Defying the chilly weather forecast, the sun blazed brightly over West Hollywood’s iconic Sunset Strip with a heat rivaling the beautiful people and legendary artists at this year’s Sunset Strip Music Festival.
People spanning all walks of life, celebrity status (i.e. Ron Jeremy, Chris Brown and Wayne Brady) and über-questionable fashion selections stood shoulder to shoulder, united by music. Though historically considered a rock and roll event, this year’s festival, sponsored by Jack Daniels, paid homage to everything from classic hip hop to modern rock, featuring headliners Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick and Linkin Park.
“My name is Asher Roth, but that should be common knowledge by now, y’all!” -Asher Roth
Opening the show, Roth transformed a rather lean audience into a substantial sea with his unique blend of hip hop, a meeting of jazz, soul and reggae. To see him perform poses a delightful unexpected contrast. His sexy, almost Talib Kweli-sounding suave tenor comes in the package of a humble skater with long and messy blond curls and often strawberry skin (when he’s really feeling it). With songs of love, partying, peace and smoking weed and lyrics that include “Teddy Ruxpin,” “Bob Saget” and “There’s no crying in baseball,” Roth has fun with words. Fun and games aside, his stage presence and sound are reminiscent of a breed of hip hop thought long lost. His flow is finely crafted amidst a backdrop of authentically talented full band of musicians that can freestyle melodies and rhythms at the drop of a hat. His showmanship is grand but humble, as he remained constantly engaged with the audience, especially when he performed his hit “I Love College.”
To use the term “Old School” would date the legendary hip hop duo whose performance was anything but “old.” Opening their set with colleague DJ Kaos (who lead the audience in what he called “Hip Hop 101”), the crowd was warmed up in preparation for the energetic Doug E. Fresh. Though arguably in his forties, Fresh had the energy and finesse of those 20 years his junior. He bounced around on stage, beat boxing, demonstrating ’80s and ’90s dance moves and encouraging the audience to sing “Sweet Home Alabama” and The Jeffersons theme song. He dominated the stage like a pro. He threw the crowd into a frenzy, performing “Let Me Clear My Throat” and teaching them how the original “Dougie” dance is done. Showing his age a little, a more stationary Slick Rick performed “Bedtime Story” and other hits with his hand in his pocket as his massive gold medallion and huge diamond encrusted bracelets glittered in the sun. Spicing up the set was a guest freestyle session from Wayne Brady, who happened to be backstage, and was asked to perform by Doug E. Fresh. Accompanied by beat boxing while Slick Rick looked on, Brady flowed about being the “one to choke a bitch” as well as dispelling rumors of not being truly black or even being Dave Chappelle. A surprise for sure, but it was really entertaining.
“We all are Awolnation!” – Aaron BrunoBruno
This band of misfits was the perfect band to open for Linkin Park, as they surged from pop rock to melodic rock and grunge to metal with growls and screams, all in a package that screamed a bit emo, a bit angsty Kurt Cobain. In fact, frontman Aaron Bruno channeled his inner Kurt Cobain as his brooding blue eyes peeked out beneath disheveled, wavy blonde hair while he grabbed on to the mic like it was his reluctant lover. The crowd ate it up and his crystal clear voice moved from falsetto to almost Chester Bennington-level screams. Most of their songs, like their single “Not Your Fault,” fit into the pop rock genre, but it was the grimy, funky and flawless performance of their hit song, “Sail” that really struck a chord with the audience. It sounded even better than the recording.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if they just shut down Sunset Strip and we could just play in the street?” – Chester Bennington
If anyone wondered why there was a sea of people packed from the Key Club almost back down to the East Stage near the Whisky A Go-Go, it was because Linkin Park had finally taken the stage, christening the evening as the much-anticipated headlining act. Giving 1000%, frontmen Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda were in rare form; it’s been their dream to play the Sunset Strip Music Festival. Keeping the tempo and energy on fire, they performed classic chart-toppers like “Crawling,” “Faint,” “What I’ve Done” and new songs like “Burn It Down.” Shinoda even performed a song he’d never performed live or even recorded called “Read My Eyes,” a rap which he admitted was the fastest he’d ever flowed. Bennington growled and screamed more than he had in years and by the end of the set, his voice was jaw-droppingly stronger. All hands were in the air as the audience crowd-surfed and moshed until the last second of the last song. Though there was no encore, their nearly one and a half hour set didn’t seem long enough.
Words by Aisha Humphrey
The sun was not even given a chance to set before the West Hollywood Fire Department started closing down Warren G’s set at The Roxy. Curiosity rose about whether notable guests would come out during the Long Beach rapper’s performance. The Roxy’s own Nick Adler even barricaded the door while firefighters began moving bodies out of the theatre. Although an anticipated set was listed, this regulation was not the doing of Warren G.
Defeated crowd members elbowed their way to catch Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on the West Stage. Breaking into their first song off their new album Specter At The Feast, for many, this was the first time hearing rock music since entering the strip. The crowd sang along, “I’m not proud of it, too proud of it / but I’m fine, just fine with it”– dark lyrics for a black leather-clad triad of musicians who exemplify the perfect sound of modern rock and classic roll onstage. Those in the crowd unfamiliar with BRMC were thrown away watching female drummer Leah Shapiro put on an amazing show from her kit. Lead singer and guitarist Peter Hayes revived the strip and reminded all why they were all there: to “spread your love” on the Sunset Strip.
Attendees trickled into a dirt lot tucked away in between the main beer garden and the East Stage of the Sunset Strip Music Festival. Word had been circulating earlier to head toward the Viper Room’s Guitar Center Stage to catch The Last Internationale from New York. Sure enough, the crowd were converts from the moment the trio began. Frontwoman and bassist Delila Paz’s rich bluesy voice immediately caught everyone’s attention. It seemed like the perfect match: a true rock and roll band with a female vocalist and bassist to be featured at the Sunset Strip Music Festival with Joan Jett as the year’s honoree. They played songs off their new EP Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Indian Blood, all of which had some message of great social and political rock. The edgy rockers even covered Animals’ “House of The Rising Sun,” dedicating it to the victims of FEMA. With a successful mix of heavy percussion and blues, The Last Internationale restored faith in rock and roll with their nostalgic blues appeal and modern political lyrics. Paz, Edgey and Fernando Silvia are most definitely a force to be reckoned with. Consider it a disservice to yourself if you don’t check them out.
Words by Marisa Rose Ficara
Photos by Shareef Ellis