Street Scene | 08.28 - 08.29 | San Diego

Words by: Jeffrey Terich | Images by: Candice Eley

Street Scene :: 08.28.09 - 08.29.09 :: Downtown San Diego – East Village :: San Diego, CA

Street Scene 2009
Street Scene is far from the largest music festival in Southern California - that honor easily goes to Coachella - but it's most certainly one of the biggest music festivals of its kind, not just on the West Coast, but in the entire country. Marking its 25th year, Street Scene celebrated its anniversary in 2009 much the same way it began, by lining up a diverse array of bands on five stages plunked down into the middle of Downtown San Diego's East Village neighborhood. Though San Diego may not have quite the awe-inspiring skyline of Chicago or New York City, the lights of the city and the glow of the nearby clock tower make an atmospheric halo for the festival. And unlike Chicago or New York City, San Diego promises about a zero percent chance of rainstorms in August.

In spite of the unique and visually dazzling atmosphere of Street Scene, it bears asking why the festival should take place in the hottest month in a town where winter weather is actually pretty damn comfortable. Perhaps there's just something more appealing to the hedonist in all of us about a music festival that happens during the summertime. Clothes come off, dancing comes natural and the beer tastes that much sweeter. And despite each day starting off with a long, slow punishment by a merciless sun, Street Scene provided one big, colorful, rocking way for many of San Diego's residents and visitors to close out the summer.

Having once attended Street Scene in 2003 to see Wilco, the one image that burned deepest into my memory was that of a longhaired man rocking out with a turkey leg in his hand. This year's fest seemed a bit more youth oriented, however, as the lineup of talent ranged from local noise punks Wavves to pop superstars the Black Eyed Peas. Tasting flights of micro-brewed beers and falafel sandwiches, girls in naughty schoolgirl outfits and absurd headgear from "The Radd Hatter" all provided their own entertainment to those who dared indulge themselves, and the musical lineup made 2009 one of the best years in the festival's history. And with so many stages to hit up over two nights trying to hear it all may not have been possible, but the exhausting task of trying to come close sure was fun.

Friday, 08.28

Extra Golden :: 5:00-5:40 p.m. :: Casbah Stage

Gustav Ejstes - Dungen :: Street Scene 2009
Extra Golden, an indie rock band gone global, comprises three American boys and two Kenyan natives, and their cross-pollinated world beat rock seemed the ideal way to kick off the hot evening. The fact that the group's guitarist even announced, "We're Extra Golden from the United States and Kenya," spoke volumes about the blend of sounds the group cooked up on the Casbah Stage. With their upbeat, yet intricate Afro-rock jams, Extra Golden was absolutely vibrant and appeared as if they were having the time of their lives, an enthusiasm that was absolutely infectious. Their singer frequently busted out his own air guitar moves while the other musicians were in mid-jam, and truth be told, it was hard not to follow his lead.

Dungen :: 5:30-6:15 p.m. :: Green Stage

Dungen, a group that often sounds colossal on record, came off a bit understated onstage, hidden behind golden locks of hair and sunglasses. Still, once frontman Gustav Ejstes announced, "We are Dungen... Swedish music," they launched into an energetic set peppered with wild, noisy instrumentals and psychedelic pop tunes from their past three albums. In particular, "Festival" from Ta Det Lugnt sounded magnificent, Ejstes' acoustic guitar strums providing a clean, crisp counterpart to the effects-laden madness of much of their set. Still, the band seemed to express some mild frustration, as Ejstes lamented, "It's hard to play quiet when there's so much music out there," while the band's folky rock did battle with booming bass from nearby stages.

Devendra Banhart :: 5:50-6:35 p.m. :: Fulana Stage

Brent Hinds - Mastodon :: Street Scene 09
When bearded freak-folkie Devendra Banhart took the stage, he immediately took a seat to plink out a thumb piano rendition of "Little Yellow Spider," and that folding chair was exactly where he would spend the entire set, due to a cracked rib. He apologized, though he was still able to pull off a set of great songs, both new and old, ranging from his silly Bar Mitzvah doo-wop love song "Shabop Shalom" to his Santana-esque banger "Carmencita." Between songs he showed off his homemade Modest Mouse t-shirt and demanded, "We need some Astroturf up in this motherfucker," as a cushion against the hard blacktop ground. While the Bay Area singer-songwriter certainly sounded great and maintained a humorous and charismatic stage presence, it would have been ideal to have seen him... you know... move. But that's not necessarily his fault - happy healing Devendra!

