By Gustavo Arellano
By Aimee Murillo
By Matt Coker
By Vickie Chang
By Matt Coker
By LP Hastings
By Michael Goldstein
By R. Scott Moxley
They've been dicked around by record labels in ways that would send most bands screaming back to their day jobs. Take, for example, their last album—which, actually, you can't, because it never came out. A shimmering slice of Latin-flavored rock & roll, the ironically-titled Nueva was finished and ready to go for three years, but their label, Trauma, dropped them before it ever saw a record shop bin. At least they think they were dropped—their label keeps selling their old songs to bizarre projects like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie soundtracks (do the mass-marketed twins-from-cute-hell know Mirainga's first EP was titled Fuck the Scene? Ahh, the subversity of life!). But they can take solace with the fact that few music executives have ever understood Mirainga's unique mix. "Every label head tries to change us," singer Craig Poturalski told us two years ago. "They always say stuff like, 'Why don't you use heavier guitars?' We're not going to do that. That isn't us." The band can still be found getting their rocks off in assorted OC clubs.
52. Sparklejets UK
A band whose players apparently never felt the need to invest in an FM radio whilst growing up, Sparklejets UK specialize in clever hooks, bouncy songs and all-around good times—not counting the occasional revenge fantasy lyric about the boyfriend who just dumped you and then gets killed in a fiery Pinto collision. They're a pop band, but not "pop" as defined by the sad minions whose ears have been rendered tone deaf by the teenage swill oozing out from KIIS-FM. They're power-pop, baby—a little Beatles, a bite of Big Star, some generous quarts of the Bay City Rollers, a couple scoops of Jonathan Richman, a hunk of Brian Wilson, and, when they really cut loose . . . Cheap Trick! Would you believe their guitar player is a mild-mannered Fountain Valley High librarian? And let this be forever known: they were the first band to ever grace the stage of the Anaheim House of Blues—we were there, we know it's true. Seek out the Sparklejets wherever you can, for they're truly a supersecret treasure.
53. The Chantays
Five Santa Ana High students who scored only once in 1963 before wiping out. But what a hit! "Pipeline," two minutes of galloping bass, reverb-screaming lead, and chords churning like the ocean, surfdom's second-most famous instrumental after Chantays contemporary Dick Dale's "Misirlou." Chantays Avenue near Santa Ana High bears the group's name.
The scene: Battle of the Bands, Hogue Barmichael's in Newport Beach, early 2002. On stage: Chicano punk band Cuauhtémoc. The lights dim, and from the darkness shrieks a primordial flute solo gasped by lead singer Coyotl. Drummer Revee pounds out an indigenous drumbeat, motivating the Chicanos in the crowd to clap rhythmically in unison as if they were summoning the spirit of the band's namesake Aztec emperor. The spoiled white kids in the crowd, meanwhile, position themselves in the mosh pit, ready, as one says, to "smack those beaners good." Soon, the piercing flute flutter segues into the machine-gun-opening chords of "Bienvenidos a Chiapas;" the Chicanos pogo so viciously that the frat boys flee to the pit's margins in terror. Cuauhtémoc's set is magnificent, beautiful—but not worthy of first place, according to the judges, who deem an Offspring rip-off better. Racism lives, but Cuauhtémoc endure.
Sure they're a little bit too much into Art Bell and Larry Elder, but questionable political aesthetics aside, Honeyslide is one of the most tasteful, skilled and downright pretty-sounding musical ensembles to ever knock about the county. Gary Williams and Liana Dutton's harmonies are knee-knockingly good, and the band's recordings are equally lush and full. Like William's patron saint, Neil Young, Honeyslide can get downright folksy and poignant in their live shows, but also can crank up the volume and let loose. Percussionist Jon Crawford perfectly complements Williams' dynamic guitar and Dutton's honeyfied voice and flute. At times, they sound like they should be playing in Morocco. Isn't it a biological impossibility for white people to possess such captivating rhythms? They're very close to releasing their second self-produced CD. One knock against them: they don't play nearly often enough.
