Thursday, September 10, 2009

Street Scene!

This article was written for the LA Times Sunday magazine, which is why it is sort of LA focused. I was granted permission to also publish it here.

Street Scene

San Diego’s Festival Worth a Drive South

Coachella may be Southern California’s best known music festival, but San Diego’s Street Scene has been putting on quality music for 25 years. With smaller crowds and a friendly feel, last weekend’s Street Scene offered a more intimate feel than the desert Coachella. The two night event featured forty-five bands on five stages, many of whom also played at this year’s Coachella. Downtown San Diego provided the perfect setting, capitalizing on convenient transportation, easy navigation throughout the festival grounds, and views of the sun setting over the San Diego Bay. While both festivals have a definite Southern California vibe, Street Scene offers a cheaper, more intimate way to see great bands in one place.

Headlined by hip-hop artists The Black Eyed Peas and M.I.A., this year’s Street Scene also featured great artists rarely heard over the airwaves. Girl Talk stole the show Friday, turning two blocks of downtown in to a dance party with his innovative mash ups. Coming off a year in which his album was rated #4 on the list of Top 10 Albums of 2008 by Time Magazine, his set featured non-stop beats, a video screen he used to communicate with the audience through text, and a stage full of dancing audience members. He capped his set with a fireworks display, setting the crowd off in a final frenzy.

Friday’s best main stage acts included Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, led by the former Bright Eyes singer, as well as a gritty performance one would expect from Modest Mouse. Friday also featured festival mainstays Band of Horses, and the up-and-coming Cage the Elephant, and Matt and Kim (whose single is featured in a popular alcohol commercial). Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band brought in LA staple Jenny Lewis (of the LA-based band Rilo Kiley) for one song, playing Bad News as well as the original artist. Oberst’s blend of folk and rock were a perfect fit for playing between Band of Horses and Cake, and Oberst’s strong vocal performance easily won over the crowd.

Los Angeles’s presence was felt during Street Scene, as LA’s bands No Age, Ozomatli, and The Silversun Pickups were featured throughout the weekend. Grammy-winning Ozomatli gave their usual crowd-pleasing show, mixing Latin, Hip-Hop, and Funk in to one cohesive, lively set. The Silversun Pickups also represented for the City of Angels, giving one of the weekend’s best performances. The band mixed in songs off all of their hit albums, ending their show with the new single Panic Switch, and Lazy Eye, the hit from their second album, Carnavas.

The Silversun Pickups rock was preceded by the contrasting Of Montreal performance, which integrated a variety of theater elements in to the performance. Of Montreal is as known for their over the top costumes as for their music, and lead singer Kevin Barnes did not disappoint, appearing in a fantasy-like cape and suit. The band played well, but the music was overshadowed by their incredible stage theatrics, which included a full story line played out in kabuki-style theater.

In addition to the Silversun Pickups and Of Montreal, Street Scene’s Saturday lineup featured Jack White’s new venture, The Dead Weather. Along with Alison Mosshart of The Kills, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age, and Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs, White put on a classic rock show. Mosshart’s vocals and emotion put this band on par with White’s prior projects, and the Dead Weather’s live shows leave nothing to be desired.

Saturday’s lineup also had a definite funk feel to it, opening the main stage with Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears and ending the side stage with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Both groups put on lively performances on the heels of Friday’s Trombone Shorty show. While Black Joe Lewis played to a small crowd as a result of being first on the bill, Ms. Jones performed at the same time as headliner M.I.A., resulting in a smaller crowd than she deserved. The two performances were both energetic and fun, getting the audience to dance the entire time.

Though LA bands made the trek down, San Diego bands also were featured throughout Street Scene. The Dirty Sweet led off Friday, which also featured Anya Marina, a former San Diego DJ. The Crocodiles played opposite Black Joe Lewis on Saturday, and local favorites The Delta Spirit finished off Saturday’s set on The Green Stage, a solar powered side stage.

While Street Scene doesn’t offer the sheer size of Coachella, it does offer the variety and talent level seen in the desert. For those who want the chance to see their favorite bands (and some soon-to-be favorites) right from the rail, Street Scene is well worth the drive down I-5.

per usual, TFR.


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