SSMF 2010 Day 3 Recap with Slash, Smashing Pumpkins, Volbeat Concert Reviews and More 8/28
The Sunset Strip Music Festival concluded with over 12 hours of live music on Saturday, August 28th. The final celebration featured over 100 bands performing throughout the day and evening, all within three blocks of the fabulous Sunset Strip. I was there for nearly the whole thing and took in a ton of music. The bands I saw were Semi Precious Weapons on the “East Stage” in the middle of Sunset Blvd., The Binges at the Cat Club, Slash with Myles Kennedy and Smashing Pumpkins on the “West Stage”, Volbeat at the Key Club, and Adler’s Appetite (Steven Adler of Guns N’ Roses) at the Whisky A Go-Go. Holy cow, what a day.
I started with Semi Precious Weapons within 30 minutes of my arrival, and the band put on a good show. These guys have been playing arenas with Lady Gaga for the past year and are beginning to turn heads with their brand of NY Dolls influenced sleazy rock n’ roll. Lead singer Justin Tranter was rocking high heels, tights, and eye-liner. Hey, to each his own. Even though this isn’t a band I’ll be getting into anytime soon, I have to give them props for their live show. Champagne and whiskey was flowing all over the place: the first few rows were literally doused in it. For their last song of the day, Tranter demanded security to allow people on stage with them, and for awhile, it looked like it was going to be a contentious scene. I was standing with a friend who works for a well-known LA concert promoter, who told me that this is a nightmare situation for promoters. If someone gets hurt on that stage, they can be sued for it so they don’t want security allowing this to happen. Regardless, the scene unfolded without incident and the crowd ate it up.
On a friend’s recommendation, I walked literally 10 feet over and checked out The Binges at the Cat Club. First of all, The Cat Club is a great spot and is generally overlooked amongst the other venues on The Strip. It’s tiny at a capacity of 200 and when it’s a packed show, such as the case with The Binges, the energy is contagious. It’s one of those classic dive bars with a stage thrown at one end. I was extremely lucky to get a prime spot on the stairwell so I was able to comfortably check out the show with an unobstructed view.
The Binges…. Holy crap, what a band! My official favorite discovery from the Sunset Strip Music Festival. Would it surprise you if I told you the strings were played by females? Yup, two Japanese sisters, Mayuko and Tsuzumi Okai play the guitar and bass, respectively. And they don’t just play these instruments as much as they rock the living sh*t out of them. It’s mesmerizing to watch. Dylan Squatcho handles vocals and has an eye-opening scream. This band is the real deal. I couldn’t get over watching these Japanese chicks ripping out solos, head banging, and handling backing vocals behind Squatcho screaming his balls off. Check out their video for “Motorcycle Song” here:
Keep in mind that video is three years old! I can’t wait to see The Binges again. It’s always fun being exposed to new music, but even better when you discover them at a show. They played AC/DC’s “TNT” towards the end of their set and it was flawless. The Cat Club was the place to be for that unforgiving 30 minute set and I genuinely felt bad for whatever poor souls had to follow The Binges.
After this ridiculous set I walked over to the West Stage to get a good spot for Slash, the 2010 Sunset Strip Music Festival honoree. His recent solo record has received fantastic reviews, and with good reason. It’s terrific and showcases a wide array of talent on vocals that range from Fergie to Ozzy Osbourne. Handling vocals for this live performance was Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge. Now, I have never seen Kennedy on stage before but have heard nothing but great things about him. I love the Alter Bridge records and have always been a fan of his vocals so I was extremely excited for this show.
The crowd went nuts once Slash took the stage. The king of the festival, with signature top-hat, was nothing less than outstanding this evening. We heard a selection of Guns N’ Roses material, including “Night Train”, “Rocket Queen”, and “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. We also heard the Velvet Revolver tracks “Dirty Little Thing” and “Slither” as well as the lead single off Slash’s solo record, sung by Myles Kennedy, “Back From Cali.” It was really a perfect blend of material from Slash’s distinguished career.
Myles Kennedy’s voice defies limitations. It’s insane. He has to be one of the best singers in rock today, from a pure talent perspective. I have never heard anyone cover Guns N’ Roses as effectively as him and that’s a true testament to his vocal talents because Axl Rose is one of a kind. When Axl was motivated, nobody could sing like him; he hit notes that were seemingly impossible during the GN’R heyday. Well, Myles is carrying that torch today and you really have to see him sing the Guns stuff to come to that realization.
Now, with that being said, I have to be completely honest here and admit that I did not enjoy listening to him cover the Velvet Revolver material. Myles’ voice is just too much, too falsetto, to convincingly perform Scott Weiland’s bluesy and gruff vocals that defined the STP and Velvet catalog. I’m not just saying this because I’m a huge Scott Weiland fan either; it was just somewhat mystifying to hear these higher pitches during the chorus of “Dirty Little Thing”, which lyrically, is a very serious and even depressing song. When Scott Weiland sang the words “get away from the life you’re living” and “get away from the drugs you’re taking” you believe in it, partly because he’s lived that lifestyle; he’s a drug addict, and has nearly succumbed to this disease on multiple occasions. His voice has an intangible pain that helps facilitate these seedy images derived from the lyrical content. Myles Kennedy, although he has unbelievable vocal abilities, just cannot convincingly perform these songs.
