Photos By: Michelle McCausland
I’ve heard a lot about Chris Gonzalez, the made man of Orange County’s DIY music scene. About how much he’s helped aspiring creatives. About how his venue/collective Top Acid is only a one-man operation. About how his shows never get shut down by the police.
It sounded like a DIY urban legend. Like maybe “Chris Gonzalez” was the pseudonym for a shadowy group of kids with good connections and large trust funds. Or some young puppet strung up to a business-minded puppeteer.
But he is real.
Aimee Murillo, an OC Weekly journalist who covered Top Acid’s owner last year, described Gonzalez as a big humble goofball with a sense of humor, among other things. She knew a few sentences wouldn’t suffice, wouldn’t even capture a fraction of his character.
“I feel like you just have to get to know him,” she told me in an e-mail.
And I was determined to do just that at Top Acid’s 1-Year Anniversary show on February 6th.
When I arrived at sunset the vendors were still setting up in the open French Plaza outside of Wursthaus. The intersection on French and 4th was congested, and about twenty people set up shop, laying out clothes, artwork, and design-your-own-pins. I walked along the sidewalk, surveying the preoccupied faces for someone who stuck out.
None of them did. So I flagged down a man and asked. He pointed to the body hoisting speakers and rolling orange cables out on the plaza’s stage, set just under graffiti art that read “Santa Ana East End” — the same outside stage from Way Too Fun Fest. A smartphone was plugged into the PA system, blasting Bauhaus’ “Dark Entries” as Chris Gonzalez sang into the microphone and fiddled with the levels.
“Does anybody have any tape? Like, duct tape?”
Old televisions, mannequins, and painted boxes sat on each other. As I walked closer, I saw, in great detail, his faithful black chucks all blasted and weathered. The carabiner with a bottle opener hanging from his waist. A Harley Davidson shirt covered with an American flag stood out patriotically. On his turned cap were the words “Desert Storm, Persian Gulf” sewn in gold, with laurels flanking the brim, shielding his hair but not his Duchenne smile. A black and tan Chihuahua paced around him. As Chris Gonzalez turned to focus on me, he seemed to know exactly why I was approaching him.
We introduced ourselves, shook hands, and Chris apologized for not answering my message earlier in the week. It would take a few more hours to get actual words in with him; amps had to be placed, and sockets had to be plugged.
But the wait was not awkward. It was not boring, annoying, or tiresome.
Because I got to watch the anniversary show build itself to Chris Gonzalez’ music playlist.
“Roses” by Outkast.
“Night of the Living Dead” by Misfits.
“Staggered in Lies” by Sacri Monti.
“White Lies” by Dirty Fences.
Vanilla smoke came from three teenagers sharing a Swisher to my right. We started a half-hour late — the longtime Latin jazz, last-minute add Flying Hand came short of performing a David Bowie cover, but rocked heels and stopped passersby. There were maybe 40 people now. More were jaywalking over.
As the studded leather jackets and flamingo mohawks squeezed through, Seaweed Party opened the pit, played a Violent Femmes cover, and dove in. They weren’t even set up on the stage, and they didn’t care to be. No one cared, least of all the police, whose cruisers lurked a block down.
On stage, the girls of VAJJ were tuning up, and in lieu of a mic stand, keyboardist/vocalist Alexia Del Alcazar elected to use a boy. I forgot his name, but I did remember that Julie Manoukian dashed into the pit while photographers maybe twice her age apprehensively backed up. The floor was a divine wind of flying fists, stomping boots, and perspiration.
And I, transfixed by the whirling bodies, hadn’t even noticed Hollow Ran as they set up in the corner.
After VAJJ’s set, Chris offered to answer my questions and referred to Top Acid in the collective pronoun “we”. It’s really just him, though. He has a certain way of doing things, which is why it’s been this way.
“I’m not a control freak,” he reassured. And I didn’t think so, either.
This year, he had been given the privilege of curating shows at the Yost Theater on weekdays. There was a bigger budget, which meant there would be bigger festivals for 2016: Way Too Fun Fest and East End Block Party. Chris would later explain via online communiqué: Chup Fest was considered a mini-fest catering to touring acts or bands with smaller followings (read: less than 1,000 fans) — the turnout couldn’t compare to the other two.
His attention was half on me now, and I couldn’t blame him — there was no safety net at Top Acid, nobody to make sure things were going smoothly except Chris. The crowd shifted, and we split. Math spilled out and sputtered — Trevor Magaña’s snare caved in. Everyone sort of looked on — some out of respect and others in awe — and it wasn’t until one and a half songs through that kids started dancing, even though, Chris said, they probably didn’t know that they were dancing to math rock.
He was grinning; it was a good thing, I think.
Chris would later walk in all calm during Girl Tears’ set: once to fix the mixer settings, and then again to take pictures. The monitors buckled as Kam Andresen shouted and croaked. Tristan Ellis had to check the bass amp twice, but no one was complaining. The pit had taken on a character of its own, held back only by the pauses between hardcore punk songs.
There was barely time to breathe; Mechachief revved up in the middle of the square almost immediately after Girl Tears stopped. And just like that, Top Acid’s owner was gone again. Drummer/vocalist Chris Segura, with a black-and-red changshan and mic duct-taped to his neck, was thrashing the cymbals and toms. A face-wrapped Kevin Menenses frantically clawed at his 12-string. And the crowd devoured itself from inside out.
What started almost half an hour late wound up with over a hundred people on the ground, lining the balcony, and a full hour left for San Francisco’s shoegazing LSD and the Search for God.
No energy to mosh — barely any to stand.
The spiked jackets and colored hair regained composure, but they didn’t leave. Nor did the languid tees and vintage boots. Cops didn’t stalk the cross-streets. Parents didn’t shake their heads. No one booed. No one heckled. No one started any fights.
I combed the crowd to find Chris once more, to thank him for his hospitality before driving home. I found him once more, and as he leaned over to hug me, asked if I enjoyed the show.
Yes, I did.