[See also Timothy Norris' slideshow “Sunset Strip Music Festival 2010”]
Whether you're 20, 40 or 60 years old, grew up in Los Angeles or hopped right off the bus ala Axl Rose in “Welcome to the Jungle,” if you're a music fan, the Sunset Strip's legacy and continuing eminence as a rock n' roll nucleus is and has been an undeniable draw. It may have lost some luster over years, but in the last few, it's definitely come to recapture the old magic, albeit in a new way–sidewalk flier deluges have been replaced by “tweet crawls,” and thanks in part to more upscale crowds and destinations, patrons generally seem more concerned with parking than cruising.
The 3rd annual Sunset Strip Music Fest, which took over the Strip this past weekend (with street closures and stages on Saturday), served to punctuate the “Strip is back” message while honoring its past, something we never really felt it pulled off completely in the two years past. Showcasing a band as big as Smashing Pumpkins obviously got more bodies out (Ozzy Osbourne, who played last year, might have a bigger fanbase, but most of them had gone to Ozzfest that Summer already), and other bands who played this year (hip-hoppers Common, Kid Kudi, Travie McCoy, glamsters Semi-Precious Weapons and Steel Panther) attracted a mixed crowd. A tally of baggy vs. skinny jeans, saw skinny win by a few muffin-tops. The stud and grommet quotient was also the highest we've seen anywhere since 1989.
Though the Pumpkins headlining slot had some slow moments, it was for the most part a visceral and compelling presentation with enough post-grunge oldies/goodies to please the streets. Even so, Slash's set just before was the centerpiece offering of the event, and not only because of the obvious significance–Guns n' Roses exploded on these very streets and its famed guitarist practically grew up at The Roxy and The Rainbow.
In a world where rock music -or at least the dirty, sleazy stuff- is less than booming, Slash has managed to parlay his signature bad boy look and playing style into something more than nostalgic noodle god. Being the go-to guy for guest riff-stints, benefit jams, and video games has paid off and somewhere down the line, he became a true icon.
The new material he showcased Saturday with singer Myles Kennedy had some nice bluesy moments, but for the most part it felt pretty dated. Luckily, Kennedy more than held his own on G-n-R's material and the crowds went as wild for “Night Train,” “Sweet Child of Mine,” and “Rocket Queen” as they might have had raving Mr. Rose himself been crooning.
There is no denying that Fergie, who joined the band near the middle of the set, also had the pipes to tackle G-n-R (“Paradise City”) and her take on Heart's “Barracuda” is always sizzling and robust, but Miss Lady Lumps was more spazzer than swagger on stage, all stripper moves, cartwheels –yes, cartwheels– and knee-high axe fellatios. To top it off she was wearing a silly studded bustier and up-the-ass jean shorts combo (aka your “rock chick Halloween costume”). Her bootie-shaking with Black Eyed Peas is nuanced and subdued by comparison.
While the street performances have been SSMF's big draw the past three years, the club sets have offered an important component to the event as well.
It is inside sweaty holes like the Viper Room and The Whisky where the real magic has always taken place after all. This past weekend, we felt The Cat Club captured the much-celebrated debauchery and grit of the strip best, not with big banner bands but with the loud and gloriously loose local longtime LA favorites, especially on Saturday: Rattlesnake Shake, The Binges, No Thanks, Casper and The Bad Spirits, and The Royal Highness (which saw a reunion of sorts for Chelsea Smiles mates Todd Youth and Christian Martucci).
SSMF's success this year was about the music, but all the random amusements surely helped: food truck fleets, a beer garden, Shamrock Tattoo offering ink specials (not to mention a DJ and a live acoustic set by Fear's Lee Ving inside the shop!) and some pretty cool merch too.
Our faves sort of sum up the disparate alchemy that make the Strip “the Strip“: on one corner a homeless man hawked “I Heart LA” stickers (the heart was an anatomically correct one) and across the street, the t-shirt line “Dead Clubs” made a killing with tees brandishing the logos of the Strip's famed –and now long gone- -hotspots: Gazzarri's, The Starwood, and The Coconut Teazer. We never went to the first two, but we were a door girl for a few years at the latter. With events like SSMF keeping The Strip vital and fresh, here's hoping the current clubs on the street never get a RIP tee.