19 minutes ago
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
I love history.
Over the past two decades I've been blessed enough to experience firsthand a lot of rock and roll history in the making. Through it all, had anyone told me I would have had the chance to relive the history that got us here, I'd have called them crazy. But that is exactly what happened at this year's Sunset Strip Music Festival.
While most fans looked at the lineup and saw a chance to see Motley Crue and Tommy Lee's remarkable roller coaster drum solo, Public Enemy bring the noise, and Bush return to the Hollywood limelight as part of the annual street festival that shuts down the Sunset Strip between San Vicente and Doheny, I saw significantly more.
I saw the rare opportunity to see two of the biggest acts responsible for shaping the Sunset Strip, on the very grounds they grew up on, on back-to-back nights - Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger of The Doors performing Friday night, August 19 at the historic Whisky A Go Go, their late-'60s mecca, and Motley Crue performing on the Sunset Strip itself Saturday night, on a stage constructed in front of the Key Club and just a stone's throw from the legendary Rainbow Bar & Grill.
While we can never go back, this proved as close to recreating history as we can get, and it was a landmark for event organizers - where other festivals plug big ticket acts into formulas, losing any sense of chemistry, personality and individuality in the process, this year's SSMF was the epitome of everything a festival should be.
The third annual Sunset Strip Music Festival was more than relevant, it boasted the biggest and best its very name had to offer. It delivered more than hit singles, presenting a unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to relive the unadulterated color that lights and haunts the Strip so many of us frequent on a nightly basis, and so many more people can only read about.
The Doors at the Whisky, and Motley Crue on the Sunset Strip - history recreated! And that was just the beginning...
I'd seen The Doors exactly two weeks earlier, headlining the Pacific Amphitheater at the Orange County Fair on August 5. The show was phenomenal, and the best I've ever seen Manzarek and Krieger - as much as I loved seeing Cult frontman Ian Astbury front a modern-day incarnation of the band Jim Morrison made famous, no frontman since Morrison has worked as well as current vocalist Dave Brock.
Recruited from Doors tribute act Wild Child, Brock is the perfect vehicle to deliver fans the ultimate 21st century Doors experience. He's studied Morrison, and from his moves through to his inflections pays tribute to not only the songs, but also the iconic figure that brought the music to life. That reverence is precisely what puts Brock head and shoulders above anyone who's sang for Manzarek and Krieger since the untimely death of Mr. Mojo Risin on July 3, 1971.
Where the Orange County show featured The Doors (that's not what they're billed as, but that's what I insist on calling them) at their big-stage best, the Whisky show was nothing short of a revelation. The intimate room was packed from wall to wall, so much so that trying to navigate the mass to even get a drink on the main floor was an exercise in futility - looking down from the balcony, you couldn't see an inch of floor... and the energy was palpable.
Seeing Manzarek, Krieger and company at the Whisky A Go Go is akin to seeing Joe DiMaggio manning center field at the old Yankee Stadium or Vince Lombardi pacing the Lambeau Field sidelines - and that point was driven home with the opening notes of "Roadhouse Blues." "Whisky Song" and "Strange Days" were sublime, "Peace Frog" resonates as much today as it did the day it was written, and there wasn't a more impacting pair of songs than the mind-opening anthem "Break on Through" into the epic wash of "When the Music's Over."
In a word, it was magical. "The Changeling" and "Not to Touch the Earth" awoke the spirits that built the Whisky A Go Go, punching through the decades and bringing the venue to life with their timeless vibrato and eternal swagger. I often say I was born a generation too late, and the music of The Doors is part of my argument. Being able to experience them in this setting was a dream come true... The irony is, long before I grew to appreciate The Doors it was the music of my generation that made me the music fan that I am - and Sunset Strip Music Festival headliners Motley Crue are one of the bands most responsible for my voyage.
