SAN DIEGO — With a few exceptions, such as the gang signs waving in front of Snoop Dogg and the mosh pit for Social Distortion, the San Diego Street Scene was Coachella on concrete.
Now in its 21st year, the festival reinvented itself over the weekend with a sprawling new location and beefed-up, ultra-hip lineup.
With the White Stripes, the Pixies, the Flaming Lips and 35 other bands spread out on four stages over two nights, there were definite similarities to Southern California's other annual festival, only without the soft fields on which to rest your bottom after long walks from stage to stage.
In some ways, however, Street Scene, which drew 40,000 Friday and 35,000 Saturday, was actually superior to Coachella. The lineups on each stage had more defined themes so people wouldn't have to wander (punk fans, for example, could watch Social D, Flogging Molly, Rise Against and the Adolescents perform one after another on Friday). Massive video screens and widescreen TVs made viewing easier for those in the beer tents. Carnival rides and inflatable toys provided entertainment between shows. And the stages were all angled away from each other, leaving little sound interference.
The biggest hitch, for fans and bands, was fighting the horrific traffic to the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot. Southern California freeways are already typically congested on Friday afternoons, but for those traveling from Los Angeles, the two- to three-hour drive took closer to seven.
As a result, the tardy Autolux missed their 4:30 p.m. slot, the Black Eyed Peas started an hour late for the same reason, and Garbage barely made their start time after suffering what singer Shirley Manson joked onstage was the kind of trip that can drive a band apart. (Come on, festival promoters, did we learn nothing from Woodstock? Where were the helicopters?)
With traffic horror stories spreading, Wayne Coyne, whose Flaming Lips were a highlight on Saturday, rode the city's trolley to the venue Friday night to catch some bands. "It was like empty on the way over, and then about three-fourths of the way into the White Stripes set we thought, 'We'd better leave before everybody gets on that trolley,' " he recalled backstage the next afternoon. "Well, we were drastically too late. It was like a death ride. They packed like 400 people into a space where there should be like 20."
It was worth it for Coyne, as it likely was for other concertgoers, as the White Stripes were Friday's show stealers, delivering a spastic set that saw Jack White jumping from guitar to piano to mandolin, all the while singing into microphones sporadically placed around the stage, which was decked out completely in red, white and black. Played entirely on piano and drums, "My Doorbell" became a different, sparser song than the version on Get Behind Me Satan, but was equally infectious.
While the White Stripes were channeling blues, country and garage on one stage, the Killers were putting their new-wave roots on display a few stages away. Dressed in a checkered jacket, singer Brandon Flowers embraced one of the largest crowds of the weekend, often directing his mic toward fans as they sang along to hits like "Mr. Brightside."
The Black Eyed Peas' tardiness had some of their crowd booing, but the mass (also one of the largest) stuck around regardless and was treated to a hit-filled set with live band accompaniment. While it lacked the spectacular breakdancing of a typical Peas show, the set offered Fergie a chance to show off her live vocal chops.
Earlier on the Stripes/Peas stage (the most eclectic of the festival), Kasabian followed the politically charged (International) Noise Conspiracy with a blend of atmospheric electronica and British punk that provided a perfect soundtrack for the setting sun.
The early evening highlight on the Killers stage came courtesy of Louis XIV, who were sandwiched between Garbage and Hot Hot Heat. For their set-closing rendition of "Finding Out True Love Is Blind," the glam rockers turned the song into a psychedelic jam complete with additional guitars and vocals from Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci.
Backstage, Louis XIV singer Jason Hill said he was thrilled to see his hometown festival improve. "Before, it was a good festival. but they had a lot of sh---y bands and one or two good bands," he said. "And the thing was, you'd have like James Brown as the headliner. And I love James Brown, but come on. I don't love him for 60 bucks a ticket."
On Saturday, the Flaming Lips were the talk of the festival, thanks in large part to Coyne's entrance inside a massive plastic bubble that allowed him to walk atop the crowd (as he did at Coachella in 2004; see "Cure, Pixies Hottest Things At Coachella (Aside From Weather)"). "I'm going to come back out from the stage, but tell everyone else I descended from the sky," he told the audience before getting in the bubble.
With a herd of dancers in furry animal costumes surrounding him, Coyne later led the Lips and the crowd through surprisingly straightforward covers of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." For the latter, footage of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was interspersed with explosions and flames on the screens next to the stage, easily the strongest political statement of the festival.
The Pixies (with a less talk, more rock approach), 311 (who were joined by Bad Brains' H.R. for "Who's Got the Herb?") and Death Cab for Cutie were among Saturday's other standouts.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.