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Local Bands Make Fine Declaration at Independent's Day

October 24, 1994|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — The Independent's Day '94 festival Saturday at Irvine Meadows had to be one of the most imprudent rock concerts ever staged in Orange County. But in the end, anyone with a patriotic regard for the local grass-roots rock scene had to conclude that, all in all, it was a glorious Twenty-Second.

Mistakes, there were a few, and not too few to mention. But by doing things their way, the show's two young promoters gave the Orange County punk and alternative rock scene a much needed shot of specialness at a critical time. Yes, the Offspring's success finally gave Orange County rock a strong national profile this year, but back on the home front, with Bogart's gone and not replaced as a central, professional-caliber venue, grass-roots bands have struggled to find a decent, high-profile stage on which to play.

Promoters Tony Cardullo and Jaime Munoz provided six such stages, temporary ones built on the concourse and walkway outside the main amphitheater at Irvine Meadows. They invited 75 unsigned or emerging independent-label bands to come play on them--none of them having a draw of more than a few hundred fans.

The promoters, whose company is called Taurus Enterprises, appear to have lost money on their bullish faith in the grass-roots concert market: They estimated near the end of the 12-hour festival that they had sold about 2,800 tickets, when they needed to pass 3,500 to break even (an additional 1,000 people, including all the musicians and their guests, got in free). But just pulling off an event of this scope was an achievement.

Against all odds, the sound and lighting were excellent, bands playing simultaneously in close proximity on stages placed back-to-back didn't impinge on one another, the fans (most of them in their teens and early 20s) were, with a few scant and quickly dealt-with exceptions, a happy and considerate lot, and the show ran on time (even if it did run on and on and on).

Most important, for much of the marathon there was that refreshing sense of newness and unpredictability that can make a festival special. A lot of people had turned out to see a bunch of less-than-famous bands--a cross-section that by no means represented the artistic or commercial cream of O.C. alternative rock. That in itself was special, and the bands came through. The 57 that I sampled for at least one song all played with effort that suggested they viewed Independent's Day as more than just another gig.

The day also had its lessons.

* Rock festivals, like work days, are best when they don't go beyond eight hours. The rock segment of the show hit a palpable peak near the eight-hour mark, with back-to-back sets by Bitch Funky Sex Machine and One Hit Wonder. Bitch Funky laid into its heavy, Black Sabbath-meets-the-Chili Peppers set with impressive force and fury. As for One Hit Wonder, I may grow tired of writing glowing reviews about this splendidly aggressive and winningly catchy punk-pop band, but I doubt I'll grow tired of hearing it play.

After that, it just got too late and too cold for most of the crowd, which thinned out drastically after 9:30. Spirited sets by the Crowd and the reliable Burnin' Groove were highlights of the home stretch. Otherwise, hard-core punk and wrathful grunge, two styles over-represented on the bill, dominated the night hours of the show.

That made the KUCI-sponsored ska stage a welcome respite. Such bright, sharp bands as Larry (humorously dressed in matching Los Angeles Lakers basketball uniforms), Reel Big Fish, the Skeletones and See Spot kept the fans hopping happily.

See Spot's easy-rolling blend of ska with traditional New Orleans jazz and Dixieland proved an especially helpful remedy for nerves frazzled by the rage and doom set. Also on the Jamaican-inspired list was Common Sense, which, when I could pry myself away from One Hit Wonder's simultaneous set, offered trenchant, tightly played reggae.

* If you're an emerging Orange County band and your sound doesn't have much to do with punk or ska, you face an uphill fight for recognition. Two of the day's best sets came from the roots-rocking Mystery Train and from Psychic Rain, which played a sharp and emotive brand of rock that had a bit of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and Neil Young in it. Neither attracted much of a crowd, as the masses pursued more punkish fare on other stages. About 100 fans watched as Psychic Rain's Greg Stoddard sang his heart out on the walkway stage, but hundreds more filed by without even slowing for a look as they made their way to the main concourse.

"At least if people walked by they can get a little taste of it, and that's what it's all about," Stoddard said cheerfully after his band finished.

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