Aug. 6, 2011
Saturday night marked the much ballyhooed reopening of Santa Ana's newest entertainment hot spot, The Yost, and featured San Diego band Unwritten Law as the headliner for its maiden re-voyage (click here for slideshow.). If you're not familiar with the controversies surrounding the former Spanish- language theater and cultural center, built in 1912, read Music Editor Lilledeshan Bose's feature story from last week and get caught up.
For those too lazy to read the feature, the simple version is there are some who feel this piece of Santa Ana real estate, run by owner operators Dave Leon and former Koo's cafe helmer Dennis Lluy are part of a nefarious conspiracy with city plannes to gentrify downtown Santa Ana.
Some feel offering punk and indie entertainment is done at the expense of area residents many of whom who would rather see the Yost used as cultural center more reflective of the local demographic. Others argue this is exactly what Orange County needs, a mid-sized music venue perfect for nationally touring acts perhaps not big enough to headline the area's larger venues such as House of Blues and The Grove.
Wherever your opinions fall, here's how last night's show shaped up.
Though bands were scheduled to start playing at 8:30, people were still standing in a long line at 9:30 which snaked from the front of the building into the nearby parking lot. Rumor had it that fire inspectors were still signing off on last minute safety issues. But after a short delay, under the watchful eye of Sana Ana's finest (some on horseback) people started trickling through the doors and the show got underway with no further significant hiccups.
Inside it was hard not to be impressed. The cavernous room's rows of chairs have been removed to reveal a two-tiered floor area in front of a massive stage backed by an exposed brick wall set under a towering lattice work of steel girders.
The deep blue tin ceiling sported vintage, art deco light fixtures. The walls were swaddled in dark red drapery affixed with tall, ornately-filigreed iron lanterns. It's gorgeous. And the sound system is top shelf, on a par with OC's finest venues. It's an underappreciated art to take loud bands such as Unwritten Law and provide a mix where the lyrics stream through the sound sytem with clarity.
Which brings us to the show's headlining act. Sometimes a band just surprises the hell out of you with their longevity. The San Diego group got their start riding the punk rock revivalism wave in the early 90s and despite numerous lineup changes, have maintained their forward momentum for more than two decades.
During their six-album life span the band has witnessed their sound evolve from straight forward, high energy punk rock in the vein of Pennywise and Blink to a generic power pop rock rife with insipid lyrics including such dusty cliches as "I can't go on," and "remember me when I'm gone."
But whatever criticism can be leveled at the band, even their harshest detractors have to admit they can work a crowd. And most of this working is provided courtesy of singer Scott Russo (a Carson Daley doppleganger) who brought his A-game to the Yost's stage.
Clad in red skinny jeans, a rumpled flannel with the top buttons undone and a scruffy mane styled in a mohawk/mullet hybrid, Russo glided back and forth on the stage and capered with playful dexterity. On "Celebration Song," bassist Derek Envy rolled chunky lines as Russo, with perfect timing hawked the occasional loogie and vogued with his arms in a cross between Madonna and a candy flipping club kid.
Bewteen songs, he made reference to the popping the Yost's cherrie and expressed his desire to "bareback" everyone in the audience. Rows of model-grade girls lined up along the wings, singing along and shimying to the tunes.
Exuding frat boy cool, Russo's presence successfully elevated the quality of such middling faire as "Starships and Apocalypse," a standard mid-tempo alterna rock number off the band's latest release Swan. The live performance was infused with more raw energy than what we get in the video which features a shirtless Russo mugging for the camera with requisite shots of a mysterious blond stripper. The performance got a boost from everyone else in the band who played with supreme confidence, notably drummer Dylan Howard, a super-shredding force of nature. A blur of thrashing long hair and drum sticks, he pounded out thunderous percussion on a remarkably small kit and supplies the music with significant punch.
Due to the late hour the band took the stage, the crowd had noticeably thinned by set's end. But the area immediately in front of the stage remained thick with bros who crushed in and piled against the barrier, their beer bottles hoisted high. The crowd's enthusiasm was particularly piqued by the anthemic "Underground" with its sing songy chorus of oh's.
The enthusiasm for this song clearly demonstrated the crowd's long history with the band as it appeared on their self-titled album released all the way back in 1998.
The set ended with the band's original drummer Wade Youman manning the skins to play the punk-oriented classic "CPK."
It was a good show.
But the question lingers as to whether it lived up to the potential promised by the venue. Anyone who went to shows in Orange County in the '90s will remember Dennis Lluy's original spot, Koo's Cafe, which was located in an old two-story house nearby. The front living room doubled as a stage and featured such up and comers as At the Drive In, Aquabats, Longfellow, Alkaline Trio and Jughead's Revenge to name a few. It represented a breeding ground for passionate DIY musicians and was a beacon for fresh talent.
At the very least it must be said picking Unwritten Law as the headliner for this momentous jump off represents a head scratcher. As for booking Long Beach rap band the Pricks to open, nothing screams gentrification more than a white boy, trucker hat wearing MC busting rhymes about sobriety with the squeaky voice of a cartoon character unironically. Here's hoping the next one is better.
The crowd: Youngish, male dominated. Attire centered around Quicksilver, Pennywise t-shirts and baseball hats. One bald-headed drunken attendee was seen undulating wildly on the floor area, much to the chagrin of his female companion. After she stormed off he was seen waving to the girls in the VIP section.
Overheard: "Santa Ana, what can I say that hasn't already been said about Afghanistan," Scott Russo lovingly joked.
Partial Set List:
Up All Night
Starships and Apocalypse
Shoulda Known Better
Love Love Love
15. Rest of My Life