The LA Weekly Detour Festival is in its second year and the atmosphere is still divine. Maybe it’s because Detour is the best bargain in town; attendees pay about $50 to see four stages of well-chosen bands in a large area of downtown Los Angeles that never feels claustrophobic.This year’s show was by no means a carbon copy of last year’s debut, which starred hard rockers Queens of the Stone Age and rappers Blackalicious. In 2007, it was all about rock remixedâ€šÃ„Ã®guitar music pumped up with dance beats and spacey keyboards.
Veteran dance rockers Kinky did it best. Last year, the band made the streets move (the pavement literally bounced along with the crowd) at a Los Angeles street fair held on the same day as Detour. This year, someone at LA Weekly made the wise decision to snatch up the band, so a much larger crowd ascended beyond dancing to jumping clear above the concrete with arms raised. Kinky took this all in stride, perhaps accustomed to being fabulous. Mid-song, Gilberto Cerezo was even able to kick away a balloon that drifted onstageâ€šÃ„Ã®on beat.
The Teddybears thrilled as well, although the mood of their set stayed mellow. The crowd grooved along while a series of guest singers, including hip hop/reggae fusion master Red Fox, brought the lyrics. Although the performance relied somewhat on a gimmick (band members wear huge bear heads), it was also downright funky. What’s more, a helpful blogger who got a glimpse behind the heads reported that they are not a troupe that needs to hide due to aesthetic deficiencies, but instead are “white hot. European dirty hot.” I believe her.
Los Angeles natives Moving Units also got the crowd moving. Singer Blake Miller came out looking as L.A. as he could be in a too-cool-for-this-club hooded leather jacket. The band proceeded to drench the crowd with bass-driven beats and angst-filled backing tracks laden with moody synthesizer melodies and soundscapes.
Still, the newest danceable charmers on the block were Scissors for Lefty. This merry crew took the stage in gold paint and boxer shorts, then proceeded to steal hearts. Singer Bryan Garza unleashed a voice bigger than himself while the band romped around the stage, chatted with the audience, and writhed on the floor as demanded by each particular tune. The crowed was small at the early hour of their set but butts were shaking from start to finish, undulating with particular enthusiasm during “Ghetto Ways,” the band’s most heavily promoted song.
In fact, Scissors for Lefty were the most delightful surprise of this year’s festival, so we made sure to catch up with the band and get some answers about their set. Bassist Robby Garza explained that the band’s coat of gold paint (which he was still wearing long after his set was done) was a last-minute plan inspired by street performers. Bryan Garza added with a grin, “It’s fun to act upon your impulses.”
Of course, some bands made do without keyboards, overtly danceable ditties or body paint. The Noisettes produced an exuberant, bluesy punk that cut its own niche in the festival. Though singer Shingai Shoniwa sometimes neglected her duties as bassist, her vocals couldn’t be beat. She hit every note in her girlish yet powerful voice even as she hung off of scaffolding, leapt from the drum riser and performed kung fu kicksâ€šÃ„Ã®all in bare feet and a gold lame diaper.
Some minor disappointments, of course, are to be anticipated at any festival with four active stages. Much was expected of The Aliens, featuring former members of The Beta Band, but their set felt uncomfortable. The band seemed intent on creating a futuristic psychedelic euphoria, but never got there. The frontman’s long Weird Al Yankovic hair and sunglasses made him look outdated and the band’s guitar-driven, classic rock sound never quite meshed with their extra-spacey keyboard and synthesizer, despite the skill of all the musicians. Most of the audience (Beta Band fans?) stood in patient stillness, though two collegiate co-eds rolled up mid-set and began vigorously shimmy-shaking and tapping their left feet in unison.
Justice also failed to fully capture the audience. Night was falling and the crowd was swelling when they took the stage, but the set fell into several slumps, most notably when the two relentlessly returned to a sample of the played-out 20 Fingers song “Short Tort Man.” Fortunately, just when things looked quite bleak, Justice regained a firm hold on the audience with Daft Punk samples and finished their set with some semblance of dignity intact.
All in all, Detour rockedâ€šÃ„Ã®again. It wasn’t perfect. The cheesesteaks were kind of limp, but the frozen yogurt was sublime. Big-time closers Bloc Party were anticlimactic, but small-time closers Turbonegro were hilarious. Detour made for a feel-good, golden Saturday in Los Angeles without the pretense of the city’s Sunset Junction Festival or the expense and Survivor-style commitment required by Coachella.