Photo by Kristin Henry
Mos Def didn't need to prance around the stage to engage the audience. His approach was more poetic than pandering.

Mos Def, Devotchka move audiences at CityArts Fest

By Dusty Henry

At the Crocodile's Back Bar during CityArts Festival, Megan Grandall of the Seattle dream-pop outfit Lemolo sat on the corner stage and held a well-loved sunburst guitar with a scuffed pink heart sticker near the base of the neck.

“I think this is the most romantic song I’ve ever heard,” Grandall said.

Grandall then commenced finger picking the opening chords to Motopony’s “Wait For Me.” Motopony’s lead vocalist and songwriter Daniel Blue watched her from the opposite corner of the stage, beaming. Every few beats, drummer Kendra Cox would hit a floor tom -- the only drum she brought -- with a broken mallet to contrast Grandall’s delicate plucking and comforting vocals.

Lemolo’s performance was part of Seattle Show Gal’s semi-acoustic showcase which featured members of Lemolo, Motopony, Ravenna Woods and Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band. They all shared one stage at the same time and covered each other’s songs and played their own originals. Though set up a bit haphazard and humble in nature, this serene moment of Lemolo playing “Wait For Me” was one of the many highlights -– an amazing feat considering Devotchka would play a set later that day with the Seattle Rock Orchestra a few blocks down at The Moore Theater.

CityArts Festival, which took place Oct. 17-20, boasted over 100 bands in venues all across the Downtown and Capitol Hill areas of Seattle. Wristband holders found access to most all shows, however individual tickets to shows were also made available.

Aside from Lemolo’s quiet serenade, Mos Def -- who also goes by Yasiin Bey these days -- and company enraptured their audience in a completely different way at the Showbox Sodo on Thurs Oct. 18. Before the “mighty Mos Def,” local rap groups took the stage to get everyone hyped. Rapper Larry Hawkins commanded the stage, backed only by a DJ and sometimes inviting friends to rap with him.

Wearing a white dress shirt, black skinny tie, and shades; Hawkins exemplified style. While he had some issues with accidentally dropping the microphone a couple times while strutting back and forth on stage, the audience moved with his flow the entire time.

His final winning-over-the-audience moment came with a spirited endorsement of Referendum 74 and a call for marriage equality.

The Physics, however, really set things off, with the audience singing and rapping along with nearly every song. MCs Thig Natural and Monk Wordsmith stood near the edge of the stage the entire time, shaking hands with the people in the front row as they rapped while a guitarist wailed licks on a white Fender Stratocaster behind them.

Before Mos Def made his way to the stage, the Showbox stage crew set out pots of orchids all around the DJ booths. It’s a bit uncommon for hip hop shows to feature flowers, but Mos Def is not a common hip hop artist. Wearing all white with a white golf hat and drenched in red stage lights, Mos Def approached the stage grinning.

Mos Def isn’t the type of artist who runs around the stage frantically trying to get everyone riled up. During many of the songs he would stay in the same spot, moving mostly just his arms to articulate the lyrics. His approach was more poetic than pandering; more Kerouac than Kanye.

At one point he spit the first verse of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” reinterpreting the rhythms a cappella. While the song may be somewhat sacred in hip hop, Mos Def was able to give it its due respect.

As one of the last acts of CityArts Festival, Devotchka closed everything out with regality. With the acoustics of The Moore Theater and with the Seattle Rock Orchestra in tow, the Denver, Colo. group’s European-influenced sound was even more grandiose than usual.

Devotchka played several tracks that they had featured on the “Little Miss Sunshine” soundtrack, where the band first received widespread attention. A rousing rendition of “The Enemy Guns” featured trilling violins clashing with lead singer Nick Urata’s distorted electric guitar.

During swinging songs like the Spanish-sounding “We’re Leaving,” audience members danced in the aisles and even in the balconies. If it were not a seated show, the whole performance would have likely turned into a giant dance party instead of a “night at the opera” type event.

For the last encore, the group and orchestra performed “How It Ends.” The slow-burning song started with the wobble of a keyboard and swirled into a rising piano melody.

“You already know how this will end,” Urata sang on the chorus, elongating every syllable. The string arrangements were comparable to a dense movie score (fitting that this song was also featured on “Little Miss Sunshine”). The melancholic song gave a sense of finality to the festival.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.