Even though roller coasters and deep-fried carbs are essential to the Orange County Fair, concerts at the Pacific Amphitheater are its main events. This year, Pac Amp shows compete with nightly gigs at a newly built venue dubbed the Hangar—hosting mostly tribute bands and lesser-known artists—located at the heart of the fairgrounds. Although we expect most national headliners to clobber the ticket sales of a cover band playing the same night, there are a few Hangar acts that should give the prima donnas a run for their money.
PINK FLOYD EXPERIENCE VS. WILD CHILD—A CELEBRATION OF THE DOORS
Not all cover bands have what it takes to label themselves an “experience”—especially when it comes to the stoner-rock wizardry of Pink Floyd, for which audiences expect nothing less than shroom-chewing, psychedelic excellence. The Pink Floyd Experience certainly achieve this, offering a deluge of smoke, acid-trip projections, neon clouds and a flying pig. Sorry, but given the choice between a fake lizard king and a show that includes a giant, inflatable porker, Wild Child are gonna have a tough time breaking through PFE’s wall.
Winner: Pink Floyd Experience
July 16. Pink Floyd Experience, Pacific Amphitheater, 8:15 p.m.; Wild Child—A Celebration of the Doors, the Hangar, 8:30 p.m.
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JEFF DUNHAM VS. MICHAEL JACKSON’S LASER SPECTACULAR
When the King of Pop meets the King of Puppets, pop always comes out on top. It’s not that we don’t love lip-syncing dummies, but can any of them moonwalk? Although Dunham has (mysteriously) had great success with Comedy Central, if his TV show represents his “ace” material, then watching an able-bodied MJ impersonator dazzle us with dance moves and laser light sounds a lot more promising—even if he’s lip-syncing, too. Besides, it’s waaay cheaper. We’re talking a third of the price and three times the action. You can’t beat it.
Winner: Michael Jackson’s Laser Spectacular
July 21. Jeff Dunham, Pacific Amphitheater, 8 p.m.; Michael Jackson’s Laser Spectacular, the Hangar, 8:30 p.m.
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ADAM LAMBERT FEATURING ORIANTHI VS. ROYAL CROWN REVUE
We’re not sure this is a fair fight, considering the unholy level of glam that legendary swing band Royal Crown Revue must overcome to beat American Idol glitter boy Adam Lambert. Add poppy, blond-haired guitar shredder Orianthi to the mix, and the competition doesn’t even come close for most music fans younger than 21. Considering that Royal Crown Revue are one of the most revered swing bands in the country and the fact they were a backing band for Bette Midler (they also inspired John Favreau to write the movie Swingers), they should be enough of a ticket draw, right? No? Okay. Enjoy your metal-screeching pop tunes.
Winner: Adam Lambert featuring Orianthi
July 28. Adam Lambert featuring Orianthi, Pacific Amphitheater, 8 p.m.; Royal Crown Revue, the Hangar, 8:30 p.m.
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SAMMY HAGAR AND THE WABOS VS. PURPLE REIGN: THE PRINCE TRIBUTE SHOW
We know what you’re thinking: How do you justify picking a tribute to the Purple One over a performance by the Red Rocker himself? Well, have any of you seen Sammy Hagar lately? Frankly, the crowd is more entertaining. Okay, maybe that’s a tiny bit biased; we were never big Van Hagar fans. That aside, the sexually charged energy of an early-’80s Prince show is a vibe that will never go out of style. And there’s a difference between capturing the spirit of the ’80s and desperately trying to relive them, which is what a Hagar show feels like.
Winner: Purple Reign: The Prince Tribute Show
Aug. 4. Sammy Hagar and the Wabos, Pacific Amphitheater, 8 p.m.; Purple Reign: The Prince Tribute Show, the Hangar, 8:30 p.m.
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THE FAB FOUR SGT. PEPPER’S EXPERIENCE VS. SWEET AND TENDER HOOLIGANS: THE ULTIMATE TRIBUTE TO MORRISSEY AND THE SMITHS
When you’re a tribute band, a devout following separates the sensational from the sound-alikes. Next time you’re bored, Google the number of Beatles tribute shows in the world just so you realize how vast a pool it really is. After a while, most of them start blurring together. Few melancholy copycats, however, can compete with LA’s Morrissey tribute, Sweet and Tender Hooligans. Formed in 1992, the Hooligans are regarded as the longest-running tribute to Moz and the Smiths. And if you’re interested in ditching the summer sunshine for a few hours of descriptive, danceable depression, they are an interesting drug that’s sure to make your heart full.
Winner: Sweet and Tender Hooligans
Aug. 7. The Fab Four Sgt. Pepper’s Experience, Pacific Amphitheater, 8 p.m.; Sweet and Tender Hooligans: The Ultimate Tribute to Morrissey and the Smiths, the Hangar, 8:30 p.m.
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WEIRD AL YANKOVIC VS. GARY HOEY
Though we have plenty of respect for the pied piper of song parodies, we’ll take the serious shredding of underrated guitar legend Gary Hoey over semi-humorous reinterpretations of Lady Gaga. In contrast, Hoey’s blistering six-string fury and songs from celebrated albums such as American Made (already sounds like perfect fair music, doesn’t it?) are as talented and un-gimmicky as it gets. Besides, if you’re a real Yankomanic, you were already planning to go to his second show on Aug. 14. Do you really need to see Weird Al twice?
Winner: Gary Hoey
Aug. 13. Weird Al Yankovic, Pacific Amphitheater, 8 p.m.; Gary Hoey, the Hangar, 8:30 p.m.
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The Orange County Fair on the OC Fairgrounds, 88 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa; www.ocfair.com. July 16-Aug. 15. $12.50-$69.50. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "Fair Fight: When you pit cover bands against past-their-prime rock bands making the fair circuit, you’re going to have some tough choices. We’re here to help."