View more photos in the “Nightranger: Stripped Down” slideshow. 

There were no half-naked groupies stumbling into the gutter with flasks full of Jack Daniel’s, or lanky rocker boys with too much eyeliner begging us to check out their band, but the fervent, fist-pumping motley crews (pun intended) that flocked to a closed-off part of Sunset Boulevard during the second annual Sunset Strip Music Festival this past weekend did recall a time when the area was a flurry of inebriated flirtation, shameless self-promotion and music-fueled mayhem. Well, almost. From its swingin’-’60s swell to its ’80s metal heyday, the street and the clubs in this area have fed off each other like no place else, and though this history was referenced, we wanted even more. Ozzy Osbourne, who was also roasted on Thursday at the House of Blues, headlined Saturday night, his show touted as a “return to the Strip” (his first U.S. tour in 1970 with Black Sabbath included a five-night stand at the Whisky a Go Go ). The Prince of Darkness’ show was a devil-horny hullabaloo (even if his sudsy, soapy-water fun gun — which literally soaked hundreds in the crowd — was probably best left for a hot day at Ozzfest). But he’s from the U.K. How about a Cali native headliner next time? Instead of Korn, would’ve loved to have seen Poison or, really, any of their pouty peers. Unwritten Law? Now X (who have a live album recorded there) would have really marked the spot. Despite the studded belt–heavy crowd, the strip’s riotous cock-rockin’ past had to share too much time with its cocky-rap (Shwayze, Kottonmouth Kings) present for our taste. We hear the daylight portion had some intoxicating moments, though. Regardless, we will say that the still-evolving event did do what it set out to: put a celebratory spotlight on the iconic street and, of course, the clubs that make it rock.

Swanky hotels and eateries have become as much a part of the Strip’s complexion as blaring music spots, and though the Andaz Hotel is one of the fanciest on the bustling blocks, its rock & roll pedigree (it’s formerly the Hyatt, where Led Zep and the Stones stayed) is undisputed. The Virgin preparty for SSMF Friday night, held on its rooftop, saw the requisite B-list actors, corporate schmoozers, snazzy sponsored cocktails and elegant edibles, but none of it competed with the venue’s breathtaking view. A rumored acoustic set from Chris Cornell (who had to cancel his fest performance the next day) probably would have, but the appearance was only for a contest winner meet-and-greet that had him posing — and looking very deer in the headlights — with a procession of admirers on a tiny stage outside. A party down the street at On The Rox above The Roxy was more our speed. Street Drum CorpsBobby Alt and bro Adam Alt put together a punkish set of Sinatra-heavy standards, and Little Radio’s Ana Calderon provided the sassy ’60s DJ sounds for the “Martini Fling.” Though spiky-haired Alt looks like a cute, nonjunkie version of Sid Vicious, his “My Way” was surprisingly mellow, which was really most fitting for this soiree. A blast from the past was also had outside the Rox, hanging with Strip familiars like Roxy main man (and fest co-producer) Nic Adler, Dayle Gloria (a.k.a. “the queen”), Happenin’ Harry (of the Cat Club’s famed jam nights) and door queen Stephanie Mata (showing off her new finger tat: a tiny stream of tears, which she busts out and places under her eye every time some schlep gives her a sob story about why she should let ’em in the club). Genius.

If the Roxy represented the old-meets-new musical aesthetic (which is really what keeps our favorite rock club on the street pumping every night), the old-old-school essence of the Strip was found just down the block at the historic (if dismal these days) Whisky a Go Go. The two-decades-old Doors tribute band Wild Child have been a staple at the club since before it was (mostly) pay-to-play. It was arguably the best Doors tribute in the country when it began, and we wondered if Jim Morrison look-alike/sound-alike David Brock could still pull off the enigmatic swagger and croons now that he’s a 40-something. Jim died at 27, after all. The answer was yes, if you squint real hard and pretend you’re watching one of the lizard king’s more subdued and lubed (on ludes) sets. You won’t get scandalous theatrics from this guy these days, but you will get a solid-sounding selection of Doors classics, in which the whole band does a fine job, especially the ever-essential keyboardist. Think we might even prefer this faux version over that Fuel guy fronting Manzarek and co. Maybe not the Ian Astbury version, though.

Nostalgia played a part in Nightranger’s most memorable SSMF ’09 moment as well, but this time it was no re-creation. We got to watch a real guitar god (a couple actually) in the boxy Viper Room Saturday night just after Ozzy concluded, and the performance was an undeniable ace in the hole. Former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley, that is. Frehley, promoting his first new album in 20 years, Anomaly, did new ones and some KISS songs, too, much to the delight of the fans. The place was packed and we truly feared passing out near the end of his blistering, solo-licious set. The air was hairspray thick. Decided we had to stay ’til the end after we noticed Slash (hanging out with comedian George Lopez [?]) punching his celly by the stage. Sure enough, the fuzzy one tweeted he’d be jamming with Ace on “Whiskey and Gin,” and surer enough, the duet served as the show’s thunderous climax. Almost as entertaining as Ace’s staggering guitar work? His comments about his estranged band, which he dissed a few times, including a crack about current axman Tommy Thayer’s costume. “He’s got lightning bolts on his,” said Frehley, who was wearing them himself. “Wonder where he got that fuckin’ idea?” Ace’s new one is out now, and if the cosmic crunchers we heard at the Viper are any indication, the collection is as out of this world as his old persona.

LA Weekly