With summer upon us, Irvine’s FivePoint Amphitheatre is once again the place to enjoy balmy evenings soaking up the world’s top touring talent. For more intimate experiences and to catch up-and-coming acts, the clubs and theaters of adjacent cities also have plenty to offer on any given night.
We took a look at just a small selection of the live music coming through Irvine and its surrounds during June, from colorful “surf noir” and conceptual hard rock, to uplifting praise and worship and raging, strep-throated punk.
STARSET @ The Observatory, Santa Ana
Tuesday, June 7
Starset’s conceptual, cinematic and symphonic hard rock is both a proggy pre-punk throwback and a timely coming-together of video game imagery, thought-provoking faux backstory, and Armageddon-ready wardrobe. Staying charmingly in character even in interviews, the core Ohioan quartet is fleshed out by multiple touring musicians on stage, as required by such a multi-dimensional sound indebted to the likes of NIN, Sigur Rós, Deftones, and even Hans Zimmer. Coming on like Tron: The Musical, there’s something inherently admirable about the sheer ambition of Starset’s vision, which is frankly too grand to fully realize in the venues they’re currently able to headline. But maybe not for long, as Starset might be the next Rammstein – only with much more accessible songs.
LA LUZ at Constellation Room @ The Observatory, Santa Ana
Wednesday, June 8
Although originally formed in Seattle, nowhere does La Luz’s “surf noir” make greater sense than in surf music’s traditional SoCal home. The female foursome has been far from idle during the pandemic, releasing both their eponymous fourth studio full-length and Live from the Black Hole last year. They’re now back on the road in earnest, including UK shows next month. Alongside a fastidious respect for era/genre motifs, what sets La Luz apart is a throwback sense of fun, including Soul Train-esque dance contests at shows, and international influences including Japan’s Takeshi Terauchi. But don’t expect cheap kitsch: Shana Cleveland’s ghostly vocals washed with her bandmates’ crystalline harmonies summon both serious small-hours introversion and welcome, gauzy escape.
CHICAGO, BRIAN WILSON @ FivePoint Amphitheatre, Irvine
Friday, June 10
Chicago isn’t a hip name to drop and, unlike some of their similarly mega-selling peers, you won’t see their wonderfully ‘70s logo on retro t-shirts at Target. Yet, commercially at least, this sprawling veteran outfit – 11 members at last count – from the city of the same name is right up there, with more than 100 million records sold and ranked ninth on Billboard’s list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. Co-headliner Brian Wilson makes this bill almost a nostalgic revisiting of the legendary 1975 “Beachago” tour, when Chicago and Wilson’s Beach Boys, complimented by circus acts between bands (seriously), sold out megadomes nationwide, including playing to 50,000 people at Anaheim Stadium.
FISHFEST @ FivePoint Amphitheatre, Irvine
Saturday, June 11
Hosted by KFSH-FM (aka “95.9 The Fish”), the annual FishFest is SoCal’s largest Christian music festival, augmenting top-tier worship talent with family-oriented speakers, games, shopping and more. The 2022 edition gathers Australia’s praise-and-worship staples Hillsong Worship (“What a Beautiful Name”) and compatriot evangelist speaker Christine Caine alongside R&B-inflected Texan Tauren Wells; NorCal’s Bethel Music collective; and Santa Barbara’s Ryan Ellis. Already a prolific songwriter for other artists, Ellis’ “Heart of the Father” made a huge splash last summer, boasting nearly 1.4-million YouTube views at the time of writing. In an era of vampiric commercialism and consumerism, FishFest – while far from devoid of these – at least strives for a well-intentioned spiritual component to boot.
PENELOPE SCOTT at Constellation Room @ The Observatory, Santa Ana
Wednesday, June 15
Throughout human history, quirky bards have entertained with catchy tunes, smart/smarty-pants topical lyrics, minimalist self-accompaniment, and wry observational humor. Cali multi-instrumentalist Penelope Scott brings this tradition into the era of music-making software and TikTok (and quite literally all over TikTok) with her ultra-relatable, self-produced hyperpop-adjacent aural distillation of the chaos and contradictions of the Internet and our complex relationship with it. Still her flagship creation, 2020’s “Rät” is as much about poetry as it is music – a witty, wiltingly disillusioned and foul-mouthed farewell/love letter to Elon Musk, and indeed to two-faced tech titans in general. Nerdy yet ultra in touch, imagine if you will the musical side project of Criminal Minds’ Garcia and you’re getting close.
AJR @ FivePoint Amphitheatre, Irvine
Sunday, June 19
That these NYC brothers began their musical career busking but got their big break via Twitter is emblematic of an extremely talented trio with one foot in the songcraft of the 1950s and ‘60s, of the Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel, and the other in the production-heavy here-and-now of Kanye & Co. It’s almost as if when Fun went on hiatus in 2015, they quietly handed off their sonic brand to AJR, whose debut full-length appeared that same year. But with 2021’s ultra-ambitious OK Orchestra they transcended comparisons with a mind-bogglingly multi-faceted marriage of doo-wop, hip-hop, unashamed pop, and nostalgic Broadway pomp. AJR are already producing material of a complexity and restless, genre-hopping creativity worthy of a place in the same sentence – okay, paragraph perhaps – as Jellyfish or even Queen.
ZEKE @ Tiki Bar, Costa Mesa
Saturday, June 25
When the world lost Motorhead with Lemmy’s passing in 2015, Seattle stalwarts Zeke continued to tout a similarly punkified hard rock cocktail, returning with their first full album in 15 years, Hellbender, in 2018. But while Zeke’s constant ‘Head comparisons remain valid, right down to Hellbender’s frantically bluesy guitar breaks, the foursome is much more a truly punk affair, reeking of sticker-slathered underground clubs and broken-down Econolines rather than tour buses and the open road. Marking 30 years as a band and with two founder members still aboard, Zeke’s wonderfully accomplished fury is absolutely unbowed. Their violently visceral take on rock ‘n roll feels more welcome than ever after two years largely devoid of live music’s crucial communal connection.