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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 12:40 pm | A Few Clouds 63º


Paul Mann: Sunset Strip Music Festival Pays Homage to The Doors

Despite delays and other missteps, fans get their fill with a diverse lineup

The 2012 Sunset Strip Music Festival, an annual event in its fifth year, attracted the biggest crowds to date.

The strip was shut down for several blocks, in front of some of the most well-known live music clubs in West Hollywood. While dozens of bands are showcased in these clubs during the all-day-long festival, two large main stages on the street provide a diverse lineup of some of the most successful names in pop music. This year’s theme — the music of the iconic Doors, who got their start playing on the strip in the 1960s — became a catalyst for some of the hottest jams the prestigious festival has ever offered.

This year’s event was not without its missteps. For some inexplicable reason, the sound board barricades were not completely installed before the gates were opened. This caused a delay of nearly an hour for the opening act on the West Stage, while staff worked frantically in the hot, humid midday sun to quickly install the forgotten barrier. With near-record temperatures and unusual humidity drifting in from the remnants of a Mexican hurricane, a sweltering early-bird crowd was kept waiting to enter the stage area.

A sigh of relief could be felt when the sweaty crowd was finally allowed to rush the stage to seek prime viewing spots for opening act Dead Sara. One of the most dynamic new bands to emerge from Los Angeles, the group just couldn’t seem to cut a break when trying to present their short, 30-minute showcase set. Shortly into the delayed set, guitarist Siouxsie Medley broke a string and struggled to get her guitar back in tune during the second song. But this young band with an old soul soldiered on and performed like veteran rockers, not letting the early problems distract them from what they do best — play some of the best hard-rock jams of any new band touring today.

The male rhythm section comprised of bassist Chris Null and drummer Sean Friday laid down a groove in the tradition of classic rockers Led Zeppelin or The Who. Medley, lead guitarist and backing vocalist, played in a similar vain, encompassing all that is best in classic rock.

But this band is not chained to the past, creating their own unique sound with a modern edge. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist Emily Armstrong channels the best of the female blues-rock tradition, earning comparisons to legendary names such as Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Her frenzied performing style brings back memories of a possessed Jim Morrison, especially on this day, with the spirit of The Doors everywhere.

The best part about the music of this phenomenal young band is that the multilevel complexity of their music affords them the opportunity to easily expand and create a host of new sounds. Dead Sara may well become one of the most prolific new groups to emerge from Los Angeles in years.

While Dead Sara finished their set, the other main stage (East Stage) and the clubs were already up and running with a diverse lineup of music. Here, too, unfortunately, there were some delays and scheduling problems. On the East Stage, opening act The Mowgli’s were experiencing equipment problems and the band Far East Movement, scheduled for later in the day, were stuck outside of the country because of airplane troubles. (Apparently they made it to the Strip in time to perform a late-night set in one of the clubs.)

Master DJ Steve Aoki, left, and rapper Lil Jon collaborate at the Sunset Strip Music Festival.
Master DJ Steve Aoki, left, and rapper Lil Jon collaborate at the Sunset Strip Music Festival. Click here for more photos from the festival. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

The clubs were also having to shuffle bands around because of scheduling problems. Even though it became frustrating for fans who were trying to follow a strict music schedule to catch all of their favorite acts, an opportunity arose for them. They could just throw out the schedule and randomly wander the many stages, taking in tasty soundbites from the smorgasbord of music available. There were. in fact. so many diverse acts to choose from that most music fans quickly melted into a euphoric saturation from the many faceted sounds emanating from the festival.

The cavernous Key Club offered up bands on two stages. Groups such as Betty Moon kept the venue rocking all day. The Roxy, which hasn’t changed much since The Doors were playing down the street at the Whiskey in the 1960s, featured some of the most eclectic music of the day. This included a delightful performance by hip hop band Wallpaper.

Outside the Roxy, there was another small stage with colorful rock bands such as the all-girl Cherri Bombs. Meanwhile, the legendary Whiskey catered mostly to hard rock and metal fans with an ear-splitting lineup of veteran head bangers.

The main stages were the focus for the majority of music fans, however, and crowds quickly grew as the day wore on. Black Label Society brought the most authentic metal sound to the West Stage. Lead singer Zakk Wylde, emerging onstage wearing a massive feather headdress, led the band into a thunderous opening song, “Crazy Horse.”

Wylde, who played guitar for many years for Ozzy Osbourne’s band, has a true Hollywood pedigree, with hand prints in the Hollywood RockWalk. The guitarist led his band of accomplished hard-core musicians into a thunderous metal assault on the frenzied sweaty crowd. He sometimes seemed to channel deceased guitarist Randy Rhoads, one of his acknowledged mentors. The band ended their set in a triumphant moment, joined by Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger for a full metal version of “Roadhouse Blues.”

