Isn’t there something in the Trades Descriptions Act about this? What can you make of a festival that’s called a “street scene” but instead sprawls across a large stadium parking lot?
This is one of many dilemmas facing San Diego’s annual Street Scene, which relocated in 2005 from its homey historical Gaslamp District of past years and onto the far less cozy Qualcomm Stadium parking lot.
This physical move coincides with the event’s continuing artistic transformation from an eclectic musical feast—which often featured world music and roots music in addition to rock—into a purely modern rock dish. Consequently, the festival has sacrificed much of its local, laid back, beach city flavor, in favor of becoming yet another stop on the rock-festival circuit.
On the plus side, Street Scene avoids the overbearing heat associated with Coachella (the reigning king of rock festivals) by beginning each of its two successive shows in the late afternoon at 4:30 PM. Thus, attendees do not need to sweat it out in sweltering midday tents or roast under the desert sun. On the other hand, the polo field in Indio has grass to relax on, perfectly suited for those times when the music isn’t particularly attention-grabbing. Street Scene offers only hard, hot blacktop.
In contrast to Coachella’s scattered tents and two outdoor stages, Street Scene offers three major stages and another relatively small one. Although the distance between these stages isn’t too far to walk, each one smartly features likeminded artists. For instance, the Time Warner Stage sported primarily punk rock on Friday night and the hip hop on Saturday. So for those with limited/specific musical tastes, this limited their travel time.
The toughest choice on Friday night was deciding between the Killers and the White Stripes at evening’s end. Although the White Stripes are always at their best live, Brandon Flowers was obviously the hottest item on both days’ bills. Yours truly decided to catch the first part of the White Stripes, due to inhabit the stage between 10:15 and 11:30, then shoot on over to watch the last 30 minutes of the Killers between 11:30 and 12:00. But when the White Stripes didn’t get started until 10:40, that plan flew out the window. So much for the best-laid plans of mice and men…
The White Stripes
Dressed in what appeared to be a Western cavalry outfit (sans hat) and a red scarf, guitarist/vocalist Jack White quickly took charge of the red-floored Best Buy Stage. The duo, which also includes “sister” Meg on drums, ran through a set of both the old and the new. Older tunes included the word-packed “Hotel Yorba”, whereas newer entries were represented by “Blue Orchid”, “My Doorbell”, and the country-ish “Little Ghost”—all from the recently released Get Behind Me Satan. Another highlight was White’s high-voiced cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, which replaced Parton’s paranoia with Jack’s scratchy-voiced anger.
Brandon Flowers and the Killers were obviously basking in their newfound celebrity. Even at the entry gate earlier in the afternoon it was easy to pick out the second generation new wavers who had come specifically to see the Killers. And although the group finished its set fifteen minutes early, which completely spoiled my plan to at least catch a healthy portion of their show, the crowd carried on a spontaneous sing-along on hits like “Mr. Brightside” and appeared to be truly delighted.
The Captain Morgan Stage was by far the most stylistically consistent venue during the Friday proceedings. In addition to closing with the Killers, it also featured pop-rock oriented sets by Louis XIV, as well as strong showings from Hot Hot Heat and the attitude-heavy sounds of Garbage.
Hot Hot Heat
With its 5:45 PM start time, the Canadian Hot Hot Heat had the chance to perform in conditions not unlike their namesake. With a set that relied heavily on tracks from their recent Elevator CD, the band enthusiastically performed radio favorites like “Goodnight Goodnight” and “Bandages” (from the older albumMake Up the Breakdown), as well as Elevator tracks such as “Jingle Jangle” and “Dirty Mouth”. Keyboardist/vocalist Steve Bays was obviously red-faced from the sun, but this never kept him from giving his all.
Louis XIV proved that there’s more to their act than just inventive singles like “Finding Out True Love Is Blind”. Jason Hill may sing that particular one, but guitarist Brian Karscig also gets plenty of vocal time, including on “Illegal Tender”, which he performed tonight “for all the girls.”
The Shirley Manson-fronted Garbage gave the stage its lone female presence, as the group opened bracingly with “Bad Boyfriend” from their recent Bleed Like Me. The group followed with “Stupid Girl” from its self-titled 1995 debut. It’s rare to see such an assertive female rock presence in today’s mostly girl-pop landscape, but Manson has truckloads of confidence to display.
If you were rich or lucky enough to get into the VIP stage area, you could have caught the wonderful British import of the Dead 60s. With its mixture of ska and XTC influences, this bright new band deserved a much larger audience than it received. For its small, select audience the food, the tables, and the waitresses in this tiny VIP club under the stars offered a nice touch.
Social Distortion headlined the Time Warner Stage, and it’s hard to believe it, but this SoCal band is now an old-time Street Scene favorite. Mike Ness’s raspy vocals, matched with the group’s tight, hook-filled punk is as close as you can get to classic (punk) rock—if there even is such a thing.
Only time will tell if this less-concertgoer-friendly new location will start to feel like home to Street Scene regulars. And while the styles presented may not have varied all that much, it’s awfully hard to argue with the overall quality of the big names on this year’s marquee. It now looks a whole lot more like a parking lot gathering, rather than a true street scene. But darn, it sure is a good one.