[View more photos of the good, the fun and the grotesque in Timothy Norris' slideshow "Sunset Junction 2010: Day One with Ghostland Observatory, Bad Brains and more."]
All of Silverlake was out in full force Sunday afternoon in the blistering heat for the Sunset Junction Festival.
Through the throngs of black and red stilt-walking ballerinas, half-naked revelers screaming joyful obscenities at their friends, and the young families carrying newly won neon plush toys, all the way at the end of Sunset Blvd was the Fold Stage. The Fold books shows at the Silverlake Lounge, the Bootleg Theater, and the Bordello and so when it comes to the local scene, they've got a good handle on what's going on.
When we got there, one of LA's best country bands, Leslie and the Badgers' had just begun their lovely ballad "Old Timers." Dressed in a white shirt and jeans, Leslie Stevens looked positively angelic as she sang about lost love, men that had done her wrong and, most importantly of all, about Los Angeles herself.
In the shade of the travel store, crowds of people sat in the shade, drank beer, and pretended they were on their back porches listening to Stevens' honeyed voice as it blended with jangling guitars and violinist Charlene Wong's inspired fiddling that accompanied it.
Red Cortez took the stage next and pulled out all the stops for this performance. Instead of their usual four piece rock outfit, they had wrangled themselves a horn section for the occasion. Dressed in all black, lead singer Harley Prechtel-Cortez wiggled and shook his head so violently a few of us were a little worried it would come loose, but the strong, gravelly voice that emmanated from it would've made Springsteen jealous. Red Cortez specializes in giant anthemic ballads the kind that hold back until the last minute and then break giant waves of sound over your head.
The Deadly Syndrome, who were waiting in the wings, were not to be outdone. Opening with the tinkling notes of a glockenspiel, their first number erupted into a four piece drum solo, where the guitarists and bassist slung their instruments behind them and pounded away at the cymbals. Lead singer Chris Richard's warbly voice, reminiscent of Beirut's Zachary Condon but distinctly his own, blended beautifully with the piano as he strutted up and down the stage like a general waving his drumsticks in the air. With big bright melodies and tender hooks, The Deadly Syndrome wooed their way into the crowds' heart making even the cops forget their beat for a moment and stand in the shade to listen.
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After that set we hustled through the vendors selling fried delights and golden trinkets to catch Motown's own Mayer Hawthorne at the Hoover Stage. Taking a page from the soul singers of old, everyone on that stage was dressed immaculately in three-piece suits despite the oppressive heat. Clad in a grey suit, Hawthorne glided on stage letting his high falsetto and retro-inspired grooves sink into everyone's hips. No one (not even the giant-muscled, pierced dudes in leather chaps and vicious looking tattoos) was immune to Hawthorne's vibe. Smokey Robinson would have been proud.
Before the set was over, we were on the move to get a spot somewhere near the stage so we might be able to see Edward Shape and the Magnetic Zeros. No such luck. Half an hour before LA's favorite hippie collective was scheduled to perform a massive crowd had assembled before the main stage. It's been almost a year since the Magnetic Zeros dropped their debut, and the fame of their live show has spread far and wide. So wide that my photographer was told by security that the barricades between the crowd and the photographers might not hold. It was madness. The Zeros went on forty minutes after they were scheduled to, but the restless crowd was immediately placated by the opening notes of "40 Day Dream" which was greeted with huge whoops of applause.
Brightly colored beach balls and balloons bounced over the crowd as lead singer Alex Ebert stared at the gathering in wonder. He might well. Packed solidly like sardines, we all sang and danced to their debut album as one unit. It was like dancing in a giant blob with foreign arms and legs everywhere. As the final notes faded into the night sky and the masses went home happy and slightly inebriated, few were left with doubt about the strength or the vibrancy of LA's music scene.