By Isaac Espinosa
Despite a last-minute venue change, Vundabar with The Red Pears and The High Curbs delivered a wild, varied, and unforgettable set on Feb. 16 at La Santa.
La Santa is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it basement cantina in Downtown Santa Ana; its plain black door and dimly lit sign sandwiched between a ceviche bar and the massively popular Festival Hall. As soon as you pass the long line of rancheros patiently waiting to get into Festival and descend the stairs into La Santa, it’s bizarre to think that it’s just recently becoming a fully-fledged concert venue (due in large part, according to OC Weekly, to the co-owners of Marty’s on Newport splitting as partners, redirecting all ticket sales to La Santa). Blue lights drench the black interior with a cool aura, and that ambiance combined with some of the best air conditioning in the business (not once did I recoil from the smell of my own or someone else’s scent), makes La Santa one of the most comfortable places to watch a concert.
The first opener, The High Curbs, dealt out ear-splitting garage punk shredding and raw, growling vocals that properly kicked off the night’s eclectic lineup. Although their set was only around 30 minutes long, their lead singer’s energetic performance and some gnarly solos from lead guitarist Berto were more than enough to leave the crowd satisfied until the next performance.
Los Angeles natives The Red Pears took the stage next, playing a funky, genre-hopping set built on the backbone of a pleasingly realized sound. The diversity of their set was peculiar but thoroughly entertaining, switching from smooth surfer rock to rockabilly and then over to crunchy alternative jamming before you could process the last song had finished. After letting us sample every flavor in their band’s repertoire, their cherry on top was a cover of doo-wop hit “Angel Baby,” a straightforward rendition but one so pleasantly expected and unexpected at the same time it couldn’t have been more perfect.
They also had a seemingly large following at the show, with a dedicated mosh pit forming (albeit by the same group of rambunctious friends) for several songs and a largely unseen group of fans singing along ephemerally from somewhere in the back of the venue.
Headliner Vundabar was the highlight of the night, their fun antics directly mirroring the crowd’s. Lead singer and guitarist Brandon Hagen was magnetic, with spasmodic dances and playful vocals controlling the calculated disjointedness of the band’s indie rock tunes. His singular yelping-singing mixed with whimsical falsetto stings sounded fantastic live, as did the occasional ad-libs called out for concertgoers to repeat back to him.
The crowd ate up Vundabar and Vundabar ate up the crowd. Most everyone in attendance seemed to have at least some familiarity with their music, and Hagen’s slight vocal twists kept everyone smiling and waiting to see what new take he’d bring to a song. Although drummer Drew McDonald and bassist/keyboardist Grayson Kirtland must be accustomed to Hagen’s routine, giant smiles flashed over their faces when he’d do something particularly exciting, and what’s more fun than watching a band actually enjoy playing music with each other?
A great set is more than just seeing a band perform live – it’s engaging with them, feeding them the motivation to have fun, mess around, and play some really good music in return. By that definition, Vundabar capped off a night of three great sets and are definitely worth seeing live should you be lucky enough to catch them.