Words by: Greg Caruso | Images by: Dominic Russo/5th Year LLC
Detour Festival 2008 :: 10.04.08 :: Downtown Los Angeles, CA
A rainy forecast was no deterrent to thousands of Angelenos as they descended upon the streets of downtown for the third annual Detour Festival. Sponsored by the L.A. Weekly, this year's event brought together many acts from not only the local and surrounding cities, but all over the world. Stages were erected at four points surrounding City Hall, with miscellaneous vendors splashed all over 1st, Main, Spring and Temple Streets.
|K. Gundred - Grand Ole Party :: Detour '08|
Afternoons – 1:55-2:30 – City Hall Stage
Detour's first really solid act of the day was Afternoons. Drenched in poppy chords and hooks, they seemed like a much happier version of Arcade Fire, if you could actually let those words out with a straight face. The band features members of L.A. based acts Irving and Sea Wolf, with the excellent addition of one Claire McKeown, whose bounding voice shined throughout their set.
Grand Ole Party – 2:55-3:40 – Triforum Stage
Based out of San Diego, CA via Santa Cruz, this trio has a sound that's easily classifiable as pure indie-rock. With Kristen Gundred taking double duty on vocals and drums, however, it puts them slightly above the curve. Her infectious voice, consistent beats and overall attitude on stage kept us raptly attentive. Reaching out mainly from their debut, Humanimals, which was produced by Blake Sennett of Rilo Kiley fame, the group had hipsters bopping about for much of their 45-minute set.
Datarock – 4:05-4:55 – Triforum Stage
Donning their usual red sweatsuits, Datarock bounded on stage ready to bring their nerdy electro-rock to L.A. for the eleventh time this year. A bit skeptical at first, we were quite won over by how musically efficient the band of Norwegians were, especially Ketil Mosnes, who bounced back and forth between keys, bongos and saxophone, all the while still holding up his bargain on partial vocals and bass. Jumping around to songs like "Computer Love Camp" and "Sex Me Up," you begin to think back to the '80s films some of their lyrics mention, and you just can't help but laugh. It's good to know they're not going to leave references like those in the dirt on their next effort, either - "Molly," a new song they debuted this set is, of course, about Molly Ringwald. The band closed out their set with their hit "Fa-Fa-Fa," and pulled out all the stops by extending the song by a few more danceable minutes.
Bitter:Sweet – 4:55-5:45 – Hall of Justice Stage
As one of the day's most surprising acts, Bitter:Sweet played with a deluge of musical proficiency. With styles ranging from trip-hop to acid jazz to samba, they came off as a very up-beat version of Portishead, complete with their own sensuous singer-composer, Shana Halligan. Based out of Los Angeles, the band is essentially a duo, with Kiran Shahani accompanying Halligan. Onstage this day, they brought a very loungy atmosphere to the streets. A large lamp and table were next to the gorgeous Halligan, who was decked out in an awesome red dress, along with a vast number of musicians on a variety of instruments, which helped round out a very distinct sound that should most definitely be heard.
|K. Shahani - Bitter:Sweet :: Detour '08|
Gogol Bordello - 6:30-8:30 – Triforum Stage
At this point in time, there's no denying the fact that Gogol Bordello steals a show, entirely. Known for their wild antics and constant audience participation, this is why they're so big on the festival scene. I'm fairly sure they've played every major one around the globe. The scene was no different at this year's Detour, but is that lack of difference a good thing? Some would say most definitely, others, been there done that. Granted, the crowd flocked to them and hooted and danced to the two-hour-plus set, and had a glorious time doing it. Seeing the crew's activities onstage is always delightful and leaves everyone wondering, "How do they have THAT much energy?"
Hercules and Love Affair – 6:15-7:15 - Hall of Justice Stage
As a part of DFA Records, this outfit is a perfect match for James Murphy's label. Hercules being the brainchild of NYC DJ Andy Butler, he has brought together a variety of artists to form tripped out dance music for the senses with a certain '70s flair. Included in these talents are Antony Hegarty of Antony & The Johnsons (who does not tour with the band), Kim Ann Foxman and Nomi Ruiz. The band performed a sonically proficient set that was soaked in electronica and beefed up by an added horn section, which gave their sound the perfect punch to the face for a crowd that was there to do nothing but dance and be seduced by the bodily movements of foxy Nomi (who was clad in nothing but a brassiere, shorts and boots). Playing as the sun went down, the stage lighting started to seep out of a slumbering state and into the forefront as the band began playing its hit "Blind." The real surprise of the set, which drove the crowd wild, was the unexpected cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." With Foxman and a gyrating Ruiz trading vocals, the funky bass and terse horns backing them, it proved to be a rousing rendition.
