Ah, summer, that special time when the sounds that seeped through our earbuds into our brains turn to tangible, aural bliss in the form of tours beckoning us to part with our hard-earned cash that's not going to pay off student loans. In these Great Recession days, it's all about knowing which concerts are really worth the money, whether you're into indie rock bands, Tex-Mex heartthrobs, hip-hop mavens or scarily authentic tribute bands. For you, gentle reader, here is a guide to the season, broken down into categories that tell you exactly what you're getting before you spend a cent. Enjoy.
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Local-boys-done-good who are finally breezing back into town.
Thrice. These former Weekly cover boys are kaput after this summer, but they're going out with the proverbial bang (and a few power chords) on their upcoming Farewell Tour. Catch their very last show (until the inevitable reunion tour in five years) in Santa Ana at the Observatory; unlike their sold-out House of Blues shows, this night offers a full night of Thrice—two sets, no openers and songs from their latest album, Major/Minor. Sounds pretty major to us. The Observatory, www.observatoryoc.com. June 19, 8 p.m. $27. All ages.
Lit. Slidebar owner and Lit guitarist Jeremy Popoff momentarily breaks away from the booze biz for a hometown show with his Fullerton-based band. With a new lineup and record since the 2009 death of drummer Allen Shellenberger, the band bring their alt-rock sound, which still revives the spirit of the late-'90s faster than you can say "bro-rock excess," to Downtown Disney. House of Blues, www.houseofblues.com. June 23. Call for time. $25-$27.50. All ages.
Young the Giant and Steelwells. Before landing on MTV's indie-rock radar, Irvine's Young the Giant and Fullerton's Steelwells dominated the OC music scene—as well as the OC Music Awards—with deviously catchy, melodically inventive tunes. Now that they've been touring and morphing into LA darlings, we can only hope both bands appreciated our coverage of them enough to buy us a deep-fried Twinkie when they hit the OC Fair. Pacific Amphitheater at the OC Fairgrounds, www.ocfair.com. July 22, 7:30 p.m. $20. All ages.
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The OC Fair's most talented pretenders.
Purple Reign. Who knows the next time the real Prince will make an appearance in OC. But then again, who cares, as long as his stunt double can still throw on a purple cape and shake his ass for us? As far as living up to standards we expect from any impersonator of the Purple One, blouse-wearing front man Jason Tenner pulls off the character—and his clothes—with ease. The Hangar at the OC Fairgrounds. June 18, 8:30 p.m. $15-17.50. All ages.
No Duh. It takes a serious pair of oranges to try to emulate the biggest band to come out of OC. Thankfully, vocalist Spen Gjormani's, Gwen-worthy performance allows No Duh to be more than just a tribute band. Their show, which plays to No Doubt fans all over the world, even got blessings from the real band. The Hangar at the OC Fairgrounds. June 26, 8:30 p.m. $15. All ages.
Hot August Night. It takes a lot more than a sequined shirt and some tight pants to impersonate the Jewish Elvis, and Dean Colley uses chutzpah, a healthy tenor voice and fabulous hair to make his gyration-filled renditions of Neil Diamond's "America" and "Cracklin' Rosie" stick with you like cigar stench from a casino. The Hangar at the OC Fairgrounds. Aug. 3, 8:30 p.m. $15. All ages.
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BAD BOYS CLUB
If it's dark, seedy and sexual, they're into it.
Mickey Avalon. There's no denying the godfather of glam rap knows how to party. Since getting in our pants in 2006 with the single "Jane Fonda," Mickey Avalon's sex-laden songs have never met a drug, dollar or dick reference it didn't like. Stopping at the Coach House, expect his shirtless stage antics to match the boldness of his rhymes. Coach House, www.thecoachhouse.com. June 6, 8 p.m. $25. All ages.
Toledo Show. It's a bit strange to think that a guy in a zoot suit might know the secrets to turning you on. But then again, your pleasure is literally Toledo's business. As the dark, deviant centerpiece of Harvelle's famous "Toledo Show" in Long Beach, his gravelly voiced character has a major attitude and masterful control over the flock of half-naked females that fills his weekly, jazz-filled cabaret with a perfect blend of sin and song. Harvelle's. Every Thurs., 9:30 p.m. $12. 21+.
