Features & Columns

Silicon Valley Music: Left Coast Live

Last weekend's Left Coast Live recalled the glory days of the SoFA Street Fair
TENGO TANGO: Left Coast Live came to a close Saturday with a set by Yo la Tengo.

LAST WEEK, the second incarnation of Left Coast Live erupted in downtown San Jose. Beginning with nightly panel sessions and culminating with more than 100 bands on South First Street, the event far surpassed its debut. Organizers toiled away for months, booking and scheduling bands on numerous stages and in local clubs. Corporate sponsors doled out the bucks. A variety of music fans congregated for hours and were even allowed to drink beer.

There were many highlights. The entire celebration began on Monday with the world premiere of a long overdue documentary, Rock the Block: The Story of the Cactus Club. The hour-long film characterizes the 14-year run of San Jose's now-legendary rock club that closed its doors exactly eight years ago.

Two sold-out screenings packed the Theatre on San Pedro Square. The film highlighted (1) how Cactus anchored a music scene that put San Jose on the map all across the United States; (2) how the hick-town dingleheads at City Hall didn't get it; and (3) why many of us believe that nothing as special as Cactus will ever happen here again. (Full disclosure: I'm one of the folks interviewed throughout the picture.)

A variety of live music comprised the culminating weekend. The Lagos Roots Afrobeat Ensemble gave a jubilant performance of Nigerian music that got many folks dancing. Over at South First Billiards, Sea of Bees, featuring Julie Baenziger, redefined the sexy nerd-librarian-in-sweater-vest experience, complete with wraithlike and beautifully mournful harmonies and a little Mazzy Star thrown in.

A Dixieland band performed on the corner in front of the old Marsugi's building; the Kavanaugh Brothers Celtic Experience uplifted everyone at Caffe Trieste; and the theatrics of Corpus Callosum offered hope for jaded fans of the avant-garde.

In the parking lot outside Anno Domini, Jonny Manak and the Depressives (more disclosure: Jonny's day job is at Metro) provided the perfect soundtrack for the Silicon Valley Roller Girls, who raced around in front of the stage. With driving garage-guitar rock a la Link Wray and Dick Dale, updated with a punk sensibility, the Depressives were just what the tattooed roller vixens needed to warm up the audience.

A gargantuan 25-ton live Mousetrap game featured a bowling ball making its way through the entire apparatus—up and down kinetic sculptures, homemade chutes, knocking things over, triggering pulleys, plummeting into a bathtub and all sorts of contrived pathways until it finally set off the destruction of a 1989 Toyota V6 sedan. Esmerelda Strange provided the appropriate circus accordion accompaniment.

Yo la Tengo headlined the main stage on Saturday, preceded by the Mumlers and longtime locals Lisa Dewey and the Lotus Life. They all provided inspiring sets. After Lisa's show, Chris Landon—whose band Shovelhead played the original SoFA Street Fair—emerged at the microphone and proclaimed that Lisa should be mayor of San Jose. I agree. If that happens, I will volunteer to write the State of the City address.

And speaking of the SoFA Street Fair, which existed from 1992 to 2001, this author couldn't help but make comparisons. SoFA was downtown San Jose's original and unique neighborhood street festival of indie music and counterculture—gloriously unrefined and bohemian. None of this current stuff would have happened without it, and in those days, people partied on the roof of the apartments above what's now the Hookah Nights Cafe on South First. For Left Coast Live, the "VIP area" was on the fifth floor terrace of the empty Three Sixty Residences luxury high-rise, looking straight down on that exact same roof. It was symbolic in more ways than one.

Anyway, the quality of Left Coast Live really did surpass its debut, and as a result, downtown San Jose is a more interesting place. I congratulate the organizers for taking the time away from all their other jobs to create a brand new annual festival for the city. I hope it comes back.