Balcony listeners at Sub Pop's SPF30 festival. 

Image: Stefan Milne

SPF30 at Alki
The lineup at SPF30—Sub Pop’s free Alki Beach festival—could’ve bested any single day at Capitol Hill Block Party. They even had the same headliner (Father John Misty). That’s a testament not only to the label’s draw but to its persisting relevance and sonic diversity. Shabazz Palaces, METZ, Clipping, and Beach House held down grand sets, along with the occasional throwback, like when label stalwarts Mudhoney blasted through songs as frontman Mark Arm slugged rosé from the bottle and mocked the festival: “Call me when you turn 60.”

Mickalene Thomas and Martha Friedman at Henry Art Gallery
While neither Thomas nor Friedman is a Seattle artist, showing these two exhibits simultaneously was an act of curatorial finesse, which was lovely since Thomas’s show was itself an act of curation. Both interrogated the female gaze: one (Thomas) presenting black women in photographic splendor, the other (Friedman) rendering a male body in broken sculptural clumps.

Car Seat Headrest at the Showbox
Car Seat Headrest opened its first of two shows at the Showbox with a cover of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by Smashing Pumpkins. The band finished with a cover of “Hey Ya!” Oh, and the original songs—which continue to dredge up from adolescent angst and longing something innately, intensely human—those were good, too.

Blood Wedding at Equinox Studios
The Williams Project, a forward-thinking local theater company, put on a three-night staging of Fredrico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding in August, which included a preshow wedding feast (paella, pintxo, and sangria, naturally) and a production that hopped between various parts of Georgetown’s Equinox Studios. Instead of a hot mess, the company achieved weird, riveting, modernist splendor.  

Quenton Baker’s Ballast at the Frye Art Museum
Local poet Quenton Baker took senate documents about a successful 1841 slave revolt, blew them up onto the walls of the Frye, then painted over swaths of text to create massive yet minimalist poems. Out of a page of text maybe five words remain, drops of language against a dark slate. The results are both excavations of the slaves’ stories buried in the text and also monoliths of loss, each with a terrible gravity.

Gramma Reading Series #2
The second Gramma Reading Series event (from the now defunct poetry press) had three major poets with Seattle connections—Anastacia-Reneé, Kaveh Akbar, and Tyehimba Jess—take the stage. All fared well. But Jess’s presentation—part PowerPoint, part reading—displayed such verbal virtuosity, crowns of sonnets you can read in any direction, that Reneé rather doubled over with delight.

Monsterwatch at Conor Byrne Pub
After solid sets by Tres Leches and Porter Ray and Stas Thee Boss and Lisa Prank at Ballard’s Freakout Fest, I wandered into the Conor Byrne and saw the best show of the night. Monsterwatch’s recordings have left me a little cold so far, but live they submit you to a sonic crucible. This show saw crowd-surfers gleefully ricocheting off of chandeliers and the frontman climbing on top of a doorway, pausing to condemn toxic masculinity, then walking the bar for some flashy, slashing guitar bits. Moshing to acrid punk is tradition in this city but with bands like Monsterwatch it remains, at least, a vital one. 

Sadie and Prospect
I ended up watching Sadie and Prospect—two local, feature length standouts from this year’s SIFF lineup—in a row one night this spring. The films are as different as could be. Sadie recounts a thirteen-year-old girl’s coming of age in a culture of pandemic violence. Prospect is a sci-fi western, which finds mystical visual poetry and a smidge of dark comedy, in the peninsula’s Hoh rainforest. Back to back, though, they made compelling argument for the quality of locally produced cinema.

Porgy and Bess
While the Gershwin’s story and music might be eternal, Seattle Opera’s production was resolutely of the moment. The company hosted a public forum about race and ran contextualizing articles in its program to situate the opera in history. But the performances situated it—emotionally, resonantly—right on your nerve endings.   

Parisalexa at Upstream
I had already heard Parisalexa—a young, local R&B singer—before Upstream on her EP Bloom (which The Seattle Times picked, along with her FLEXA EP, as the best local album of the year, via its new critics poll). But her records pale beside her live performances. In person, her singing has such precise clarity that, even if you aren't an automatic contemporary R&B convert, she'll win you over. In fact, precise clarity doesn't go far enough: Her voice is grace. 

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