The Sunset Strip
By Lexa Vonn
Photos by: Lexa Vonn
In the morning I drearily dragged myself to The Viper Room, which was being used as a sort of press tent for candid live mini-performances and interviews. In was there that I had the opportunity to sit in on an interview Slash was engaging in with a local radio station. Among the discussed were Slash’s formative years living in L.A. with his father, who used to design album covers for Geffen Records and mother, who was a clothes designer to celebrities.
Speaking of fashion, when asked where his trademark top hat came from, he had this to say: “I stole it from a store called Retail Slut that used to be on Melrose. I thought it looked cool and managed to get out of the store with it. We were playing a show at the Whisky that night, it was around 1985 and I just felt comfortable and wore it ever since.” The future of the currently absent Velvet Revolver was also discussed. “We’re gonna go back in the studio in the fall with a bunch of different singers and see which one sticks. That’s the problem- we can’t find anyone who’s good enough yet. But we do have a bunch of kick-ass new songs to record so we’ll see what happens.”
Finally, it was off to the street festival. I arrived as 80’s rock cover superstars Steel Panther were rocking out on the West stage. Surprisingly, their set was full of satirical originals. Next on the agenda was Semi-Precious Weapons who were the surprise of the evening for me. I’d always heard that they were a great live band and was pleased to find out that this was an understatement… They’re an amazing fucking live band! While they’re music is a little popish for my taste on CD, they are nothing but pure rock n’ roll onstage. I was up in the pit snapping photos when I was nearly pummeled by bassist, Cole Whittle who exploded onto the stage in a frenzy of head bashing summersaults and leaps that nearly threw him into the crowd. When the chaos was ritualistically brought to a boil, singer Justin Tranter emerged like a sort of drag queen androgynous demigod commanded us all to worship at his alter. They reminded me of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, only dirtier and more dangerous.
But don’t be fooled by Justin’s Jared Leto-esque good looks as it was clear as the set played on that he is bad-boy to the bone. In between gallivanting in tights and sparkly heels, he sprayed champagne into the crowd, demanded girls to reveal their breasts, stage dived into the crowd, and nearly got shut down by police when he decided to encourage fans to jump the barricade and join him onstage. It was all very Iggy meets Bowie.
The cops, however were less impressed as dozen of excited boys and girls rushed the stage. “Don’t listen to security!” Tranter exclaimed. “Come up here, I’m in charge now!” I was eager to see if he would be arrested and charged with an attempt to start a riot as about a dozen cops marched into the stage wings. Luckily, the set was completed and Tranter made a quick exit unscathed by fans or the man. I was blown away! Its sure been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing a REAL rock star performance.
And then it was back to Slash again, who took to the stage just as the sun was setting and was clearly the king of this year’s event. So many photographer’s showed up to shoot Slash’s performance that security had to let us into the photo pit in shifts and I still managed to get crushed, pushed, and bumped in the head, not by fans reaching up for the band, but by the other photographers! The musicianship of anyone Slash works with is always top-notch and tonight was no exception. Vocalist, Myles Kennedy had an amazing vocal presence. His voice reminded me a bit of Queensryche’s Geoff Tate. Guest vocalist, Fergie was also a pleasant surprise. Who knew she could belt out songs like Heart’s “Barracuda” like a true rock chick?
Slash himself is never disappointing. There is just something about the way he plays and the sound of his guitar that always touches my soul. Its as if he is singing soulfully through his instrument. He has been my number one favorite guitarist since the Guns N’ Roses days. Not to disappoint, several G N’ R songs were played at the end of the set to incredible enthusiastic crowd. Rock anthem “Paradise City” became an all-inclusive sing a long. By the end of the set, there were so many people spread across the street that you could barely move.
Luckily, I managed to sift myself through them to grab my spot against the barricade and wait for headliner, Smashing Pumpkins. The band was the only one of the day who wasn’t allowing photographers to shoot from the pit so I had to use gorilla tactics and shoot from the front row with the fans instead. It wasn’t an easy task as the crowd crushed forward as soon as the band hit the stage. I thought it was pretty rough for a band as mellow as Smashing Pumpkins but I guess that’s what happens when you play last at a street festival where booze is sold all day long. Billy Corgan emerged decked out in Asian attire and accompanied by a psychedelic backdrop of spirally light projections and two giant silver pinwheel sculptures.
The band really didn’t move around much onstage but they did play every single hit any Pumpkins fan could ever want to hear. “Bullet With the Butterfly Wings”, “Today”, “Eye”, “Cherub Rock”, “Tonight, Tonight”, “Zero”, “1979” were all included as well as some new ones. “Disarm” seemed to be the only one that was left out and I wondered why.
Still I wasn’t disappointed with the set that played about 2 hours, much longer than anyone else that day. I did, however miss the charisma of the old Pumpkins line-up, as the new line-up looked and acted more like a back-up band. All in all, it was an enjoyable performance, but I still think Semi Precious Weapons stole the show.
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