KISS/Motley Crue. Both of these bands have scandalized and titillated (and grossed out) fans for decades. As far as bloated, fire-breathing rock shows go, the old men in these bands represent the last of a dying breed. Like visiting the Washington Monument, seeing them perform is something all Americans must do before they die. Bring a lighter, face paint and some boobies to sign, and the night is yours. Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, www.livenation.com. Aug. 14, 7 p.m. $15-$185. All ages.
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Latin concerts hotter than a habanero.
Los Lonely Boys. The ability to spoon-feed gabachos a little bit of Latin music when they're not expecting it is something Los Lonely Boys have done well for years. Mixing rock, country, blue-eyed soul and Tejano music makes their "Texican" rock & roll one of the few Latino rock bands that can rope in the Willie Nelson crowd. The City National Grove of Anaheim, www.citynationalgroveofanaheim.com. $35-$39. Aug. 2, 8 p.m. All ages.
Caifanes. They may not have invented the genre of rock en español, but Caifanes became its living, breathing, Police-stealing embodiment in the early 1990s, until transforming into Jaguares. Since reuniting for Coachella in 2011, one of Mexico's biggest rock bands return to the Honda Center, probably the only place that can house all the burned-out chilangos that'll travel for their gods. In other words, this concert is a big, pinche deal! Honda Center, www.hondacenter.com. June 2, 8 p.m. $37.90-$137.55. All ages.
J.Lo and Enrique Iglesias, with Wisin Y Yandel. While we can't exactly confess to being fans of their music, we can say that if these two ever decide to get together and produce Latin America's answer to Blue Ivy Carter, we will happily step in as godparents. Honda Center. Aug. 11-12, 8 p.m. $37.90-$222.75.
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Artists who want you to smoke 'em if you got 'em.
Power House. If you're a hip-hop-head looking to toke up in the cheap seats, Power House are always your concert of choice. Besides, Snoop Dogg is headlining. Really, that joint, er, joke pretty much rolls itself don't you think? Honda Center. June 23, 7 p.m. $62.05-$143.65. All ages.
Sublime With Rome. Though the reggae-rock outfit Sublime With Rome are down to the original group's last original member, Eric Wilson, the stoner spirit of their Long Beach-bred sound remains intact. Ask anyone who has seen the group perform live if Rome Ramirez didn't inspire them to spark up with his vocal rendition of "Two Joints." And with bong-ripping rappers Cypress Hill and Hawaiian reggae punk band Pepper all making sure to spread the green-thumb gospel, you'll have to have some pretty impressive willpower to just say no. Verizon Amphitheater. July 28, 7 p.m. Sold out. All ages.
Willie Nelson. Willie is the classic butt of any blunt joke. And it's rare when you can find a pot-smoking legend who remembers when a dime bag actually cost a dime. He'll take the stage at the OC Fair at a gig billed as "Willie Nelson & Family." We assume they'll be taking frequent breaks on stage to, um, admire the grass part of the bleachers. After all, the band who play together, puff together. Pacific Amphitheater at the OC Fairgrounds. July 13, 8 p.m. $29.50. All ages.
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Let's be real: These shows are for your parents.
Beach Boys. Trotting out SoCal's most influential surf-rock trio on the heels of their recent round of tour dates feels like it's going to be a major moment for music fans who grew up with their good vibrations. And while you'll try to ignore the fact that Brian Wilson barely moves, let alone play the piano these days, it's gonna be tough to cope with their baby-boomer fans causing the bathroom lines to run extra-slow. Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. June 3, 7:30 p.m. $32.50-$112. All ages.
Van Halen. No one is doubting Van Halen's seat at the table of rock & roll royalty. But we were definitely surprised to see how well their latest album, A Different Kind of Truth, performed on the music charts when it was released earlier this year; apparently, old people haven't discovered Pirate Bay. With recent shows in LA under their belts, the band are making the trip down to OC to fill the Honda Center with generations of fans old and new. If you do end up seeing this one with your parents, make sure to steal their sleeveless, 1984 concert tees. Honda Center. June 12, 7:30 p.m. $37.90-$168.70. All ages.
Earth, Wind and Fire. No one really wants to see old people getting their mack on. But when funk-soul legends Earth, Wind and Fire come to town, you best believe their catalog of smooth '70s classics will have the fogies feeling frisky. It might be a little scary for new fans of the group to see original fans try to move like they did back in their teens. But hey, as long they're having fun and not grinding on you, we say let them be and avert your eyes. Pacific Amphitheater at the OC Fairgrounds. July 28, 8 p.m. $19.75. All ages.
