Downtown Fullerton has been the scene of music upheaval lately—specifically, the area around Harbor and Commonwealth, which for years was bloated with pawnshops and dive bars (like Miki's, the diviest of dives, where there always seemed to be an inordinate number of old-timers who carried on long, intense, probing conversations with themselves). In downtown, you got the feeling that the city's idea of approving risky entertainment was installing the traffic signals along Harbor horizontally instead of vertically. Nightlife? Live music? Hardly. It was just too much work rolling the sidewalks back down for any of that.
But downtown is actually hopping at night. We easily walked—walked!—to no less than four live-music venues (five, if you count the Rockin' Taco Cantina, where drunken masses were loudly slurring karaoke versions of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," which somehow, impossibly, even sounded good . . . well, tolerable). With all the clubs in close proximity, we felt as if we were in Austin for a little while there.
We began at the Hub Cafe with a Silver Lake band called Snack Cake, an all-girl trio with a guitarist made up to look like a 1950s schoolmarm. The retro shtick didn't stop there, what with their vintage amps and all, though their singer just plain couldn't. But talented or not, there's still something to be said for girl singers who screech uncontrollably away on out-of-tune instruments. They weren't exactly anything you'd want to call good (too many of their tunes sounded like Xeroxes of others they had already played), but someday they just might be.
From there we hoofed on over to the grand reopening-night bash of the all-ages Backalley, which less than two years ago was a major hubbub of ska/punk activity. The room closed for various reasons, but now it's back, and we're told that even the cops think it's swell. Pretty choice digs, too: after you buy your ticket, you enter a big patio (soon to be covered by a roof, we hear), then through some glass doors and into a fairly steamy but roomy room, with decent lighting and sound (at least that's what we could tell while we were watching Jeffries Fan Club, the evening's headliners). Next up at the Backalley are the Voodoo Glow Skulls this Friday, and if that show ain't sold out yet, it will be—the operators are even using Ticketmaster for that one.
After being imprisoned inside Tazy Phyllipz's beat-up Volvo while he spun us some nifty cuts off the new album from British ska pioneers the Equators (out in September; Tazy executiveproduced, y'see), we returned to the Hub. But not before pit-stopping at Steamers, which, as you already know, is theplace to hear live jazz in OC. The joint was packed, and the Alan Broadbent Trio were up onstage, firing off smoky, straight-ahead grooves. A piano player hammered out wildly wonderful notes, a sax man blew colorful, warm soundscapes, and the whole damn thing sounded like jazz perfection for each of the 10 minutes we spent soaking it up while standing out on the sidewalk. After paying our respects, we reverently scurried away.
And then we discovered Stubrick's Steakhouse, where a blond chanteuse was fronting a blues band called Blue Streak. We watched giddily as they expertly threw down gritty, well-aged Memphis riffs like nobody's bidness. Then it was back to the Hub next door for the Mosleys (fashion phenom Paul Frank's band; that's him under one of those wigs), a fabulously gnarly rock outfit who were all about rattlesnake kisses, moppy-tops, fake fur, dangerous pants and bad Quaaludes—very Brian Jones. But they can really play, too. They reverbed around your skull like the best Link Wray, pounded surreal tribal-psycho-lounge riffs, and hoodoo-howled in a way that we hadn't heard since the last time we dug out our old Them and Animals records (several of their songs seemed to be awfully close relatives of "Baby, Please Don't Go," but a lot dirtier). If Austin Powers weren't so foppish, the Mosleys would be his fave band.
There are plans afoot for even more music palaces in beautiful downtown Fullerton. Now, won't somebody do something about the sorry, sad Fox Theatre?
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.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.