By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Few latter-day rock piano players embody the raucous spirit of a young Jerry Lee Lewis like Something Corporate's Andrew McMahon. During shows, the dude stomps on the keys and gives the piano a good beating. On last year's Warped Tour, this five-year-old Dana Point band had the balls to lug the behemoth instrument around to every stop. These guys were the first unsigned OC band to sell out the Anaheim House of Blues. Last year's major label debut Leaving Through the Window bowed at No. 1 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart (MTV and KROQ airplay ensued), and the fun-yet-sophisticated alt-pop disc—highlighted by the edgy "Punk Rock Princess" and sarcastic "If You C Jordan"—delves into teen angst issues with panache.
44. Karen Gallinger
A class act who learned from all the vocalists she denies sounding like—Sarah, Dinah, Etta—and then developed her own, identifiable voice. Naturally emotive, Gallinger gathers you in to her head as well as her soul, crooning, coaxing or out-and-out complaining when the blues get the better of her. Not afraid to scat, her voice takes on instrument-like qualities when she improvises over a band. And her Bill Evans tribute album, assembled with help from the pianist-composer's widow, stands as a landmark. They love her in Germany. We love her here.
45. Give Until Gone
Before spewing bile in Bullet Train to Vegas, enigmatic guitar player Dan Sena fronted Give Until Gone, a four-piece whose heartbreaking songs still bring us to our knees and take our breath away, leaving us crippled and winded. Sena's the grandson of famed Portuguese poet Jorge de Sena, which may or may not account for his natural lyricism. Innocent, vulnerable, haunting and eloquent, Give Until Gone crafted emo you didn't feel like a schmuck listening to. Do you know how rare that is? Hey, Crapboard Confessional, we're looking at you! Check out "Settled for the Art Official" to hear what angst and melody really sound like.
46. The Fire Ants
An evocative poet and ass-kicking performer, Skie Bender is OC's own Patti Smith, a woman who spews soul-wrenching lines about disquiet, dissonance and disaster. With her band, the Fire Ants, Bender has a more than capable musical outlet for her art—guitarist Kevin Jacobs riffs with enough power to seemingly halve torsos; drummer Kelly Busby treats your eardrums like he was tenderizing meat. But the centerpiece of any Fire Ants show is always Bender, writhing on the floor, screeching into a megaphone, wailing about transvestites, spreading her insecurities and paranoias. During any given Fire Ants gig, Bender's transformations are jaw-dropping; a song that might start off calmly and innocently enough might end up with Bender spinning her head completely around and throwing up blood. Well, not quite, but you swear it could happen. And they're still the greatest band Fountain Valley ever produced.
47. The Women
Early-'90s Costa Mesa foursome the Women were most well-known for a little ditty about masturbation called "Laura (My Hand)," wherein singer Nate Shaw apologizes to the fabled Laura's mom for not being able to take her daughter out on a date. "Just let me be, try and understand," he croons, as John Klein, James Fletcher and Brian Claremont harmonize in the background, "I'm in love with my hand." You could think of them as proto-gross-out punk, but that was never really their bag. The brilliance of the Women was their ear for melody and their penchant for angry sad sack love songs. The group even tackled the solipsistic nature of love in "Misery of Your Company" ("When I was touching you I was touching myself/When I was kissing you I was kissing myself"). Like too many promising Costa Mesa bands, the Women's short career was riddled with substance abuse problems. The group reformed for a short while in 1999. Shaw occasionally performs as the Pharmacist's Son.
48. Lee Rocker
Now that Li'l Lee of Laguna has painted his masterpiece with the recently released Bulletproof, it's time we start giving the man some belated propers. The Stray Cats (his former band, natch) may have worn goofy mascara and camped it up on the wrong side of good taste, but they were no joke—and Rocker is as serious as a heart attack in a sauna. In fact, Bulletproof surely rates among the Top 10 modern rockabilly albums, with its stunning energy, attitude and musicianship. Rocker is one mean mutha on the upright bass—a fact which is often overlooked due to his dazzling showmanship—and he can write a rockabilly tune so imbued with melody and pop sensibility without losing any essential cracker grit that it surely must make his old pal Carl Perkins smile somewhere up on a star overlooking Memphis.
49. Film Star
Psychedelics and piano lessons mixed to form Film Star, a dreamy, spacey, synth-laden rock group led by roguish keyboard player Geoff Harrington and guitar player Piers Brown. While most of Orange County in the mid-'90s headed in the direction of stripped-down punk grit, Film Star went the other way, filling their cinematic songs with lush atmospherics and trippy layered effects. The musicians all went on to play in other bands, Harrington most recently with Lomax Monk and Gentlemen of Leisure. Brown, meanwhile, fronts the Blue Whales. Fairly ahead of their time for their willingness to sound retro, their best output, the Tranquil Eyes album, still holds up as a gem of complex, studio-crafted OC drug rock.