No band championed the independent spirit of rock more than Garden Grove-based Supernovice. Despite commercial indifference, the David Turbow-led rock band released several ultra-fine albums in the mid- to late-'90s, culminating with 1997's superbly-crafted Timely. Sounding somewhere between the Breeders, Pixies and Fuzztones, Supernovice served up nourishing portions of self-torment (none better than "Let Bygones Fester") as well as the occasional ballad (who can top the Johnna Corbett-led "Stay for the Winter?"). Turbow, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Social Ecology at UC Irvine, often shared his contempt for pop culture with either a Graham Parker-like scowl or a tongue firmly planted in cheek. Two of his most humorous broadsides were aimed at Save Ferris ("Liverwurst") and the OC ska scene in general ("Spam"). It's undeniably fucked-up that far-less-talented OC bands hit it big while Supernovice wound up unjustly toiling in obscurity.
57. James Intveld
Maybe nobody ever told James Intveld that roots rock was a revival. The guy sings and writes songs with so much immediacy and freshness that you'd think he's out there competing with Roy Orbison. The Garden Grove native was there in the late '70s, slipping in with the rockabilly scene, and he's still here, holding onto the notion that sincere delivery and timeless songs are, well, timeless.
58. Kyng Arthur
Trinidad-born Anaheim resident Kyng Arthur does the unthinkable, taking roots reggae into uncharted territory. The bantam-sized singer/songwriter weaves hypnotic spells in song, blurting out his dark obsessions with UFOs, invisible spirits and vengeful warriors from above with such melodious wonderfulness that it's easy to forget he's quite clearly insane. In concert, Arthur is a diminutive dynamo as he dances, stomps and whoops it up like a man in the throes of some demented rapture, as his cast of revolving band members—most of whom seem to come from the Caribbean as well—provide the skanking-est back-up this side of the Wailers. If Screamin' Jay Hawkins would have been a reggae singer instead of a blues shouter . . .
59. The Aquabats
The Aquabats are OC's very own live-action Saturday-morning cartoon show-cum-ska band, and as ska bands go, they'll certainly go down as the most entertaining. Superhero masks and Spandex costumes? Songs about pizzas and worms? A penchant for parody, like when they almost singlehandedly destroyed dickwad aggro-rock (well, it's nice to dream, innit?) with the Korn-mocking "I Fell Asleep On My Arm?" Concerts that are about as much performance art as they are music? And at it for almost a decade now? Isn't it time these silly kids grew up and got real jobs? God, we hope not.
What the hell happened to real punk rock? Absconded and recast by know-nothing MTV-raised cretins, who think that all they need to be punk is to buy a Clash T-shirt at Hot Topic and have mom spike their hair—that's what happened. And it sucks. Original late-'70s punk used to threaten people—really threaten people—a neat little factoid of which U.S. Bombs have been trying to remind OC for a good decade now. And the singer? The guy with such a wicked-sounding bark that he makes you feel all tense and nervous and sweaty just listening? That's Duane Peters, world champeen skateboarder, liberator of souls, OC outcast. If your middle finger sprouted its own mouth and started singing, its voice would sound like Duane's. Let the masses have Sum 41 and Blink-182. We know better.
61. Kei Akagi
Many OC residents first saw keyboardist Akagi at the Coach House with Miles Davis in the late '80s, but he was also known to play a Corona del Mar restaurant with bassist Art Davis. A veteran of stints with Stanley Turrentine, Al DiMeola, Airto Moreira and others, Akagi is also a fine composer with a handful of great recordings under his own name. An impressionist at the keyboard, Akagi is able to stir more moods than a romance novel. Now head of the jazz department at UC Irvine, we claim him as our own.
62. The Swamp Zombies
Hatched in 1985, the Swamp Zombies were neo-beatniks who made feisty music too loud for your average java joint. The Laguna Beach band's acoustic hippy punk had widespread appeal—everyone from rockabilly cats and swing enthusiasts to Sawdust Art Fest patrons dug 'em. During an average club gig, burly singer Steve Jacobs dragged his huge, fluorescent-colored standup bass around the stage and told bad jokes as college guys slam-danced. The Zombies' percussionist fueled the aggression by smashing his washboard to bits. Weirder than the Violent Femmes, funnier than They Might Be Giants, the Zombies combined warped humor and dissonant harmonies to memorable effect on Scratch 'n' Sniff Car Crash (copies unleashed a burning rubber scent), where they sang about "Speed Racer" and covered Public Enemy. After nearly 10 years, some brief MTV airplay and mainstream press notice, the Zombies headed back to the swamp.