Bad Religion took the West Stage next, changing up the sound to a Southern California traditional punk rock mode. Despite the absence of founding guitar member Brett Gurewitz, the other veteran members of the Los Angeles group played a spirited set full of their classic mosh-pit-inspiring hits songs, including “Sorrow” and “Infected.” The band played their first show, opening for Social Distortion, in 1980 and have been delighting their fans with raucous live shows ever since. Their performance Saturday also included some lesser-known older tracks from their treasure trove of songs in their library. These included “Generator,” ”You,” ”Anesthesia” and “Sanity.”

The band members, led by singer Greg Graffin, were in a playful mood. When bass player Jay Bentley accidentally fell on his back, he continued to play for a while laying down and flailing his feet into the air. Graffin, beaming widely, would occasionally pretend to stomp on the prone bass player, all while belting out his lyrics.

By the time Offspring took the West Stage next, a huge crowd swelled the street below. Although this Orange County punk skater band has been around nearly as long as Bad Religion, their sound is most associated with a newer 1990s brand of punk, popular with the surf/skate world. The band played their over-the-top punk anthems in an almost cartoonlike caricature of party punk music. Led by lead singer Dexter Holland the band seemed to be savoring the ecstatic crowd surrounding them on the famous street. They played some of their biggest hits, including “Bad Habit” and “Gotta Get Away,” in a frenzied flat-out style that had mosh pits boiling in the sweaty crowd. Even the campy “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” seemed to inspire the enthusiastic crowd to erupt in a sweaty dance fever.

Meanwhile, over on the East Stage, after solving sound and scheduling problems, the music finally started to flow. Young Riverside rapper T. Mills, just off the Vans Warped Tour, got the dance crowd warmed up before hip hop legends De La Soul took the stage.

Since their debut masterpiece album, 3 Feet High and Rising in 1989, De La Soul has held a place on the dance floor of every night club that plays dance music ever since. The New York groundbreaking rappers bring a dance frenzy intensity to their live shows, and the crowd at Sunset Strip responded well to the band’s performance.

The band has evolved over the decades, showcasing several distinctive styles of their unique brand of hip-hop-infused dance music. After their set, there was a long pause on the East Stage, with Steve Aoki’s closing set coming nearly an hour late. But loyal dance music fans who waited and were packed like sardines near the front of the stage were rewarded with one of the best performances of the night.

The master DJ took the stage silhouetted against a large LED video light show and immediately sent the frenzied crowd into a dance trance. As Aoki exploded to life in the dazzling light show, he looked primed and ready for the performance, with a wild, glazed expression in his eyes. An extravagant light and laser show began to bombard the stage from building rooftops and lighting platforms. The energy notched up into a new dimension when rapper Lil Jon joined Aoki onstage.

These two performers meshed perfectly like two peas in a pod. The crowd went wild as the two performed one of Aoki’s favorite concert tricks. They shook up champagne bottles and shot the foamy spray into the crowd.

After Lil Jon departed, Aoki selected girls from the crowd and sent them crowd-surfing on an inflatable mattress. At least one girl’s ride ended abruptly when she fell off the traveling mat backward. A parade of musical guests continued to join Aoki throughout his set, including Travis Barker, will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas, and Miss Palmer. The finale of the show featured Aoki diving into a 400-pound cake that was wheeled onto the stage.

Other well-known DJs like Deadmau5 and Skrillex (who was at the recent Outside Lands Festival), offer up much bigger eye-dazzling pyrotechnic performances. But for my money, Aoki still offers the most personal, intense live DJ performance in the EDM world today. His wild acrobatic antics and his ability to seemingly make eye contact with nearly everyone in the crowd endear him to an adulate audience.

By the time headliner Marilyn Manson took the West Stage about 30 minutes late, a huge crowd, estimated at more than 15,000 people, had gathered on the street for his performance. The iconic singer seemed a bit more demure than in years past, looking and sounding less like a goth rock idol and more like a straight-forward rock star. Perhaps this was in deference to The Doors theme of the night.

He performed his classics “The Dopeshow” and “Mobscene” and some of his covers of bands such as the Eurythmics and Depeche Mode. But the highlight of the evening came when he was joined onstage by keyboardist Ray Manzarek and Krieger of The Doors. Sadly, drummer John Densmore was nowhere to be seen. He has taken an increasingly low performance profile in recent years, just as Manzarek and Krieger have been on a prolific live touring schedule, even playing across Europe last year. He did join the band at their performance during the 40th anniversary of the Monterey International Pop Festival, in 2007, but rarely has appeared with them since.

The two veteran rockers joined Manson on riveting versions of three Doors classics — “People Are Strange,” “Love Me Two Times” and “Five to One.” In the latter, Manson delivered the lyrics in a chilling, shrieking, trancelike style, channeling Morrison’s spirit, which hung above the street like a dark unseen cloud. “I don’t know if you guys invented Sunset Strip,” an adulate Manson quipped to the pair at the end, “but you pretty much paved it.”

Long live The Doors and the Sunset Strip.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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