You would probably need a small army to experience every aspect of the Sunset Strip Music Festival that took place from August 26–28, 2010. What started in 2008 as a cluster of shows over several days at the venues around the Sunset Strip has expanded quickly into a full fledged festival that could best be described as South by Southwest meets Lollapalooza.
All photos by Gary Moratz. Video edited by Nathalie Sejean
SSMF jumped from just taking over the clubs on Sunset Strip in 2008 to taking over the entire street in 2009, getting permission from the city of West Hollywood to block off the Strip from San Vicente Blvd. to Doheny Dr. for the first time ever so a stage could be set up there for the day. This was so larger acts could play the festival and bring the crowd to the Strip area rather than to one of the large stadium venues, meeting the festival’s original objective to “promote, preserve and perpetuate the legendary Sunset Strip Music Experience,” Essentially bringing back the almost street-fair spirit of the Strip as it used to be in its heyday of the 1960s through the 1980s, SSMF seeks to once again make it a place where patrons would gather outside and walk from venue to venue, and bar to bar, talking of the latest greatest band or trying to start a band themselves.
Festivities kicked off on Thursday, August 26 at the House of Blues, where tribute was paid to Slash. Each year SSMF chooses people to honor who have “made an impact on the legacy of the Sunset Strip.” It started in 2008 with the owners of the Whisky a Go-Go, Roxy, and Rainbow clubs, and in 2009 it was Ozzy Osbourne. As in years past, famous guest speakers came up and talked about why Slash deserved the honor and what he had done for the Strip. This year’s speakers included Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, and Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains. Lemmy’s new band Head Cat played a rocking set afterward with Slash jumping on stage to join them.
Friday featured events in the 2008 style, with different acts playing at all the major clubs—P.O.D. at The Whisky, Unwritten Law at The Key Club, Kix at the House of Blues and Warner Drive at the Viper Room, among others. People who wanted the full experience could buy 3-day passes for entry into any of these shows, as well as the Thursday ceremony and the street festival on Saturday.
Saturday was the big day, where the Strip was again blocked off as it was in 2009. Bands played in the clubs as well as on two stages in the street, the West outdoor stage near Doheny Dr. in front of The Key Club and the East one closer to San Vincente Blvd. in front of The Whisky. Customers found wide-open doors at Strip businesses such as the medical marijuana shop (prescription required, of course). This gave the event a sense of community that many other corporate-sponsored festivals lack—a sort of farmers’ market and a concert all in one. It was truly amazing to see an area normally crowded with cars containing angry drivers crowded instead with people laughing and enjoying themselves.
Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan brought along his son Jason, wearing a luchador mask presumably to protect his identity. In an interview with radio station KYSR 98.7 FM, Corgan discussed the history of the Strip and how its significance goes beyond the 1980s and Guns ‘n’ Roses, all the way back to bands like The Doors and Love who played there in the 1960s. He also talked about his first show on the Strip at The Whisky in 1991, with Hole as the opening act.
Corgan then discussed the new Pumpkins lineup and album, which both came about in unusual ways. Corgan actually put out a press release asking anyone to send in audition tapes to be part of the new band as a drummer, keyboardist, or bass player, and they actually found a drummer this way. The keyboardist is yet to be determined, but bass duties went to Nicole Florentino, a touring player with the likes of Veruca Salt. The Pumpkins’ new 44-song album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, is currently being released for free track-by-track on their website.
Watch the full interview here:
A club performance highlight was definitely All Hail the Yeti at The Whisky. An up-and-coming local band, they have a unique sound best described as stoner rock meets metalcore, something you haven’t really heard before. There were so many acts we couldn’t possibly do them all justice and describe every performance. Trust us: they were chosen for the festival for a reason.
