Saturday, September 4, 2010


Nico Vega performs at The Key Club during the second day of the Sunset Strip Music Festival.
photo by picksysticks

by JPegg

Sunset Strip Music Festival: Day 2. Friday. This night was different. The mood was not the same as the celebratory opening night; rather it felt of a somber lull before the big bang storm finale happening all day and all night Saturday. It was Friday night and the street was yet to be closed off, while the outdoor beer garden stood silent in the dark, motionless and waiting for tomorrow, like a carnival ride waiting for the power to be flipped on. Ready to go, but not yet time.

It was more of an evening to stroll and absorb the surroundings before heading to a couple shows, but the place seemed forgotten, dingy, an alley turned into a street where the homeless knew that this was another good time of year to ask for charity. There was the Santa in rags, rolling along in his rickety wheel chair; the bag lady that wore layers of soiled clothes that amounted to as much as what was in her filled shopping cart; and the other dragging droves that politely held open their tired and strained hands. They were the Hollywood streets and their lives ran over just as much. Only an answered prayer to the grasping hope they must had held deep inside saved them. They smelled too. Or maybe it was the pungent day early food truck sitting deep in The Roxy parking lot that nobody wanted to approach, open and empty, like a dumpster luring flies. Or possibly the stink of the hunting paparazzi as they waited to attack a celebrity’s evening with blinding flashes to turn it for a quick buck. This place needed a good flood tonight, but that arrived the next day.

Rich Koehler of Nico Vega at The Key Club on the second day of the SSMF.
photograph by picksysticks

On the brighter side there were the ten foot tall guitars spotting The Strip like colorful Easter eggs. Each of these more than twenty-five individual giant Gibson Les Paul guitar canvases celebrated music history unique to The Sunset Strip. They were scattered all over the place ready for a scavenger hunt through history. This section of The Strip turning into GuitarTown was supposed to be part of the beautification and revitalization of this area, but it just looked like tinsel placed on a nostalgic street. What The Strip should have done were monuments. Everybody would have loved taking pictures next to their favorite historic rock star. There was a nice bronze plaque outside Whisky A Go-Go that told of rock legends that graced their stage, but it would have also been thrilling to see them life-sized in their most memorable poses. What rock aficionado wouldn’t have taken a photo next to a life-sized bronze Jim Morrison? And while thinking all this, Aja Volkman of Nico Vega waltzed by in a flowing white silky garb as she headed down the street towards Sunset Plaza . I only later realized it was her when she took the stage later in the same outfit.

A bit after, I met a young lady in satin black dress and heels walking down the street from the direction of the plaza . She asked about the music that was on so many advertisements around town. She was headed in the right direction, but after conversing with her for a while, I realized that her Hollywood dream had fallen to pieces. She was a musician from Ohio that came to Los Angeles with her hopes of success, but she had nothing much left now, except debt, back-due rent, and something not right in the four cigarettes she chained. She was thinking of New Orleans , she said. I didn’t say anything, except give her a hug and wish her luck. I met far too many people like this in Hollywood . They arrived bright-eyed, stayed a while living the glamorous starving artist life, got a few gigs, made excuses why the city didn’t understand them, then suddenly disappeared with little notice. Most of these Hollywood hopefuls were only tourists, yet they didn’t know it until the opportunities and money ran dry.

Nico Vega
Nico Vega performs at the Sunset Strip Music Festival.
photo by picksysticks.

Live shows offered a momentary haven from this reality, any reality, and bliss to be happily fixated in a feeling at a show with senses fully engulfed in the experience. Even entering into Key Club was like getting on a space ship, the outside world left behind. A packed gathering, but very breathable because of its size. Key Club had to be the largest venue on The Strip. Cavernous. There was the recessed pit in front of stage, steps behind was the floor with a bar and sitting booths on both sides, the dinning on the second level with its own bar, and the secluded downstairs lounge bar with a mini stage. This place was a sanctuary from the streets of life, oh so far away, surrounded here in the protective womb by the over stimulating music and scenery of enjoyment peoples. Then it was time for Nico Vega as they too released their frustrations of modern living.

Watching Nico Vega was like watching an atomic bomb explode over the Grand Canyon . The shockwave magnitude energy that erupted from within lead vocalist Aja Volkman stretched faces into smiling uproars. She had an attitude of a political protester, held confident and positive, keeping alive the wild beast within, not letting The Man shackle her thoughts and desires. Her body and limbs danced like a spiritual shaman heretic as each song voiced a message of screaming defiance. A few new songs were performed that took some time to get to liking, much like the deep cuts in their debut album, but once one knew the lyrics, the music was fully understood as to why they sounded like a grinding steel factory riot. Nico Vega showed that now was the time to join together, stand-up, oppose the wrong, and restore dignity. Moral unrest. False promises and lies had to be punished. Nico Vega was the alarm clock for 21st century America . Wake-up and smell the corruption. It was always good to be able to relate bands on levels beyond songs of romance. A burden felt lifted after the performance, knowing I was not alone in my down trodden views.

The Paper Dolls at The Cat Club during The Sunset Strip Music Festival.
photos by Picksysticks

The final show of the evening was at Cat Club. This place looked like it used to be a bar that later added a stage next to the street entrance. It was the smallest venue taking part in the Sunset Strip Music Festival. Not much to the stage lights, not much to the stage, and a floor area that backed into the bar with two bench seats lining the wall. The set-up made watching a performance a little distracting. The previous band was rolling out their equipment across the floor, cutting through the fans, and out the door that glared in street lights as the set started for The Paper Dolls.

The mood of The Paper Dolls playing Cat Club felt like a backstage rehearsal. A work in progress, both club and band. A dark garage that hosted a demo band. An antique automobile during its black primer restoration. A sneak preview before the completed product. Kristina Allison vocals sounded heavy and parched, as if she was holding back, or as though she couldn’t decide whether to sing or scream. There was stiffness too in her performance, not nervous, just unable to loosen up it seemed, while the guitarist was over anxious squealing to get ahead of bass and drums. Uncontrolled rock and roll. These few elements still needed sync and refinement. But when Allison slowed it down for the love song with her Les Paul, she sung as smooth as a rose petal. It was like noticing Bel Air tailfins on a wrecked automobile about to head to the scrap yard. There was something to salvage and build upon after all. Cat Club had these types of bands often, where the whole performance didn’t sound refined enough for the big lights yet, but a song or few surely became a popular single. A nurturing club to hear a lot of knickknacks, but a lot of acts and tunes to sift before being astonished by that glistening gem, an unexpected song that stopped conversations and turned heads towards stage. It was a nice surprise end to the two consecutive nights on The Strip. There was only going to be one more day, but it was going to be larger than both nights combined. The final day was to come of Sunset Strip Music Fest 2010.