Electric Harmonies, High Energy at Block Party 2013

Photo by Vincent Ta
Photo by Vincent Ta

Crowds ebbing and flowing, multicolored lights igniting Pierce lawn, the smell of three different tents selling Korean BBQ wafting through the evening air –– Block Party 2013 was nothing short of memorable. The event began with an impressive array of student organizations and a packed crowd for Senryu Taiko’s performance at the Bell Tower, setting a high-energy tone for the evening that continued throughout the night. It was, as always, a welcome beginning to the new school year, and what a way to start.

Cher Lloyd

The small group of Block Party early birds were met with a humming crescendo of electric guitar before Cher Lloyd took the stage — a stomping and bouncing mix of hair, smiles and midriff. She opened with her first single “Swagger Jagger,” which had the mix of electro-pop choruses and pop-rap verses for which Lloyd is known. The song benefitted in its live iteration with the guitar and synth having noticeable presences, more so than in her records, and such improvements persisted throughout her entire act. The audience was quite still, especially so at the beginning, but did let out some modest cheering at the end of her songs.

Toward the beginning of her set, Lloyd took a moment to address the audience directly. She acknowledged that most of her music is geared toward a younger crowd, and in regard to performing for college students, she said, “I see so many cool faces out there … This is the first time I’ve done something like this. So this is pretty daunting.” Before continuing her set, she promised, “I intend to impress you today.”

The crowd continued to steadily grow as her act went on, and while there was barely any full-on dancing as Lloyd might have hoped, there was nonetheless a considerable amount of bobbing heads and warm cheers at the end of each song. Lloyd made sure to thank and bless those who were enthusiastic enough to shout out “I love you!” or just cheer extra loudly. Her set included “I Wish,” which was just released Sept. 24, as well as one of her older singles, “Oath” (a song even she considered cheesy).

Lloyd ended with her most popular hit, “Want U Back.” The crowd was most excited for the last song, with more raised hands and a flurry of cellphones whipped out to capture the performance. Aside from the radio hit’s infectious tune, Lloyd’s passionate lyrics during the chorus and her powerful stage presence captured the song’s attitude and upbeat vibe. Cher Lloyd intended to impress us at Block Party, and with her constant sincerity and genuine energy, she definitely did.

Schoolboy Q

Sex, ladies and weed. Schoolboy Q knows what’s up. At least, that’s how he appealed to the packed crowd of hip-hop fans that stretched down Pierce lawn. As a one-man act, Schoolboy Q opened his set with “Sacrilegious,” a track from his most recent album, “Habits & Contradictions.” Despite being more of an underground artist in relation to the other acts, Schoolboy Q’s popularity partially stems from his notable work with big artists, including Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown. On the verge of releasing his highly anticipated major album, “Oxymoron,” he was able to successfully work his audience of new listeners and ready fans by directing them to clap and jump to the beat at the beginning of his performance –– and the audience was more than willing to comply.

After running through “Oxy Music,” the sun began to set over the Block Party stage, and the sharp, bitter tang of ganja rose from the audience. Schoolboy Q addressed the wafting clouds of smoke by saying, “The police, teachers, they all know everybody be smoking weed.” Contact highs aside, his set maintained a good amount of energy — except when he paused his song and held the microphone out to the audience for them to sing along. Only the fans packed at the center of the stage knew his lyrics, and the rest of the audience bobbed their heads in companionable silence until Schoolboy Q resumed the track. One or two times is forgivable, but this happened several times throughout his set, suggesting that most of the audience knew Schoolboy Q through his singles, not his larger body of work.

In any case, “Collard Greens” — his most popular song — drew the biggest reaction from the crowd, as students were familiar enough with the track to reciprocate his fervent lyrics. Schoolboy Q’s set served as the only source of hip-hop on the night’s diverse lineup, but whether they were completely satisfied is open to interpretation. Given that his upcoming album is signed to the same label as Lamar, we can only hope that Schoolboy Q follows Lamar’s same upward trajectory in the music world. For now, we can say it was a solid performance — and perhaps this time next year, Schoolboy Q will be performing in front of an audience that can reciprocate his lyrics beyond a much-lauded single.

Young the Giant

When was the last time an indie artist headlined Block Party? Long enough ago that when I tried searching past lineups on Google, it simply shrugged. We’re a campus with a considerable hip-hop and rap fanbase, which means that Young the Giant had to party hard, run their crowd and put on an amazing show. And despite the ache of a crowd that had been on its feet for hours, Young the Giant’s performance blasted across campus as a testament to just how much UCR can dance to solid, alternative beats.

Despite losing a portion of the audience after Schoolboy Q’s set, Young the Giant brought back the energy with their opening song, “Teachers” — a new track from their upcoming album, unofficially dubbed “Young the Giant 2.” Sameer Gadhia paired his lingering vocals with a series of fluid dance moves a la Thom Yorke. And who can forget the masterful lightwork that accompanied one of the band’s well-known singles, “Cough Syrup?” As pink, blue and white lights strobed across the field, Young the Giant’s audience ignited into a frenzy of sways, jumps and hand-waving, singing loud enough to compete with Gadhia’s impassioned vocals. Half the crowd realized, “Oh, I’ve heard this band before.” The other half was cheering too loud to care.

Throughout the set, Gadhia picked up phones from the stage-side fans and recorded his bandmates during their songs, which lent an intimately interactive edge to their performance — and left several people with some insane Block Party footage. The crowd shrank as the band performed mellow tracks punctuated by extra doses of synth, including “Anagram,” another new track. By the time the band performed their final song, radio hit “My Body,” the audience had pressed forward to experience the band’s final send-off of the night — and the energy was electric. Arms waving, bodies jumping, lights erupting into a kaleidoscope of colors that pulsed above the crowd.

As Gadhia said, “That was a good one,” and it definitely was. It was a good performance, a solid lineup and a great beginning to a new year. Throughout the night, the audience swayed to drumbeats, sang familiar lyrics and celebrated because, as “My Body’s” chorus proclaims, “I won’t quit / ‘Cause I want more.”

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