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The Sunset Strip Music Festival, which started as a cluster of shows at the clubs on the strip in 2008, has grown by leaps and bounds into a full fledged, much anticipated yearly event like Bonnaroo or Coachella minus the camping. The 5th annual SSMF took place between August 16th and 18th and as in years past, it featured many different musical acts on various stages spanning different genres, including Marilyn Manson, Bad Religion, Offspring and Black Label Society. Each year the SSMF chooses a different icon of the strip to honor, and in one of its most appropriate choices yet, The Doors were picked as this year’s honorees. The Doors were the early pioneers of the whole Sunset Strip concert experience so this seemed long over due.
All photos by Owen Ela
Thursday August 16th’s kick off ceremony at the House of Blues paid tribute to The Doors with an award being presented to Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger by Marilyn Manson. Then Manzarek and Krieger jammed on some Door’s songs with Matt Sorum (The Cult, Guns N’ Roses) on drums and various guest vocalists including Emily Armstrong (Dead Sara), Mark McGrath (Sugar Ray), and Linda Perry (4 Non-Blonds). Doors members jamming with various artists seemed to be the theme of this year’s SSMF, with the two Door’s members popping up all over the place during the 3 day festival.
On Friday August 17th, X at The Roxy provided The Doors appearance for the evening with Ray Manzarek as their guest keyboardist. Manzarek discovered the band at The Whisky-a-Go-Go in the late 70’s, and he reminisced on this during the speech that ended X’s set. The story was that it took Manzarek a minute to recognize the cover of his own band’s song “Soul kitchen” because it was played at “1,000 miles an hour.” He loved the band so much after that performance he went on to produce their first album, the appropriately titled Los Angeles released in 1980. On Friday fans got to hear Los Angeles in its entirety along with a selection of X’s older material.
While X was busy being epic at the Roxy, SSMF fans who came out Friday also had the option of seeing Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA playing the Key Club with a full live band. RZA played to a rabid audience, during a performance that could have almost been mistaken for a cannabis lovers meeting.
And yet another option for Friday festival attendees was Hank Williams III, playing his mix of metal and country songs, at The House of Blues. This eclectic combination of artists is what makes SSMF such a great thing. Hearing the term “Sunset Strip” often makes people think of the hey day of glam rock in the 80’s but there is so much more to Los Angeles musically and SSMF helps make that clear.
The biggie for SSMF attendees, of course, was the Saturday Street Festival featuring three out door stages and tons of bands playing at the clubs. The 3rd outdoor stage was a new addition this year; it was a bit smaller than the two main stages and was placed just outside of the Roxy. It would literally be impossible to catch every act playing that day, not to mention the Jack Daniels Experience, a little exhibit on the history of JD, and The Gibson booth where fans could play around on various guitars listening to themselves with headphones. With so many options for entertainment certainly no one at SSMF had time to get bored. Even the heat, which was much more stifling than in years past, didn’t stop this from being one of the biggest SSMF’s yet.
Dead Sara is a fairly new act but they managed to snag the opening spot on the main outdoor stage thanks to the huge buzz surrounding them right now. The sudden success of their break out single “Weatherman,” and the fact that they are super energetic live, has also earned them a write up in Rolling Stone and an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. It was an interesting contrast to see the next big thing open up for a bunch of veterans who have their spot in rock history already secured.
After starting almost an hour late Black Label Society churned out a run-of-the0mill performance that was somewhat disappointing after the long wait. It wasn’t that they played badly; it was just that it lacked enthusiasm. It didn’t help that Zakk Wylde spent nearly half the set playing a decent, but meandering Jimi Hendrix-esque solo instead of playing a great BLS song like “Blackened Waters,” which was noticeably absent from the set. One highlight was the opening song “Crazy Horse” from their latest album Order of the Black where Zakk Wylde came out wearing a huge, white Indian head-dress. Hits “Suicide Messiah” and “Still Born” sounded decent but the major highlight was Robby Krieger coming out for the encore to play “Roadhouse Blues” along with the band. BLS bassist John “JD” DeServio took over vocal duties for the song, sounding eerily like Jim Morrison.
Bad Religion, on the other hand, hit the stage quickly and was in full form with their minimalist production and extremely tight sound, which led to crowd surfing, and moshing despite the heat. To paraphrase lead singer Greg Graffin, being his usual out-spoken self, “This is when we get to play, during the gritty part of the day, where all you in the pit get really disgusting and sweaty. We don’t have a big production like some of the bands who get to come out later and be pretty when it’s dark.” They mainly stuck to the faster, older side of their catalog with songs like “Suffer,” “I Want to Conquer the World” and “Were Only Gonna Die…(From our Own Arrogance).” Also songs like “You” and “No Control” were a special treat for fans because they aren’t played live as often as some of their other material. Graffin explained to the crowd that they were “playing a bunch of old shit” because they had spent the last 6 weeks stuck in the studio working on new material. The closer, of course, with their big radio hit “Infected” which had the entire audience singing along, not just the die-hard fans.
