Every night there is something to do at Detroit Bar, the music venue hiding in the corner of the Vista Center located in Eastside Costa Mesa. Drive on 19th street past Placentia Ave., past the old eVocal, past Avalon, turn left at the brightly lit marquee, and in towards the corner of the parking lot. There, you will find one of the most vital contributing venues in the underground Orange County music and art scene.
Throughout the venue, the reoccurring theme is an aged, yet chic style of Mod. Knitted pieces of tangerine-colored pillow art litter the walls of the dance floor, bar area, and pool hall; buffering the music that spews from speakers. Every piece of interior has rounded corners, whether it is the stools, tables, or booths. The establishment is split into three tiers; the first being the open concert hall, the second the bar, booths, and DJ arena, and the last being the pool room that possesses a digital jukebox, a classic joystick Pacman arcade game, and more lounge seating.
For nine years, the stage has featured thousands of bands; some good, some great, and some to forget. But each performance always shines in it’s own distinct way. From a wooden beam above and away from the stage hangs the modest light system and fog machine. To the right and left, suspended with a tilt towards the audience, are two substantial house speakers. Monitors litter the extension of the platform that was built into the existing frame of the stage just a few weeks ago, providing a little extra space for the performers. Surrounding the musicians are three walls of orange-painted concrete hidden behind a perimeter of deep red curtains. In the back, centered in the drapery, is an oversized smooth metal replica of the Detroit Bar logo, always beaming in the glow of shifting red, blue, green, and yellow beams of stage light. For those who see the merit in discovering new and upcoming musical acts to add to their life playlist, it is the perfect place to reside every night of the week.
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Today the week starts with Resident Live Music Monday, and for the first evening of the Billy Kernkamp Mysteresidency, the sounds of The Relative Strangers are booming out of the doorway of Detroit. “The feeear of taking you for graaanted, the feeear of letting yooou go,” has wandered into my head a lot over the last month. This Thursday will be their first appearance at the House of Blues in Anaheim.
Pleasant surprise is the second mystery band, Wake Up Lucid, hailing from Los Angeles. This three-piece played a healthy set of psychedelic Southern rock to impress the crowd. Tonight, the three-band-lineup is letting each group take advantage of extended time on stage. Wake Up Lucid took advantage, showing a great extension of their musical range, including an impressive drum solo transitioned seamlessly into an intense song finale. Definitely downloading their new EP as soon as possible.
Gossip of the night is all about unveiling the Ruffian music blogger, whether or not he was there, and who it may be. It is still unclear if they are male or female, one person or many, and what crowd they seem to run with. But the consensus seems to be that, whoever it may be, he or she is probably not much of a musician.
Billy Kernkamp, accompanied by Justin Deckert, Brendan Murphy, Teddy Duran, Justin Morales, minus organist Dallas Kruse, takes center-stage. In the spotlight after a few weeks of hiding out, Kernkamp graces his many fans, singing their favorite songs with deep passion and romantic fervor. A month-long residency is good practice for the group, as they will be entering the Red Bull recording studio in a few weeks to claim their OC Music Awards prize. Nearby, Trisha Smith and Ryan Radcliff of Honeypie enjoy the music. They will be playing next Thursday at Detroit with Melanoid, Preacher’s Sons, and May McDonough.
At the end of the night, it is necessary to swoop out undetected, otherwise goodbyes would last on through the night. Always a good time seeing friends at Billy’s shows. Looking forward to the rest of July Mysteresidency.
For local artists, the Monday night residency spot is coveted, and reserved for the most legit Orange County musicians. Over the last year, bands like The New Limb, Railroad to Alaska, and Blok have chosen their favorite openers to join them in filling up the Detroit dance floor for four weeks in row. Not only is this Residency one of the best ways for a band to gain exposure, but it is also a challenge that truly shows a group’s stature and following in the Orange County music scene.
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Started off this Tuesday night Everyday Noise event by walking into Detroit to the words, “People get goofy to this song.” The Tail, a group of four, sounded reminiscent of a modern-day Beach Boys or Dr. Dog, but with more quirky and intellectual lyrics.
Near the DJ booth, Everyday Noise founder, Ash Eliot, works away on her laptop, while her partner, Albert Ching, runs to and from the stage area to observe the show. This duo is running the Local Indie Night every first Tuesday of every month at Detroit.