63. Ron D Core
Branding himself the West Coast Hardcore Pervert, Ron D Core spent a good chunk of his career building outlaw cred by doodling up his rekkid sleeves and fliers with grotesqueries like warped vaginas and lesbian pixies. The less blue-minded of you should remember him for something else: He gave Orange County one of its finest record stores, Dr. Freecloud's Mixing Lab, supplying ravers with obscure and rare electronic vinyl. His hardcore techno—one of the most eardrum-destroying sounds produced in DJ culture—has scored him gigs at Cypress Hill's Smokeout and the mega New Year's Eve massive Together As One. But star status hasn't changed him. Rather, the hardcore on his albums like Decibels of Destruction has kept him hilariously juvenile and strictly underground, a dangerously good fate for a man who was one of the founding fathers of the SoCal rave scene. Yep—at it since 1986.
64. Over the Counter Intelligence
One of the most hated bands in la naranja, mainly because they're so insistent on infusing everything with the animating intelligence of radical politics. Never mind that they're clever lyricists, adapting Dr. Seuss tomes to fit their Rage-esque guitar-and-drum flurries. Who cares that lead singer Andre Sandoval puts on a performance only slightly less maniacal than Zack de la Rocha? It matters not that the quartet bravely put their bodies where their mouths are by facing down cops, involving themselves in the community, and participating in every progressive political movement in the county. For many, Over the Counter Intelligence are just too political! No wonder they're punk personified.
65. James Harman
As a monster harp player, a solid vocalist and songwriter, and as a bandleader par excellence (don't even think about auditioning for his group unless you can seriously play your ass off), James Harman has come to personify the OC blues scene. Expert in any setting from jazzy, rocket-tempo jump to greasy 'n' lowdown grinders, the James Harman Band embody the roadhouse ethic to perfection—just ask such JHB alums as Kid Ramos, Steve Hodges, Junior Watson, Lynwood Slim and Gene Taylor. Harman is sort of like our own personal John Mayall, although he sings and blows much better than Mayall and has the
good taste not to be English. Even his sometimes unpleasant personal eccentricities—Harman has been known to speak in Ebonics and has a temper to make Mike Tyson cower like a bitch—have become something close to endearing over the years. A "Dangerous Gentleman" indeed.
Former lead singer of Los Crudos, the Chicago quartet that is quite possibly the greatest non-D.C. straight-edge band. Current lead howler for Limpwrist (queer punk gone political, with the glitteriest band shirts ever), who perform much too infrequently. Continued creator of tomes describing in damning detail how the United States has been eyeing Latin America as its personal playground since the times of Monroe. Possessor of a voice that could make the corrugated tin wall separating the U.S. from Mexico in San Diego crumble. And the nicest guy since Moses. Seriously—Sorrondeguy left his punk paradise of Chicago for the complacent streets of OC because of love.
67. Danny Flores
This 20-some-years Westminster resident could easily rest his musical legacy on the wicked saxophone wails he crafted for the boppy instrumental "Tequila" as a member of the Long Beach-based Champs, but no. Flores whined to the world in a February 27, 2000, front-page story in The Orange County Register that he signed off on the royalty rights to "Tequila" while—fittingly enough—drunk during the '60s, which has cost him millions of dollars and a comfortable life. Buried within the story, however, was something more shocking: Flores at the time was living in a two-story home while still owning the international rights to the song, which net him a cool $70,000 a year. Stick to that roaring sax solo of yours, 'mano, and leave the claims of poverty to artists who were truly ripped off.
68. The Measles
If Smile represented Michael Rosas' serious side, then the campy/surfy/silly Measles was his fun one. With bass player Robert Giampa, drummer Chris Fahey and keyboard player Matt Fletcher, Measles shows were Costa Mesa happenings. The band wore matching outfits, and Rosas and Giampa jumped all around the stage in ecstatic rock-dweeb fashion. They even had a theme song. But the Measles, who toured and released The Several Faces of the Man-Shark, weren't really a joke band. Their songs were tight little Nuggets-era barn burners, and the musicianship was above par. As Britney Spears—channeling someone who actually writes songs—recently said, "Writing artsy shit is easy; it's writing pop hits that's difficult." The Measles—who, old members have recently told us, say they're "just friends" with Colin Farrell and deny reports of romantic involvement with Fred Durst—had a knack for writing pop oughta-been hits.
