This is a small sample of some of the reviews I've written. The reviews usually cover live music, theater and the visual arts, including restaurant write-ups and fashion. 

Lackluster Set Doesn’t Deter Offspring Fans

I wrote this review while I was an arts & entertainment editor at the Orange County Register. I interviewed local and international recording artists, reviewed live performances, and edited the paper’s calendar section. 

REVIEW: Relentless touring may have caught up with the group, but the audience doesn’t seem to mind. 

By Michael Alarcon

Judging by the Offspring’s first of two homecoming concerts at the Universal Amphitheatre this past Friday, California’s nuclear family is alive and well. In proportions that haven’t been surpassed since last August’s Spice Girls concert, the ratio of pre-pubescent Dr. Martens-wearing rebels was practically even with the units of soccer moms and Dockers-clad dads chaperoning their elementary and junior high school children at what most likely was their kids’ first concert experience. 

It was probably this unusually high percentage of parental supervision that limited the evening’s show to nothing more than 6.000 well-behaved spectators looking on as the band played to its core fans, who mercilessly punished each other in the pit all night long. 

The opening band, The Living End, came on to quite a well-received applause normally reserved for headliners (a byproduct of the eagerness and the impetuosity of youth.) The cartoonish trio, a pseudo-rockabilly punk band from Australia, performed its entire recently released self-titled album in an unabashed Green Day-like fashion. Unfortunately, the set turned uncomfortable and slightly embarrassing when lead singer Chris Cheney peppered his between-song banter with poor renditions of Austin Powers catchphrases. 

As the house likes were shut off to signal the start of the Offspring’s set, drummer Ron Welty -- illuminated by the spotlight -- pounded out a beat, and guitarist Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman came running out from the wings in a flying leap and tore into the buzzing power chords of “Why Don’t You Get a Job.” He was eventually joined by a subdued Greg K. on bass. Brian “Dexter” Holland finally took center stage, grabbed a microphone and led the Offspring through five songs before the band even acknowledged that there was an audience. 

Although the pit resembled the perpetual motion of a washing machine set to a spin cycle, the Offspring seemed to be going through the motions, possibly already tired of rehashing material from Americana (which these guys have been playing since their continuous worldwide tour began four months ago.)

Audience attention and participation started to hit a peak mid-show during “Bad Habit,” one of the songs from 1994’s breakthrough album, Smash. 

Immediately after the song, the amphitheater went black. Within seconds, the stage seemed to be taken over by five blown-up dolls dressed to resemble the Backstreet Boys. In a rehearsed bit of choreography that rivaled the Boys themselves, Holland bashed the dolls as Wasserman hesitantly kicked a doll or two himself. The stunt might have seemed funny to the at the time of conception, but it came off trite and labored on this night. 

If the inflatable-doll skit signified the halftime entertainment of the show, the second half could have been called the Offspring’s greatest-hits package. The Garden Grove band dutifully played every single in its arsenal, including such radio-friendly single-along fare as “Self Esteem” and “Gotta Get Away.” “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” finally ignited the crowd into throwing shoes, cups filled with beer, and various articles of clothing at Holland for the remainder of the set. 

Although the group’s efforts seemed a bit rehearsed at times, fans seemed rather satisfied with the homogeneous performance. 

Jewel’s Luster Dims

I also wrote this piece for the OC Register -- I must have been writing four live reviews a week at one point. I remember that Jewel’s manager called the Register's editor-in-chief and claimed everything I wrote about in this article was fabricated. When a bootlegged soundboard recording surfaced later that week, he stopped harassing the office.

REVIEW: The singer’s chastising of members of her audience is at odds with her feel-good persona. 

By Michael Alarcon

For someone who passes herself off as an introspective poet and who sells mood-enhancing scented candles and a personalized line of “spiritual jewelry” at her concerts, one would hope that Jewel might know how to treat fans at her concerts.  

But the question of the evening Sunday at Irvine Meadows was why would the hypersensitive singer go out of her way to chastise, and literally order her audience to “shut up, now” for no apparent reason other than to flex her ego? 

The concert, the third of her cross-country North American Spirit Tour, started off normally enough. Jewel, underneath a cool, blue spotlight dressed in the female version of Jim Morrison’s Leather King outfit, began the evening relatively slowly with a stripped-down version of “Near You Always” which blended smoothly into “Deep Water” and “What’s Simple is True.”

Unfortunately, since Jewel has yet to develop any vocal variety other than her tendency to over-emote every other verse while pseudo-scatting through the others, the songs sounded, on the whole, similar. 

Still, all was what could have been expected up to that point. These were straight, simple folk songs -- but then she went into an unexpected vaudeville at. 

She proceeded to ham it up for 15 minutes about a mythical songwriting trip she took with her then-boyfriend Steve Poltz (who performed dual roles as Jewel’s opening act as well as one of her backing guitarists for the evening.) She went through her overextended routine, pouting her lips in true coquettish form to get her points across. When she didn’t get the laughs she expected, she told the story repeatedly until she brought the house down in Def Jam Comedy-like fashion. 

In a roundabout way, this particular story was the lead-in for the ever-popular single “You Were Meant For Me,” a song co-written by Poltz when Jewel was working as a singing waitress at a coffee shop in San Diego. 

If up until that point Jewel seemed to be going for that Joni Mitchell folk-singer direction, now she was determined to put away her guitar for a few songs and take on the role of the Lolita-esque sex kitten. As she took her microphone off its stand and finally utilized a bit of the Meadows’ massive stage, Jewel subtly rubbed her thighs and and bashfully played with her hair as she cooed through “Enter From The East,” “Innocence Maintained,” and “Morning Song,” all to the audible joy of her fans. Then things turned weird.

As she strapped her trusty acoustic back on and got ready to reiterate the story to her next song, Jewel stopped, mid-sentence, and went out of her way to embarrass a young girl in the second row, center. At that point, the girl was the only person standing, dancing, and waving her hands in the air to the music. 

“Sweetheart,” you’re going to have to sit in your seat now,” the condescension minstrel said, “There are people behind you -- you’re not the only person here tonight. We’ll all get to stand later on.” 

And with that, most of the people in the orchestra section cheered for their hero with the zeal and gusto usually reserved for weary soldiers returning home from war. It was a sad moment from an artist who has seemed to accumulate her core fan base with really deep thoughts about kindness and understanding. For the rest of the night, Jewel would go on to tell fans to “close your mouths,” “shut up,” and remind is that “in most countries, being quiet means not talking.” 

The question remains as to why she would want to play a 15,416 person-capacity outdoor arena while attempting to pull off an intimate cabaret show. True, she can fill a large outdoor amphitheater, but now she just has to learn the difference between these venues and coffee shops.