Last night, the fifth installment of the Best Live Band showcase for the OC Music Awards led us down the long and beaten path of rim shots, scatting guitar and melodic bass lines as rastafied rock acts represented themselves to the fullest. Why they always group bands of the same genre together on the same night is beyond me, but hey, it probably makes things a little easier for the judges. Watching slow tempos and euphoric vocals take over the night, I felt like this week's complementary Redbull should have been served out of an organic coconut.
The night started on a surprisingly high note thanks to Solution's well-executed stable of rasta pasta. Fronted by long-haired Jamaican ball-cap wearing front man Nick Papageorge, the band's metal-tinged twist on Steel Pulse reggae was an early crowd favorite. Considering the crowd that normally shows up to the Tiki Bar, the OCMAs really couldn't have picked a more perfect act for this showcase. We're not sure why, but finding a even a sliver of creativity in the over-saturated genre of white boy reggae is enough to win over some of OC's most jaded live music goers. In that regard, the soulful performance of this local four piece was definitely effective. Even the closing reggae cover of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me," which could've easily been a Jack Johnson style train wreck, was one of the most high energy songs of the night.
The second act, 80 Proof, though not as sonically compelling, had their showmanship down pat thanks to lead vocalist Evan Manriquez and dred-sporting keyboardist/ percussionist Alex Williamson who spent most of the set darting all around the stage, banging their heads and knocking over mic stands. Co-signed by presenting sponsor KROQ in recent days (their song "Runnin" was featured on Kat Corbett's Locals Only program), the band came out swinging and definitely kept us awake for the second hour of the night.
One curious addition to the mix was the unapologetic pop-punk sound of Seven Year War. Trotting out on stage like Rocket From the Crypt in their matching bowling shirts, the band's mix of Blink 182 and Guttermouth was pretty much an anomaly on stage. Not only because they were the only non-reggae inspired band on the bill, but because we had no idea pop punk was still, ya know, a thing. But for what it's worth, their performance was energetic and executed in earnest even if it did feel like high school all over again.
The energy down-shifted quickly when Headshine took the stage. Equipped with their own DJ and two-man percussion section (including bongos, triangle and cajón), expectations were significantly higher for this particular set. Though the vibe of their set offered some cool breeze relaxation to the lineup, the group did not really use a lot of the unique elements in their setup to their full potential. I found myself drifting off and easily distracted from singer Ras Soumakian's whispery, apathetic vocals.They just weren't dynamic enough to be considered Best Live Band in Orange County. Don't get me wrong, I would definitely chill out to a song such as, "Diamond in the Sun" given different circumstances; on the beach, with my eyes closed in the warm sun whilst taking a nap, but as Best Live Band, Headshine fell short.
For those that were able to tough it out and remain alert long enough to witness the last band, Wheeland Brothers (most had left after their selected band had finished their set, which is a shame in my eyes), redemption was inevitable. Straight out of the gate, the ability of brothers Nate and Travis Wheeland to charm and work a crowd was obvious. They certainly had experience with stage presence considering the fact that they had opened up for Slightly Stoopid rather recently. From the opening chords, I felt as if I had suddenly snapped out of a bad dream and found myself completely engaged in everything these guys had to do or say. Their songs were fun, and not to be taken completely seriously which made way for everyone else to dance and sing without worry. Between the punch low end of bassist Marcus Agundez and stylized finger picking on a ukulele by Nate Wheeland, the songs had more than enough variety to keep the set interesting.
Midway through the set, the band surprised the crowd with three lovely ladies in cut-up crop tops and daisy dukes entered the stage. Whether or not you saw it as a random distraction from their playing, you have to give the guys style points for hitting us with a choreographed hula performance. The only negative to point out was that out of a complete set of five songs, two of them were cover songs (including "Heartless" by Kanye West). It seemed as if the band had not prepared enough material to finish out the night, so an incredibly thorough cover of "Santeria" was thrown in at the very end of the set. Apparently everyone in Southern California loves Sublime, props for perpetuating that 'ol stereotype.
Critical Bias: Admittedly, I always switch stations in my car when Sublime comes on; feel free to make your own assumptions.
The Crowd: A younger crowd adorned in some sort of macramé accessories in addition to the usual local OC music scene supporters.
Random Notebook Dump:We love you, Sideshow Bob (real name unknown and if you were there, you know what I'm talking about).