This year’s Sunset Junction Street Fair may have generated the least excitement we’ve ever seen thanks not only to the $20 cover (not donation!) but also due to the lack of a big-buzz nostalgic rock act, a regular part of recent Junctions past (New York Dolls, The Cramps, The Buzzcocks, X). Of course, those who didn’t know the worst-kept secret in town — that The Germs would play Sunday afternoon — missed a manimalistic melee that, if you squinted your eyes real hard, captured the raw thrill of L.A.’s old music scene. At least that’s how it was when we saw the band before their fair set at The Echo Saturday night. As everyone knows by now, the lineup features original members Pat Smear, Don Bolles and Lorna Doom, fronted by actor Shane West, who played Darby Crash in the biopic about the band. The guy does a decent job channeling Crash, uglying himself up just enough, burning stuff onstage and screeching and spazzing out with psychotic abandon (the Jack Daniel’s he was swigging all night surely helped the caustic cause). Even with saucy Bijou Phillips (who played Doom) writhing behind him onstage in bright-red camel-toe leggings, West kept the attention of the crowd at the Echo, and that’s a feat. Phillips’ moves and sexy getup were actually pretty demure compared to the gals dancing onstage later downstairs at The Echoplex for Club Suicide. The monthly dance orgy features Suicide Girls go-go dancers, videos and DJ Amanda Jones’ seductive Euro-electro mixes, and though it was hosting the “official” Sunset Junction after-party, the crowd was more horny gothster than the hip/homo/hood hodgepodge seen earlier at the fair.
Speaking of which, though the streets of Sunset and Santa Monica were anything but jammed most of the day Saturday (Sunset east of Sanborn was, in fact, more like a ghost town … more on that in a sec), there were some consistently hot pockets in front of the blaring Bates stage (during Broken Social Scene and Cold War Kids) and at the Sanborn stage (Kim Hill and Antibalas funked shit up!), not to mention our fave spot, in front of our pals’/local party peeps’ Shakespeare & Aurelito’s I&I Soundsystem reggae-pumping ice cream truck, also where live painting took place (Kofie’s portrait of Isaac Hayes was magic). More Black Moses mojo was conjured at the almost-hidden-away Hoover stage, where Hayes footage was projected on a giant screen before funky fill-in Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave) closed the evening with a gorgeous and heartfelt set of his classics (“Hold On, I’m Comin’,” “Knock on Wood”) and Hayes hits. Too bad “Shaft” was cut off due to curfew concerns. And sorry, South Park fans, he didn’t do Chef’s “Chocolate Salty Balls.”
Sunday, parasol-carrying boho babes in maxi dresses, scruffy Ray-Ban–rockin’ dudes and shirtless boy’s boys (we didn’t, however, see one pair of chaps, or even a drag queen the entire weekend!) got lubed at the Jiffy Lube turned sake and beer bar, while wound-up kiddies stuffed their faces with greasy grub as they swarmed in and out of vendor and marketing booths promoting everything from blockbuster movies (?) to safe sex to Barack Obama (whose mug might have been more prevalent than both Che Guevara and Bob Marley on this year’s merch). Musical highlights included a breezy twang-bang set by Beachwood Sparks (which actually features Nightranger’s own cuz Aaron Sperske on drums) at the Bates stage and the Black Keys’ bluesy jams, which proved more popular than we anticipated, leaving us to (barely) hear but not see ’em while chillin’ at El Cid, which (like the I&I truck) is always one of our perches. A fierce electro-funk experience from Mohawked mama J*Davey revved up the crowd at Sanborn stage on Sunday, and Kinky’s riff-fueled dance sounds were muy caliente there later, making everyone within earshot move giddily and joyfully, even those who bumped and grinded unintentionally in the bottleneck-ish walkway by the stage. In all, Nightranger gives the music of Sunset Junction 2008 a thumbs-up for diversity, high energy and good vibes (even without the requisite old-school acts and some technical problems occurring throughout the weekend). Too bad that wasn’t the case for the fair as a whole, especially when it came to the local businesses.
DON’T LET GO
Those who entered or exited on the Eastside at the Edgecliffe gate may have been puzzled about the two blocks of dead space (what some were saying recalled the apocalyptic flick I Am Legend) that preceded the action beginning at Sanborn. Last year, as attendees may recall, the fair was rerouted, and that stretch of Sunset was used as a parking lot, which essentially shut out most of the Junction’s best known and most beloved businesses, including Pull My Daisy, Good restaurant and Casbah Café, to name a few. Obviously, the proprietors weren’t too happy about that (they lost tons of money), so for the past year, they’ve been meeting with Eric Garcetti’s offices and the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance, trying to make sure they would be included in the ’08 festivities. Apparently, they were promised they would be, though they weren’t notified of the strange setup until a few weeks before. Daisy’s Sarah Dale tells us she offered to organize an arts fair or nonprofit booth lineup to help liven up the bare blocks, but her calls weren’t returned. The “bike valet” the area was rumored to be used for didn’t materialize, and what we got was depressing nothingness on streets that are as much a partof Sunset Junction’s heart and soul as the Sanborn courtyard. “It’s not just about losing money,” Dale told us. “It’s about not being invited to your own celebration.” We’ll just have to wait and see what happens next year, but we hear lawyers are already being talked to. Great music performances aside, the discourse, coupled with the escalating cover charges (what’s it gonna be next year, $25?) and continued questions about just where all that money ends, up is pushing the li’l fair we grew up with further and further away from why it started in the first place — to unify the community. Right now it seems that much unity is being generated by people who are mobilizing against the festival, which doesn’t bode well.