God of the arts, Apollo, forever the beardless wonder—our apologies. From the space jock of Battlestar Galactica to the comedy venue known for its yo' mama jokes (Leto would not be amused), we know American culture has disgraced your name. We plead for your forgiveness and offer you—who defeated Pan in a battle of the bands—this inventory of the greatest arts and literature and performance professionals known currently dwelling under your sun.
Best place to see a play and get rip-roaring shit-faced at the same time
In my nearly 78 years of San Diego play-going, I've almost never crossed a threshold past which the staff lets you take in anything to drink except bottled water. And a few venues around town don't even allow that. That's fine for the actors' safety, it is, but it does nothing for the chronically liquid-deprived (no fewer than 23 theretofore asymptomatic patrons died of dehydration a few years back at a matinée performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). But leave it to The San Diego Repertory Theatre, the city's fourth-largest company, to throw its weight around for the enjoyment and comfort of its peeps. Spoiling for a swig of Sprite? Pining for a pint of pilsner? Wanna wet your whistle with a wee wine? The Rep invites you to transport these and whatever other beverages strike your fancy into the house, because it figures you're savvy enough not to throw the cup onstage (at least not until curtain call). And to boot, there's a logistical advantage to this policy. The Rep's two theaters are located at 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown, perilously close to the core of the Gaslamp Quarter—so your evening Gaslamp bar-hopping's begun even before you hit the first tav. For more on The Rep's season, take a good long look at www.sdrep.org.
—Martin Jones Westlin
Best playhouse you've never been to 'cuz you don't know where it is
Y'know 'em. Y'love 'em. Y'd even go all the way to La Jolla to see their shows. And in some cases, y'have to. We're talking about your favorite San Diego outfits, like Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company and MOXIE Theatre, which, for whatever reasons, find themselves among the ranks of the city's homeless troupes. To help alleviate the problem, La Jolla Playhouse comes to the rescue every year, loaning out its Mandell Weiss Forum Studio Theatre (aka the Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre) free of charge for one production to a deserving company. The 100-seat black-box venue (2910 La Jolla Village Drive) is absolutely perfect for smaller shows, like Mo`olelo's Night Sky and MOXIE's Drink Me, the first two pieces put up under the program. There's an experimental quality about this place—the seating faces dead-on, not so much requesting your attention as demanding it. The decent acoustics and impeccably wide sightlines add to the black-box experience, which will unfold next month with the UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance's The House of Bernarda Alba (theater.ucsd.edu). This really is a gem of a space, and the Playhouse gets a big fat kudo for its generosity.
—Martin Jones Westlin
Best theater company to have stared down the recession and live to tell about it
When the American economy's humming, it truly hums. When the American economy sucks, it eats several buckets of poo at the same time. Thankfully, the latter lesson was lost on The Theatre, Inc., which holds itself out as San Diego's only theater devoted to production of the Greek and other classics, like Aristophanes' The Frogs and Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound. No venue, especially a mere 50-seater like this one, had any business opening more than a year ago amid the persistent recession, much less on an unremarkable corner off the beaten path (899 C St., Downtown)—but this one did against the odds, and not before an excruciating refurbishment of its space, which dates to 1918. This place is just too ornery to let a little thing like poverty stand in its way, and it has big-time plans for a lending library, classes and, of course, a slate of fare you won't get anywhere else. Classics, after all, didn't get that way just because they're revered out of hand. They got that way because they persist in the public mind as great literature. And The Theatre, Inc. (www.thetheatreinc.com) knows all about great literature. After all, if their plays are good enough for the ancients, they're good enough for the staff.
