San Diego Street Scene

    The weekend music festival is a dream come true on shiny brochure paper: All your favorite bands and all those you’ve been meaning to get to know, all checked off your must-see-live list, for a price far less than the sum of twenty-odd nighttime concerts. But a few hours into the fantasy and its rosy sheen starts to wear a little thin — legs hurt, everyone’s playing at once, thirsty, tall person in front, not high anymore, etc. Not to mention many normally stellar live performers tend to slack off a little with the comfort blanket that there’s a dozen more of the world’s finest acts following right behind, ready to pick up their slack.

    But there’s also something about this man-made phenomenon — a coming together of so many bodies and sounds and genres and lights — that leaves in its wake a specially layered euphoria, a sense of having witnessed something weird and unrepeatable. San Diego’s Street Scene 2008, recently having crawled from the grimy, far-out sidewalks of Adam’s Avenue and spread itself into the vast Petco parking lot downtown, was a glorious adventure in hot pavement and tramp stamps, drawing the inner scenester out of every last beach bum and university bro for a devilishly trashy garden party you’d be unlikely to find any other place on Earth.

    Nortec Collective

    Friday started up hot and sticky with a cheerful round of local bands: The Beck-shrining Muslims hacksawed at garage guitars until their polos were good and damp, while the electronic border boys of Nortec Collective ripped us from late-afternoon siesta with a techno-mariachi shot straight to the brain. As the San Diego trolley rattled by Street Scene’s epic row of porta-potties to stage right, and Petco’s concrete desert stretched below, the collective’s two front-nerds proved that MacBooks aren’t just for white kids anymore and that the mindfuck of a Tijuana intersection can somehow be captured in a poppy, screeching harmonica loop.


    Not barely had the Nortec accordian ceased its yowl that the crowd was already mobbing MGMT’s psychedelic set across the lot, blowing bubbles and throwing somewhat anticlimactic fistfuls of glitter at the sluggish, probably zonked, yet ever-adorable kidz-boppers onstage. After three or four tracks that would best be described as not “Time to Pretend,” the East Coast fivesome finally threw their sexed-up minions the radio darling they’d been waiting for, then drove the long-toured set home to the tune of “Kids” — but not without a round of beers and a silly little dance party with the fog machine set to inundate.


    Beck just might be the coolest man alive — however, it would take a god to overcome the fried Barbie hair, the sea of soothing backup singers and enough big-band, bright-light drama to erase all memories of that shaggy, ramblin’ guero.


    But the real party was over at Diplo, where the spread-armed turntablist and sometimes M.I.A. producer enhanced a hundred Ecstasy trips and fogged a hundred more pairs of thick-rimmed Ray Bans, blaring a hip-pop collage hot enough to lure even the most stubborn indie snob into a brimming alleyful of bump ‘n’ grind.

    New Pornographers

    Keeping the good times a tad simpler, the Canadian dudes (and one pretty Minnie, pounding on the keyboard) of the New Pornographers used a prime falling-dusk slot to their advantage, beaming primary-colored lights atop the clear, strong indie pop they’ve so come to own.

    Vampire Weekend

    Just-as-danceable Vampire Weekend a few sidestreets over made a profound improvement on their somewhat flat record persona, channeling Paul Simon himself with cutesy Graceland rhythms and tinkering around with “Little Mermaid” island congos for the most kickin’ study party on the lot.


    The Scene Team douches soon swept GZA offstage to mortally paw at the magnificent instruments of next-up DeVotchKa, including an electric mandolin, stand-up bass and giant brass tuba wound in twinkly lights — tools more than suiting the romantic, dinner-jacketed quartet, a former burlesque band rooted in their famously fantastic live show. Though a well-intentioned double-mic setup somewhat thinned the soaring, wine-treated vocals of lead singer/stomper Nick Urata, his classical players more than filled the hollow as wisps of violin bow were lost to the breeze and the piercing shriek of brass horn sliced the dark.


    The surreal head-blanket of Radio cultsters was almost spectacle enough to keep even Wu-Tang die-hards from heading over to GZA, where they ended up having to chant him out of the tour bus for at least 15 minutes of a mere 45-minute set.
    But it wouldn’t be Wu without a little fashionable lateness, and the Genius more than made up for his bad manners over that slow and steady music-box beat, rapping out the entirety of 1995 masterpiece Liquid Swords as if locked in conversation.

    TV on the Radio

    Just as Diplo bowed out with the phlegm-loosening “Paper Planes,” giant Street Scene draw TV On the Radio stormed the main stage, wiggly frontman Tunde Adebimpe howling to a glowing balloon overhead — backed by drum circles, saxophones and gospel peels to send the spirits reeling.


    Those still feeling frisky from the Diplo crowd jumped right back in where they left off to the laser beams and deathly deep beats of French house duo Justice, who faded from Uffie girls-night-out anthem “The Party” to the outsider electronica of “Never Be Alone” to feverish cut-and-pastes of every last pulse of their worshipped repertoire.

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