Next up is another four-piece hailing as the California Condors. Each member, with their own personal microphone, stood up to sing his own song, with only a few truly being memorable for the night. This is an Indie band with excellent musicians and democratic songwriting style.
A faux-redheaded female takes the stage with her psychedelic rock band. Spirit Vine had made the rounds through Los Angeles and now enters Orange County, with the possibility of a memorable show tonight. With red lights turned low, a few riffs from the lead guitarist, and the occasional harmonies hit just right, Spiritvine was unforgettable.
Peyote Players closed out the night as the population dwindled to the final few. This funky, hip-hop, soul, psychedelic rock trio, featuring lead bass, is the most entertaining of the evening; enough to earn fog and a technical light show from the house. A mellow evening at Detroit with a full range of Indie bands.
While the local musicians usually host Tuesday evenings, the final one of the month is reserved for Dubtroit, a night filled with the heavy basslines of dubstep music. The crowd has been anticipating this Tuesday all month, checking in with friends days in advance to make sure they are attending. Every time Dubtroit rolls around, the bouncer knows it is time to prepare for that long line that always builds in front of his station. One by one, he checks ID’s, always attempting to tame the orgasmic electricity shifting though the crowd, and the smell of hydroponics in the air on the patio.
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Dolphin City is glowing in raw projector light, laced with flecks of digital color. Dressed in all white, perfectly puzzled together on stage like opaque tetris blocks. The stellar musical experimentations radiate over the snug audience that consumes the concrete dance floor. And the standard is set high for the musical acts of the night.
For The New Limb, tonight is the ultimate homecoming after a two-week tour up the veins of the West Coast. A new maturity, wisdom, and confidence pulses in musical succession from the five members. Time apart results in a sense of nostalgia, and a new excitement for the group that I’ve seen so many times now. Welcome home.
Young the Giant, previously known as The Jakes, sets up and briefly checks their levels. “It’s time to start a fight,” flows from the romantic vocals of the lead. These young men, previously known as The Jakes, exemplify the Indie scene perfectly in Orange County, with charismatic tunes bouncing throughout the establishment. The promoters have changed up the schedule for the month of August, with Young the Giant taking a slot as Resident band. Any other Wednesday night would consist of a DJ set, and completely different kind of crowd than musical hipsters. Go through the door of Detroit on hump day, and be greeted by a dance floor that hosts twirling bits of colored lights moving to the beat of the pop, ‘80s, house, and techno beats that inspire the crowd to drink, pick up on each other, and dance all night long. Refreshing to have a Costa Mesa venue with bands on a Wednesday for a change.
When Detroit was first introduced to the public after purchasing the punk venue, Club Mesa, in 2001, the entry line on a Wednesday evening shoot down the sidewalk, stretching past the neighboring businesses, all the way to the parking lot entrance near Alejandro’s Mexican food. Although the initial charm has worn off a bit, Detroit still boasts lines like this for Tuesday night Dubtroit, and national headliners like Cold War Kids, Crystal Castles, and Autolux.
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Thursday night; semi-official start to the weekend. That means there is probably a cover, with a touring band or special-event taking place. On this specific evening, it is Chainsaw’s Birthday Massacre featuring Railroad to Alaska, The Vespertines, Strange Birds, and Names In Vain.
Names In Vain are setting up, lights turned low and a thin starting crowd. Railroad members are split between the front door patio and the concert hall. Members of Strange Birds line the bar, with an occasional glance at one of the three televisions that float in orange encasings over the back bar. Each screen usually displays cult classics, eclectic music videos, or an occasional sports game. As the night wears on, The Vespertines enter the scene, with local musicians, scenesters, and surfers following. And the smoking patio fills.
By the end of the evening, the crowd is stretched full with booze, and an itching desire to get rowdy. Perhaps it was the booming voice of Vespertine’s lead female vocalist, crying low tones of Change, with a solid band of brothers behind her, matching her intensity in great harmony. Perhaps it was a particular crowd of fans, including birthday girl, Vanessa Barnes, that shot the rest of the audience up with adrenaline with their violent dancing, pushing, and rhythmic screaming.
As the people begin to exit the venue, friends and acquaintances continue to linger out front. But a few super drunk buddies, led by the-most-plastered-king-of-the-night, begins looking for some trouble. A fight quickly flames and fizzles, but a row of Detroit regulars, Railroad guys, and bouncers now line the patio, guarding the entrance to the establishment, making sure there’s no more trouble for the night.
