The 7th annual Sunset Strip Music Festival hit Hollywood this weekend. The original lineup promised some major names. Unfortunately, when set times went up earlier this week, the lineup was notably sans Kaiser Chiefs and Minus the Bear. The fest still managed to pull out all the stops with headliners Crosses, Failure and Jane’s Addiction closing out Saturday night’s bill.
First stop of the day is to catch Beware of Darkness at the West Stage. The California rockers hail from the Sunset Strip playing their first ever show at The Roxy. It is a pleasurable full circle moment for them to take a stage at SSMF. Their more heartfelt ballad “All Who Remain” has received critical acclaim. However, their most memorable track, “Howl,” which rocks much harder, suitably ties up their set.
The best place to escape the sun and heat is at one of the indoor venues – namely the intimate Whiskey A Go-Go. Having some of the most musically influential rock stars grace its stage over the years, it is only fitting that this place plays home to some artists on the lineup who are on the rise. Hailing from the South Bay, the Neanderthal masked jumpsuit rocking trio Fartbarf takes the stage to round out the afternoon’s lineup. Their electro-punk music speaks for itself, but it is a toss up whether their costumes overshadow or emphasize the talent that lies within. Undoubtedly, these boys are ripe for the picking. They make danceable music that is carries a modern relevance worthy of transitioning to a more mainstream audience. With such infectious melodic hooks that beg, nay dare, anybody to dance, it is no wonder that they pack the smaller dance floor with curious festival fans.
Down the street, Queen Caveat takes over The Roxy Theatre. Singer Lauren Little comes out donning a black blindfold. The crowd parts only to reveal that 3/4 of the band also rock the stage barefoot. It is not clear if this a typical Queen Caveat show M.O., but it adds an element that almost distracts from the music. Little’s roaring timbre carries a flat depth that catches up with the raw music nicely. Thankfully, by the end of the first song, she tosses her blindfold to the wind and prepares to deliver a passionately engaged performance. She brings even more fuel to the fire with her dance moves which make up for the lack of tonality. All in all, they serve up some rock and roll realness once you peel away the unnecessary distractions.
Just outside, the Mayor of West Hollywood comes out to introduce Crosses (†††) on the Monster Energy Stage. He warmly wishes everyone a good night, yelling “Have fun. Get drunk. Get laid, and rock and roll!” If there is one thing about Saturday’s lineup, it is that it keeps the dream of the 90s alive and well. Case and point is electronic rock group Crosses. Having been dubbed “witch house” musicians, these guys may not like the name, but it is all too appropriate. They bring a goth-like tone to an electronically inclined rock style that is unique in its approach, but fantastic in its execution. It can best be described as electro-goth baby making music that could easily replace the soundtrack in The Craft, no problem. Singer (and Deftones frontman) Chino Moreno engages the crowd whether he is standing atop the row of amps to see out into the audience or physically jumping down into the pit for a more direct fan encounter. Fulfilling their 90s revival prophecy, the boys play a Q Lazzarus cover, “Goodbye, Horses,” to which the crowd eagerly sings along.
Across the way back at the West Stage, Cold War Kids melodically change the pace to a more upbeat string. The indie rockers pepper in a healthy portion of new sings from their forthcoming album Hold My Home, due out October 21st. “Hotel Anywhere” gives a sweet preview of CWK’s new stuff, although it hardly deviates from their usual melodic rock sound. The heavy bass hook of “Hang Me Up to Dry” livens up the growing crowd. People cheerily engage with the music. No doubt, their new album is worth the listen, and it should be hitting radio waves soon.
Keeping that 90s dream strong, Failure makes a monstrous comeback this year. Shockingly, the transition back into the limelight is not a shortlived high point. The group starts playing to a shockingly modest crowd, however, the overflow of people pours into the Monster Stage open space when neighboring sets end. The dry grunge alternative rockers know how to draw an audience. Performance-wise, the entertainment value is paltry as each member remains rather stagnant throughout. Contrarily, the music is on point. It hits the spot on its own, feeding the heart of every high schooler who would have killed to see this live twenty years ago.
Tucked inside the now busy Roxy, The Last Internationale brings throngs of people into the space. If it is not enough that their music packs a punch, then catching it in a live setting absolutely does the trick. Singer Delila Paz carries enough energy and heart to rival that of, dare we say it, Tina Turner. The New Yorkers do not take their mission to rock lightly. Their politically driven lyrics stand the test of time. The counterculture revivalists even pay homage to Neil Young covering “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” cover. Guitarist Edgey Pires takes a moment to lecture the crowd about terrible work practices within the Hyatt hotel chain and commissions the crowd to say “Fuck the Hyatt!” They offer free t shirts to those who encourage their cause, and toss the swag into the crowd. Closing with a passionate rendition of “1968,” Last Internationale demonstrates that they are a force to be reckoned with, and their stories are worth hearing.
One of the most anticipated acts (and this year’s honoree) Jane’s Addiction takes an exceptionally long time to come on stage, but the eager crowd grows so full that the pit entrance gets cut off before the set even starts. The immediate truth is how wasted singer Perry Farrell is. He even manages to drunkenly stumble onto his front row of amps lining the stage within the first few songs. Unfortunately, he pulled a similar stunt at Riot Fest Chicago a few days earlier, and with the bad weather worsening conditions, the group had to end their set early. Here, the audience gets rather rowdy as the music plays. People thrust forward and pile onto the barricade blocking the pit with hopes of getting closer to the stage. Fights break out, and the Fire Marshall pulls the plug on letting any more bodies into the pit. JA manages to pull off a full set, but they really have to work for it. Their performance falls flat as Farrell is basically trying to hold it together the entire time. The most entertaining portion is the dancers emphasizing the slow roll of music vibrating across the Strip.
For those willing to make a quick exit to the Whiskey A Go-Go for one last set, Puddle of Mudd fills up the venue to capacity before they even start playing. Perhaps, folks are trying to escape the Jane’s Addiction overflow. POM maintains a radio staple with their 2002 hit “Blurry,” but have been playing with a steady stream of revolving members since. They enter the stage to the Wizard of Oz’s “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” a curious selection. As this closes the night’s performances out, POM’s dry alternative grunge rock is the easy way to nostalgically end the day.
Round two of SSMF on Sunday includes performances from newcomers Tove Lo, Big Data, and headliners Empire of the Sun.
More photos from Day 1
Cold War Kids
Puddle of Mudd
photo credit Marisa Ficara