Segerstrom Goes ‘Off Center’

Die Roten Punkte, whose name might conjure images of grungy, anarcho-crust-punk rock, performed last Friday night at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, in the Samueli Theater, as a feature of the venue’s 3rd annual Off-Center festival — a performance showcase of the contemporary, the avant-garde, and the downright bewildering. File this band under the third column. No, Die Roten Punkte did not finally bring anarchy to the OC (their name means “the red dots”). Instead, this brother-sister comedy duo “from Berlin” (they insist) delivered a pop-music comedy cabaret in the same vein as Flight of the Conchords. But all fun things start off with a bang, or in this case, a pop.

Preceding the comedy-cabaret,  just around the corner, in the slab-concrete plaza of the Segerstrom was the POP: Party on the Plaza, a block party of Orange County proportions. At the base of the glass chrysalis sin-wave that is the Segerstrom Center, around 250 audience members from all around Orange County cha-cha’d and hip-swiveled to live, local acts. Among the outstanding (and free) featured musicians, were La Santa Cecilia. Think mariachi riffs, twisted with pop melodies, and Spanish-jazz. Add plucky guitar, languid accordions, and bossa-infused solos and you have the backdrop for what really ties this band’s sound together.

Their front man, singer Mari Sol, promenades and struts with the bongo beat, all the while exuding a smooth Diana-Krall croon, tempered with infectious reggaeton sensibilities. Prominent Latino performance troupe, Culture Clash, also shared the stage with La Santa Cecilia, most of them — the “cholitos” — keeping the corner of stage warm for the night. As Mari Sol’s final, belted high G# faded to post-concert tinnitus, one of the band members took a mic and bid the audience farewell: “Que viva Santa Ana, que viva la raza! Yeah! Thanks for coming out tonight, Orange County. Say thanks to the workers you see around tonight. We support Labor! Thanks, good night.”

A block party isn’t a block party without good grub, and Segerstrom delivered. Three food trucks — The Burnt Truck, Waff n’ Roll, and Dogzilla’s Not Your Typical Weiner — secured the hungry perimeter.

But, just a few hundred feet from the SoCal Latino revelry and the hotdogs, downing a few wursts themselves in the back of the Samueli Theatre, were Die Roten Punkte. In a 90-minute show, we get to meet and know Otto and Astrid Rot, a conundrum of a siblingship, brought to Orange County via Berlin by their manager/therapist Ross. Friday night their setlist was from Super Musikant. Otto, the younger one, took lead guitar and lead vocals while Astrid, buxom and plastered, manned the drums (and cowbell). The show began with moody, pulsating early-Ramones riffs of “Rock n’ Roll Monster.” Then came the spotlights.

The Rots rocked exaggerated red lips, raccoon eyes, all smeared on ghost-white cabaret skin. They barreled into the chorus, “It’s a rock n’ roll concert! And I’m a rock n’ roll monster!” fueling the duo’s hilarious, meta banter that does double duty in stringing the slew of cabaret-punk rock songs and revealing the real, strange heart of the act: that Otto and Astrid are working things out (by making a punk rock band) in family therapy after a freight train “squished” their parents on their way to the zoo. The melodramatic therapy premise is made highly ironic and camp by the over-enthusiastic, trusting, and literal performers.

The entire show is done in an irreverent German accent — hitting somewhere in the vicinity of Southern belle, Snookie, and disgruntled Swiss milkmaid. But, the actors’ charisma and fearless audience interaction render things a bit less cringe worthy, despite their finale act “Rock Bang,” where Otto’s not-so-hidden sister-complex gets to shine in all its awkward glory.

After the show, still in their costumes, dripping gray makeup sweat, and smelling like real rock stars, Clare Bartholomew and Daniel Tobias did not reemerge. Otto and Astrid, forever on stage, and forever in banter regale their new fans with fantastical tales about Hamsburg, bear-wrestling, lions, and living in a tour bus.

The Off Center Festival is aptly named. The Segerstrom Center brings acts from around America, and even Broadway, without the Broadway price. The arts, world-class or hyper-local, are alive and well in Orange County.