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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Sunset Junction street fair in Silver Lake

The 29th edition, headlined by Conor Oberst, has just about perfected its diversity model, satisfying the salsa and indie-rock crowds.

August 24, 2009|Todd Martens and Scott T. Sterling

Over the course of its 29-year history, Silver Lake's two-day Sunset Junction street fair has evolved from a locals-only neighborhood gathering into a citywide hipster happening, one that can attract major headliners such as this year's critically acclaimed folk-rocker Conor Oberst.

Still, Scott Rodarte of the band Ollin said Saturday that there are continued benefits to being a local, albeit one with a guitar.

Had the East L.A. six-piece not been on the bill, Rodarte said, he and his fellow musicians would have shown up with instruments and become "sneakers-in," avoiding the $20 entrance fee by pretending to be a part of the lineup. It's worked for them before.

One of more than 50 artists performing this weekend, Ollin felt like the quintessential Sunset Junction act. A Latin-heavy melting pot of ethnic sounds, the band spun odes that were fit for a fiesta or a pub to the long-since-displaced residents of Chavez Ravine.

Sunset Junction functions as a middle ground between two camps, attracting longtime area residents in need of a salsa fix and young indie-rock fans looking to party. Its diversity is one of its key selling points.

As Oberst performed on the main stage, reggae stalwarts Sly & Robbie brought Saturday to a close on one of the event's three alternate performance areas with a crux of dancers bottle-necked at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Sanborn Avenue; earlier, the Boogaloo Assassins promised a "little bit of Latin, a little bit of soul."

Before Sunday's final acts Arrested Development, Morris Day and the Time, and Built to Spill played, up-and-coming locals Mika Miko delivered angular art-rock and teenage punk band Tiny Masters of Today attracted a crowd of onlookers that marveled at their awkward onstage banter. Chalk that up to youthful inexperience.

On both days, some of the most arresting sets came from the artists who played long before sundown.

On Saturday, Miss Derringer provided a lesson in showmanship. Singer Liz McGrath looked like a glam-rock pirate and sounded like a barroom country vixen, singing of death and booze with a whiskey-stained voice.

On Sunday, Fool's Gold turned in some of the most challenging block-party fare around. The act's globe-trotting sound touches on early Talking Heads but also comes with some serious old-country cred, as the dance-friendly act sings in English and Hebrew.

Less adventurous palates were rewarded as well. Reunited garage rockers the Sonics looked like a bunch of suburban dads when they took the stage Sunday night, but age hasn't tamed their fuzz-laden rock 'n' roll.

Saturday headliner Oberst, performing with his country-rock outfit the Mystic Valley Band, brought more fire to his Sunset Junction set than the act's recent album, "Outer South," would indicate. He introduced one song as nothing but "sad, mean and bitter."

The Mystic Valley Band is at its best when offering those emotions in their most distilled form.

Such a moment was found in an acoustic rave-up, "I Don't Want to Die (In the Hospital)," in which Oberst and band packed enough energy to control even the largest of outdoor barbecues.

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For complete coverage of both days, read the music blog Pop & Hiss at latimes.com/music.

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