SSMF 2010: A Showcase of Music’s Future, Present & Past

SUPERGOODMUSIC arrived on the scene of Sunset Strip Music Festival shortly after the gates opened to experience the full spectrum of L.A.’s finest non-electronic music festival. The early day crowd consisted primarily of high school kids in cut-off denim shorts and midriff tops…not as offensive as lingerie clad EDC attendees, but still the kind of clothing that their parents would probably kill them for wearing (if they only knew). Their bellybutton rings and braces glistened in the Saturday afternoon sunshine as they made an attempt to appear oh-so-very rock n’ roll while sucking on their cigarettes in front of The Key Club. Sadly, half the kids there didn’t even know who Billy Corgan was (or The Smashing Pumpkins for that matter) but merely came to swig vodka from water bottles and grind up on girls while Big B performed in the background.

Maybe I age myself here, but frankly, I don’t give a damn if I do. The Smashing Pumpkins are one of the biggest bands I remember from when I was growing up. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is arguably the best album of their entire career, and their music video of “Tonight, Tonight” (back when MTV actually played music videos) is still etched in my memory. I remember first seeing that video in my living room and being absolutely blown away. Needless to say, it won an MTV Video Music Award in 1996, and in case 1996 is a little before your time, it was also covered by Passion Pit in a collaboration with Levi’s just earlier this year.

Long story short, I was not missing their performance that night for anything… not for some drunk kid blowing chunks next to my boots, not for some juiced-up meat-head trying to trample me, and definitely not for some loud-mouth nosy chick who couldn’t hold her liquor (I experienced all these things). So here we have my story of finally getting to see The Smashing Pumpkins and all the revelry that happened along the way. This experience is also known as The Sunset Strip Music Festival

AJ from Saint Motel (is that a gang sign?)

Anyone who has lived in LA knows the traffic on Sunset Boulevard near the strip is absolute chaos. If you’ve never lived in LA, then for a moment just imagine a primary artery running through a city, that is constantly undergoing construction and being bombarded with tourists, but unlike the Hollywood Boulevard tourist traps, the strip is a bevy of historic bars, legendary hangouts, and a Mecca for the music scene. Now envision dealing with that on a Saturday afternoon during the Sunset Strip Music Festival and also trying to make it in time to see Billy Corgan’s interview at The Viper Room.

Maybe after four years of living in Los Angeles, I’ve learned a thing or two about side roads and slick maneuvering skills because I managed to make it just a few precious minutes after Billy took the microphone. The Viper Room is a dark, small cave-like place that tonight consisted of maybe thirty people at most, primarily of diligent reporters, but entirely of appreciative fans. Billy sat with his young son Jason, who donned some sort of super-hero/wrestler mask. Billy came off as a kind, soft-spoken individual, a caring father, and a seasoned musician. He spoke about the first record he bought (Meet the Beatles! for only a quarter), the pros and cons of an internet saturated society, and of course, he talked about the band. After awhile, Billy spoke about the importance of being entirely you and not trying to be someone else, or even one particular version of yourself, because the act will wear thin in a short time. As this theory applied to his career, he reflected, “at least it’s me pissing them off and not the imitation of me pissing them off.” A few moments later, Billy and his son left the stage, graciously stopping to thank those who expressed their appreciation for his talents. They stepped off the curb and into their silver SUV, vanishing into the sunshine.

After that, I realized I’d missed the majority of Saint Motel (pictured above and apparently exceptional) and had some time to kill so I decided to check out Big B. I liked him… he was a large fellow with tattoos, what wasn’t to like? The crowd was still sparse at this point, especially with anyone over 20 years old, but I barely look 18 so fortunately, I fit right in. Big B grabbed the mike and engaged the crowd shouting, “If you like to smoke weed and drink whiskey, put your hands up in the air!” Of course, the teenage crowd immediately threw their hands madly into the air because words like “weed” and “whiskey” naturally excite them. I only threw one hand in the air because even though my smoking weed days are done, my whiskey days are forever. Trying to outdo his brethren, a 15 year-old shirtless boy next to me decided hands in the air were not enough and threw up in the middle of the crowd, half on a garbage can and half next to my boots.

