As the Sunset Strip Music Festival is blocking traffic in West Hollywood on Saturday afternoon, and people are getting crowded with temperatures over 90ºF, I am home, still sweating in front of my computer, but comfortable nevertheless… No, I am not mad, but I didn’t go to the festival because they didn’t give me a pass and since I am not the biggest Marilyn Manson/The Offspring/Steve Aoki fan, I didn’t want to pay $80 or so.
However, a free outdoor acoustic stage happened the day before, on the strip just across the Roxy, and four local bands performed a few of their songs acoustically in front of a small crowd. Nobody seemed to have heard about it, come on, it was free, on Sunset boulevard, there was free stuff giving away by sponsor Jack Daniel’s, but the crowd only became thicker toward the end of the event.
First, was Trevor Menear, who played with his band a few blues-Mississippi-Delta stomping numbers, mostly with the help of a loud harmonica, which was not accessory, but rather front row and totally in control the whole time. Despite his young age, Menear seemed to tell us with his clear vocals, that old-school rock-blues music isn’t an old affair but really alive. They also played other songs without the harmonica and it was a complete different story, and the tunes had nevertheless an old-time-charm, but it was when they played some of their devilish-rhythm-like-a-train songs that I liked them the most.
Races, a band I have seen several times before, was next, and the acoustic setting made them focus more on their beautiful male-female harmonies. I have already written about their melancholic, slowly sprawling songs, and their bombast of synth and guitars. This time, part of the bombast was gone, but Wade Ryff, Devon Lee and Breanna Wood’s sad and layered vocals were transforming their songs into something a little different,…as a matter of fact, they even said they changed the tuning to fit the acoustic setting. They performed songs from their latest release ‘Year of the Witch’, and I realized something I hadn’t before, their last song ‘Hope and Gloom’, for some reasons, was making me dream about the Kinks’ ‘Strangers’.
The Peach Kings were next and the duo brought their sort of sulfurous neo-blues to the small stage; there was a little bit of many things in it, many be a little bit of the White Stripes – except that the girl, Paige McClain, was not on drums – a little bit of doo-wop harmonies, and their music could languish like a long and lazy summer night, or suddenly become this freaky, mean, slow-burn blues sang by McClain’s powerful and sexy voice completed by Steven Trezevant Dies ‘ rhythmic guitar. Her voice had certainly great ranges, and was going from whispers to detached-druggy tone, to sexually-charged howls, changing the ambiance from one song to another, from a relaxing sleep-inducing tune to a dark steamy place,… actually the end of their set was hotter and hotter at each second, oh and there was also a weird psychedelia into all this. Anyway they announced they are going to release a 6-song album on September 6,… totally fitting.
The Record Company closed the evening, and frontman Chris Vos said they were here to make us drink more liquor, as the trio was ready to demonstrate it with their John-Lee-Hooker-style sweaty blues songs, and people seemed to follow. With his look of tough-gentle middle-west guy, his guitar, lap-steel and harmonica, Vos didn’t stay too far away from the good-old-school Mississippi blues, but everything sounded raw and sincere, and the strong vocals were the real things. There were a few songs using the lap-steel, another one which tended toward a more Black Keys’ bombastic sound, and all this could explain why they get more and more attention these days. ‘Someone has to be brave and shake her ass’ he said at one point, and many girls went brave, effectively, turning the place into a joyous dance party.