Live Review: LA Weekly’s Detour Festival, downtown Los Angeles

October 4, 2008
Week Of Shows, Episode Eight

“Who is this playing?”

I look to see who’s asking.  It’s a police officer – the kind who could snap me in two if so inclined — his huge, dark body barely contained by his deep blue uniform.

“Golgol Bordello,” I reply.


Even though we’re standing at the very back of the large crowd gathered at Temple and Main, the volume from the P.A. overwhelms our exchange.

“Golgol Bordello,” I offer again, then gesture toward the stage where said band is issuing a madcap display of gypsy-cum-punk-cum-ska music from their perch, whipping the assembly before them into frenzy – as though that should explain the words coming from my mouth.

He smiles broadly, then makes a little air guitar move before disappearing into the throng with his partner, his step light in time with the music.

That’s the atmosphere at the third Detour Festival, LA Weekly’s gift to Los Angeles and more specifically, downtown L.A. — a part of the city that until recent years was a destination suited best for the adventurous few.

The Mars Volta at Detour 2008. (photo by author)

Mars Attacks: The Mars Volta at Detour 2008

Today however, the crowd is a cross-ethnic mix of young and old, and most appear to be unfamiliar with the unusual single city block setting around City Hall where the festival is situated — it’s hard to walk more than a few feet without nearly bumping into someone sweeping their head back to take in the skyline, as if they’re seeing it for the first time.  And while not exactly a gathering of families, this diverse crowd is friendly and laid back, generally making the whole affair feel something like a kinder, gentler Sunset Junction.  Rain threatens throughout the day, but nothing falls other than a light dusting.  Instead, the mild temperatures and overcast sky make the experience all the more pleasant.

Some criticized this year’s line-up for not having draw-worthy performers in the manner Beck, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. and Bloc Party provided at previous Detour events.  Nonetheless, attendance is comfortably strong, yet void of the irritations typical of an overcrowded festival (i.e. long bathroom lines, an abundance of crowd jostling and the near-impossibility of good sight lines).

And while another common Detour complaint was the fact that alcohol drinkers had to be contained in a cage-like Beer Garden rather than being allowed to wander the festival grounds, the Beer Garden this year is underpopulated, giving credence to the suggestion that people really are here just for the music.

To that end, promoters Goldenvoice have done an admirable job of booking enough pop, rock and dance options to keep festival-goers engaged all day.  With enough overlap between start and end times on each stage, you can literally walk around the block from one show to the next and catch a little bit of everyone’s set.

Shiny Toy Guns does their enjoyable best to manifest their electro-pop as a form of arena rock, while Hercules & The Love Affair provide an upbeat dance party that embodies the festival experience (when their performance is temporarily marred by a loss of power to the main P.A., they continue playing anyway, their on-stage volume enough to keep the crowd going while a solution is found).  One of the more remarkable set-ups is the DJ Stage, which, instead of a standard tent or outdoor platform, is actually the courtyard at the top of the steps of City Hall.  Surrounded by marble and columns, dancers enjoy the unique experience of throwing their moves at City Hall’s entrance.  Probably not what the building designers had in mind at the time of construction, but the effect is stimulating and fun nonetheless.  Cut Copy’s synth-powered dance numbers pick up where Hercules leaves off, while the aforementioned Golgol Bordello plays a marathon two-hour set, easily keeping their audience engaged for the duration with a barrage of dance-friendly, tie-died pop awash in ethnic overtones.  Peanut Butter Wolf presents an entertaining show of video and music mash-ups as people start gathering for The Mars Volta, who take the stage next.  This is where things get a little more familiar.

There’s a crush at the front of the stage as The Mars Volta explodes in a volcanic eruption of Rage Against The Machine-meets-Hendrix and Joplin by way of “Bitches Brew”-era Miles Davis.  The crowd is predictably dominated by white males, many of who have made it their mission to get up front and push each other around and/or get their 1993 on and do some crowd surfing.  “Take care of each other out there,” Cedric Bixler-Zavala, the afro’ed Mars Volta front man asks in a rare break between songs.  “There are only four or five guys in yellow shirts up here and there’s a bunch of you, so you be nice to each other.”  Toward the end of a number I can only assume is named “Sweet-ass Space Odyssey Jam in the key of Rad Major,” Bixler-Zavala uses the lighting grid to hoist himself above the stage, hanging there above his band for a couple of minutes and taking it all in.  Looking out at the mass of people before him against the backdrop of downtown L.A., he must have had quite a view.

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