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August 19, 2007

Breakestra/Sy Smith/Blonde Redhead/Deniece Williams at the Sunset Junction Street Festival (Day 1), Los Angeles, CA. August 18, 2007

The annual Sunset Junction Street Festival kicked off on Saturday on a very hot day in the LA area. With three stages that feature different artists from different genres all day and night long, the two day event showcases local acts in addition to headlining acts that close out each respective stage. The event is similar the annual "Carnaval" held in the Mission District in NorCal, but packs people in such close proximity to one another that it reminded me of a one million person rave, the "Love Parade," that I attended in Berlin last summer. Part carnival, part concert, and part street festival, the Sunset Junction Street Festival was a different outdoor experience in the LA music scene and for me, Saturday night's performances were all about the funk.


After taking a crowded tram over to the street fair from a local city college (for the tall man standing behind me facing the wrong direction, just because your ass fits perfectly between my shoulder blades while you lean back on me doesn't necessarily mean that it is comfortable for me. Not that it really bothered me that much, but it made for an unusual ride over), it was immediately apparent to me that this was really going to be a very diverse group all squeezed into a few blocks for the festival. There were countless unusual seat pairings on the way over and in a Disney moment (sorry, I just watched High School Musical for the first time tonight and it was great), it was really refreshing to see how such a diverse group could all come together for one event... even without being wasted and/or repeatedly falling over, only to hug people thanking them for picking them off the ground (which was definitely a very "in" thing to do on Saturday night).


One of the bands I was really excited to see was Breakestra, who brought pure funk to the SoCal audience on Saturday. With a variety of instruments and an original funk style that stems from the band's previous work with breaking or "bboy" beats, Breakestra was the biggest crowd pleaser that I saw on Saturday. While their songs had structure and style that was funk-based, I enjoyed watching the different members of the band have opportunities to show off their individual styles that managed to come together just as well as a group. I was hoping they would bring bboys and bgirls (if Sara from So You Think You Can Dance was there, I would have died), but to no avail. Everyone in the crowd, who was already bouncing in rhythm to the beats, was happy to clap to the beat when asked and screamed with the precision and enthusiasm of an amped crowd at a hip-hop concert. Funk music is generally not really my thing, but Breakestra made it my thing on Saturday and I was happy that I had the opportunity to see them.


Everyone in the audience was having a great time and there were just a lot of smiles on peoples' faces because it really defined feel good music. Lead vocalist Mixmaster Wolf provided the gruff vocal soundtrack to the funk experience. Audience members both young and old were just "getting down" with the band's brand of SoCal funk. After their set, the band was happy to talk to fans who approached the stage. One fan who had just purchased a Breakestra CD enthusiastically told one of the band members that their "performance was dope!!"

He responded, "Thank you. We really appreciate it a lot."

The fan replied back with an enthusiastic fist pump, "Dope!!" And really, it was pretty dope (*leans back and hugs himself in a 90's LL Cool J pose*... not that the word is outdated, I still use it, but I just think that's a tight pose). Anyways, thanks for the adjective, Breakestra fan.


Continuing my run-ins with anything American Idol this year, Sy Smith, one of the back up vocalists on American Idol continued the stage's funky feel that Breakestra had established. Before Sy came out on stage, her band warmed up by playing accompaniments to whatever song was playing over the speakers, the most entertaining of which was their playful jam session to Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." While her sound was much less funkdafied (Da Brat tat tat tat, she make yo' neck snap back... I really hope at least one person remembers that) than the funked up Breakestra, Smith's style ranged from hip-hop, to funk, to soul, to bebop, with some old school R&B mixed in here and there. And best of all? It was all good!

With funk trademark heavy bass lines, much of Smith's vocal work was done in her lower register when opening up her set. However, Smith showed that she has some incredible range later on in the show when she went straight "Mariah Carey" on us during her performance of "Time." These were legitimately some of the highest notes that I've ever heard in person on this very smooth more old school R&B laced track. I really enjoyed Smith's performance of Diana Ross' "Love Hangover," which immediately took on a more funk-filled personality with Smith's controlled vocals on the track and her incredibly capable band behind her. Vocally, the performance was spot on and Smith has so much personality (and hair!) on stage that it made for a very fun performance. It was cool to see how Smith gave her band "props," in a Clay Aiken-like fashion, and gave them the opportunity to perform on their own as they shared the stage with her.


