Last Night: International Pop Overthrow @ Fitzgerald’s

International Pop Overthrow Festival at Fitzgerald’s on July 26

Better Than: Bingo night at the old folks home

It’s hard to imagine that in a constant media barrage of the Avril Levines, Jonas Bothers, and Simple Plan’s of the world, the pop rock genre has anything to offer besides an endless supply of fresh faced, power chord pumping puppets long on looks and short on talent. That is, until you take pop out of the bright lights of the arena and into the dark, cramped quarters of the local bar scene where the real soldiers of pop rock get their thrills.

Last night, the International Pop Overthrow Festival rolled into Huntington Beach to show local bar flies and live music fans a more “mature” side of pop embraced by a handful of the county’s most dedicated bands. During the second show that kicked off around 7:30 p.m. at Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub, seven acts performed until almost midnight.

Now in it’s 11th year, IPO has become a staple at Fitzgerald’s and internationally as well in places like Liverpool, London and Vancouver, Canada.

Honestly, being an outsider to the local “pop rock” scene around here, I hadn’t experienced the IPO until creaking open the pub door to find a swarm of people shooting pool, chomping on bar food and wiping away frothy beer mustaches. It had all the hallmarks of a standard bar gig. Not quite the glossy teenybopper vibe I pictured.

PhotobucketEmerging on stage in front of a full house of family, friends and fans, singer/songwriter Philip Vandermost kicked things off with songs from his new album Automatic August. Apparently, his IPO set also doubled as his album release party. Strumming through song after song, his laid back stage presence and mild mannered, sunny delivery was a bit vanilla at times. But you gotta give the guy credit for attempting some infectiously polished hooks on songs like “Since Mountains Have Risen” and “Drifting.” He and his three piece band definitely seemed like an early favorite.

From then on, things rolled pretty smoothly as audiences rotated in and out throughout the night. However, there was a steady stream of diehards fastening themselves to the bar as the festival bounced from band to band.

Some acts like Canadian born Dave Stephens went for the more early 90’s pop of bands like Weezer and Everclear. Though starting out with a little spark of energy, they picked an awkward time to slow things down with aimless, melancholy songs like “Days go by,” as the crowd seemed to be thinning out, tuning out and taking smoke breaks. When they did decide to rock again, their earnest, paper-thin sound seemed to fit like wallpaper on your average local bar…the kind of sound that kicks ass after a few too many beers.

PhotobucketMoving things ahead were a slew of 30 and 40-something rockers called The Relatives who tried their hardest to give this gig as much balls-to-the-wall enthusiasm as they could muster. The Relatives were about as punk rock as it got that night, if you could look past the collard shirts and strategically gelled up hair.

As the night heated up in the bar, the number of bands dwindled down to two as 90’s rockers, The Tickets, took the stage. Of all the bands that night, I would have to say that they had the most going on for them even if it was 10 years ago since their prime. I was glad to see that the songs, while occasionally sappy, had plenty of danceable energy and good vocals throughout. Nostalgia seemed to creep over the set when they played some of their older stuff like “Lost in Love” from a period “when we had long hair” according to the band. Now joining the come over club, it was cool to see that The Tickets still had infectious energy and genuine happiness from beginning to end.

Rounding out the night was Garden Grove band, Scarlet Crush, who received a warm welcome from a crowd that had finally peppered in a few more young drinkers. Like the Tickets before them, these guys had an arsenal of radio ready sentimental rock that had just enough edge to appeal to younger crowds. Even though I’m normally the kind of guy that takes pride in staying until a concert’s bitter end, I'd had all the pop I could stomach before the end of their last song. As I walked to the parking lot, the crowd roared as the whole event finally came to the end. Looks like the pop fest went out with a bang.

Critics Notebook

Personal Bias: Beer makes any music sound better

Random Detail: The lead singer of The Tickets played the whole set with his shoes off

By the Way: Look for the IPO again when it comes to the O.C. Fair on Aug. 3


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