At Heard Mentality, we've always been in the business of picking out the best/weirdest/wildest distractions that OC's music scene has to offer. It's turned out to be quite a long list, more than one blog post's worth, that's for sure. But in celebration of our Best of OC 2014 Issue, we're keeping the love train going with a few of our favorite places to earn our future hearing problems. Here's a quick list of the Best Places to Check Out Music in OC.
See also: The Best OC Musicians By Genre
Best Radio Station
A funny thing happens when you drive south of Laguna Hills on the 5. If you start flipping around the dial, you'll discover San Diego stations mixed in with the Los Angeles stations. While most of them are the same commercial bullcrap you can hear anywhere, XHMORE-FM 98.9 is a great rock en español throwback to the '80s–in two languages. You're just as likely to hear Héroes del Silencio as you are New Order. It's a border blaster based atop a tall hill in Tijuana, so the signal varies, but if you don't happen to live deep in the 949 or along the coast, well, there's always online. Estás escu . . . estás escu . . . estás escuchando Acceso al Pasado en MORE FM!
Best Alternative Venue for Live Shows
Can U Not Vintage
Formerly known as Tarte Vintage, Can U Not Vintage became the headquarters for Internet fashionista Joellen Lumibao's online store; later, it began drawing in bigger crowds during downtown Santa Ana's monthly art walks with its live performances by up-and-coming indie rock bands. Now the shows are more frequent and take place in the adjacent alley space or inside the store's cozy interiors, where art by local creatives adorn the walls and vintage clothing hangs unobtrusively on neat racks. Either environment fosters a welcome listening experience thanks to a superb sound system and mellow visitors, many of whom are hip young things wanting to be a part of the area's burgeoning art scene. Lumibao and co-owner Chris Gonzalez make sure the concerts run as smoothly as possible and feel inviting to all.
208 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana.
Best Rock Club
Aphotic (look it up!) Johnny's Saloon–boisterous with the riffs of country rock, punk and (sometimes) modern alternative music–is an otherworldly experience. The walls are covered in graffiti-style stencils of classic rock musicians, artificial cobwebs, symbols of Americana, and lacy, dangly bras. Naturally, bar patrons are covered with tattoos and piercings, but don't be intimidated: Johnny's has a no-judgment policy. All it asks is that you don't behave like an asshole. Drink-wise, there's an absurdly large selection of beers and whiskeys, and the bartenders pour with a generous hand. The later it gets, the louder the voices shouting along to the music, filling the room with whiskey-drenched camaraderie.
17428 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 848-0676; www.johnnyssaloon.com.
Best Jukebox Selection
The Tin Lizzie Saloon
You can play a Talking Heads song right after a Beyonce song, or an En Vogue song followed by an LCD Soundsystem song. And if you're feeling nostalgic, you can hear any of No Doubt's older albums, but if you're in the mood to dance, plenty of Top 40 hits are on deck. The jukebox at the Tin Lizzie Saloon is a satellite jukebox, so instead of a giant Wurlitzer-like machine, this player has an extensive inventory of music that you can comb through via touch screen and accepts bills for credits. Whatever musical style you're into, you can create your own playlist for whatever mood you're feeling that night–although Cher is always a good suggestion.
752 St. Clair St., Costa Mesa, (714) 966-2029.
Best Venue for Live Music
The Santa Ana venue has won this category so many years in a row people must think either we don't branch out to other places or that there's some weird payola deal going on. But how can anyone argue against the Observatory? The eclectic range of musical acts–from big-time, mainstream artists to buzz bands–has brought concert-goers of all ages past its double doors and into its large main room (or toward its smaller concert stage in the Constellation Room). There are always surprises on what new artist either venue will bring center stage, thanks in huge part to co-owners Jon Reiser and Courtney Michaelis, who stepped up overall operations and–dare we say it?–helped to save the OC music scene.
3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600.
Best Record Label
It seemed as if the label were barely getting started when we first put them on the cover of OC Weekly in 2009. Five years later, Burger Records' cassette-based analog empire and its scribbled-hamburger logo have become shorthand for cool in the national music scene. The label has garnered praise by everyone from The New York Times to Iggy Pop for its niche movement to put out cassettes for unknown bands and big artists alike who wanted to reconnect with a dead medium. These days, some of its flagship acts–Ty Segall, the Audacity and the Growlers–left the nest and are performing on late-night talk shows and at major festivals. It's now crowded with a never-ending roster of talent. And Burger has gained attention for throwing some big fests of its own: Burgerama, Burger a Go-Go, Burger Revue, etc. But even with all the mainstream love, label founders Sean Bohrman, Brian Flores and Lee Rickard vow to keep that DIY aesthetic that made them popular in the first place. Meanwhile, Burger Records' newfound fame has put OC on the map anew for the next generation of music fans.
645 S State College Blvd #A, Fullerton, (714) 447-4280
Best Karaoke Spot
As the era of Mr. Mister Miyagi slowly morphs into the age of Wayne's Addiction, we bid '80s karaoke farewell and welcome with open, flannel-clad arms the wonder that is '90s karaoke accompanied by a full band. Patrons can sign up for any one of hundreds of hits from the '90s, then await their turn to perform, live onstage and backed by electric guitars, bass and drums in front of a packed house of drunk, screaming barflies. Seriously, you're in front of, like, 100 people. Cranberries, Ace of Base, Flaming Lips, Blackstreet, Spin Doctors–the list goes on. Brought to you by the mad geniuses of Mr. Mister Miyagi, Wayne's Addiction (now with members named Chanandler Bong, Newman, Mr. Cooper and Urkel) bring you so much more than an average night of karaoke. It's all that and a bag of chips.
2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292