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Concert Review: Street Scene – San Diego, CA – 8/28 and 29/2009

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Day One

Upon gaining entrance, the Senora and I started to get a lay of the land and headed to the Zarabanda Stage, isolated from the other four stages at Street Scene, where Carney, a good-sounding, straightforward rock ‘n’ roll quartet performed. Even nearing five in the afternoon, the downtown streets of San Diego were hot, making a shade a prized commodity. We decided to get beer and learned the powers that be unfortunately decided to forgo the traditional ID bracelet for age-appropriate alcohol drinkers. Instead, we had to deal with the annoyance of taking out our driver’s licenses every time we wanted to grab a beer.

With so many other bands playing at the same time, we determined we had maxed our pleasure potential considering we didn’t know any of the band’s material. As we walked away from the stage, Carney announced they were going to cover The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” which turned me right around. The band nailed the smoldering intensity, and just like the original version, I was disappointed it had to end.

Over at the small Casbah Stage, we came upon Extra Golden. They appeared to be delivering some nice, laid back Afro-reggae rhythms. The drummer sang a song, but we couldn’t understand what he was singing, but that was immaterial as the beat was infectious. My cohort Fumo Verde is missed because no doubt he’d be dancing and smoking up a storm.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave opened up the Fulano Stage with his jazz, rock, hip-hop jambalaya. As we approached, he had the whole band dancing side to side in unison. Then he should have rang a bell because school was in session as he delivered the classic “St. James Infirmary” that included a Cab Callowayesque scat call-and-response. His trumpet solo was awesome.

We made our way into the Microbrew Fest next to Casbah where I tasted some of the worst beer in my life. Hoptober tasted like bong water, and Green Flash was nauseating. For some reason, a few beer booths required to see our ID after we had shown our ID just to get in.

Devendra Banhart played the Fulana Stage. He was seated while the band played around and seemed more bored than he was making the audience. We returned to the Casbah where San Diego’s own Waaves made an incredible racket. Drummer Zach Hill is a madman, flailing around like Animal from The Muppets. Guitarist and vocalist (because that ain’t singing) Nathan Williams uses a lot of effects. They are fun to hear on stage, but I would hate to have them playing in their garage next door.

The Green Stage trumpeted the fact that it is solar powered although it was a poor demonstration as the stage had issues whenever I came by. Holy Fuck was two DJs, a bass and drums. Their club vibe felt odd outdoors, but the crowd was dancing. The main speakers went out, but they keep bringing it.

Back over at Zarabanda, Mastadon, the heaviest act of the weekend, took the stage and rocked it hard. The Senora had never heard them before and she couldn’t decide whether she liked them or they frightened her. After 30 minutes of head banging, we headed back to Fulana where Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band played, including “NYC-Gone, Gone” and the Johnny Cash/punk rock hybrid “I Don't Want Die (In The Hospital)." Jenny Lewis came out and they played Rilo Kiley’s “Portion for Foxes.”

We switched ends to Fulano where Cake played a set of rather average alternative rock. Lead singer John McCrea complained throughout about the technical difficulties that were not apparent from our seats. I remained unimpressed until their big hit “The Distance.” Announcing there was one song left drove a majority of the audience back to Fulana to grab a spot for Modest Mouse, the indie rockers who left me wondering what the fuss was about.

Back at Zarabanda, Girl Talk was throwing a huge dance party. The stage was packed with people getting their groove on to his impressive mixes comprised of snippets ranging from Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” If you didn’t recognize a song, a new one would be up momentarily. The visuals really needed some work because they were rather pointless as was the guy with the toilet-paper gun.

Went back to the Green Stage to try Cage The Elephant. As I walked up the speakers went out again, but the stage monitors could be heard, somewhat. When the mains came back on line, the mix sounded terrible. Not sure what the sound guy’s story was, but I dug their energy and would give them a second chance. We went back and closed out the night dancing to Girl Talk.

Day Two

At Fulana Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears got the day off on a good foot with their intense, rhythm and blues revue that set the bar high for the day. Playing tracks off Tell 'Em What Your Name Is! it was a travesty for all involved they only got a little over a half hour to play.

The American sextet Ra Ra Riot at Fulano competed against the Welsh septet Los Campensinos! at Casbah for indie-pop fans. The strings and melodies of Ra Ra Riot were a little too laid back for an outdoor, late afternoon set. Conversely, Campesinos were sheer energy from their upbeat tempo to lead singer Gareth getting the proceeding started amongst the people on the street. The only negative was Gareth banging away throughout on a high-pitched xylophone, or it may have been child’s piano, at near earache-causing levels. It needed to be toned down and not used so frequently, more like a garnish.

Back at Fulana, Public Enemy was late; apparently no one was looking at Flavor Flav’s clock. After 17 minutes, a DJ came out and his mike was loud as he tried to keep the crowd enthused. At 25 minutes late to their 45-minute set, they finally showed, but they still delivered what they had planned with classics like "Don't Believe the Hype," "Bring the Noise" and "911 Is a Joke."

Headed to Casbah for West Indian Girl, who also were running late; twelve minutes in their case. This was one of their first shows since Mariqueen Maandig left the band, and guest vocalist Miranda Lee Richards joined them. While better suited for a dark club, their moody atmospheric music was pleasant as the sun was setting. After 7 o’clock during a brief moment between songs, Public Enemy could be heard still playing, which meant their set was longer than scheduled, which would throw off the times of the remaining acts here and across the way at Fulano.

After a quick dinner, we checked out of Montreal at Fulano, a crazy mix of theatrical art rock, but it was hard to tell what was going, especially at a distance. People were running around in different costumes and they had some crazy visuals on the video screens. At one point, it looked like two dancers dressed like cave women were on chain leashes held by the Devil and tried to break free, although I wouldn’t claim I was right. Their set was the one you would have wanted to time your hallucinogens just right.

On Fulana, Silversun Pickups played a set of familiar-sounding music that brings to mind ‘90s alternative, but more like the deeper cuts than the hits as nothing really stood out. If someone had told me the band kept playing the same song, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The most memorable part of the set was lead singer Brian Aubert’s fascination with San Diegans putting French fries in their burritos.

The Dead Weather put the “super” in supergroup with a blistering set of blues-infused rock, focusing on songs from their debut Horehound.  They opened with "60 Feet Tall" and closed with an extended jam “Will There Be Enough Water?” that saw Jack White trade the drums for guitar to the crowd’s delight and bassist Jack Lawrence filled White’s seat. Throughout their all-too-brief hour, singer Alison Mosshart captivated with her intensity as the band matched her emotion.

This being my third straight day driving to San Diego from Orange County, I was slightly beat. Figured I needed some certain energy, so we headed to Zarabanda for Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, but the Ozomatli crowd was just leaving. Having at least an hour wait until they started, favored us heading home. We left satisfied with the event, discovering new bands and getting reacquainted with favorites. Looking forward to next year’s.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS