Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann
Sunset Strip Music Festival :: 08.26.10-08.28.10 :: House of Blues & Street Fest :: West Hollywood, CA
The Third Annual Sunset Strip Music Festival took place last weekend and our SoCal field operative L. Paul Mann was there to catch the opening night festivities and the all-day fest on Saturday.
Opening Night, Thursday, August 26
Rock stars came out in force on August 26 to the Hollywood House of Blues to pay tribute to Slash on opening night of this year's Sunset Strip Music Festival. The iconic veteran rock guitarist received a fitting tribute from some well-known peers and city officials alike. The evening began with a red carpet reception for some of Hollywood's rock royalty, then the veteran musicians lingered in the maze of private upstairs rooms, sipping expensive cocktails and eating gourmet food. Below fans with VIP passes for the three-day Sunset Strip Music Festival were treated to free food and an open bar.
|Slash by L. Paul Mann|
After rock stars and fans alike were well lubricated, the presentation began. Personal tributes came in the form of video salutes from entertainers currently on tour, including last year's honoree Ozzy Osbourne. Live tributes came from Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx, Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister and Alice In Chains' Jerry Cantrell. Then, the mayor and city council of West Hollywood presented Slash with a plaque, making it officially Slash Day in the hair band capital of the world.
In his humble acceptance speech Slash told an anecdote about his first visit to the legendary Sunset Strip club scene. When he was 17, Slash decided to go to the Rainbow Club with his friend Steven Adler (who later became his bandmate in Guns N Roses). It was ladies night at the nightclub and a suspicious doorman spotted Slash's fake ID, although Adler managed to get in. A saddened Slash went home and solicited the help of his mother, an accomplished costume designer. Together, they concocted a drag outfit that fooled the doorman and got him into a Sunset Strip club for the first but definitely not the last time. Now the entire strip is honoring the legendary guitar player, who perhaps personifies the local music scene more than any other living musician today.
After the presentation, the doors were open to the general public for a free concert on a first come, first serve basis. The Head Cat played their first song joined by Slash for an ear piercing jam. Head Cat includes bassist-lead vocalist Lemmy, and his trademark primal scream growl was probably the first of this kind of guttural sound to became widely popular with hardcore metal bands over the years. Slim Jim Phantom (The Stray Cats), the most well known rockabilly drummer in America, kept the rhythm. Rounding out the trio is guitar virtuoso Danny B. Harvey (Lonesome Spurs, The Rockats), who gave Slash a run for his money in a blistering guitar war during the first song.
This new psychobilly band found their groove after Slash departed for another late night surprise gig at The Whiskey. With Lemmy's snarling voice and fanatical bass playing at the center, the other two more traditional rockabilly wizards exploded into a frenzy of American classic cover songs. The band has actually been getting together to jam for nearly a decade and released their first studio album in 2006, but their live performance is what makes Head Cat one of the most special groups to ever play this iconic American sound. It was truly a fitting opening for the bawdy atmosphere of the third annual Sunset Strip Music Festival.
Saturday, August 28 - Festival Day
Four blocks along West Hollywood's Sunset Strip were shut down on this beautiful Saturday afternoon. The infamous zone, where the vast majority of legendary rock clubs in the city are cloistered, became a veritable hair band heaven as the day wore on. With over 50 acts, playing simultaneously on two outdoor stages and in the five nightclubs in the area, it was a hard rock fan's dream. Although the music covered many genres from heavy metal to indie, the predominant theme was certainly a celebration of hair bands. The clubs featured short sets by aspiring new indie rock bands from across the country, while the main stages showcased more established groups. The carefully selected deluge of bands mainly shared one attribute enduring themselves to West Hollywood fans: Stage presence. There were no shoe staring emo musicians with their backs to the crowd to be seen anywhere on the Strip. But there were plenty of in your face performers ready to rock.
The opening act on the outdoor West Stage personified the ultimate hair band image, a sort of real life Spinal Tap type group. Steel Panther initially come off as a parody of 80s hair bands with their hilarious antics. For instance, bassist Travis Haley (Lexxi Foxxx), took time between songs to admire his long locks in a vanity mirror while applying copious amounts of hair spray. But aside from their comedic schtick, this band can really rock. The veteran rockers who make up the group, which formed almost a decade ago, have a real pedigree, playing in former well known groups like LA Guns. They currently have a recurring gig every Monday night at the Key Club. The band was well received and provided a perfect warm up to the acts yet to come.