While it was pretty easy for me to establish a good spot for both Smith and Breakestra sans photo pass as no press was allowed on stage, it was a completely different scene as I made my way over to the stage for Blonde Redhead, who has been making waves lately throughout the independent scene.


I saw some celebrities along the way...


And even more, it was like I was covering the Billboard awards there were so many celebs! Wait, wtf... you're telling me that there's more than one Elmo?!


Nothing like large quantities of enormous weiners to act as the ultimate distraction when moving from stage to stage...


As someone who experiences mild forms of social anxiety when being touched on all sides by random strangers, I tried to head over to the stage early to get a good spot, but this ended up being the best view that I could manage, standing behind giants.



So as I post these pictures that I took with my arm fully extended over the crowd, this will actually be the first time that I will actually see what the stage looked like. To me, the whole set looked like the back of people's heads, but I tried to watch through the LCD of the guy standing next to us who kept zooming in with his digital camera.


To my semi-seasoned ears, Blonde Redhead mixes the vocal styles of a Bjork and Enya with the otherworldly accompanying instrumentals of Evanescence's 2003 release, "Not For Your Ears" (before they made it really big). If we're being completely honest, it just wasn't for me. I have been taken out of my preferred genres numerous times this summer and this was just one that didn't do it for me. Not only did the band do a 30 minute sound check live on stage (yuck), but the performances seemed uninspired. Despite the fact they they were playing in front of an enormous crowd by this point, there was minimal crowd interaction. While the band mixed heavy bass guitar lines with trippy sound effects, going a little more traditional rock/electronica on a few tracks along the way, it just was not my cup of tea, glass of wine, or bottle of Zima.


While the group did mix up their styles consistently, with rock songs with varying frantic tempos a la System of Down to upbeat tracks that were easier on the ears like their title track "23," I just couldn't get into it, neither could the huge audience around me that I thought was guaranteed to get pretty excited considering its size. Because the performance was so uninspired and the audience was so removed from the show, a woman behind me could not longer hold in her frustration and addressed the audience.

"You're a bunch of c*nts. Half of you are a bunch of vaginas! I mean that in a bad way! Dance to the music! Jersey! Jersey! Jersey" (eloquent, no?)

Despite her gentle pleas, it wasn't enough to get the audience moving because I feel like I wasn't alone in my lukewarm feelings toward performance. On the way out, I caught a great performance by Grammy winner Deniece Williams, who was a refreshing and powerful R&B/Soul voice after standing through Blonde Redhead's "ok" set.


And there was a dance party right at one of the exits near the porto potties, now at least I know where the party's at for Day 2!


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sounds like you had an interesting day.


that is one sweet fro!


Those were some sweet celebs. Those hot dogs bring back old memories of walks from the coliseum to chanos. Yay for soul, boo for redheads.


1. 2nd High School Muscial refrence in as many blogs. Was Even Stevens in those? Does he even work for Disney anymore or has he gone "Big Time"?
2. I havent seen that many weiners since... well, i told myself i wouldnt speak of that time anymore. I have moved on...
3. Good work man, i dont know how you pulled that off this weekend? Do you EVER sleep?


wow...you were close enough that their beads of sweat could have landed on you! You are a major pimp DC! What a dream!

Nati G.

smooooooth just like a silk(a)....I love your reviews!


Hey! Thanks for the cool review and the great photos! I'm gonna link this from my website! xoxo... Sy Smitty!

Pastrami on Ry

Breakestra is the shit. I should've gone...


That looks like it was a ton of fun, and a ton of time to post! Good job!


Hmmm... that one picture of curious George looks like the one from someone I know at work, hint, hint... :)


nice blogs, this is getting me interested in ,and learning about, some of the bands that im not too familiar with. thanks! great! new music for me.


Good coverage, David!

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