Photos | Review | Sunset Strip Music Festival | Hollywood

Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann

Sunset Strip Music Festival :: 08.16.12-08.18.12 :: Hollywood, CA

Full review below photo gallery!

The 2012 Sunset Strip Music Festival attracted the biggest crowds to date for the annual event, now in its fifth year. The infamous strip was shut down for several blocks, in front of some of the most well-known live music clubs in West Hollywood. While dozens of bands are showcased in these clubs during the all day long festival, two large main stages on the street provide a diverse line up of some of the most successful names in pop music. This year’s theme was music icons, The Doors, who began playing on the strip in the 1960's. The Doors became a catalyst for some of the hottest jams that the prestigious festival has ever offered up.

Dead Sara by L. Paul Mann
This year’s event was not without its missteps. For some inexplicable reason, the sound board barricades were not completely installed before the gates were opened. This caused a delay of nearly an hour for the opening act on the main (West) stage, while staff worked frantically in the hot humid midday sun to quickly install the forgotten barrier. With near record temperatures and unusual humidity drifting in from the remnants of a Mexican hurricane, a sweltering early bird crowd was kept waiting to enter the stage area. A sigh of relief could be felt when the sweaty crowd was finally allowed to rush the stage to seek prime viewing spots for the opening act, Dead Sara. One of the most dynamic new bands to emerge from Los Angeles, the group just couldn't seem to cut a break when trying to present their short thirty minute showcase set. Shortly into the delayed set, guitarist Siouxsie Medley broke a string and struggled to get her guitar back in tune during the second song. But this young band with an old soul soldiered on and performed like veteran rockers, not letting the early problems distract them from what they do best which is to play some of the best hard rock jams of any new band touring today. The male rhythm section comprised of bassist Chris Null and drummer Sean Friday laid down a groove in the tradition of classic rockers, Led Zeppelin and The Who. Lead guitarist and backing vocalist Medley, played in a similar vein encompassing all that is best in classic rock. But this band is not chained to the past, creating their own unique sound with a modern edge. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist Emily Armstrong channels the best of the female blues rock tradition, earning comparisons to legendary names like Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Her frenzied performing style brings back memories of a possessed Jim Morrison, especially on this day, with the spirit of The Doors everywhere. The best part about the music of this phenomenal young band is that the multi-level complexity of their music affords them the opportunity to easily expand and create a host of new sounds. Dead Sara may become one of the most prolific new groups to emerge from Los Angeles in years.

Wallpaper by L. Paul Mann
While Dead Sara finished their set, the other main stage (East) and the clubs were already up and running with a diverse line up of music. On the East Stage, opening act The Mowgli's were experiencing equipment problems and the band Far East Movement, scheduled for later in the day were stuck outside the country because of airplane troubles but they made it to the Strip in time to perform a late night set in one of the clubs. The clubs had to shuffle bands around due to scheduling problems. But, even though it became frustrating for music fans who were trying to follow a strict music schedule in order to catch all of their favorite acts, an opportunity arose for them. They could just throw out the schedule and randomly wander the many stages taking in tasty sound bites from the smorgasbord of music available. There were in fact so many diverse acts to choose from that most music fans quickly melted into a euphoric saturation from the many faceted sounds emanating from the festival. The cavernous Key Club, offered up bands on two separate stages. Groups like Betty Moon kept the venue rocking all day. The Roxy, which hasn't changed much since The Doors were playing down the street at The Whiskey in the 1960's, featured some of the most eclectic music of the day. This included a delightful performance by Hip Hop band Wallpaper. Outside of the Roxy there was another small stage with colorful rock bands like the all-girl Cherri Bomb. Meanwhile the legendary Whiskey catered mostly to hard rock and metal fans with an ear splitting line up of veteran head bangers.