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On Friday evening, everything changes. The crowd, the music, the mentality. A full set of DJ’s take over the venue, transforming it into a club with men and women on the prowl. Pay five bucks at the door, and enter into a world of lights, lazers, and the sound of MSTRKRFT, Justice, and Daft Punk remixes. Club attire is more prolific tonight, with the men in button-ups, and the female’s skirts being tighter and shorter than any other night of the week. All three tiers of Detroit are bustling with young adults looking to throw a few drinks back and officially welcome the weekend.
Around the establishment, a cocktail waitress dressed in a black ruffled skirt and tank hustles from room to room, checking constantly for drink orders. At the bar, tequila shots are being shared. On the dancefloor, club-goers assimilate in drunken dance movements, while local photographers shoot from all angles, bending the perspective and light in every which way. Friday’s are reserved for the crowd that wants to absorb entertainment and alcohol from all sides.
However, any weekend the schedule may change, depending if a band like The Growlers, the GZA, Matt Costa, or Valient Thorr is coming through town. But no matter the night, Detroit supplies a hub for local music, socializing, and an escape from the work-week.
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It’s Saturday and the crowd consistently wanders in for the Echo Echo CD Release (with vinyl!). Tonight, the group shares their new album,Fall Like You're Flying. Through the main entrance, and towards the merch booth to find sprigs of delicate faux cherry blossom branches twinkling, each laced with tiny bulbs of light inside rice paper flowers. A few line the stage, with the rest set around the brown suitcase at the table. Inside the gaping mouth of the case, copies of the album are joined by digital download cards.
National act, Film School, under code name Fission, takes stage at 9:15pm sharp, making it an early start to the night for the venue. It has been two years since the foursome have played on stage together, and the Detroit stage is the first of many on their Fall tour schedule. The electro-indie band, with wedding rings and a hint of maturity on their faces, run their set and check the response of the crowd every song or two. Nervous to reply, the crowd keeps a distance, but continues listening closely.
To follow is Semi Sweet, a local bitch pop group, boasting the ratio of three females on vocals, keys, and drums, to the two men playing bass and guitar. A crowd gathers to the breathy croons of the lead vocalist; a seductive female with Fender in hand, sharing dramatic lyrics with the band’s followers. A fan posted up front grabs a prop bubble machine that had been implanted at the foot of the stage. He points and shoots, scattering a rain of gleaming orbs amidst the melodies of songs titled “Sleazy” and “Sugar Free.”
Third for the night is The Relative Strangers. As they play, more people wander into the establishment, proving the band is the perfect buffer for the headliner of the night. The two pairs of actual relatives finish up, allowing plenty of time for Echo Echo to share a full set of their new record before last call. As the band begins, a darker and more emotionally rattling mood begins to linger in the air. The four members, comprised of music locals, Steve Carson, Jameson, Darren Carr, and Bruce Yoken, escape to a place of broken romances. Carson, with his sorrowful voice resonating strong, leads the group in an epic set that extends into the wee hours of the morning.
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Last chance to enjoy the weekend, and this specific Sunday, the crowd stumbles through the door, drunk from the events of Labor Day, ready for some top-notch karaoke. First stop: the bar. Second stop: the Book. Within the plastic covers of the karaoke binders is a thick selection of the classics, the current, and everything else in between. On stage, Lester Trombone, the host of the affair, is dressed in black and red pin-stripe pants, slicked back hair, and one of his t-shirts that simply states, “Organic Robot,” “Love Songs for Everyone,” or “ I Like Stuff.” He hunches over his karaoke stand, tucked away in the corner, his table littered with white strips of music selections. Scrolling through thousands of songs in his database, Lester hollers song titles from the likes of Danzig, Nirvana, Fiona Apple, and Weezer.
A swarming crowd ripe with booze serenades loudly along with a hip young man basking in the fog and lights of the red-carpeted stage. Tonight, owning the platform for a few minutes is difficult, with a growing crowd steadily throwing their favorite tunes towards the host. In the back corner of the dance floor, the sound technician adjusts vocal levels and lights, with fog and green beams of lazer reserved for only the finest acts of the evening. With a tempo change in lights and a puff of swirling smoke, this young man has achieved his acceptance from the establishment, and the crowd roars on.
Tomorrow each individual may regret the song selection they made, the amount of alcohol they consumed, or the decision to hit on that plastered guy or girl at the bar. But no matter what experiences were had, karaoke is the best way to close out the week at Detroit.