69. Psychic Rain
Upstaging headliners at the Coach House and Galaxy was routine for Psychic Rain during the mid-'90s. Greg Stoddard sang and played guitar with a passionate conviction best likened to Bono and the Alarm's Mike Peters. The band recorded a disc for Warner Bros., and then watched it get shelved. Legal entanglements ensued, but Psychic Rain bounced back in 1999 with the timeless, psychedelia-tinged adult rock disc Spun Out. Other career highlights included a slot on the Mark & Brian Christmas Show on KLOS and tunes on the soundtrack to the Freddie Prinze Jr. flick Down to You, plus various WB TV shows. They were the first band to warm-up the stage at the Grove of Anaheim, back when it was called the Sun. Psychic Rain's creative core (Stoddard and lead guitarist Brian Stewart) have since morphed into Beyond 7.
70. Paul McAdams
Paul McAdams is a pop genius who goes on benders where he locks himself in his basement for days at a time and records multi-tracked layers of pure retro-futuristic pop perfection featuring an array of canned noises and beats that manage, somehow, to sound live and vital. At least, we think he does things this way. He also sometimes works with a band. He's versatile like that. Always present, though, is his sister Lara, who is Karen to his Richard, only without the anorexia. At one time, the duo fronted Antenna Force. Later they performed as Paullara, later as Paul and Lara, and most recently as Friends of Desire. We're not sure, but we're thinking that's a reference to chastity, as opposed to people who give in to desire. Paul and Lara are a blessed needlepoint pillow on the cum-stained '70s porn couch of life.
Besides Relish and three-quarters of the Angoras, 4-Gazm were Orange County's greatest all-girl band. Formed in 1993, the Huntington Beach quintet—vocalist Pamela Stocks, guitarists Lisa Parker and Sarah Lee, bassist Jen Johnson and drummer Lisa Beccera—combined a suburban feminist outlook with punk rock and balls-out attitude. The band pushed their demo on local mom-and-pop record shops for a few years before going into the studio in 1998 to record their first and only album, Here Kitty, Kitty, which was co-produced by Mitch Townsend (late of Red 5 and the Killingtons). The highlight of the band's career came when Johnson found a booking agent in London who sent the band on a five-week tour of Europe. Social Distortion bassist John Mauer joined the band on guitar in 1999 after Lee quit. When the band broke up in 2000, Stocks got married and moved to New Orleans, Johnson and Lee put their efforts into their side band F-Minus, Parker became the front woman for Foxy (another great band) and Beccera now works as a graphic artist.
72. The Offspring
The group that sold kajillions of records, the band that broke OC music open to the rest of the world, the pop-punk act that, along with Green Day, made the fuck-you sounds of anarchy and insolence safe for suburban shopping malls around the globe. Damn them if you must, but the fact is, out of the handful of OC bands who've made it mega in the past 10 years, the Offspring did it most organically. Unlike No Doubt, Lit and Sugar Ray, they never reshaped their sound to the mass market (there really isn't a whole lot of sonic difference between 1993's Ignition and 1994's multi-platinum Smash). And a lot of their songs—particularly when Dexter Holland delves into social commentary like "Come Out and Play" and "The Kids Aren't Alright"—are pretty great, too, even funny. But then, maddeningly, they'll pinch off a clichéd turd like "Defy You," making us wonder what we ever saw in them.
Bazooka were one of OC's unlikelier success stories, which was probably why they were so damn unsuccessful. In terms of making uncompromising, distinctive music, they were thoroughly successful, but the idea of a jazz-metal instrumental trio of sax, bass and drums was a hard sell to most people. The group was bassist Bill Crawford and ex-El Grupo Sexo sax players Tony Atherton and Vince Meghrouni, with Meghrouni moving over to drums with remarkable acumen. (He's since toured in that capacity with Mike Watt.) Their hard-driving, free-flying take on jazz-rock was so furious and swinging that the lack of harmonic content was barely missed. (They later amended that by adding ex-Sexo pianist Don Carroll to the band.) "Bazooka say: Crackers wake up!" declared one band flier advertising a Fashion Island gig. But the crackers slept.