I've seen Motley Crue dozens of times and in every permutation, and the best Crue show I've ever seen was this summer, June 14 at the Hollywood Bowl. The band has never sounded better, Mick Mars laying guitar licks better than most players a third his age, the set perfectly paced to accommodate Vince Neil's vocals, Nikki Sixx every bit the iconic blend of bastard brilliance and phantom presence, and Tommy Lee turning the Crue-niverse on end with a drum solo that makes all his historic exploits pale in comparison. And the face paint is back!
Their 11-song, tour-ending and SSMF-closing set was all that and more - yes, a few songs were shaved from their standard set and their twisted carnival spectacle was scaled down a tad for the custom-made street stage, but the spirit of the event more than made up for a few less bells and whistles.
I was standing, literally, under the Sunset and Wetherly street signs, a constant reminder of just how cool it was to be seeing one of the most infamous bands in Sunset Strip history, on the Strip that they helped make famous. It was a set of classics, but highlights were "Saints of Los Angeles" (an instant new classic) and "Primal Scream," which offered the ideal sonic flare of an introduction to Tommy Lee's already legendary looping roller coaster drum solo.
Motley Crue celebrate their 30th anniversary as a band this year, and there may not be a more stirring testament to their lasting power and authority as a band than the performance they delivered at the Sunset Strip Music Festival. This wasn't a crowd of Motley Crue diehards, it was a mixed bag of metalheads, hipsters, rockers and wanna-bes - all bonded by the energy of the Crue kicking ass on the concrete wildside that spawned their Motley legend. They blew their home sweet home sky high on this Saturday night, and proved that they've still got plenty of gas left in the tank.
Motley Crue aren't waxing nostalgic, they're at the top of their game.
Bush has always been one of my favorite rock acts to emerge from the '90s, and they didn't disappoint in their late-afternoon slot before Motley Crue on the Strip's West Stage. Gavin Rossdale has never been known for his pristine vocals, but it's the subtle imperfections and the warmth in his tone that give the songs their character - that character prevailed on hits including "Machinehead," "Comedown" and "Glycerine," and transformed a cover of The Beatles' "Come Together" into a euphoric celebration. And while it may not have been a moment of zen, after all the times I've seen Bush live, it was pretty cool to actually hear the line, "Should I fly to Los Angeles, find my asshole brother..." while seeing the band in the City of Angels.
Representing the opposite side of the country, Public Enemy turned the East Stage into their own terrordome, where they had the predominantly white crowd losing their shit to such suburban anthems as "911 is a Joke" and "By the Time I Get to Arizona." I kid, I kid, but there is great amusement in watching some of the whitest people in the history of white turn into hip-hopping gangsters. To each their own, it was just tough to tell at times if people were seriously into the show, or just playing along a bit too exuberantly amid the comfort of their own crowd. There were a lot of memories in the set for me - Public Enemy was the first act I ever covered as a journalist, and it was cool as hell seeing them joined onstage by Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian for "Bring The Noise."
I missed Buckcherry at The Roxy Friday night because their set was at the same time as The Doors, but I had friends at the show who said they were fantastic. I did hit The Roxy Thursday night and was completely blown away by Nico Vega, who delivered a set that was lush, frenetic and beautiful - it may not have been metal heavy, but it was kick your ass and move your soul heavy, and in this case that proved twice as powerful.
SUNSET STRIP MUSIC FESTIVAL SETLISTS:
RAY MANZAREK & ROBBY KRIEGER OF THE DOORS
2-Love Me Two Times
3-Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)
4-Back Door Man
6-Peace Frog / Blue Sunday
7-Break On Through
8-When The Music's Over
9-Love Her Madly
(into "Chain of Fools" / "Sunshine of Your Love")
13-Not To Touch The Earth
14-Riders on the Storm
16-Light My Fire
2-Saints of Los Angeles
4-Shout at the Devil
5-S.O.S. (Same Ol' Situation)
6-Home Sweet Home
9-Girls, Girls, Girls
10-Smokin' in the Boys Room
11-Kickstart My Heart
2-All My Life
4-The Chemicals Between Us
7-The Sound of Winter