The Hype: Two months of local music showcases finally came to a head this weekend for the OC Music Awards, which held it's Best Live Band finals on Saturday at Orange County Performing Arts Center's Samueli Theater. Though artists like BLOK, the Steelwells and Dusty Rhodes & the River Band are perfectly capable of packing local venues on their own, Sautrday's concert brought five of OC's best bands together in one room. Other great acts vying for the title of OCMA's Best Live Band 2010 included the Colourist and the Union Line. On Friday, Billy Kernkamp won for Best Live Acoustic act at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana.
The Show: The impeccable white marble interior of the Samueli Theater was a stark contrast to the packed, sweaty club showcases where the bands in the Best Live Band finals originally strummed, slammed and screamed their way to the top. But it seemed a fitting place to decide who would conquer the OC Music Awards, win a $2,500 voucher from Fender and receive four days of recording time at Red Bull Studios.
For indie rock four-piece the Colourist, nominated for Best New Artist, Best Song ("Oh Goodbye") and Best Live Band, there was definitely a lot of hype to live up to on Saturday. And as front man Adam Castilla led the band through one keyboard plunking, powerful pop chorus after the next, it appeared they do just fine under pressure. Firing off the contents of their lauded, self-titled EP, the band's catchy guitar, icy keyboard lines, taut rock rhythms and moody vocals washed over the crowd. Songs like "Yes Yes" managed to retain some heat, even though though their on stage performance didn't exactly inspire much crowd interaction. But even if their live energy left us wanting, the band always seems to win crowds over with their infectious "Oh Goodbye," which closed out their set.
Following a lightening quick set change, Anaheim's Dusty Rhodes & the River Band emerged on stage as fans charged back into the warm darkness after trailing out for some air. Though they've gotten plenty of recent exposure for their 2009 album Palace and Stage (SideOneDummy Records), DRRB have been in the OC Music scene longer than every band on the bill. And it definitely showed. Decked out in an enviable white suit--a lavish mix between Boss Hogg and Ron Burgundy---the band's lead front man, Dustin Apodaca ignited some palpable gospel fervor with his unflappable charisma and gravelly tenor.
Sporting a talented, six-piece lineup of rowdy folk rock-thrashers, the band howled in chorus on favorites like set opener "All One" and "Dear Honey." Featuring Apodaca 's warm keyboard playing, accordion flourishes and emotive lead vocals, smashing percussion by Eric Chirco, steady rumbling bass work by Brad Babinsky, some understated violin playing by Andrea Babinsky and the fiery presence of guitarist/vocalists Edson Choi and Kyle Devine, the band had the crowd in an uproar through virtually every song. And by the time they hopped off stage, the booming crowd response was probably all the OCMA judges needed to hear.
Rounding out the night was San Juan Capistrano's the Union Line, which pulled off a decent performance, though they didn't quite fit the mold of a clear-cut headliner. Though they trampled through rollicking tunes like "Pearls" and "Goldmine" like they've done it a thousand times, a few of their newer song selections created a melancholy lull of meandering doo-wop vocals and jangly guitar that seemed a bit flat after a rousing Dusty Rhodes set. Nevertheless, lead vocalist Richard "Dickie" Theisen belted out some soaring, reverb- drenched vocal lines with band mates Jordan Sabolick (guitar), Adam Sabolick (bass), Johnny Wilson (keyboard) and Tony Tancredi (drums). BLOK and the Steelwells opened the show with two very well-received performances.
The Crowd: From neon ravers to leather-wearing rebellious types, the room was awash with hipsters of all pedigrees--mixed in with in a sprinkling of proud, gray-haired parents and tan suit ushers.
Overheard: The fact that the phrase "melt yo butta!" was echoed throughout the halls and on stage even after BLOK performed on Saturday is a true testament to the fact that people will say just about anything as long as it sounds cool.
OC Music Awards are at the Grove of Anaheim, Sat. March 6, 8 p.m. $25, All Ages.