In contrast to all the rock n’ roll and punk on the west stage, the east stage had the likes of hip hoppers De La Soul, sounding as fresh and current as ever, and Steve Aoki. An electic mix of metal heads, Goths and raver types checked out Aoki’s electronic dance music, whose set was peppered with guest appearances, by the likes of Travis Barker, Will.i.am, and Lil’ Jon.
Back on the west stage, the crowd was thoroughly warmed up by the time The Offspring hit the stage as lead singer Dexter Holland pointed out at the beginning of their set “this crowd looks like its ready to go ape shit.” It was also finally getting dark and cooling off so this probably helped the crowd’s enthusiasm. The Offspring started strong with faster hit songs “All I Want” and “Come Out and Play” then lost the crowd a bit with lesser known material from new album Days Go By like “Diving by Zero” and the title track, which were decent but didn’t have the same impact. It seemed that Offspring wasn’t quite as comfortable with the new material that hadn’t been performed as much. The set picked back up though with “Bad Habit,” always a crowd favorite because every one gets to shout obscenities during the break down. Holland’s voice sounded a little flat at first but finally seemed to warm up about this point. A highlight was definitely “Gotta Get Away”, one of the bands lesser known hits from the Smash album. Half the audience seemed unfamiliar with the tune but it was performed excellently by the band. Of course the crowd knew all the words to “Pretty Fly for A White Guy” which was also played very tight. The closer was their hit “Self Esteem.”
A big black curtain was then dropped down to cover the stage, so that the mystique of Marilyn Manson’s stage set up wasn’t ruined. Finally the curtain dropped and Manson opened with an extra heavy version of “Hey Cruel World” from his latest album Born Villain then proceeded to play mainly his hits throughout the years like “Disposable Teens,” “The Dope Show” and “Rock is Dead.” Manson seemed to think he couldn’t mention drugs too many times despite most of the audience’s lack of enthusiasm for the subject. At one point he asked the crowd if they were on narcotics and they just stared back at him blankly rather than cheering. It seemed many attendees were just watching out of morbid curiosity rather than actual interest in Manson’s music, or his drug use, which seem closely linked. This didn’t stop the crowd from watching with rapt attention the entire time though, even if it was just to see if he’d make it through the set. A highlight was definitely “No Reflection” the 1st single from his latest album, as Manson seemed to have a bit more enthusiasm for his new material than his old staples. “Pistol Whipped,” another new one also had a certain energy to it and Manson even played guitar while singing it. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” the Eurythmics cover that propelled him into fame was also especially good. It contained an eerie, beautiful quality. Manson usually delivers, even when he is a bit drugged out and his voice is going hoarse, as he was that night, and puts on an entertaining show. Even other musicians at the fest were excited to see him. Dinah Cancer of goth-industrial legends 45 Grave remarked that she was going to jump off stage from her own performance at the Whisky to rush over to see his performance, since his set started 10 minuets before hers ended. A surprise in the middle of the set was when a guest appearance was made by, you guessed it, Doors members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger. Manson did “People are Strange” (of course), “Love me Two Times” where Manson’s ruff, howling voice fit perfectly and “5 to 1” which featured an extra long, awesomely bluesy solo by Krieger. Manson’s well rehearsed band, and the legendary musicians blended together fantastically. After the Doors left the stage, Manson busted out his trusty pulpit with shock symbol and did “Antichrist Superstar” and then closed with, of course, his biggest hit and the one the causal on-lookers in the crowd were waiting for “The Beautiful People.”
If you weren’t already ready to pass out on your face after all that, Steve Aoki’s record label Dim Mak hosted an after party at the Roxy were you could check out PeaceTreaty and Clockwork among others spinning dance music.
Over at the Whisky, Hotel Diablo, backed the house and headlined with their modernized sleaze rock.
Those who wanted to see hip hop quartet Far East Movement were not denied the opportunity despite them missing their slot on the East Stage because of a flight delay on their way home from Japan. They were rescheduled for 12:30 am at the Whisky after Hotel Diablo and played to a packed house. Warren G made a surprise appearance and they did his hit “Regulators.”
Once again SSMF proved that no matter what kind of music you’re into everyone in Los Angeles can get together on having a good time and partying all weekend. We eagerly anticipate next year and what strange combination SSMF will come up with next….
All photos by Owen Ela