonkers went Gibbard sidled over to the drum kit to hammer away at a couple of tracks.

The Postal Service encored with a beautiful “remix” of “Such Great Heights,” performed in the stripped-down Iron & Wine style, with only Gibbard and Lewis onstage, then sent us home with an electrifying cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” Judging by the rapturous reception for the song, perhaps Kilby could consider some new-wave bands in the future?

See you on day three!

Photography by Natalie Simpson @beehivephotovideo

Read our day one 2024 Kilby Block Party review, and find all our previous coverage of last year’s festival here!

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John Thomason
John Thomasonhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
John Thomason is the managing editor and A&E editor of Boca magazine the sister publication of Salt Lake magazine. In this capacity, he writes for and edits the full stable of publications in the South Florida office, and contributes arts blogs twice weekly on bocamag.com.

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