OC Music Award Showcase, Night 7 The Continental Room 2/18/14
The OC Music Awards preliminary competition for their Best Live Band Showcase wrapped up in cramped, energetic fashion at the Continental Room last night. Local fans packed the tiny red belly of the Downtown Fullerton haunt to drink, smoke and bang their heads to some OC-bred rock acts. The gamut of styles brought a mixture of hippies, hipsters and Hessians to venue to check out the tunes of The Higgs, Lowly Spects, Asleep at the Gate, Well Hung Heart and Big Monsta. For the sake of giving you something as quick and dirty as last night's showcase, we'd like to share a photo recap of how it all went down.
The night started with Anaheim jam band The Higgs, who used their time on stage to take us out of our surroundings of Continentals old-school Vegas Lounge and into the middle of an open field at a Colorado hippie festival. As soon as we saw guitarists Marco Munoz' Grateful Dead t-shirt, we had an idea of what we were in for. Spearheaded by the gruff voice and smooth guitar licks of John Lovero, the band employed technical noodling, clear harmonies and sweet vanilla funk churned out by keyboardist/guitarist Spencer Hurly and bassist Warren Murrell that inspired us to grow dreads, buy a hackey sack and enroll in a small, Liberal Arts College in the midwest. Though we didn't really want their set to end, someone in the band must have, as the kept bumping into the button that lowered the automatic red curtain at the front of the stage. Probably the funniest part of the night.
The Lowly Spects, fronted by Ethan Hulse, were a Lumineerish/Jayhawks-style Americana outfit that showcased some solid pop songwriting and pretty boy looks. The energy waxed and waned with a dynamic set of boot stompers and ballads. Good acoustic-driven Hotel Cafe fare that didn't necessarily bowl us over but did keep us interested through most of the set.
Asleep at the Gate felt like a nice change of pace in the competition this year. Aside from getting automatic points for tacking a Jeff Buckley cover of "So Real" (and pulling it off pretty well), the R&B/soul vibe emitted by the four-piece is a rare fruit at the OCMAs. Adrian Watkins led the pack with some polished falsetto runs backed by drummer Mike Santos, keyboardist Satya Fuentes and bassist Brandon Crow. Given a little more time to tighten their sound, this young troupe could be a group to watch out for in the future.
Well Hung Heart won a couple of awards from us last night: Best Energy, Best Stage Prop, and definitely Best Hair. Sporting massive mutton chops to match his rough and rugged riffs, guitarist Robin Davey charged through the band's set as his wife and vocalist Greta Valenti jumped on top of the stage rail to survey the crowd during a blitz of no-frills rock-n-roll thrashing. Even when she wasn't screaming at the top of her lungs, Valenti's chemistry with the crowd was palpable, teasing them with whispers and then delivering outbursts of sheer rage of songs like "Devil" or "Big Plans". Oh, and the blue lamppost thing she strapped to her back during the set was a great compliment to her electric-blue dye job.
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Rounding out the night was Big Monsta, who boasted one of the most energetic crowds of the whole competition...not bad for being in the 11 p.m. slot (which we all know can be brutal). But the band's blues rock/brit pop prowess never wavered as frontman guitarist Jimmy Hua, drummer Mike Wilson and bassist Adrian Sanchez unleashed some buzzing, hard-charing blues rock on songs like "Falling Down" and Bottom Blues." With their crowd pressed up against the stage rail, Hua riffed and howled through a all-too-brief 30 minute set that actually saw the crowd cheering for an encore, which the band was happy to give--and what better way to close out the last night of the OCMA competition?