74. Dan Crary
A flatpicking ace who's been a speech communications professor at Cal State Fullerton since 1974, Crary has explored Celtic, flamenco, classical and new age guitar stylings on several recordings and in concert. His most memorable collaboration has been with Italian flatpicker Beppe Gambetta, and the duo put on an absolutely fabulous tour de force at Shade Tree Stringed Instruments in the fall of 1999. But nothing tops his collection of reworked seasonal tunes titled Holiday Guitar (released on Sugar Hill Records in 1997), which won 1998's Best Seasonal Music Award from the Association for Independent Music (AIM). Not only does Crary literally reinvent the likes of "Carol of the Bells" and "O Holy Night" with transcendent string work, but his own "Christmas Blues A' Comin'" is a minor masterpiece. A Yuletide must-have.
75. The Tiki Tones
Perhaps the Tiki Tones were born too late. Otherwise, their brand of third-gen instrumental surf music—sort of a melting pot of surf-meets-lounge-pop—would have been an instant hit with OC boarders instead of hung-over barflys. The Huntington Beach quartet plays original riffs on matching blue metal-flake Fenders and shimmering Hammond keyboards. Fake-named jetsetters all, Ku (Steeve Jacobs), Lord Wahini (Ponzer Berkman), Koro (Doug Dewet) and Shag Lono (Josh Agle—and yes, he's that Shag, the same one famed for his tiki/lounge culture paintings) sport their own retro-fashion motif once popularized by '60s surf bands. They even went so far as to buy seven sets of matching outfits ranging from V-neck sweaters to color-coordinated tuxedos. The five Tiki albums are all tropical treasures that provide space for such groovy-titled tunes as "Typhoon Twist," "Sneaky Tiki" and "Man or Mancini?"
76. Fat Shadow
A short-lived band that didn't play enough, didn't promote enough and didn't last long enough to make much noise outside early '90s Fullerton. But they left an impression with their heavy, bluesy, kind-of-classic-rocky sound, which possessed an undercurrent of turbulent moodiness that manifested itself in their live gigs. We'll never forget walking into the late, great Harbor Blvd. bar Miki's to see lead singer Michele Walker wailing on a harmonica while a standing-room-only crowd stood in amazement; brother-guitarist Chris Walker wrote most of the material. We're guessing the familiarity/contempt deal between siblings added to the electrifying nature of this band's sound. Fat Shadow should have stuck around longer than they did.
77. Manic Hispanic
Manic Hispanic's core members are already represented on this list—Steve Soto with the Adolescents, Joyride and Agent Orange, Gabby Gaborno and Warren Renfrow with the Cadillac Tramps. But the finest efforts of these OG's of OC Chicano punk were on display in Manic Hispanic, the agitprop project so subversive that it makes Culture Clash's take on Chicano life seem like Wonder bread. The group's music is great—how could it be otherwise when your group covers the Clash, Ramones and Vandals note-for-note? But Manic Hispanic make their cholo-karaoke a must-laugh by giving punk's greatest snarls a Chicano spin, stuffing in tons of insider jokes for punks and Chicanos alike, and dressing up for performances like extras from American Me while howling in the most stereotypically veterano voices possible. Really, how can you not love a group who called their 2001 album The Recline of Mexican Civilization?
78. The Vandals
Vandals shows circa 1980 tended to attract rough punk crowds, which got the attention of cops, which helped get them banned from clubs and cities everywhere. Songs like "The Legend of Pat Brown," about a real-life Vandals fan who tried to mow down some police with his car, and "Anarchy Burger (Hold the Government)" didn't exactly endear them to authority figures, either. Their biggest fuck-you, though, was "Urban Struggle," a middle finger aimed at the country music shitkickers who used to hang at Zubie's, a since-demolished Costa Mesa cowboy bar on Placentia Avenue that was next door to the fabled also-since-demolished Cuckoo's Nest punk club. The Vandals are still around and more popular than ever—though there are no original members left, their fans are mostly under 20, and their current music isn't nearly as provocative as it once was, unless you think that tunes about Internet dating are somehow dangerous.
