No band with a name like Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head can ever be accused of taking themselves too seriously. In a world with a Smashing Pumpkins reunion, prog rock, and God knows how many masturbatory Sonic Youth records, that is hardly a bad thing. NPSH is nothing if not fun.
The laughs began, however, before NPSH took the stage. The Capitol Hill Block Party has a tradition of bringing in local politicians to introduce bands. Sometimes it's great when there is a music fan like King County Councilman Dow Constantine introducing a given band, but in this case it was Constantine’s colleague Larry Gossett who introduced the band, and it was, to say the least, awkward. He was dressed in a long-sleeved dress shirt and tie (I spotted him earlier in a suit but he ditched the jacket before coming to the stage; he should have lost the tie, too). He visibly read from a bio of the band and referred to them as “Natalie Portman’s Skinned Head." I’m also reasonably certain this is the first time he’s ever used the term “electro” as an adjective.
NPSH quickly cut the tension by doing what their live shows promise: creating a dance party.
About half way through the set, one of the three singers introduced the band by saying that he was Matt and his bandmates were Kim, Peter, Bjorn, and John, but collectively Natalie Portman's Shaved Head.
Sure, their songs are juvenile and silly and they bear more than a striking resemblance to Seattle favorites like the Fitness and the United State of Electronica, but that’s the point. The fact that they are silly is irrelevant – so are They Might Be Giants and (sometimes) Fountains of Wayne, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know their way around a catchy pop song. Also like TMBG and FOW, there is an intelligence that is present but is not always overt. Moreover, when was the last time you heard a teenage band drop Curtis Mayfield’s name in a rhyme?
I’ve mentioned here before that NPSH blends elements of every electro-pop band you love. You can hear the beats of Le Tigre and the silliness of Gravy Train!!!! or Junior Senior and the enthusiasm of USE, NPSH’s closest ideological brethren. Even if they are not terribly original (besides, pop music has long history of artists borrowing from their influences), it didn’t matter to the young and energetic crowd. A song about beards received the ultimate validation: two teenage girls standing behind me sang along, knowing every word as if it was today’s number one radio hit.
One of my favorite CHBP moments came in 2005 when the great USE played on the main stage in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday afternoon under temperatures approaching (or maybe even exceeding) 90 degrees. The members of USE through water balloons out in the crowd to an audience desperate to both dance and get some relief from the heat. NPSH mimicked that action by throwing frozen Otter Pops to the crowd. When they ran out of Otter Pops, they through ice cubes.
The band closed with its song “Iceage Babeland” that has the chorus that instructs the crowd to “keep it on the dance floor; otherwise, what’s your booty for?” Isn’t that sage advice that everyone should heed?