Over on the East Stage, a great new indie band, Saint Motel, got things rolling with a lively enthusiasm, sans campy costumes and make up. With a great sound and unbridled energy, the band performed a frenetic set for the early bird crowd.
In the meantime, the action was already in full swing inside the iconic clubs. The poster child of metal clubs, The Whiskey, was a dark and dreary transition from the sunny street. Smelling a bit like a Midwest truck stop, the fragrance of sweat and beer hung in the dank air. It was somehow the perfect backdrop for the band which exploded onstage upon my arrival. The heavy metal band Yeti, appearing in a mist of fog and strobe lights, launched into a full frontal speed metal assault that Metallica would be impressed by.
Emerging back outside into the blinding afternoon sun, Neon Trees had taken to the East Stage. Although lead singer Tyler Glen sports a Mohawk these days, his persona is that of a larger than life lead singer of a classic hair band. Originally, a California group that became a pet project of The Killers when they moved to Provo, Utah, this band can rock and put on a dramatic performance at the same time.
Just down the street, in the tiny Cat Club, Lady Sinatra was also playing an explosive set of intense rock music. The tiny stage seemed to melt into the packed, sweaty crowd as fans tried to sway to the music. Emerging back outside, a glittering Semi Precious Weapons had just replaced Neon Trees on the East Stage. The New York glam band turned in a performance that was the epitome of West Hollywood. Sort of a cross between Iggy Pop and The New York Dolls, this group could also rock hard. Led by campy tranny Justin Trantner, the band offers their own brand of racy glam rock. Trantner's antics included an onstage change of clothes, including a new pair of sparklingly high heels; spraying the crowd with a bottle of champagne; and inviting the fans onstage a la M.I.A. at the end of the performance. The band played a frenzied rock beat led by guitarist Stevy Pyne, who was reminiscent in look and style to AC/DC guitarist Angus Young. The band definitely captured the spirit of the day.
As the sun began to set, the highlight of the festival was set to take place on the West Stage. On what was officially declared Slash Day in West Hollywood, the city introduced the man of the hour with his new band of veteran rockers. As soon as the iconic musician slapped on his first guitar, the band was off to the races. Playing some of their new material interspersed with Guns N' Roses classics, the group came off as the ultimate hair band. Led by lead vocalist Myles Kennedy (a new voice with an old soul), the group played the classic songs flawlessly. They probably sounded better playing the old tunes than the reunited Guns N' Roses, who recently got together for the first time in five years to play the Sturgis Rock Festival and a series of disastrous European dates. By the time the band finished their blistering set, thousands of people had crowded the streets. During the encore, a humble Slash thanked everyone for assembling in his honor. Then, he introduced Fergie of Black Eyed Peas fame as his special guest. They are apparently working on a new video together. Appearing in classic rocker chick garb, she proceeded to steal the show during the bands 20-minute encore. The voluptuous singer pranced about the stage, wailing, flailing and caressing the band members one by one. One of the most consummate performers in rock music today, she seemed to make personal eye contact with nearly everyone in the audience. When she sang the Heart classic "Barracuda" the crowd ignited in a screaming frenzy.
While all this excitement was going on, rapper/movie star Common was having less success on the East Stage. Technical problems forced the popular singer to ditch some of his back-up musicians and cut his set short, much to the disappointment of a younger and more fashion conscious crowd gathered at that end of the Strip. Rapper Kid Cudi had more success with his minimalist set with just a backing DJ. However, his huge dance club hits fell a bit flat with the toned down approach. His new material, so popular with electronic dance fans, is actually more reminiscent of Moby than hip hop music. He might do well to follow the former electronic music guru and develop a live band for his shows.
Headliner Smashing Pumpkins hit the West Stage just after dark facing a huge crowd. Sounding like the Pumpkins of old, the band marched straight into a wall of ear piercing sound sure to please fans of the original lineup. Punctuated by Billy Corgan's trademark wail and piercing screams, his new armada of musicians performed admirably. Young drummer Mike Byrne offered an infusion of new blood into the Pumpkins' sound, and even did a classic hair band drum solo, perhaps the only one of the day.
As the music came to a close on the main stages, many fans headed home. But hardcore music lovers stayed on to enjoy more indie bands performing in the clubs well into the next morning. It was a scene right out of, well, Hollywood.
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