79. Teen Heroes
A review on the Rolling Stone website says, "Orange County's Teen Heroes prove that grunge can come from just about anywhere." What the fuck? Teen Heroes were about as grungy as an obsessive clean freak's bathroom—which is to say, they weren't. Teen Heroes were really pure and sun-drenched, playing occasionally angsty power-pop with sweet, soaring guitar lines, fizzy keyboards (courtesy of aural mastermind Ikey Owens) and smooth harmonies—think Phantom Planet and Weezer. Their name was surely some kind of stab at irony, but it became true: gooey little kids loved their brand of zany, hum-along pathos. Sadly, they only released one album, the excellent Audio Satellite, before breaking up.
80. Dodge Dart
Go to any coffeehouse in Costa Mesa at around 11 a.m. and you'll see tired-looking ex-rockers with pale skin and dyed hair. Ask any one of them if they played in any bands during the '90s, and they'll undoubtedly say yes. Ask to hear some of the music—if the band recorded any—and you'll be blown away. So fucking much amazing music was created in Costa Mesa that never made it out of this small swath of strip-mall-festooned suburbia, because just as soon as a band seemed poised to go somewhere, some member would be hauled off to jail or rehab. For every brilliant Costa Mesa band that could have been something, there's a bitter ex-junkie and some equally bitter band members who watched everything turn to shit, which is kind of what they thought would happen anyway, because that just seems to be the Costa Mesa way. Dodge Dart's Nick Sjobeck perceptively touches on this sad true-life saga in "911 (Who is Gonna Dial)," which starts off with the line "All my friends are co-dependent ex-narcotic junkies."
81. The Angoras
Being the lone guy in a chiefly chicked-out band isn't just about getting an occasional nipple flash in the tour van at 1 a.m.—it's about keeping up with the energy, daring and spunk of three gorgeous womyn. Not content to just stand back and preen for their audience, the Angoras went out and earned it on the bloodstained stages of OC clubs throughout the '90s. The lovely Paula, the vivacious Alison and a delicious girl named Yami kept rock hazardous, and would easily have rendered you a foot shorter without warning had they been wielding chainsaws instead of guitars. These weren't your run-of-the-mill, talent-deprived cutie-pies like the Donnas, either, so drummer Tim had to provide a masculine balance to the unpredictable quartet, mooring their sound from liquefaction into chaos. Alison's move to New York put the band on a melancholy hiatus, and until they're back, diet-rock will remain safe and sound.
The best way to witness authentic punk rock is in a dank club with the aroma of someone else's vomit lingering magnificently in the air. Fullerton's Riotgun know this well, because as dank clubs go, they've worked the circuit. For 10 years, Riotgun have played an assortment of clubs, closets and parties. Head songwriter Larry Hernandez is an elementary school teacher by day, rocker by night, and as the driving force in the band, he sings loudly and wields a Les Paul that weighs more than your momma's lunch pail. This four-piece holds past memberships in a plethora of notable old bands, where staying "truly punk" is as spontaneous as walking, talking, or shutting your eyes as you ralph unto the porcelain altar. Fitting, because Riotgun are the perfect band for those nights of gazing at the world through Pukenicolor-tinted glasses.
Trespassers William paint luxurious sonic vistas, often colored by acoustic instrumentation and the heavenly vocals of Anna-Lynne Williams. Alongside guitarist/keyboardist/producer Matt Brown, the group envelops listeners, practically putting them in trances—good, not-bored trances. In concert and on disc (2002's Different Stars is a prime example), the Irvine foursome can be as spellbinding as Coldplay; take you on gauzy journeys a la Spiritualized; and recall the heartwrenching efforts of Mazzy Star. Hear how they take a U2 song, "Love is Blindness," and make it shimmer more than ever. Together since 1997, they've been spun on KCRW, reap glowing national press, and are a favored soundtrack choice for MTV reality show producers.
84. Save Ferris
Frontwoman Monique Powell likes to talk about boys, bodily functions, and her perverse love of chickens and clowns. She's ballsy, brassy, funny, captivating and claims she can write her name in the snow with her own pee like guys do. Powell leaves that demure coy shit to Gwen. Whether singing about spam or depression—and Save Ferris have written songs about both—Powell puts on a powerhouse performance, showcasing her classically trained pipes. Save Ferris caught a lot of hell from the outset for two reasons: Their plucky, positive outlook and that damn bear hat that bassist Bill Uechi used to wear (they've since lost both). But with Powell hell-bent on doing the solo thing for a while, the band's days seem numbered, if they haven't packed it in already.
