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1987 ARTS IN REVIEW : POP MUSIC : Concert for Needy Capped Year of Frustration for Pop Music Fans, Hungry for Local Fare

December 30, 1987|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

The "Orange County Musicians For the Needy" concert at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano Dec. 13 placed a hopeful cap on a mostly frustrating year in Orange County pop music.

The turnout--a dozen bands and a total audience of 500 to 600 people over the course of the nine-hour marathon, far more than promoters expected--indicated that the audience for local original music, though still small, is growing, and that good intentions sometimes can lead to meaningful results.

Still, if Orange County's ailing local music scene finally expires one day, the cause of death certainly won't be overexposure.

The best that could be said about the year past is that it didn't leave us much worse off than it found us.

Since the demise of Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach in 1986, the best the county can offer for local original music is a couple of nights a week at Big John's in Anaheim and Night Moves in Huntington Beach.

So more than ever, the choice facing Orange County musicians is: Leave, or founder.

Two of the county's most promising bands--the outrageous punk-funk ensemble El Grupo Sexo and the R.E.M.-like trio Children's Day--called it quits this year after struggling to build momentum at local clubs. Some musicians moved to Los Angeles, San Francisco or other cities in hopes of finding more hospitable environs.

There were, however, a few acts that provided exceptions to the rule and made some noticeable, though modest, headway.

The endlessly inventive Wild Cards gained some national exposure with a brief appearance on NBC-TV's "Private Eye," but the Cypress-based quartet has yet to put out its first record. Better news was the long-delayed release this month of the James Harman Band's first full-length album "Those Dangerous Gentlemens."

The only locally based groups to get significant radio air play were the dance-oriented Stacey Q and Bardeux, both projects of techno-whiz Jon St. James. "Heavenly metal" Christian rock band Stryper continued to expand its following and headlined at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in April, becoming the first Orange County act to earn that distinction at either of the county's amphitheaters. (One-time Fullerton resident Jackson Browne wasn't playing the large venues until long after he moved out of the county.)

The opportunities for jazz--skip this part if you've heard this one before--continue to be dismal. The biggest blow was the demise of the annual Orange Coast College Jazz Festival, which succumbed in March for lack of financial support.

Even more significant than the festival's concerts with major big bands, combos and soloists were the accompanying instrumental clinics, which offered jazz students an invaluable chance to learn close-up from participating professionals.

In recent weeks Dal Rae restaurant in Fullerton has launched a Sunday afternoon jazz series, with bookings of touring acts (Pancho Sanchez and Phil Upchurch) as well as some locals (singer Shelley Moore). It's too early to tell whether the north county will support an ongoing jazz program. The Court of St. James in Westminster began an ambitious--but underpromoted--policy of nightly jazz early in the year. But after a few months, it was dropped.

Still, the musical state of the union--or the county, at least--was largely a matter of perspective. For those most interested in major recording acts at large-scale venues, it was a top-notch year.

Although some of the year's hottest shows--from U2 to Tom Waits--bypassed Orange County, the Pacific and Irvine Meadows amphitheaters had solid seasons.

Though it did bring back the controversial Beastie Boys, the Pacific generally stayed closer to mainstream rock, country and middle-of-the-road pop music than in past years, perhaps a reflection of the ongoing battle with neighbors who have complained of excessive noise. Irvine Meadows, in turn, emphasized more hard rock and KROQ-type bands; but then, most of its Laguna Hills neighbors are crickets.

The Pacific generated a different kind of noise over an October benefit concert starring Willie Nelson, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson and others for Indian activist Leonard Peltier. Because Peltier was convicted in the murders of two FBI agents, the head of the bureau's Southern California region publicly chastised the concert's participants and its organizers, even though they were not arguing Peltier's innocence or guilt but supporting his request for a new trial.

Anaheim Stadium brought three of the summer's biggest outdoor tours to the county, though neither Madonna (July 18), Bob Dylan & the Grateful Dead (July 26) nor David Bowie (Aug. 8-9) were able to match in artistic quality what they boasted in production quantity.

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