The biggest criticism this curmudgeon will heap upon night six of the OC Music Awards has to do with the venue. Of all the beer bars and juke joint hosting this season's showcases, the Continental Room in downtown Fullerton is least conducive to a pleasant concert-going experience.
The cramped, narrow dive became clogged with bodies early in the evening creating a noisy and stuffy environment that detracted from some of the performances. The amount of booze spilled by people jostling through the crowd to make their way to the bathrooms could have safely carried a drunk like Bukowski through a bad case of the DT's. But I suppose no reasonable person should walk into any Fullerton bar expecting the Hollywood Bowl.
As for the performances, here's a quick breakdown:
Tully James Wilkinson: This folky, along with his backing band turned in a well tuned, tight performance. Featuring a cover of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young," Tully and Co. offered up soaring vocal melodies with rustic, yet smooth acoustic flavor. He also exemplified the problem with so many of the top performers in the awards: a derivative, radio-ready sound that seems at all times to be looking backward across the musical spectrum. Wilkinson didn't wow the audience with compelling sonic innovations deserving of the accolade best in OC.
Danny Maika: I reviewed the ever-sanguine Maika when he played in last year's showcases. He really pressed my cider then, and last night was no different.
Yes, Maika plays guitar and ukulele skillfully, and harmonizes with loops of his own voice--an effect he deftly creates onstage through the magic of pedals. Some might say he's ready for the hallowed stages of American Idol or America's Got Talent. But what's a credible critic supposed to say about a guy who sounds like a combination of John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews?
Hey, those guys are at the top of their game, and like them, Maika manages to fill the room with his voice. But what good does that do when the audience is subjected to wretch-inducing smaltz like "Everything you are is gorgeous?" When music snobs in other counties laugh at OC, this is why.
Parker Macy Blues: True to form, the lone bluesman and local record store owner offered up a raucous performance fueled by 150-grit Vox amp accompanied by trudging, bluesey gitbox. The guy knows his way around and axe and plays with righteous conviction. Whether or not his sound is your cup of tea, Macy probably couldn't care less, and his crooked frown says as much.
But his excessively gravelly voice, which calls to mind Tom Waits met with Louie Armstrong, seems forced and smacks of caricature. And one of his best tunes, a great jam which summarizes the evils of the federal reserve and the illusion of inherent value of paper money, wasn't on last night's set list. It would have been timely considering all the talk about the 99 percent and inflation this year.
Foxxhound: Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Daniel Morones and cellist/vocalist Lizzi Murtough, these guys have an interesting ying-yang dynamic. Morones's voice is bright and his performance style lively, while Murtough is low key and her smoky coo more sedate.
Though this dynamic has the potential for an interesting performance synergy, the technical issues the band experienced experienced last night were a hindrance to their sonic zen.
Whether it was the performers' fault or the sound guy is unclear, but there were several times when shrill feedback burst from the speakers and sort of harshed the moment. On top of this, Murtough's soft voice and low registering cello were buried by waves of loud chatter coming from folks in the club further from the stage.
Mandie and Ruby: It looked like singer Mandie Bee might have been battling some jitters as she fumbled with her melodica early in the set. Whatever the reason, she wasn't sounding the right notes on the song "Baby I'd Let you Get Away." But despite a set of songs that sounded painfully sparse at times, this power duo still managed to charm. Mandie's voice has a rare quality that a singer can't learn. That's just the nature of a gift.
Her lilting melodies showed range as the band's sound switched between soaring folk jams, gypsy swing and burlesquey blues.
Guitarist Ruby Reginaldo meanwhile avoided acoustic coffee house cliches by actually strumming out some wonky and compelling rhythmic signatures. The main problem was the band's presence didn't resonate far from the stage, which can be a problem considering the size of the Continental.
The Crowd: Lots of flashing cameras and young people sipping beers. The occasional Fullerton Fire Fighter could be seen strolling through the crowded room.
Random Notebook Dump: There was a bartender at the Continental who looked strangely like Death Hymn Number9 guitarist Troy Bootow.
Personal Bias: The Continental holds some bad memories for me. I remember drinking a cocktail called a "liquid cocaine" one night, followed by prolific puking behind Fullerton College's police station. The smell of all that wood polish has a pavlovian effect on me.