Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Though playwright Gina Gionfriddo wrote it in 2008 and productions had been mounted on the East Coast, Becky Shaw was new to Southern Californian eyes and ears when South Coast Repertory staged it in October and November 2010. It was a deceptively deep play titled after the most elusive and, arguably, unimportant character. A great cast, led by a splendidly detailed and belly-laugh-inducing Brian Avers as Max, perfectly captured the ambiguity of Gionfriddo's masterfully executed script. As we wrote in the original review, "her ability to call into question the ambiguous, taxing nature of human relationships in a play that could've been just another in a long line of overly talky pieces featuring impossibly articulate, hyper-intelligent characters signals a dramatist of major proportion."
We heard that electronic experimentalists Do LaB started putting on Lightning In a Bottle because they didn't want to be twiddling their thumbs between Coachella and Burning Man every year. The three-night, four-day festival at Oak Canyon Ranch features DJs, bands, installation art, spiritual talks, yoga and organic food, ensuring a lot of Hula-Hooping, fire-dancing and brain-wobbling from attendees. Bringing a crunchy-granola vibe to antiseptic Orange County is a feat in itself (be prepared for poi spinning and worm-composting classes), but it's so family-friendly that circus performers and freaks on stilts commingle with 5-year-olds racing toy boats on the lake. The sun floats down in dazzling shades of orange, pink and blue over Irvine Lake every day, giving way to the festival's neon lights, four-on-the-floor house beats, and performances from such big-name acts as Booka Shade and the Album Leaf. Transcendent.
The Hootenanny serves as not only an annual rockabilly festival, but also a retro fashion show. Though respect must be paid to those talented gentlemen who pull off gravity-defying pompadours, the main attraction is the women. They need not bare all to turn heads, as they parade in lavish updos, vintage-cut dresses and stilettos. No hair is out of place, and their makeup is always flawless despite early-July temperatures that reach toward the triple digits. Some girls look to the likes of Bettie Page, Mae West and Dita Von Teese for inspiration. Others take Old Hollywood glamour or 1950s-housewife style and fuse it with punk and tattoo culture. The result is modern homage to midcentury styles at the largest local rockabilly event.
Good God, this album rocks. From beginning to end, listening to this 11-song set generates the same apoplectic anxiety and guilty fun you experienced as a 15-year-old sneaking out in the middle of the night to ride on the back of your boyfriend's motorcycle and drink beers in abandoned warehouses. Consider the anthemic swagger of "Jules' Story," or the exultant, heart-stopping breaks of "Always Afraid." Crystal Antler's sophomore release uses the requisite five-man-band instruments to display a sophisticated take on arrythmic beats, shrieking vocals and shredding, rollercoaster-y, feedbacking guitars. And somehow (especially on songs such as "Fortune Telling"), the overall set conveys a sinister, sexy mood that makes you greedy for song after song after song, until you've listened to the album 20 times on repeat without noticing.
"Rock band" may be a bit generic a descriptor for this quartet, whose sound righteously struts the battlements of metal, rock and indie. But the "best" part is apt. Winners of the award for Best New Artist at this year's Orange County Music Awards, Railroad to Alaska bring to the stage an invigorating blend of visceral energy and inventive artistry. While banging their heads behind sprawling waves of cascading hair, guitarists Justin Suitor and Jeff Lyman pluck out a nimble interplay of classic-rock-era riffage in the vein of AC/DC mixed with psychedelic, reverb-laden ambiance. While their songs sound great on an iPod, their live shows are the main event: Witness Suitor abandoning the stage to howl amongst the metal monkeys in the pit. Interesting side note: Suitor demonstrates his range of talent and lends his songwriting services to local pop band Honeypie.
The Cosmonauts are punk as fuck, just not in the sped-up-and-spit-out-lyrics-to-three-chord-guitar-songs way. No, they're punk as fuck in that careless, who-gives-a-shit, it's-all-about-honest-to-goodness-rock-&-roll way. Just don't equate that with sloppiness. Their songs have garbled vocals, spun-around choruses and distorted, spacey guitar drones, but they're deliciously hook-heavy and incredibly danceable. Watching the band live, prepare to sweat your socks off.
Its street address should be enough to tell you that Fingerprints Records will take you to a higher level of bliss. Not only is the 7,200-square-foot space proving, once and for all, that the physical format isn't dead for music-lovers who snap up collectible vinyl, independent CDs and hard-to-find books, but it's also located in Long Beach's arts district. Situated beside a coffeehouse (Berlin by Portfolio) and within walking distance of a vegan restaurant, art-supply store, sex shop and the beach, it's perfect for whiling away afternoons. Add the high-caliber acts who perform in-stores there—the Foo Fighters, Michael Franti, G Love and Dengue Fever have all played for free—and you're hard-pressed to find a place at which you'd rather spend all your time and money.
Fountain Valley's ultra-punk record label TKO Records (which also has a brick-and-mortar shop that carries a varied selection of rare and collectible vinyl) actually started in San Francisco in 1997, but it has been saving Orange County's aging crusty punks one record deal at a time since moving here in 2004. The label has produced releases from big names such as the Dropkick Murphys, Swingin' Utters, Cock Sparrer, the Templars and more, and it is still unabashedly punk rock, from its fliers (yes, black and white + jagged writing = punk) to its associates to its events (a book signing for TSOL's Jack Grisham). Punk Rock Christmas at Alex's Bar? Hand me the green-and-red Manic Panic, please!
ArtiSans Label founder Michael J. Filson developed a distaste for major labels when he was in the band Mojo Filson. After the group's demise, he started ArtiSans Label in 2008 as an advocate for bands trying to get their starts. With the help of producer Barrett Slagle (Great Glass Elevator) and engineer Kyle Griffin, the trio is the Super Friends of the local recording world. Bands get a ton of options beyond recording, too: ArtiSans helps with distribution, marketing, merch and legal affairs. It even has an Artist Bill of Rights, promising artists they'll receive 100 percent of their album profits, the label will always act in the best interests of a band's career and someone will always answer their phone calls.
At first glance, Dahga Bloom might seem a funny fit in this category. But you forget one very important fact: their name. This Fullerton-based band—vocalist/guitarist Bryan King, keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Lucas Drake, guitarist/vocalist Matt Mason, bassist/vocalist Manny Lopez, violinist/mandolinist/percussionist/vocalist Zach Nelson and drummer Sean Yakubovsky—used to be called the Living Suns, but they decided to change their name after several members had a similar dream about the African god Dahga emerging from a blooming flower and commanding them to change the group's name. Um, yeah.
Because of her, we'll always know what day it is.
The rest of the country only wishes it could tear up a dance floor like Poreotics, six gyrating dudes from Westminster who won the fifth season of America's Best Dance Crew, along with bragging rights and $100,000. Matt Nguyen, Can Nguyen, Charles Nguyen, Lawrence Devera, Justin Valles and Chad Mayate mash popping, choreography and robotics with a clean technique and crisp body isolations humbled by a light-hearted, theatrical presence. And as if snagging the top spot on Randy Jackson's show isn't enough of a seal of approval, the crew also finished first in the U.S. division of the 2009 Hip-Hop Internationals. After the championship catapulted it to stardom, the local group traveled to Australia for its "Tic Toc Tour." If you missed it, you can still see Poreotics in action in music videos for both Bruno Mars and Justin Bieber.