Mastodon :: 7:00-8:00 p.m. :: Zarabanda Stage

The sole metal band performing at this year's festival, Mastodon brought some much needed fire and muscle to Street Scene. Guitarist Brent Hinds looked considerably more out of it than his three bandmates, possibly due to a green leafy substance (just speculating...), but still managed not to flub a single note during their epic, monstrous hour-long set. Continuing the precedent set on earlier tour dates, Mastodon ripped through the entirety of their new album Crack the Skye. I'll admit, it would have been cool to hear an older favorite such as "Blood and Thunder" or "March of the Fire Ants," but that's no slight against the group's performance, which was sufficiently badass. In particular, the Southern rock leaning single "Divinations," which saw the formation of the first mosh pit of the evening. In the interest of self-preservation, I chose not to partake of the chaotic human blender before me, but I can certainly appreciate the enthusiasm, if not the bruises. Just next to the band, on the right side of the stage, sat two young children, no older than five-years-old, watching with giant headphones on, next to what I assume was their mother. Something tells me those kids are going to turn out all right.

Deerhunter :: 8:15-9:00 p.m. :: Casbah Stage

Atlanta, GA's Deerhunter proved to be one of the most welcome surprises at the fest this year, not because they aren't an incredible band, but rather that their noisy indie rock seems far better suited to a small, dark club than to a festival stage. And yet, their Street Scene set was much more impressive than the last time I had caught the band. Singer and guitarist Bradford Cox seemed much more at ease onstage, and the group's musicianship was simultaneously tight and fluid. Poor sound and some unplanned squalls of feedback did keep the set from being perfect, but that didn't stop Deerhunter from burning through some amazing versions of tracks like rhythmic rocker "Cryptograms" or the bluesy, psychedelic "Saved by Old Times." During the set, people in the crowd were treated to a visit by what appeared to be some kind of swamp monster. The band didn't seem to notice, which may be all for the best.

Modest Mouse :: 9:40-10:40 p.m. :: Fulana Stage

Calexico :: Street Scene 2009
The overwhelming size of Modest Mouse's crowd was a testament to just how far the Washington band has come in their nearly 15-year career. And unlike Cake's nearby performance of hit after hit (ranging from "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle" to "The Distance"), Modest Mouse stuck primarily to deeper album cuts, save for the two singles "Paper Thin Walls" and "Dashboard." What was most notable about their set was how tight and professional it sounded. These are two words that few would have associated with the band in the '90s, but as they transitioned seamlessly from rockers to ballads, switching from guitars to accordion, violins to banjo and bowed bass, they showed off a versatility and craftsmanship more than a decade in the making. Frontman Isaac Brock still howled like a madman, of course, but for all of their fractured glory, Modest Mouse revealed the sound of a group that had their shit together.

Calexico :: 10:30-11:45 p.m. :: Casbah Stage

Faced with the choice of the spectacle of the Black Eyed Peas or the Southwestern sonic bliss of Calexico, I opted, without hesitation, for the latter. Getting retarded and lovely lady lumps are all fine and good, but Calexico's brand of dusty, spaghetti western Americana is something special and altogether unique. Their performance, much like their consistently broad and consistently good albums, ran a wide gamut, from energetic and cinematic single "Crystal Frontier" to Morricone-meets-mariachi instrumental "Minas de Cobre" to the vibrant, brassy "Across the Wire." The true standouts, however, were the pair of songs they performed with fellow Tucsonian, flamenco singer Salvador Duran, whose Spanish vocals were so operatic and powerful they brought the group's music to a dramatic new level. Though it may not have been the most bombastic or flashy performance of the day, it was clearly one of the best, and a great close to a long and sweltering first day.

Continue reading for Saturday's coverage of Street Scene...


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