The West stage was essentially Saturday’s main stage and Hollywood favorites Steel Panther (formerly known as Metal Skool) made for a funny opener. They have been Strip staples for the last several years, with a mix of music and comedy that both celebrates and pokes fun at Hollywood’s hair-metal heyday. They perform covers from the era like Van Halen’s “Panama” as well as originals like “Asian Hooker” and “My Heart Belongs to You but My Cock is Community Property.” Their funny between-song banter includes guitarist Lexxi Foxxx busting out a mirror and can of hair spray as singer Michael Starr gives him a hard time about it. Usually some women are talked into coming up on stage and disrobing in some form or another. It’s all very offensive, but that’s kind of the point.
SSMF also featured many styles of hip-hop artists. Kid Cudi and Common played great sets, proving the Strip caters to many styles above and beyond rock ‘n’ roll. Travie McCoy’s performance of his hit “Billionaire” was especially a crowd-pleaser, as was Common’s tribute to Michael Jackson.
On the main stage Steel Panther transitioned perfectly to Slash, who in April released his first solo album featuring an array of different vocalists from Alanis Morissette to Lemmy. His touring vocalist is Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy, who also sang on two tracks on the album. The touring band played an assortment of songs from Slash’s entire career, including songs from the new record as well as Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, and of course Guns ‘n’ Roses. Some highlights were definitely “Slither” from Velvet Revolver’s 2004 album Contraband, “Starlight” from the new solo album, and “Night Train” and “Rocket Queen” from G’n’R’s classic debut Appetite for Destruction.
For Slash’s grand finale Fergie came strutting out on stage in leather, doing her best version of Sunset Strip sexy. The already packed crowd swelled with excitement as everyone tried to get a little closer to the stage to check out the action as she writhed around Slash provocatively. They performed “Beautiful Dangerous”—her song on Slash’s album—a cover of Heart’s “Barracuda” (proving she can pull off rock ‘n’ roll quite easily, her voice having a Janis Joplin quality to it), and a closing rendition of “Paradise City” where Kennedy had to help fill in the vocal gaps.
It was then time for a beer and bathroom break before Smashing Pumpkins. Between a row of well-used porta-potties and a beer garden that couldn’t allow drinks outside its perimeter, hitting one of the local bars or restaurants seemed like a better idea. The fact that the restaurant option even existed set SSMF apart from your typical grubby day at an Ozzfest or Coachella, making the whole festival experience feel somewhat civilized and helping support the local economy. Win-win!
As Smashing Pumpkins came out playing “Astral Planes” from their new album, the sun had gone down and the ambient lighting they used onstage was a sharp contrast to Slash and Fergie’s all-world rock show in the daylight. With no keyboardist in the fold yet, Billy Corgan played the synth parts on guitar instead than piping them in, giving these live versions a more raw sound hearkening back to the band’s Gish days. It was especially interesting to hear this on songs like “Tonight, Tonight” and “Eye,” the latter a fan favorite from the Lost Highway soundtrack. Originally recorded with synthesizers, hearing all the parts played on live instruments gave that song amazing new life.
Another great moment was “Song for a Son,” the first release from the new album. Before the song, Corgan brought out his son again and introduced him saying, “Sometime in the ’90s I guess I had a kid.” The moving song has an epic classic-rock feel to it, with a Hendrix-inspired solo. During “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” the crowd failed to start singing along at the correct time so Corgan stopped, saying, “You were late. Try it again, 1, 2, 3,” and played the part over again, this time with the audience on cue. Their encore consisted of the new song “Freak” and a particularly heavy version of “Zero” from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. This incarnation of the band sounded superb and left fans with both nostalgia for the 1990s and an eagerness to hear more new material.
Once security cleared out the street fair and stage areas, beyond the barricades there was more music to be heard. Local band Queen Caveat was an interesting discovery at The Viper Room Saturday Night, and if you had the stamina to stay up until midnight to see more former members of Guns ‘n’ Roses perform, Steven Adler’s solo project Adler’s Appetite played The Whisky. Hopefully the festival has done its job and brought renewed interest to the historic Sunset Strip area. If nothing else, people had a damn good time.
All photos by Gary Moratz