The House of Blues: Good bands, bad art
The House of Blues: Good bands, bad art
Courtesy House of Blues

[Sound Guy] Recent OC Transplant Gives an Outsider's Perspective on Our Live Music Venues

First Impressions of Earth
Looking at our live-music venues from an outsider’s perspective

Given that this is the debut installment of this column and our first issue of the new year, I thought it might be interesting (emphasis on “might be”) to share my initial impressions of some of the various live-music venues I’ve visited in my first couple of months here. Y’know, to look at places natives might take for granted, filtered through the outside perspective of a carpetbagging yokel.

This place really knows how to decorate for the holidays. It was all Halloweened out this fall—on top of their permanent instrument-playing skeleton dudes on the wall—and sported some festive tinsel during Christmastime. It’s a good place to see a show, but the last time I was here, the water was really gross and soapy-tasting. It could have been an isolated incident, or maybe just some weird taste previously lingering in my mouth.

It doesn’t make me too nervous that I’m usually the oldest guy here, mainly because I felt the same way at most of the shows I went to back in Phoenix, regardless of the venue. That either says something about the live-music scene there or my own tastes—most likely, both. The fact that their domain name is “” is rather impressive; I’m sure they get a lot of offers for it (hopefully all from PG-rated websites).

It’s a nifty-looking joint inside, and the canopy-type stage is neat (the falling curtain at the end of band sets is a nice touch), but never have I felt like more of a nuisance seeing a live show than here. While watching Fullerton’s Mothers Sons play a 30-minute set recently, I felt the brunt of an endless barrage of people shoving past me to get to the bar. Why is the area for actually watching the band perform so small?

The first Orange County live-music venue I visited—oh, sweet memories. This place is great for concerts—I appreciate the variety of options, from standing near the stage to sitting at the bar or on one of the couches—but I’m dubious about its value as a dance hall, which it effectively becomes each Wednesday for their “Busy Work” night. The dance area is small and right by the entrance, creating kind of an obstacle and also making it tougher on more inhibited folks hesitant to boogie down.

They don’t have much live music here, but they did the night I wandered in and saw Phil Shane, “the one-man Vegas legend.” It was a magical moment, of course. It’s kind of the same as the Continental Room—mainly a bar, and the music part just kind of seems like an afterthought. Fair enough—that’s probably why they don’t book many acts.

I’ve always favored the “big empty room with a stage” approach rather than anything more ornate, so this place is just fine with me. But there’s something about the surrounding area that bums me out. Perhaps it stems from the fact that the first time I went was during the wildfires in mid-November, so the sky was kind of brown and hazy and generally postapocalyptic.

This place is really weird, which I guess is at least partly due to its past as a cheesy Hollywood-themed dinner theater, which I wish I’d been around to witness. Sections are permanently tiered as if it’s a seated theater, which I guess makes sense for some of the shows they have (comedy, jazz, etc.), but it is completely awkward at general-admission rock shows. Also weird: The whole outside of the place, with the water tower and everything—really? Then there’s the out-of-place (but super-comfy!) Terra Rosa Room. Weird, weird, weird. Other than all that, I like it.

It was hard to warm up to a music venue in Lake Forest, given that all I knew about the town was that it’s the home of Saddleback Church. I first visited on election night; by the time I moseyed up, the result was already clear, but the guy at the door saw my Arizona driver’s license and responded, “Arizona? Please tell me you voted for McCain!” It took me a while to realize he wasn’t kidding. But after that, I found it to be a pretty lovely, albeit tucked-away, spot. And unlike Chain Reaction, I’m usually the youngest person here.

This place has the worst artwork. I mean, I’m no Miró, but I don’t know what’s going on with the stuff on the walls. (Knowing my luck, it was probably all done by sick kids or something, and I now look like a huge jerk.) Other than that, it’s usually impossible to get anywhere close to the stage unless you’re here early, but I don’t mind sitting upstairs and watching from above. It makes me feel like I’m in a fancy balcony or something. I should bring opera glasses next time (not because it’s hard to see, but rather for affectation’s sake, of course).

For daily music news and musings, visit our Heard Mentality music blog at E-mail Albert at


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >