Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The Santa Ana venue has won this category so many years in a row people must think either we don't branch out to other places or that there's some weird payola deal going on. But how can anyone argue against the Observatory? The eclectic range of musical acts—from big-time, mainstream artists to buzz bands—has brought concert-goers of all ages past its double doors and into its large main room (or toward its smaller concert stage in the Constellation Room). There are always surprises on what new artist either venue will bring center stage, thanks in huge part to co-owners Jon Reiser and Courtney Michaelis, who stepped up overall operations and—dare we say it?—helped to save the OC music scene.
Downstairs, adjacent to an art classroom, Laguna Art Museum's (LAM) unpretentious Young Artists Society Gallery features work by local grade-school and high-school students. Working in a number of mediums—mixed media, paintings, sculptures, collages, photography and watercolors—and in a number of styles over the years, the work is often surprisingly accomplished, sophisticated and untainted by art-school bias. LAM is our hero for giving these young artists their first showing, for treating the work with respect, hanging it professionally, and for allowing young people the opportunity to see that art is for them as well as us old farts. We know that a museum's main purpose is not to sell art, but to attain, preserve and show it off . . . but a nice tie-in with the museum's gift shop would be offering the young artists' work for sale. It would make inexpensive art available to potential collectors who can't afford the big guns, put money in the pockets of young people (rewarding them for their labor and ingenuity), put a paltry sum in the museum's coffers (allowing them enough to maintain the tiny space) and get the ball rolling on the next generation of Southern California artists. We're just throwing that idea out there—and looking forward to writing that story if they take it and run with it.
Summoning creativity at the drop of a hat can be the bane of every artist's existence. But imagine giving yourself 48 hours to write and record a song, then produce an awesome music video for it. It's the sort of rush that drives Robin Davey and Greta Valenti of pile-driving riff rock band Well Hung Heart. In their YouTube series Made In 48, each episode focuses on the husband-and-wife team taking another band's song and turning it into a fully polished product from scratch. Well Hung Heart may have earned their stripes by winning Best Live Band at this year's OC Music Awards, but they also deserve a spotlight for their chops as producers; all the webisodes are released via their grassroots company GROWvision. Best of all, the web series offers a raw, entertaining look at the caffeine-fueled insanity that inspires this duo. Way to make the rest of us look lazy, guys.
Again? You know it! The Venetian Gentlemen's Club has won this prestigious award each year pretty much since it opened—and with good reason. It's as close as you're gonna get to a Vegas-style gentleman's club this side of Bat Country. We went to a bunch of strip clubs this year just to make sure, and the Venetian is still the best. It's clean and classy, it spans two stories, and the babes can't be beat. They look good; they're fit, friendly and actually know how to work a pole. The only drawback is there's no buffet or limo service as you'd find in Sin City, but there is a world-class sushi bar on the second floor, and that's almost as good, right?
To appreciate the recent rise of Tapioca and the Flea is to recognize the power of persistence and dedication to the idea that a bedroom project is always just a song or two away from blowing up. For Samuel Jacob-Lopez Jr., the lead vocalist and brainchild of the OC-bred outfit, tinkering with electronic music in between gigs as a hired gun for gritty garage bands was something he'd seen as a spare-time outlet with no intention of gaining an audience. Fast forward a few years, and songs such as "Mellotron" and "Home" are being blasted over the airwaves and getting clicked on like crazy. As they continue to do big things with their electro-rock hybrid, best believe we'll be watching.
It still seems odd that some of the grittiest trapstyle beats could come from good ol' Newport Beach. But DJ duo Slander have spent the past year making club rats fiend for their hip-hop, 808 cranking EDM like fiends on the dance floor. Derek Andersen and Scott Land might've gotten their start playing house music, but it was trapstyle that launched the pair into a new stratosphere. They started by turning heads as opening acts for such renowned DJs as Dillon Francis and Madeon. Now they're a full-fledged festival act, garnering slots on big stages at events such as Nocturnal Wonderland. At this point, anyone who says this pair of beat jockeys isn't legit is just being, well, slanderous.
Inciting a club crowd seems doable for any DJ with marginal chops. But Brandon Rillera (a.k.a. Bb Guns) insists that drawing people onto the dance floor requires a diverse style and skill set that many "microwave DJs," heavily dependent on the glow of their Serato software, don't practice. Rillera continues to be one of the busiest DJs in OC and always a familiar face at Sutra's Social Sundays dance night. His knowledge of hip-hop, EDM and underground music makes this man a must-see at any point on your weekend voyage into clubland.
Prodigal sons the Offspring visited the Pacific Amphitheater during their latest tour in July, reminding everyone they're OC's eternal Merry Pranksters. It has been 20 years since Smash came out, and they're still on the road, spreading their odes to suburbia to new generations of fans. Their pop-punk pioneerdom status isn't in question; rather, they're established as virtuosos of their craft. They've got some new stuff in the works, too, so keep an eye out—and buy some of front man Dexter Holland's Gringo Bandito!
With past acts such as Bob Saget and Patton Oswalt and upcoming shows from Erik Griffin and Chris Tucker, it doesn't seem as though either of the county's Improvs is slowing down any time soon. You'll laugh, have a solid meal and want to return ASAP—trust us.
Pedestrian write music for the two-car garage, the $2 entrance fee, the "my parents are out of town for the weekend." It's counterintuitive. You go to a house show for the sloppy thrash, the loose slam pit—not Pedestrian's brooding brand of emo revivalism. Wrong. In fact, nothing soundtracks a tight space like the peaks and lulls, the steady progression and triumphant climax of a song such as "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." You still have all the fixin's of a DIY show—the sweat, the slam, the crowdsurfing that functions akin to a piggy-back ride. And you have more: layers of reverb, life-affirming climaxes, sing-along choruses (the slow build of "Coach Paul" winds down into a massive group chant). These guys have begun self-booking tours up and down California, back and forth along the Southwest. Catch them in your buddy's garage while you still can.
Remember Chumbawumba and how they got down, and then got back up again, and how you're never going to keep them down? Thrashcan remembers, and they're doing their best to make sure you never forget. They cover the best of the worst from the best-worst era: late '90s/early 2000s. They closed out a set at Archie's Ice Cream with a cover of "Livin la Vida Loca"—making it almost kind of good. Front man Char Smith owns the stage as though Spicoli at prom, donning the Thrashcan uniform—oversize jerseys and booty shorts. It's comedy you can fist pump to, one of those rare events at which you can laugh and dance.
Costa Mesa-based rapper Sage One is a wise guy on the mic. Armed with clever wordplay, depth and a dynamic flow, the 21-year-old Sage One, whose government name is Ethen Jimenez, exudes enthusiasm and aspires to be the voice of a new generation. His lyrical prowess is evident on The Summertime EP and his follow-up full-length debut, Similar Soulz. Sage One teamed up with fellow rappers Hands, Gremlin and Rock-Oh to form the Wise Owls, but the MC is gearing up for more solo hustle in support of his latest, Oldies But Goodies Collection, a mix of doo-wop and boom bap! And backed by Deejay Lala, his live shows are spirited. Though his new music dabbles in the past, it's easy to see that hip-hop is the future of Juice County, with Sage One its youthful guide.