—Martin Jones Westlin
Best new novel set in San Diego
Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens tells the story of a meteorologist who has a decidedly different view of San Diego's “perfect weather.” Andy Dunne is a radio station weatherman stuck delivering the same broadcast day after day during a two-year drought that serves as a metaphor for being stuck in a personal and professional rut. The novel opens with the collapse of Dunne's marriage and with the threat of layoffs looming on the horizon. Dunne's life goes from partly cloudy to overcast. Even the possibility of a warm front with the seductive Hillary Hsing evaporates when her husband, who works for the Padres, warns Dunne to back off. Soul-searching ensues that takes Dunne all the way to Hong Kong to confront his guilt over an unresolved conflict with his deceased twin brother. But the typhoon our oracle encounters is much stronger than Dunne forecasted and everything that matters to him is put in peril. Klomparens second novel is a highly readable affair that does a fine job of exploring what it's like to deal with the storms inside your head when the sun is shining and everyone around you seems perfectly happy.
Best endangered establishments worthy of rescue
Doesn't anyone read anymore? A library is the one place where all of the masters, thinkers, makers and doers reside soundly next to one another without conflict or contempt. Their ideas are accessible to everyone without restriction or cost. Tangible, time-proof explorations of every facet of humanity lie within the modest walls of San Diego public libraries. Carefully crafted sentences rest there, eager to be devoured by ravenous eyes and digested by malleable minds. The warriors of the written word continue their fight against passivity while others bask in the dulled glow of recycled ideas. Even the smell of each library is intoxicating, like taking a deep breath in the company of such creativity will somehow ignite your own ingenuity. Books are precious. We can't let what almost happened in Philadelphia (complete closure) happen here. I'm doing my part by currently having two books three weeks overdue. At least this way I have a reason to throw a few bucks their way.
Best art gallery worth the drive
Local art lovers rarely venture north of Quint in La Jolla for openings, but ask someone in the know and they'll tell you that The Andrews Gallery in Leucadia (1002 N. Coast Hwy. 101, www.theandrewsgallery.com) has been showcasing some amazing local and international talent while also throwing some killer parties. Owner Drew Snyder sowed his artistic oats in Texas, New York and France, so he knows a little something about having something for everyone. At a recent opening for sculptor Jesse Hensel, he bussed in Austin rockers The Frontier Brothers to play for a rather eclectic mix of North County natives and art scenesters. And at a recent party to show off the work of Steven and John Hook, he tapped Philly-based experimental folk-opera band Br'er. And he isn't forgetting the local talent. During the summer, he had a month-long series of concerts featuring troubadour Matt Curreri. The art is always top-notch, so if you don't make it to an opening, the gallery is still open seven days a week.
Best alternative art gallery
Ah-ha, “alternative gallery.” If you look that up in a dictionary, it'll say, “The owners don't make any money selling the work.” Well, at least that's how we're going to be defining it today. This strange little locale is right in the heart of North Park, yet it's obscured behind Glen's Market off University Avenue (entrance is on Utah). The space is actually attached to Glen's, and if you come randomly for a visit, you probably won't be able to find it. If you come during operating hours (whenever the owner feels like opening—standard “alternative gallery” hours) you'll see a hand-painted sign that reads “AGIT-PROP.” Now, if you thought “Agitprop” was just a communist term and linguistic blend of the words “agitation” and “propaganda,” you'd be wrong. Agitprop is an amazing not-so-little, two-story gallery space that exhibits some of the most interesting and non-commercial work in San Diego.
Best art-scene underdog
We're guessing that the Oceanside Museum of Art folks (www.oma-online.org) might bristle a bit at being called underdogs, but when you're located roughly 40 miles away from Downtown San Diego, you've got a distance factor to overcome. OMA, however, has been doing a lot to lure folks northward. Since espanding from 5,000 square feet to 32,000, it's been rolling out a consistently impressive lineup of exhibitions that are worth your time and gas money. This year kicked off with Lowbrow Art: Nine San Diego Pop Surrealists, followed up by diverse offerings like a collection of Karl Benjamin's retro-riffic abstract paintings and photographer Chris Rainier's The Sacred Origins of Tattoos and Body Markings. An exhibit of sculptor Les Perhac's work, which opened earlier this month, is a must-see and on Nov. 20, OMA spreads the local love with San Diego NOW: Eight UCSD Visual Artists.
