Escape to Tiki Island Saturates Guests with Polynesian Pop

Escape to Tiki Island. Photo by Scott Feinblatt

There was no shortage of tiki-themed events in Orange County on Saturday. For those who hovered about the Garden Grove area, there was the Original Tiki Marketplace; and for those who gravitated towards Santa Ana, there was first the Tiki Island Expo, a marketplace with live music at Original Mike’s, and then Escape to Tiki Island, a variety show at the Yost. This is the story of that variety show…

After spending a fun-filled day at the Tiki Island Expo awash in a sea of Hawaiian clothes and accoutrements, furniture and decorations, art and music, many of the patrons walked or wobbled the few blocks it took to reach the Yost Theater. The previous event wrapped up at 5:00 p.m., and those who hadn’t headed directly over had gone off to eat or chill somewheres else for a few hours — leaving those of us without diversionary plans to wait outside the Yost until 6:00, when the doors opened. Once inside, the colorfully-clothed guests (who were by then additionally colored via the synthetic leis that were bestowed upon entry) started / continued getting liqoured up with the $10-$14 tiki drinks that comprised the cocktail menu; the drinks included: Dark ‘n’ Stormy, Tabu Tabu Grog, Jungle Jetsetter, and, of course, the Mai Tai.

The Hula Girls performing at Escape to Tiki Island. Photo by Scott Feinblatt

The stage was bathed in red lights. Above it, a movie screen showcased television episodes of Hawaiian Eye, a detective program that ran from 1959-1961. Guests arrived gradually, and at 8:00, when the acts were scheduled to begin, the place was packed. The show began with a concert by The Hula Girls, a rockabilly / hulabilly outfit that performs with hula go-go dancers. The four-piece band out of Costa Mesa performed a fine set, which featured: “Hawaii’s Not That Far Away,” “The Hidden Village,” “Surfin’ With Von Franco,” and concluded with a cover of “California Sun” by The Rivieras.

As warmly received as the music was from the mostly middle-aged crowd — as gauged by the applause — most of the crowd demonstrated a distinct lack of movement during the performance. Perhaps since the dancers on stage were doing it for them, most of the audience just fixated on them for the duration. After their 45-minute set, the event organizer / producer of Stellar Shows and Concerts, Christopher Burkhardt, welcomed the audience and plugged his other events.

Tikiyaki Orchestra performing at Escape to Tiki Island. Photo by Scott Feinblatt

Next, Tikiyaki Orchestra performed a wonderful set of exotica and other easy listening music. During their set, the principal visual attraction was a film show, which principally featured images of tikis, Polynesian geology, surfers, and, of course, dancing Polynesian women. The L.A.-based band, which is led by its main composer, Jim Bacchi, also shares its steel guitar player, Gary Brandin, with The Hula Girls. Their set featured songs from their 4-album catalog, including such numbers as: “Black Sand, Blue Sea,” “Mai Tais on the Moon,” “Idol Worship,” and “Tabu for Two.”

Tikiyaki Orchestra’s performance plumbed the depths of the tiki musical genre. The group’s music both harkens back to the more exotic pieces of Martin Denny (especially by incorporating sampled monkey screams and exotic bird song) as well as demonstrates that the tiki ethos can synthesize a variety of styles; they especially showed this by performing some tunes that pay homage to the stylings of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western soundtracks, while Bacchi wore a cowboy hat and the accompanying film was a B&W western.

Sheila Starr Siana performing at Escape to Tiki Island. Photo by Scott Feinblatt

After the Tikiyaki Orchestra left the stage, burlesque performer Sheila Starr Siani performed a hula-influenced strip tease. The act was brief but entertaining, and it included Siani dancing her way off the stage, into the audience, and undulating a bit for a few of the front-row guests.

Charles Phoenix performing at Escape to Tiki Island. Photo by Scott Feinblatt

The last act of the night was Charles Phoenix, the Ambassador of Americana. Phoenix is an aficionado of Americana and tiki institutions, history, and kitsch. His presentation consisted of a photographic slideshow of personal and collected images, focused on tiki parties and Hawaiian institutions — especially those from the mid to the latter half of the 20th century. Phoenix’s slides and commentary had the crowd laughing loudly. His presentation style was as passionate as it was irreverent, and was punctuated early on with his concession: “I’m not an expert…just an enthusiast, and I make up a lot of this shit as I go along.”

He punctuated many of his observations of deliciously tacky clothing styles and architectural anomalies with more emotion than analysis by lowering his vocal register and uttering an emphatic “I know…..” He would quickly follow this up with an entertaining riff on the image before moving on to the next. Somewhere in the middle of his act, he plugged his book Addicted to Americana, which was being sold out front of the theater.

Charles Phoenix performing at Escape to Tiki Island. Photo by Scott Feinblatt

Highlights of his images included his culinary creation, a tiki turkey meatloaf (with before and after photos of its decay after being stored rather than consumed); images from aboard the Hawaiian cruise ship, the S.S. Lurline; and historic Hawaiian hotels, such as the Waikikian Hotel and the Hawaiian Village. However, the quintessential image of how tiki / Hawaiian imagery can be used to excess was a photograph of a trash can with its own thatched roof — an image with Phoenix emphasized with the declaration: “Behold the glory!”

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