Cut Copy – 7:45-8:45 - Hall of Justice Stage
Sadly, the most anticipated band for me was the most lackluster of them all. Coming on late, this Australian trio's sophomore effort, A Ghost in Colours, was quite played up here in L.A., as were the few live shows they'd performed here. It goes to show where anticipation can lead you sometimes. Playing the majority of their new album, it seemed like they were very much going by the book, at times just standing around stoically. Maybe it was because of their delay in getting on (no reason was given) or maybe it was just the band having an off night. The only time the crowd really started moving was during "Lights and Music," and even then no one really seemed to be that into it. Hopefully next time, maybe at a club, the Aussies will bring a bit more love.
|Nomi Ruiz - Hercules and Love Affair|
Adam Freeland - 7:30-9:00 – DJ Stage
This year's DJ area was placed perfectly, right at the entrance of City Hall. As you walked up its famed steps, the music of whatever DJ was on the decks at the time pulsated louder and louder in your ears. With speakers placed perfectly around the four corners of City Hall plaza, the sound echoed pristinely around the arched stone pillars. Throughout the day, this area was our pit stop in between bands. We heard Kid Lightning, Para One and Adam Freeland. Freeland, the best out of them all, had the kids in a frenzy as he mixed and mashed together dance music of the past twenty years in ways that had everyone going nuts. On our way out we heard that the evening's closing DJs, The Bloody Beetroots, were THE act to hear spin, but we were too entrenched at Mars Volta to make it over.
Peanut Butter Wolf – 7:50-8:30 – City Hall Stage
By and large, it was a sad night for Peanut Butter Wolf. With a screen behind him and a projector above, the plan seemed to be to mix songs together live with video accompaniment. As we arrived it was well on its way, with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" segueing into the Jackson 5's "A-B-C." People around us chirped about how awesome it was seeing N.W.A. on the screen and hear Kraftwerk on the speakers. We felt we were in for a treat as Smokey Robinson came on, but then off, on and then off again. The music was still going, but the visuals were gone. Much to PBW's chagrin, he announced that there were technical problems and that it was really all about the music after all. We agreed. Kind of. Seeing the DJ distraught as his songs were spinning, and seeing the heated looks and mumbles between he and whatever technician's Faux pas it may have been, left us feeling that we should leave this set alone and hopefully check it out one day in all its possible glory.
The Mars Volta – 9:15-11:45 – City Hall Stage
Intensity in ten cities, all on one stage no less. Vicious abandon. Together, but not really. Synced and dialed in completely, but you really wouldn't think of it that way. That's how I felt seeing The Mars Volta for the first time. The amount of disarray and confusion that I witnessed took a minute to sink in. Between the blinding lights and the off-beats of so many instruments at once it was a bit tough to handle, yet still, I was more than captivated. Friends of mine fled, as did many others, but at the same time, many more were running inbound, desperate to get closer to what I ultimately couldn't call anything else but brilliance.
|The Mars Volta :: Detour '08|
For the uneducated, The Mars Volta is a "prog-rock" band out of Los Angeles. Formed out of the now defunct band At The Drive-In, its core members are guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala. Over the course of eight years, the band has released four albums, the most recent being supposedly cursed (feel free to research, it's quite entertaining), and all of them bask in some tale of hardship. Despite these facts, the two band leaders have found themselves recording and performing with a somewhat steady cast of musicians, and never seem to keep their sound or songs exactly the same.
This show had MV performing songs off of all four releases in their own epic fashion, with most selections extending way past their album running time. Bixler-Zavala's voice is a combination of the heavy metal crooners of the '80s mixed with Robert Plant. How the man sustains his high notes, night after night, is what really makes me drop my jaw on what a gifted performer he truly is. Rodríguez-López, the group's chief musical arranger-producer, spirals around onstage like a man possessed, all the while maintaining his tones perfectly. In a show where all hell seems to be breaking loose onstage, a moment of compassion came about when there was an actual break between one of their marathon-esque songs. Upon seeing the chaos break out in the mosh pit, Bixler-Zavala stated, "Take care of yourselves out there. There are a lot of you, and not many of the yellow jacketed security guards." It seems despite the hell that's being raised onstage, the band is well aware of the impact they have and the responsibilities that come with stirring these kind of energies.
Coming away from The Mars Volta, we felt that in terms of performance and energy, this band is something that needs to be seen to be believed. With as many musicians as there were onstage, with all the blending they put they're sounds through, another performance of theirs will be on my calendar, but one with their real fans and not a festival audience. My friends and I want to "get" them, but I think it's gonna take a little bit more time.
The Mars Volta's set consisted of: Drunkship, Ilyena, New Song, Wax Viscera, Cygnus, Ouroboros, The Widow, Mecca, Goliath.
By and large, this was the worst of L.A. Weekly's three years of opening up the streets for people to have a good time, eat, drink and most of all, dance and commiserate. Despite it being generally easy to get alcohol and food, Golden Voice, the L.A. Weekly's partner in this endeavor, implemented an "event card" purchase system, which basically did away with any cash advances via pre-purchased cards. To most it was outlandish, especially at the end of the day when trying to get one's money back. However, for some it was easier since it meant never really having to pull out your wallet.
The Detour Festival has and always will be a great idea for L.A., but this year's band list was sub-par, and I believe that was a factor in the lackluster attendance. Though there were no real bad schedule conflicts, there were lulls where one wanted for places to go and artists to see. Of course, one can just lie on the grass and enjoy the day, but you can do that at any of the many parks in L.A. If there's anything that Detour may need in the future, it's loosely "more and better" everything. That goes for the bands and activities around them.
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