Two blocks of the sunset strip are arguably the most important in the history of rock and roll. I took a walk along them last Saturday during the Sunset Strip Music Festival, now in its seventh year and bigger than ever. I started at the Whiskey-a-go-go, a famously small two-story red building hugging the corner of San Vincente and found myself two blocks later at the Roxy, a seventies art-deco-esque building with a marquee almost bigger than it is. Each venue is famous for its intimacy and starting, re-starting, recording live and hosting filmed concerts of some of the greatest bands of all time.
The Festival cleverly anchored itself on these famous blocks as the city shut down traffic so we could freely walk between these two historic buildings and enjoy the three additional outdoor stages as well. It was a treat for my fellow music lovers and I to sample the 70 different bands that rotated across the stages through the weekend, no doubt thinking of whose footsteps they were walking in before them, including The Doors, Elton John, Motley Crue, The Byrds, Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen, George Benson, Genesis, and later just Peter Gabriel, Neil Young... the list is unnaturally long for a distance you could throw a stone.
I enjoyed watching smaller acts in the afternoon at the Whiskey like Future Villains scream their post-punk rock rage, then heard Say Say amplify there smooth ballads on an outdoor stage and then caught Michael Rey & The Woebegones at the Roxy as they took me through a 'Lou Reed' vibe. I was reminded me of the richness of musical possibilities that launched from these very same streets for decades.
As day turned to night the festival brought in bigger acts like Mayer Hawthorne, Cold War Kids, the Birds of Satan and Empire of the Sun, but the stars of the festival were Jane's Addiction who were honored by the city and were the festival's big ticket star that closed saturday night on the outdoor west stage.
For those of you who don't know, Jane's Addiction (Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins and Chris Chaney) is the group that made 'alternative rock' alternative. Their 1985 album Nothing's Shocking became a counter culture favorite. "We were the house band of the sunset strip," Ferrel said. "We performed all the time at both the Roxy and The Whiskey through the 80s and 90s," he said as they were honored with the "Edgar Valentine Award" at the House of Blues Friday night by the city. The City Council also handed them a plaque informing them that September 18th was now officially Jane's' Addiction day.
Before Nirvana broke big and redefined a new alternative sound, Jane's Addiction had already been there. But after a second album, Ritual De Lo Habitual, the band shifted and transformed and never broke big the way many thought they would. Their farewell concert in 1991 was the first year of the Lollapalooza festival, which they started, and that's still going strong today. Amid multiple reunions and break ups over the years, their subsequent reformings created new works (the albums Strays in 2003 and The Great Escape Artist in 2011). But amid the pauses, half breakups and reuniting they seem more solid now than ever. Maybe their history shows in some ways that they are unable not to be a band.
Looking happy and content they crushed it Saturday night rocking the outdoor festival thundering their music across Sunset Boulevard to a standing room of street attendees as they performed their album Nothing Is Shocking in its entirety.
But they were all smiles Friday night at the House of Blues in that more intimate setting. After being handed their awards a gracious Perry said, "You know, we always wanted LA's love and affection and tonight, we feel in some way we've earned it." Then Perry turned to his band mates and suggested some impromptu playing. The whole group quickly agreed and grabbed the instruments of another band set to play. They rocked two favorites, including 'Aint no Right.'
That moment was one of the best moments of the festival to me, unscripted and raw, unexpected and electric. The band exploded into action and felt current, even as they sang songs from albums 25 years old. It was honest, heartfelt and explosive, exactly the energy the festival is trying to bottle. And it was everything the Sunset Strip Music Festival wants to bring back to the boulevard every year.