Zakk Wylde by L. Paul Mann
The main stages were the focus for the majority of music fans, and crowds quickly grew as the day wore on. Black Label Society brought the most authentic Metal sound to the West Stage. Lead singer Zakk Wylde, emerged onstage wearing a massive feather headdress and led the band into a thunderous opening song, “Crazy Horse”. Wylde, who played guitar for many years for Ozzy Osbourne’s band, has a true Hollywood pedigree, with hand prints in the Hollywood Rock Walk of Fame. The guitarist led his band of accomplished hardcore musicians into a thunderous metal assault on the frenzied sweaty crowd. He sometimes seemed to channel deceased guitarist Randy Rhoads, one of his acknowledged mentors. The band ended their set in a triumphant moment, joined by The Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, for a full Metal version of “Roadhouse Blues”. Next, Bad Religion took the West Stage changing up the sound to a Southern California traditional punk rock mode. Despite the absence of founding guitar member Brett Gurewitz, the other veteran members of the Los Angeles group played a spirited set full of their classic mosh pit inspiring hits songs, like “Sorrow” and “Infected”. Ever since playing their first show when they opened for Social Distortion in 1980, Bad Religion has been delighting fans with raucous live shows. Their performance Saturday also included some lesser known older tracks from their treasure trove of songs such as “Generator”, “You”,”Anesthesia”, and “Sanity”. The band members, who were led by singer Greg Graffin, were in a playful mood and when bass player Jay Bentley accidentally fell on his back, he continued to play for while laying down and flailing his feet into the air. Graffin, beaming widely, would occasionally pretend to stomp on the prone bass player, all the while belting out his lyrics. By the time The Offspring took the West Stage, a huge crowd had swelled in the street below. Although this Orange County punk skater band has been around nearly as long as Bad Religion, their sound is mostly associated with a newer 90's brand of punk, which is popular with the surf/skate world. The band played their over the top punk anthems in an almost cartoon like caricature of party punk music. Led by lead singer Dexter Holland, the band seemed to be savoring the ecstatic crowd surrounding them on the famous street. They played some of their biggest hits like, “Bad Habit” and “Gotta Get Away”, in a frenzied flat out style that had mosh pits boiling. Even the campy “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”, seemed to inspire the enthusiastic crowd to erupt in a sweaty dance fever.

Steve Aoki and Lil Jon by L. Paul Mann
Meanwhile, over on the East Stage, the music started to flow. Young Riverside rapper T. Mills, just off the Vans Warped tour got the dance crowd warmed up before Hip Hop legends De La Soul took the stage. Since their 1989 debut masterpiece album, 3 Feet High and Rising, De La Soul has held a place on the dance floor of every night club that plays dance music. The New York groundbreaking rappers bring dance-frenzy intensity to their live shows, and the crowd at Sunset Strip responded well to the band’s performance. They have evolved over the decades showcasing several distinctive styles of their unique brand of hip hop infused dance music. After their set there was a long pause on the East Stage, with Steve Aoki's closing set coming nearly an hour late. But loyal dance music fans, who had waited packed like sardines near the front of the stage, were rewarded with one of the best performances of the night. The master DJ took the stage silhouetted against a large LED video light show and immediately sent the frenzied crowd into a dance trance. As Aoki exploded to life in the dazzling light show he looked primed and ready for the performance, with a wild glazed expression in his eyes. An extravagant light and laser show began to bombard the stage from building rooftops and lighting platforms. The energy notched up into a new dimension when rapper Lil Jon joined Aoki onstage. These two performers meshed perfectly like two peas in a pod. The crowd went wild as the two performed one of Aoki's favorite concert tricks. They shook up champagne bottles and shot the foamy spray into the crowd. After Lil John departed Aoki selected girls from the crowd and sent them crowd surfing on an inflatable mattress. At least one girls ride ended abruptly when she fell off the traveling mat backwards. A parade of musical guests continued to join Aoki throughout his set, including Travis Barker, from the Black Eyed Peas, and Miss Palmer. The finale of the show featured Aoki diving into a 400 pound cake that was wheeled onto the stage. Other well-known DJ's like Deadmau5 and Skrillex offered up much bigger eye dazzling pyrotechnic performances. But for my money, DJ Steve Aoki still offers up the most personal intense live DJ performance in the EDM world today. His wild acrobatic antics and his ability to seemingly make eye contact with nearly everyone in the crowd, endear him to an adulate audience.

Sunset Strip Music Festival by L. Paul Mann
By the time headliner Marilyn Manson took the West stage, a huge crowd estimated at over 15,000 people, had gathered on the street for his performance. The iconic singer seemed a bit more demure than in years past looking and sounding less like a Goth rock idol and more like a straight forward rock star. Perhaps this was in deference to The Doors theme of the night. He performed classics such as “The Dope Show” and “Mobscene” and some of his covers of bands like the Eurythmics and Depeche Mode. But the highlight of the evening came when he was joined onstage by keyboardist Ray Manzarek and Guitarist Robby Krieger of The Doors. Sadly, drummer John Densmore was nowhere to be seen. He has taken an increasingly low performance profile in recent years, just as Manzarek and Krieger have been on a prolific live touring schedule, even playing across Europe last year. He did join the band at their performance during the 40th anniversary of the Monterey pop festival, in 2007, but has appeared rarely with them since. The two veteran rockers joined Manson on riveting versions of three Doors classics, “People Are Strange”, “Love Me Two Times”, and “Five To One”. In the latter Manson delivered the lyrics in a chilling shrieking trance like style, channeling Morrison's spirit, which hung above the street like a dark unseen cloud. “I don't know if you guys invented Sunset Strip”, an adulate Manson quipped to the pair at the end, “but you pretty much paved it”. Long live The Doors and the Sunset Strip.

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[Published on: 8/29/12]

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