With that being said, it was still an incredible show. Watching Slash play the solo to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was surreal. He nailed it and the audience of thousands went wild. After this song and a short set break, Slash was joined by Fergie for the encore, where they closed with the quintessential GNR track “Paradise City”. Ridiculous performance, all around.
Smashing Pumpkins closed out the West Stage with a show that adequately covered the band’s extensive career. I must say that I really can’t stand Billy Corgan and his incessant whining, his constant lineup reshuffling, and his disgustingly massive ego. I was prepared to witness the worst, especially given the many horrible reviews the last Pumpkins tour garnered, primarily based by his on-stage antics.
Well, I must report that Billy Corgan was on his best behavior this evening. There weren’t any tongue lashings towards anybody in the crowd that I could hear and they played a good show. Say what you want about Billy Corgan, but you cannot deny the fact that Smashing Pumpkins produced some timeless music throughout their career. Even their last studio album, Zeitgeist, is astonishingly great. I didn’t want to like that record, but excellence cannot be denied. Billy even gave a nice tribute to The Strip towards the end of the band’s set, and thanked everyone for coming and celebrating one of the greatest live music scenes in the world. He credited the countless bands, citing a few by name, that made their bones on Sunset Blvd. which was met with massive cheers from the audience. The Smashing Pumpkins show was by far the most surprising of the entire weekend.
After a much needed recharge break for some food and relaxation, I attended the Volbeat show at the Key Club. I have really been looking forward to seeing these guys headline, ever since I first saw them open up the Metallica and Machine Head late last year. It was a pretty late show and was a smaller turnout than I expected, with maybe about 50% capacity. However, this didn’t stop the guys in Volbeat from delivering a blistering set that still has me pumped up, well into the next day. Their “Social Distortion meets Elvis” sound is something to behold! The crowd was a great mix of young and old, male and female, and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the set.
These guys are legit. They were hand picked by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich for the Metallica arena tour and were received very well by the audience at the show I attended. Plus, they’re Danish, they have a refreshingly unique sound that can appeal to fans across multiple genres of music, and the lead singer has a cool greaser haircut and Johnny Cash tribute tattoo on his chest. I loved it. Bring on more Volbeat!
After this show, I still hadn’t had enough and walked down to the Whisky for the ultimate nightcap, and undoubtedly the best way to close out a full weekend of music on the Sunset Strip. I’m talking about Adler’s Appetite, the Guns N’ Roses tribute band lead by original drummer and Appetite For Destruction co-writer Steven Adler. I need to emphasize that last point because Appetite is one of the greatest rock records of all time, if not THE greatest. Steven Adler lives off the success of that album today, along with his Adler’s Appetite tours, when he’s sober long enough to perform on a semi-regular basis.
It was so awesome to be standing in the very room that Guns N’ Roses used to dominate when they were just getting started back in the 80’s and watch Steven Adler on stage with a huge grin on his face playing all the Guns classics. He literally never stopped smiling throughout the entire performance. It was endearing to see how much fun he was having playing drums to these classic songs. The Whisky was packed too.
After the band finished their set and was met with raucous applause, I walked back out into the early morning with a huge smile on my face. The Sunset Strip was already my favorite part of Los Angeles, but this festival made me love it even more. I defy anyone to name a better music scene, at least one that is condensed along just a few city blocks, like The Strip. Los Angeles gets a lot of flack, and sometimes for the right reasons, but they get huge points here. There really isn’t anyplace like the Sunset Strip in the entire world.
The festival is now over and I’m just trying to digest everything that I saw and experienced. The more I think about it, I realize that this was one of the best music festivals I have ever attended! For starters:
—-I watched the amazing Slash be honored by the city that loves him
—- I saw one of our generation’s greatest movie villains, the freakin’ T-1000, tossing people around in the mosh pit at Filter
—- I finally discovered some NY style pizza that I like in Frankie & Johnnie’s
—- I saw 11 shows (including the Slash tribute) in 3 days in 6 different venues
—- I didn’t see one single fistfight or one single arrest by the police, who were wonderfully cooperative throughout the entire weekend. They provided adequate security without being overbearing
—- I saw the city come together for a weekend of music and celebrate responsibly, without any BS.
Epic weekend. I wish I could personally thank every single person, company, band, etc. that made this event so spectacular. I also hope that the festival continues in this exact same fashion and doesn’t tinker with what already works so well. If you are a music fan and can get to Los Angeles next year for the 4th annual Sunset Strip Music Festival, than you should absolutely do it. Now on that note, my neck is killing me and I’m exhausted. Over and out!