85. The Goods
After playing in Electric Koolaide but before he moved to Austin to play in Fastball, guitarist/singer Tony Scalzo played in the Goods, a jangly Costa Mesa pop band that shared members with all those other Costa Mesa bands like 4, Dodge Dart and the Women. Bassist Nick Sjobeck once said that Scalzo can pick up any musical instrument and within half an hour write an amazing song. "Wherever he's planted, he would bloom," Sjobeck once told us. Such was Scalzo's musical aptitude. Lyrically, he favors poignant fantasies. Many of the Goods' songs indicated both Scalzo's ambition and his drive toward destruction. This, from "Clock Keeps Tickin'": "I'd like to set the world on fire/But then where would I sit to watch it burn?"
Supernova were one of the first and best of the slew of outer-space-themed rock bands. They dressed up in ridiculous costumes, handed out tin foil to their audiences, and remained in character during interviews. Even their tour van wore a costume. Their music comprised three-minute-or-less pop songs, equal parts Ramones and Buzzcocks. Lead singer Art Mitchell sang in a jittery way that was supposed to approximate an alien fronting a band. Song topics ranged from drool to rocks to vitamins to math. Signed by big-ass corporate label Atlantic Records and put on the road for a while, Supernova were part of the wave of bands that brought the spotlight to OC for a bit there. Their ultimate long-lasting legacy, though, will undoubtedly be their song "Chewbacca," which Kevin Smith used in his breakthrough cult flick Clerks.
87. Reel Big Fish
Zany, wacky, ska-rooted (though they rock harder now) Reel Big Fish elevate self-deprecation to an art form, thanks to a malcontent lead singer in Aaron Barrett, who beats you to the punch with peppy lyrics like "I'll never be anything, anything at all." He lays down these anti-What Color is Your Parachute? salvos over bright horns and zippy uptempo rhythms, which just add to the dark humor of it all. But if Barrett's insecurities are a grease fire, then fame—or the prospect of—is the water that spreads that shit around. Chances that he'll just accept stardom and take at face value the fact that kids connect with his clever brand of defeatism, instead of second-guessing it and pointing it out as a sign that something's terribly wrong with him and the world? Slim to none.
88. El Centro
Even if Costa Mesa-based punk outfit El Centro never played a single gig again, the group can at least take credit for resurrecting the spirit of West Coast hardcore punk. Formed in 1995, El Centro provided an aggressive mixture of punk and reggae for fans—usually at the Tiki Bar or Club Mesa—who could often be spotted puffing weed in front of the stage. And, like Sublime, El Centro's concerts attracted a wide-ranging audience, from easy-going types to full-blown psychotics. Eventually they released Alto, an album that nicely captured what they were all about (check the cover of "Police & Thieves"). After seven years slogging away on the club circuit, the band went on hiatus. On October 12, 2002, lead singer Steve "Crabby" Cabler was drinking beer with buddy Steven Webster at a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, when terrorist bombs exploded and killed more than 200 people. Webster died in the blast, and Cabler returned to the U.S. three days later with a broken shoulder blade, severe burns and other injuries. A few months ago, El Centro's original lineup—Cabler, guitarists Denny McGahey and Brett Roelen, bassist Gila Mora and drummer Mondo Del Rio—re-grouped to write a batch of new songs, which they plan to record next month. "I carry on my music out of respect for my best friend," Cabler says. "Webster would kick my ass if I didn't keep going."
Named, probably, after the tonnage measurement of A.J. Nesselrod's seismic bass, Costa Mesa's 4 stood in vivid opposition to all the happy-go-stoopid ska bands and beach-bound suntan-punkers they were misbooked with at clubs like Koo's and Club Mesa throughout the '90s. The guitars Matt Michael slung were cut from limestone (or at least sounded like it), while his vocals lacked any of the counterfeit machismo of his peers, but still had an intensity and desperation that made him seem to mean every word he said—even the normally vapid between-song banter. If you caught the fantastic 4 anytime during the peak of the very productive Costa Mesa scene, consider yourself among the fortunate few who can talk about how much better things were back then.
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