Lots of Locals, Live: The Sunset Festival, August 11 at Venue of Scottsdale

By Niki D'Andrea Lack of live photos by Niki D'Andrea's dead camera batteries

The Stiletto Formal: "Removed from the premises"

The Sunset Festival Venue of Scottsdale August 11, 2007 Better than: Losing a contact lens in a mosh pit.

Perhaps the anemic audience at the Sunset Festival caused Stiletto Formal singer Kyle Howard to dive off the balcony inside the Venue of Scottsdale toward uncertain injury (or at least certain expulsion from the club). Perhaps a caffeine binge caused Chronic Future to play an extra-long set. Maybe mental lapses forced Peachcake to eat itself upon a big plate of silly string. Whatever the reasons for the all grandstanding, everybody who wasn't among the 400-or-so people at the show missed a spectacle. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After racing across town from another reporting assignment this past Saturday, I got to the Sunset Festival around 10 p.m. A veritable "who's-who" of the Phoenix music scene was set to perform at the fest. Chronic Future, The Stiletto Formal, The Lymbyc Systym, The Cover Up, Desole, It's Like Love, Miniature Tigers, Attack of the Giant Squid, Thousand Yard Stare, The Morning Kennedy Was Shot, Micah Bentley, JD Stooks, Matthew Reveles, I've Been to Duluth, and Back Ted N Ted were all listed on the press release I received. The show was all ages, with two stages set up for round-the-clock entertainment.

As it turned out, not every performer listed actually showed up, and some acts that weren't originally scheduled (like Peachcake and Jennifer Justice) took to the stage to rock out.

The show, sponsored by CopperState Music, was launched "in hopes to spread the word about some of the great up and coming bands in Arizona" (according to the previously mentioned press release). A better goal might have been "in hopes to give you something else to glaze over while trying to get drunk."

That's not to say the bands weren't good. The handful that I was able to catch after arriving as late as I did were great. But considering that the bill really boasted some of our best bands, the turnout was disappointing.

Dig those crazy Peachcake cats.

The first band I caught was Peachcake, on the second stage. I loved the quirky electro-pop band's split CD with Less Pain Forever, titled Now We Have Something to Celebrate (Western Tread), but I'd never seen them live. Turns out, Peachcake would be better live with the sound turned off.

Before Peachcake's many fans jump in my shit about what I just wrote, let me clarify: Visually, Peachcake is a lot of fun. The band's props -- pink Care Bears and other assorted stuffed animals, giant inflatable palm trees, and humongous plastic lollipops -- were strewn all over the stage, and the band members were dressed up in crazy, generic superhero costumes. They had three costumed characters running around in the crowd, shaking tambourines, dancing up in peoples' faces, and trying to get a train going. One guy in a hot pink wig and a ridiculous blue spandex jogging suit (straight out of the '80s) kept dancing and flailing like Napoleon Dynamite, to the point where I was worried he was going to poke somebody in the eye or worse, send a flying elbow into my beer. The band also had two guys onstage juggling neon balls, and everybody in Peachcake's entourage worked the crowd, trying to get them to jump and clap along. The audience looked like it was having a blast. The vibe was similar to a rave, especially since most of the folks in the room were part of the under-21 crowd.

But as far as the audio, it sounded horrible, which was doubly disappointing because Peachcake pre-empted their performance with a sound check that almost stretched to 20 minutes (and when you're on a festival bill, a 20-minute sound check is excessive). The clever synth-drenched pop tunes that sounded so great on CD translated into warbled digital thumping and off-key, unintelligible vocals on this night.

Chronic Future has a hip-hop habit.

The next act I saw was Chronic Future on the main stage. I don't really have a lot to say about them -- they're a good band that's been playing around this town for years, but I've never been a big fan. I'm not a hater, either; I've just never been moved to one extreme or the other by them. Onstage, Chronic Future had amazing energy, with members of the punk/hip-hop/experimental group hoisting their instruments above their heads, jumping around, and screaming with conviction. I don't particularly care for singer Mike Busse's freestyle raps (I think he jocks Drunken Immortals and Insects MC Brad B's spitting-spiral style too closely), but it's Busse's flows that lend Chronic Future the rap-punk-reggae sound that's pulling in new fans for the band (nobody in the audience was complaining, because they were too busy dancing and screaming).

But the highlight of the night happened before I arrived, when Kyle Howard, singer for exotic rock band The Stiletto Formal, jumped off the venue balcony and onto the stage. For those readers who've never been inside the Venue of Scottsdale, that's about a 20-foot drop. I saw Iggy Pop pull a similar stunt at the club in 2001, back when it was still called the Cajun House. At the time, the club had all these fishnets draped from the stage to the balcony, and Pop was climbing them and dropping down off them all night.

Howard was asked to leave the venue after jumping off the balcony. (On the contrary, Iggy Pop was not asked to leave after his performance, but promoters were probably happy he didn't whip out his peen and smear peanut butter on his chest).

Iggy's infamous peanut butter performance (Cincinatti, 1970)

In the aftermath of his balcony dive, Howard posted a blog entry on The Stiletto Formal's MySpace page, explaining why he suddenly disappeared from the show ("I didn't want anyone to think that we just took off and didn't care about the rest of the bands," he writes).

Here's Howards version of events, straight from TSF's blog:

"My little jump from the balcony during our set didn't sit too well with the staff. It was actually intense, and awesome. They took me into a back room and stripped me of my wristband priveleges (I felt like a cop turning in his badge and gun) and almost escorted me out but I convinced them to allow me to keep a shred of dignity by walking out like a civil human being. All in all it ruled."

Personal bias: My sobriety.

Random detail: I jotted down this exchange between a Peachcake member and an audience member during sound check:

Peachcake dude: (to the sound guy) "Check the nodes." Audience member: "Check the chodes?" Peachcake dude: "No, the nodes."

And I also overheard a young guy tell his friend, "I'm having fun...but it's better if you're high."

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