International Pop Overthrow, with Darin, Samantha's Favourite, Twenty Cent Crush, Ed James, KC Bowman and Sparklejets UK
Eastgate Park, Garden Grove
Saturday, July 31
Yes, we are mega Archies fans, kids—and quite proud of it, too. Nor are we ashamed to admit that the first album we ever owned was Crazy Horses by the Osmonds, a true classic in our minds. Mindless pop fluff? Sure—but so were a lot of those old Beatles and Beach Boys songs, like "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Octopus's Garden," "Sloop John B" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice." What we're trying to get at is, we know a good piece of pop fluffery when we hear it, which is why we wound up at the OC installment of the International Pop Overthrow fest, held in a normally tranquil neighborhood park in Garden Grove, literally a rock's toss away from the front doors of neighbors' '40s- and '50s-built houses.
The whole scene felt very utopian, more 1959 than 1999—the sun shone brightly, the barbecue blazed, kiddies splashed in the park pool, somebody walked around in a giant bee costume, and a bunch of bands played peppy little meant-for-AM songs on a temporary stage, introduced by an MC who was fond of bellowing, "Please give a warm Garden Grove welcome to . . ." No kidding—he did that with everybody. It must have been exactly like this at Woodstock '99. But most right-thinking people can only stand so many sweet, sugary, insanely hooky pop tunes in one sitting (eating one chocolate-filled powdered doughnut with rainbow sprinkles can be an orgasmic experience; wolfing down five more right away can be really, really grotesque).
So maybe OC's own Sparklejets UK got lucky by being our first doughnut of the day—they were certainly one of the tastiest. We can even forgive them for doing that Badfinger cover just as we arrived; they redeemed themselves minutes later with a Big Star song. Other than those moments, they were a fantabulous outfit of jangle-worshiping, Beatles-and-Byrds-loving, harmony-addicted pop studmuffins. KC Bowman flew down from San Francisco earlier in the day, and he was heading right back there after his set. God knows we can think of a zillion more interesting cities to fly to for a day than Garden Grove, but, hey, the boy's dedicated. He didn't bring a band, though, so he actually went the full-on karaoke route, singing to backup tapes spinning on his boom box. Yeah, we'd normally rip someone like KC to shreds for doing something like this, but at least he was honest and upfront about it. Still, impeccably hummable as his songs were, we couldn't help but feel at times as if we were watching a kitschy lounge act.
Ed James, a North Carolina cat, brought his band along, though his stuff wasn't too distinct from your average ultrasugary fare (though he did have a nice, high, whiny singing voice, the kind that's useful in this genre). But that's the big trick for today's modern pop bands—sound happy, friendly and shiny, like you're supposed to, work the Beatles/Big Star/Knack school, but don't go so overboard that you come off sounding like a regurgitated version of the 1910 Fruitgum Company, or the Ohio Express, or the Banana Splits, or [sigh] the Osmonds. When he did the song about green M&M's, we knew we'd heard enough.
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LA's Twenty Cent Crush seemed directly descended from the Posies, in that they tended to rock a lot louder than everyone else. They're already heroes to the under-12 set, since they do the theme song of the TV show Boy Meets World ("We just got this added to Radio Disney!" yelped one Twenty-Center, moments before they pounded it out—cute!). They made a grab for that three-part-harmony thing, and it turned out swell, stylistically hopping between Posies, Raspberries, and probably several other bands that've named themselves after stuff that grows out of the ground. Their last song went off into swirls of psychedelia, which reminded us of LA's old Paisley Underground scene during the '80s, which—history lesson!—was partly responsible for making geeky, three-minute pop songs respectable again. Just so you know.
Samantha's Favourite came from Tokyo to perform here—they put the Inter into International Pop Overthrow. They played blindingly bright Saturday-morning-cartoon theme songs, wore skinny ties, and were just the way a perfect power-pop band oughta be, full of zippy, unchained guitar riffs and open, airy mega-chords—easily the most rock & roll pop band of the day.
Darin, a Texan who talked in a fake Liverpudlian accent, whose slow, plodding tunes were the complete antithesis of what pop should be about, who totally failed to move us . . . Well, that's all we need to say, really. But by that point, we'd had our fill of doughnuts.
Send tapes, CDs, and tips on where we should go (besides hell) to Locals Only, OC Weekly, P.O. Box 10788, Costa Mesa, CA 92627-0247.