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DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION
Plur people of OC, unite!
DJ Baby Smash. Wednesdays have seen the arrival of a new, weekly EDM night at the Constellation Room in Santa Ana. Throwing down a mix of talented local DJs and special guests, DJ Baby Smash comes at the right time for a club that really seems to be making waves for its concert calendar filled with buzzworthy indie acts. But if you're a rave kid in OC, this regular EDM extravaganza is your night to party. The Constellation Room at the Observatory, constellationroom.com. Every Wed., 8 p.m. Free. All ages.
No Doz 20th Anniversary. Fox Theater Pomona celebrates the 20th anniversary of one of LA's most notorious afterhours hangouts in the days before moombahton and dubstep ruled the world. The party was originally created by DJ Ron D Core and record shop Dr. Freecloud back in 1992; this incarnation will feature sets from some of their original DJs from back in the day. For all you kids new to the EDM scene, it's probably best to see how the grown-ups do it. Fox Theater Pomona, www.foxpomona.com. June 30, 7 p.m. $28.50-$50. 18+.
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Shows where headbangers can have a ball.
Volbeat. When it comes to metal, any band coming out of Denmark is met with an instant amount of shred cred—isn't metal, like, the national music over there? Not content to stick to one particular style of savagery, Volbeat offer a spleen-crushing blend of hardcore, metal and rockabilly that started to make major waves in America with their 2010 American radio hit, "A Warrior's Call," off their latest album, Beyond Hell, Above Heaven. If there's any warrior in your blood, you should probably go to the Grove and indulge your—you knew this joke was coming!—Viking tendencies. City National Grove of Anaheim. July 10, 8 p.m. $32.50-$39.50. All ages.
Iron Maiden. Two nights of their epic stage show—'nuff said. Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Aug. 9-10, 7:30 p.m., $40-$160. All ages.
Scream It Like You Mean It Tour. The Glass House continues to be a hallowed place for waves of throat-shredding metal bands to enjoy head-banging festivities. Lately, its big-brother venue, the Fox Theater Pomona, has gotten into the metal-festival mix, hosting the massive Scream It Like You Mean It Tour, featuring the guttural growls of We Came As Romans, Attack! Attack! and 14 other face-melting up-and-comers. Fox Theater Pomona. July 24, 4:30 p.m. $24. All ages.
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Giving you the skinny on where the skinny-jeans folk hang out.
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Electric Guest. The blue-eyed, modernized funk of LA duo of Electric Guest is one of the few hipster favorites that refuses to be a carbon copy of the past. Sure, lead singer Asa Taccone might be able to croon like Frankie Lymon, but with some sleek electro influence from producer Danger Mouse, their debut album, Mondo, carries Stax-caliber freshness that still feels surprisingly of-the-moment. The Constellation Room at the Observatory. June 4, 8 p.m. $18. All ages.
Moon Block Party. This local underground music fest in the heart of the Pomona Arts Colony is making some sizable waves in the OC and LA music scenes, bridging the gap between genres in counties that house some of our weirdest, loudest and most promising local talent. Creator and organizer Phil Pirrone gathers rock tribes of all pedigrees, including a performance from the psychedelic virtuosi of San Francisco's Sleepy Sun. Downtown Arts Colony, North Garey Avenue and West Second Street, Pomona; www.moonblockparty.org. June 23. See website for times. Free. All ages.
C-Gak. You've got to give it up for a local cat who knows how to turn a standard residency into a tripped-out showcase all his own. That's the mission for RX Bandits drummer Chris Tsagakis, who melds the hard-hitting reggae approach of his revered Long Beach band with a cavalcade of synths, loops, and miscellaneous odds and ends. Throughout the summer, C-Gak's Monday nights at Harvelle's are becoming the show that boasts the best undiscovered talent he can find as well as frequent guest appearances from touring labelmates from LA-based tastemaker Sargent House. Harvelle's. Every Mon., 9:30 p.m. Call for cover. 21+.
This article appeared in print as "Songs of Chaos, Hipsters and Neil Diamond Tributes: A thematic approach to OC's summer concert season."