First and Main streets in downtown Los Angeles are not usually the coordinates of cool. Last time I checked, City Hall and the Caltrans building didn’t have much to offer to L.A.’s finest music aficionados. But LA Weekly sought to change that when it sponsored the Detour festival, an event it hopes to hold annually. In early October, three stages and numerous vendors lined the boulevards, and from the main entrance, it almost looked like a mini-Coachella — very mini, but still enough to promote consumption and provide distraction. It seemed the appropriate time for Los Angeles to finally have a music festival to call its own, and this first attempt proved to be quite the success. Almost.
As with any festival, the lineup was incredibly diverse (Beck, Blackalicious, Peeping Tom, the Elected) and the crowd even more so. Every mutation of Angeleno could be found roaming the festival grounds, which created a very colorful background but not necessarily a harmonious one. Faced with the “too cool” clashing with the “not cool enough,” there is bound to be some annoyances roaming the festival grounds. Where there should have been infectious dancing, many stood still (except during Basement Jaxx). Where rocking out was due, fighting ensued (during Queens of the Stone Age’s set — more on that later). But despite this nonsense, credit should be given where it is due.
Of the twenty or so bands on the bill, Oh No! Oh My! was a pleasant surprise. Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less than lovely from a band from Austin, so in keeping with their city’s reputation, the members dished up a fresh, energetic set with just the perfect amount of drama thrown in. Good synthesizer representation got a few kids moving, and their spastic drummer maintained a strong beat throughout. They sound like strawberry milk, if that makes any sense.
I stuck around to catch local sensation the Blood Arm, and for good reason. Even though these kids might have more influence in the U.K. than in their hometown, a good amount of people to catch this band’s catchy, piano-infused indie rock. The Blood Arm may be L.A.’s rebuttal to Franz, but the band delivers the goods with a bit less fluff. Lead vocalist and ringleader Nathaniel Fregoso kept toes tapping and hips shaking, ending their set with a pumped-up version of “Suspicious Character” that had even dudes skipping their way to the next stage.
A host of other bands had been playing since gates opened at 2 p.m., but as the sun began to set, tough choices arose: multiple stages with big-time artists playing simultaneously can be cause for frustration. Still, Blonde Redhead was the perfect choice for the setting sun. The band’s ethereal art rock proved the perfect companion to the dusk that settled on the festival grounds, casting a calming spell on the massive crowd. Kazu’s eerie voice wrapped itself around the audience while the melodic guitar and rhythmic drumming, courtesy of the Italian twins Amedeo and Simone Pace, won our seduction.
With the sun down and the lights on, party time had officially arrived. A sense of anticipation spread throughout the crowd as Basement Jaxx prepared to take the stage. The London duo dropped the bomb with a mad light show any club kid would approve of. And from the looks of it, the fifteen thousand people who crowded the state in front of City Hall would highly rate the robotic, sexamatastic explosion of electronica. Track after track kept us riding their dance-a-thon orgasmatron, and before long, hits like “Bingo Bango” and “Romeo” had us sweating and shimmying — doing our thing, if you will. Just when it seemed we could climax no more, the deep thuds of “Where’s Your Head At?” came booming from the speakers, and every single pair of hands was thrust in the air. Never have I seen such a united crowd. The roof was raised, asses shook, and magic was made.
Then it was time for everyone’s favorite Loser. Beck is one of the things for which Los Angeles is most proud. It’s unbelievable how this skinny, awkward kid became a boundary-crossing musical genius. I’ve never been less than astounded by a Beck performance, but after Basement Jaxx, I was wondering if our sweetheart could keep up. Enter “Devil’s Haircut” and madness ensues. Not only are we not tired after all that dancing, but we have even more sweat to donate to Mr. Hansen’s cause. Standing directly center stage, the King of Quirk busted out a fair amount of Odelay while saving plenty of space for Guero and his latest venture, The Information. There are many reasons Beck is loved and adored, but the most pertinent to this show was he always manages to slip in a track he can do the robot to.
I headed to the smaller third stage because the glorious !!! was about to go on and I was not about to miss out on the party. The last time I witnessed the band’s electronic madness, the lead singer confessed to me that it was they who had pioneered the cowbell movement currently sweeping the universe. I waited to see if they were going to bring what had already been broughten. But I was at a crossroads: I’d been dancing my heart out for hours and I really wanted to keep it going, but Queens of the Stone Age was taking the stage on the opposite end of the festival, and there’s no way I can resist the kings (or Queens) of stoner rock. I slowly made my way to the back of the crowd, feeling guilty sneaking away from the monumental occasion of a !!! show. But as the lights started flashing and the rhythm started pumping, no one noticed my friend and I running off into the darkness.
The stage was black and the crowd was restless. We managed to get up relatively close but, naturally, my view of the stage was limited due to the fact that I was surrounded by guys. I am fully aware of the repercussions of cock rock: There’s going to be pushing, elbowing, screaming, shouting, and many other displays of serious party foul, but I never would have expected to see a svelte, perfectly coifed scenester get so aggro that he would punch my friend in the face. Two songs into their set, this vicious snake line of those people with backstage wristbands were fighting tooth and nail to get to their rightful location, which was how this altercation in the mosh pit came to be. Jaws were left agape as the perpetrator scurried backstage and my friend, blood rolling down her face, was escorted to first aid.
This is the beauty of Queens, though. As much as I wanted to retaliate, I was trapped in a throng of pumped-up rock patrons and was left with no other choice but to focus on Big Red and his crew. The perfectly constructed set list gave an even distribution of hits from their two latest albums; Homme and company ripped through “Medication” and “Little Sister,” and the spooky “Burn the Witch” was especially eerie under the dark October sky. Older faves such as Go “With the Flow” and “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” came crashing down in a resonating wave of booming guitar riffs and heavy vocals that infiltrated the massive crowd. Oldies but goodies “The Bronze” and “Born to Hula” were joyously received, and it was at this moment I remembered why I was taking such a beating. As headliners, the desert darlings had quite a job to handle, but judging by the insatiable rowdiness of the thousands at Detour, they did what they were born to do: rock long and hard and leave you wanting more.