After my Big B experience, and the blown chunks taboot, I decided to check out Neon Trees, a group with which I am somewhat familiar, mostly because of their mainstream hit “Animal.” Personally, that song is a little too pop for my taste, but I figured I’d give it a go anyway. One thing I can say about Neon Trees, especially the lead singer Tyler Glenn, is that they have high energy. High energy is always something I enjoy in a performance, but it looked like Tyler may have watched too many cliche rock n’ roll videos pre-show. The 26 year-old was saddled up in black leather pants, using his microphone as a lasso, humping his guitar players leg, and spitting on the stage any chance he got.

If anything, maybe he should take a note from Billy Corgan’s interview earlier in the day and work on being himself, and not just some version of someone else (ahem, Jim Morrison). But again, he’s 26 and relatively new to the mainstream music scene, so I’ll cut him some slack. Plus, the set was pretty good. Did I know most of the songs? No, definitely not. But was the band enjoyable musically as well as performance-wise? I’m going to say yes.

Now I have got to be honest - I unfortunately skipped out on most of Semi Precious Weapons to sit in my air-conditioned car and charge my cell-phone, which now doubled as my camera (thankfully, SUPERGOODMUSIC employed someone else to take pictures for us – a very talented Megan Thompson) Luckily, however, I came back just in time to see Stevy Pyne from Semi Precious Weapons hanging from the rafters. The lead singer, Justin Tranter, beckoned the crowd to “Forget Security! Climb on stage!” And that’s just what they did… taking some of the Sunset Strip Music Festival banner with them.

Next up on my list was Common. Unfortunately, they had severe technical difficulties and the sound check went on for over thirty minutes. The drunk, over-heated crowd was getting antsy, and the time left before Slash would start playing on the opposing stage was diminishing. Ultimately, the trio decided to play off-monitor and Common finally took the stage. Let me say that it was completely worth the wait. He was seriously one of my favorite performers of the night, pulling from classic hip-hop artists like Snoop Dogg and even The Fugees. I knew I wanted to catch some of Slash’s performance (as he was the 2010 SSMF honoree) but Common was so good that after each song I kept telling myself, “Okay, just one more song and then I’ll go.” But each song just kept on getting better and better, and eventually he even broke out some freestyle jams.

Needless to say, by the time I made it over to Slash, I could barely snake my way to the front of the crowd. Luckily, I’m rather small and pushed my way through the scantily clad girls and aging blondes who were whining to the club promoters about their lack of drugs. A few songs and “Sweet Child of Mine” later and I had my Slash fix, so I made my way back to the east stage to catch Kid Cudi.

Since so many artists had been having difficulties with the sound system, Kid Cudi couldn’t take the stage until way after his allotted time slot. By then it was getting dark, and the crowd was working on hour six or seven of beer-guzzling. I stood waiting for Kid Cudi for nearly forty minutes while getting pummeled by drunken men and teenagers lacking in body control and annoyed by intoxicated women. The time that Smashing Pumpkins would take the stage was drawing near, and as much as I enjoy Kid Cudi, Smashing Pumpkins trumped all the rest of the performers for me that evening. After nearly getting trampled by a mass of inebriated concert attendees, I decided to throw in the towel and bail.

I watched Kid Cudi from the back and heard one song before I trekked over to see my boy Billy Corgan. It was a good thing I did because I think they were the only performers of the evening to actually go on early. They took the big stage with no introduction, just an epic light show and their trademark guitar-heavy and densely-layered sound. They opened with “Astral Planes” and continued with some of my personal favorites such as “Today” and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.”

My mission was accomplished. My day-turned-night was a success. Maybe it was full of half-dressed and completely drunk teenagers, but hey, when it comes to rock n’ roll anything goes, and I like it (yes, I do).

Article by Lauren Lomma; All Photography by Megan Thompson

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