Music from the Tragic Kingdom

14 Oct

I’m not much of a drinker, but I used to spend a lot of my time in Oakland at bars – Bar 355, Luka’s, Somar, Era, Mua – all walking distance from where I lived and worked. I haven’t had a drink at a bar since I got to Orange County over two months ago, but I went for the first time the other night.

At the inappropriately named Detroit Bar about a mile from my apartment, I had some rum and cola because of an Aloe Blacc show. To be honest, two weeks ago I had never heard of him, but no matter. African American singer with Panamanian parents, born, raised, and performing in OC? Upbeat R&B mixed in with jazz, soul, and hip hop? Saying that we are the 99%, talking about the misfortune of wealth, and recognizing the wealth in love and community? Sign me up!

It was a surprisingly diverse crowd and unsurprisingly hipster-esque. I’ve never seen that many black men together in one room in Orange County. It reminded me so much of Oakland that I even wore an Oakland shirt (I too can be hipster-esque).

I’m new to the scene, but the Detroit Bar apparently is not. Mirah, Talib Kweli, Wu-Tang Clan, KRS-One, Modest Mouse, OC-bred Cold War Kids, and Elliott Smith have all performed here. And Orange County was the starting point for No Doubt, Social Distortion, The Adolescents, and The Offspring. I guess that’s what happens when you mix suburban banality with middle-class comfort and disillusioned white kids.

My first concerts were in Orange County. I remember seeing Tori Amos in Irvine with my sisters. Warped Tour at Cal State Dominguez Hills was my first music festival. I went to a bunch of little punk and ska shows, most memorable being Tilt (where I had to deal with Huntington Beach skinheads) and a Dance Hall Crashers videotaping in Orange. I also checked out The Chantays: surf guitar à la Dick Dale, who also got his start in OC.

At college in the Bay, I still did a ton of punk and ska, with some Ani DiFranco and Sleater-Kinney thrown in. After many shows at Gilman and Berkeley Square, I remember thinking, “Oooohhhh, punks here are real!” I watched OC-queen No Doubt in Berkeley and Berkeley’s pride and joy Green Day in SoCal.

But when I moved to Oakland after college, my world opened up. Prophets of Rage at the Black Box. Goapele at a nonprofit dinner and then everywhere. Michael Franti and Spearhead. Dilated Peoples, Blackalicious, and Public Enemy at the Fillmore (best show ever). The Coup. Ozomatli all over the place.

Now being back in OC and afraid of having to give that all up, I appreciate the Detroit Bar and Aloe Blacc for bringing my two halves together: A little Oakland politics with multiracial consciousness mixed in with OC optimism and sunshine.

*Tragic Kingdom is a play on Disneyland’s nickname of Magic Kingdom and is the title of a No Doubt album.

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