[9 September 2005]
Eagles of Death Metal
The New York Dolls
It has been said that Los Angeles isn’t so much a city as a collection of neighborhoods. The annual Sunset Junction street fair combines the collective energies of Silver Lake and Los Feliz, both with long histories of racial diversity, sexual acceptance, liberal politicks, and, more recently, hipsterdom. The scene is like a mash-up of a 3D Urban Outfitters catalog with a revival of Hair—that is, without the third wall and with the original, now aged, Broadway cast.
I arrive early in the afternoon on Saturday to peruse the stores and stalls lining the three-quarters of a mile on Sunset Boulevard hosting the festival. There are Peruvian miniatures for sale alongside cheesy cell phone accessories and studded cock rings. Along with booths crammed full with vintage clothing, tee-shirts, original art and crafts, and various mass-produced tschotchkes, are non-profit booths: Narcotics Anonymous, the Housing Rights Center, LA AIDS Walk, and the Green Party. Small companies also utilize the space for its advertising potential: KFC and Adelphia host a few corporate booths that couldn’t bribe attention if they tried.
However, the most prized commercial booths were the media sponsors. The shared Amoeba Records and LA Weekly tent was so full of giveaways that I lost all propriety and literally stuffed my pockets full with band stickers, posters, buttons, and—cherished of all cherished—$2 off coupons for any album at Amoeba. With admission at $10, that means you can recoup the cost in only five albums! I can be bought very cheaply.
I meant to stay all day Saturday and catch the Walkmen and Rilo Kiley in the evening, but after four hours, two beers, and 90-degree, heat I was toast. The sunblock that I so diligently applied dripped off in my sweat and I was burning like a bug under a magnifying glass. While lying at home trying to shake off my sun stroke, I decided that though unseen, I could say with confidence that Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley looked smashing in a vintage frock and the lush sounds of the Walkmen were tonal matches for the colors of a late summer sun setting in the smog. It’s amazing the things one can convince oneself from a cozy spot in bed.
Fortunately, I was able to sleep off my heat stroke in time to make it back on Sunday evening, when the drunks are at their surliest and the bands their loudest. While Saturday’s music was mostly indie rock, Sunday is all about punk. Crowds are peppered with rude drunks, giggling as they push to the front, spilling beer along the way. One tennis-skirt clad hipster girl is pushed to the front of the stage in a wheelchair, where upon arrival she miraculously stands, then proceeds to place her shaky, newly-recovered feet on the wheelchair and praise the power of rock. When a nearby man idly quips, “Quick recovery,” she leans down to her “nurse” and stage whispers in earshot of the man, “this guy was all, like, speedy recovery, and I’m all fuck you asshole.” Oh, to be young and entitled in LA.
A t-shirt advertising a punk band called The Methadones takes on new meaning when worn by a saggy faced woman with a cigarette dripping out of her mouth. Indeed, if there is a theme for the night’s shows it’s that punks get scarier as they age. Seminal early LA punk band knows this and uses it to great effect. Lead singer, John Denny, bunches his face up and bugs his eyes out making all kinds of horrific faces. He frightens me in just the way I like to be frightened by punk rockers.
By the time the Eagles of Death Metal take the stage, the area is so packed that I can’t see guest singer and birthday boy, Jack Black’s number. I also can’t see the hot LA ladies that Jesse “The Devil” Hughes is constantly referring to from stage. While the crowd may have begun mourning the non-appearance of EODM’s sometimes-drummer, Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, no one could hold a grudge against an act so purely fun. Even Hughes’ repeated requests for the front of the stage area to be ladies-only so they can dance in “safety,” manages to be charming with his fluffy yet sinister ‘stache.
EODM make another appearance later to close the Suicide Girls’ routine, an embarrassing parade of tattooed Internet pornstar ass, which was invisible to ninety percent of the audience because of crowding. Since Sunset Junction is technically a family event, the Suicide Girls merely shook some tail feather to stripper standards like “Lil’ Red Riding Hood” and kept the pierced jugs under wraps. If anyone really wanted to see punk rock girls strip to ironic music, Jumbo’s Clown Room, former workplace of Courtney Love, is just down the street. But, I guess getting off isn’t really the point at a street festival. Which raises the question, why were the Suicide Girls invited to perform a show that no one could see, and in which there was nothing to see? I guess only the big-and-tall shoppers that pushed the front know for sure.
By the time the New York Dolls take the stage, the festival is wall-to-wall drunken flesh with odors of beer and puke pungently intermingling. I climb on top of a fence to get a better view, but I’m so far away that it’s a moot effort. However, they sounded great. Thirty years later, David Johansen’s voice can still make me want to lock up my proverbial daughter and dress my proverbial son in drag.