Best local drummer boy
We've all heard the whispers, in real life or on an after-school drama, “Well, you know, that kid, is, um, special.” Special, like, he eats his own toenails or fakes taking a meteorological balloon for a ride around the world. San Diego has a special kid, too, one who was a musical maestro by age 8. Ilan Rubin, now just 21, has been Nine Inch Nails' drummer since 2008 and is San Diego's biggest mainstream musical success story that I've heard in a long time. Rubin (www.twitter.com/ilanrubin) remains humble about his most notable accomplishments, such as playing at age 9 on the Vans Warped Tour, or being the youngest kid to ever play at Woodstock, or how he deftly managed to snag Modern Drummer magazine's “Best Undiscovered Drummer Under the Age of 18” when he was only 11. What's next? “I'm looking to buy an accordion,” he tells CityBeat.
Best way to record your album (professionally) on the cheap
Most indie bands already know they need a die-hard DIY attitude to make it in the local scene. And while there's nothing wrong with recording a demo on GarageBand, it's still going to sound flat and under-produced. That's where Keith Milgaten comes in. He's in just about every other local band in town and, during the past few years, has been interning in the studio, learning all the tricks of the trade. Now, he's set up shop in Pall Jenkins' S.D.R.L. studios under the name Keith Milgaten Recording Collective (www.myspace.com/keithmilgaten), recording buzz bands like Tape Deck Mountain, Gray Ghosts and Silverleaf—with fantastic results. Best part is that he's worked out a deal with the studio to book time when they have an empty slot, so he's able to work with bands that need to have a professional sound but don't have a ton of cash.
Best venue for music appreciation
The Loft @ UCSD's not for everyone: They book bands than tend toward quiet and smart. And, it's one of the few music venues in San Diego where it's possible to sit down and enjoy a show. Yes, sit down—because, at some point, standing among a crowd, on your toes to see around the chatty couple in front of you, ceases to be enjoyable. The Loft's design, by Bells and Whistles, is minimal and modernist, tending toward Japanese austere, and, a few weeks ago, the venue knocked out a back wall and added a small dining area where food and drinks are provided by local bistro Zanzibar—like turkey sliders, cheese plates and a hummus / pita / olive combo. Yes, they serve alcohol, though it's limited to wine and beer, and, yes, you can eat during the show. This is our kind of place. Upcoming hot tickets: The Drums on Nov. 15 (see Page 74 for more about them), “alternative classical” band Build on Dec. 2 and moody indie-rockers Girls on Dec. 4. If it's your first time, check out www.artpwr.com for parking suggestions and directions to the venue.
Best new band you need to see now
Any band with a chorus like “You're all cats / You have the power” seems ready-made for ironic hipster appeal, but Lion Cut bring a party that can appeal to just about everybody. Those who've seen the co-ed duo (one on violin, one on synths) from the cat planet Leonid are buzzing about their elaborate costumes and funky tunes like “Millionaire Falconaire” (sample lyric: “Watch out for the falcon / Your booty's in his talons”—brilliant!). Andrew Lloyd Weber would be proud, but so would Jam Master Jay.
Best open mic host in the toughest comedy room in town
Fistfights, drunken hecklers, homophobic jerks and overzealous fans: these are but a few of the challenges Allison Gill has had to deal with as the fearless hostess of the open mic Sunday nights at the Blarney Stone Pub on Balboa in Clairemont (the only watering hole within stumbling distance of Mesa College). Gill released a full-length CD recorded at the pub in 2007 under the moniker The Crooked Bush called Live at the Blarney Stone full of what she deadpans are 'songs about vaginas.' It's Gill's irreverent, rated NC-17 attitude that's surely led to her longevity at The Stone. It's 'easily the toughest comedy room in the city,' she says. The sometimes hostile, often appreciative, blue-collar crowd, mixes uniquely with up-and-coming comics at the Stone -- many of whom come specifically to the venue to hone there craft in something other than the 'easy, drunk tourist room' of The Comedy Store in La Jolla. 'If you can survive here, you've really got some balls,' says Gill. Recently, Gill announced her 'last night' as host of the weekly abuse. She still plans, however, to find another regular gig hosting an open mic while moonlighting from her day job: security director at Hard Rock Hotel downtown.
-Will K. Shilling
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