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The problem with Orange County, at least from a musician's perspective, is that performance-space options are pretty limited.
So you start with the Chain Reactions, the Plush Cafes, then you—talent-pending—move onto the Detroits and maybe even the slightly bizarre old-timey dinner-theater enclaves such as the Galaxys and the Coach Houses. But what happens after that—after you sell out the 250-maximum-occupancy Detroit? It's a big jump to the next tier, the 1,500-capacity House of Blues, the 2,500 Grove of Anaheim. And then, for area club owners, there's that whole thing about getting (good) bands to play your venue—and making sure that people are coming to see them.
There's a solution to it all now, at least for the time being: The Orange County Performing Arts Center (OCPAC), long-known for hosting its prestigious rosters of ballet, classical, jazz, world-music, opera and musical-theater acts, is beginning to open things up with its new Off Center series. The program is dedicated to diversity—broadening the arts spectrum for audiences, and luckily, that includes fan-favorite pop/rock acts in addition to everything from avant-garde Canadian puppet shows ("Old Trout Puppet Workshop: Famous Puppet Death Scenes!") to something called "500 Clown Frankenstein." It's a wide range of genres—and that means wider audience appeal.
As part of Off Center, OCPAC's Samueli Theater will host pop/rock acts the fourth Thursday of every month, starting Jan. 24 and running through June, kicking off with Sweden's sticky-sweet pop act Peter Bjorn and John alongside LA opening act Sea Wolf.
"What we're trying to do with our Off Center level of activities, in general, is to not take away from our programming mix, but add to it with a range that will reach audiences that don't often attend events at the Center," says OCPAC president Terry Dwyer. "We also believe in supporting indie artists and their work, and we thought the indie bands [the musical aspect of Off Center] were perfect."
But the Center doesn't see itself competing with the existing venues in the area. "We certainly lack venues in Orange County, but we have a different kind of location, and we are a different kind of venue—I don't think we're competing. The more of this kind of activity, the better for everybody. I don't think that'll be an issue at any level," Dwyer says.
The theater will hold a maximum of 500, and tickets will range—for now—from $20 for general admission on the floor to $60 for VIP club-style seating in the mezzanine, but prices will vary with each show. It may seem steep—remember when indie-rock shows cost $5?-but look at it like you're paying for the venue; think the opulent/kind-of-an-eyesore silver walls of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the sensual curves of the Hollywood Bowl, two LA venues that also welcome pop/rock acts. The Samueli Theater, an 81-foot-by-57-foot space, opened in October 2006 inside the new Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, a shiny, illuminated building with a monotone white-and-glass exterior and blue-lit accents on the ceiling. It's beautiful. And even if you don't think so, you'll at least admit it's easier on the eyes than Chain Reaction.
Indie bands will continue in February with the Walkmen and the up-and-coming Delta Spirit. And local boys-gone-gold the Cold War Kids will play in March. The rest of the series lineup will be announced soon, but what about after June? Like everything good in this county, it's really up to you.
"If we get a good response from the community, then we'd love to expand," Dwyer explains. "And it's the same with theater and alt-dance groups—we think these are extremely exciting performances, and that's the business we're in. But we're not going to think [only] for ourselves and do for ourselves. We hope the community is going to respond with as much excitement as we have."
Peter Bjorn and John perform with Sea Wolf at the Samueli Theater, the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-2787; www.ocpac.org. Thurs., Jan. 24, 8 p.m. $30-$60.