[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.”]
Dancing puppets, sexy masseuse referees, Rough Trade salesmen wearing only neon underwear, people handing out free lube and Kashi, strangers and trannies made it memorable–but this Sunset Junction story begins and ends with Ghostland Observatory.
The street fair always includes a randomly assorted music line-up, but last Saturday, the gods of chance cast their benevolent lasers on Sunset Blvd., delivering Ghostland Observatory: Thomas Turner, his glittery Texas flag superhero cape shielding his cubicle of synthesizers, and Aaron Behrens, dancing and singing like some '70s Vegas showman-shaman invoking primordial disco spirits before a live audience.
The chosen course to Ghostland Observatory begins at the Fold Stage with Andy Clockwise teetering atop a speaker during “My Generation.” Honoring the legacy of amped-up rock and roll songs on the subject, Clockwise put extra umph into this number. He descended the speaker to join the audience, but as soon as he crossed the barricade, he was yanked back by the microphone cord like a dog on a leash. Pulling and tugging, he assured with an Australian accent that he had planned this differently. Problem-solving, he dropped the mic and entered the crowd, pushing them closer to the stage. He returned to his microphone, now within reach of their drinks, hats and ladies, serenading and threatening, “I'm the new, I'm the new generation!” The song ended with coordinated claps and the drummer thrusting her arms up in a V.
Clockwise had some moves and Dam-Funk may cap keytar riffs smoothly with devil horns and other cool hand gestures, but Evelyn Champagne King, age 50, grinded all the way to the floor on her guitarist, repeatedly confiding that he was a good lover. She sexy-danced, belting out, “Baby, you make my love come down…” over a beat style that found its genesis in '70s r&b disco, grew through the '80s, and chose not to evolve beyond the '90s–and so endures.
Dam Funk and Pollyn took things from King's era down a few separate paths. Pollyn looked very serious while performing love songs reminiscent of '80s and '90s melodic pop slowed way down. Their rendition of “Tom's Diner” by Suzanne Vega was mellower than the original and turned the song into a gangster cruise down a dark street, where suddenly they pulled out trombones instead of AK-47s.
Dam-Funk, the self-proclaimed leader of modern funk, displayed a different kind of seriousness about his music. He crooned on the spot, “Do you see me smiling? Noo–I'm keeping it true for you, ah yeah…,” soulfully preaching new funk, despite a few sound issues. Dam-Funk handled his sound matters, though, exclaiming “We need everything up in this bitch!”
Ghostland Observatory, on the other hand, doesn't take well to tech issues, and it's frightening to imagine they probably considered canceling during their 45 minute delay. They're serious about the sound and the lights, which were being projected on the palm trees. Something wasn't right but they finally came on, and Turner put the virtuosity in aerobics so Behrens could dance circles around every beat.
Amid “Vibrate,” “Dancing On My Grave,” and “Sad, Sad City,” the guys slid in some new material. It's been a few years now and just about time for another Ghostland record. There was one spooky spoken-word tale that hinged on the delayed invocation, “Listen,” and a couple of the other new ones showed the guys exploring the beauty of Jock Jams, music designed to get the masses riled up for the dance dance revolution as they envision it. Behrens slid, jabbed, kneeled, pushed up his sunglasses, each movement tapping the precise place Turner laid out like a puppeteer. Then “The Man,” as Behrens declared, turned down the volume, forcing an end to the show. Ghostland Observatory disappeared as the lasers faded.
On the way outside the gates, a man attracted a crowd to see him pulling a small skeleton meekly into a strobe light to the tune of a crackly vaudeville song on a box. Was this sight a metaphor? The human need for entertainment as a mortal escape? Or is it music that makes life, even a tragic crawl, that much sweeter? That's what Sunset Junction is all about.