Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
If you grew up in SoCal and remember the era of urban kiddie lands and miniature amusement parks, you may sometimes get the feeling that there just aren't enough rides in L.A. anymore. You can trek hither and yon to ride vintage carousels and tiny trains, but there's something a little more unusual to enjoy now, right here at our zoo. The Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel is a California-themed curiosity featuring 66 endangered and otherwise intriguing animals — among them a tapir, an armadillo, a gorilla, a skunk, a caterpillar, three racehorses and a unicorn. (That mythical creature, while not precisely endangered, "never made it onto the Ark," according to zoo officials and thereby deserved its spot.) California music adds another layer of difference; instead of tinkly organ music, you'll hear Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, the Carpenters, Cat Stevens, etc. (Major donors to the carousel include Ann and Jerry Moss, the M in A&M Records, who arranged for the A&M music to be used.) You haven't lived until you've taken a spin on the carousel's "dung chariot" feature, an ornate bench inside a 100-times-life-size ball of manure being pushed by a gigantic dung beetle. 5333 Zoo Drive, Atwater Village. (323) 644-4200, lazoo.org.
Pat Grossi's stage name is Active Child, which refers to his precious, youthful tendency to put his ears right up to the speaker to get a better listen. The moniker is a bit cringe-inducing, and indeed the lyrics on the Pasadena resident's 2011 full-length debut album, You Are All I See, aren't for those too cool to attend school. They're unfiltered, unvarnished, filled with pummeling emotional honesty, through the eyes of sometimes-vindictive characters whose feelings are crushed over and over but nonetheless expect next time to be different. "I fall in love, way too fast," he sings on "Way Too Fast." "You're so damn cold, soon you'll be all by yourself." Produced by composition genius Ariel Rechtshaid, Grossi's songs are often accented by electronic flourishes and harp, and almost all of them feel like climactic scenes in dramatic movies — the part where we learn Bruce Willis is dead, or that the woman in The Crying Game is a man. This is not music for the ironic of heart. activechildmusic.com.
If there is one band that represents the multicultural mix of Los Angeles, it's La Santa Cecilia. Since its Latin Grammy nomination last year, the Boyle Heights–bred group has been representing L.A. at major festivals in Texas and New York. (It's exciting, particularly for those who can remember them packing La Cita in their early years.) They're also picking up the attention of critics, through pieces on NPR's All Things Considered and Latino USA. Further, their hybrid of Latin, rock and world music has caught the attention of groups like Cafe Tacuba, Lila Downs, Ozomatli and Los Lobos, all of whom have had La Santa Cecilia open shows for them this year. Anyone who has attended their concerts can attest that lead singer Marisol "La Marisoul" Hernandez has one of the most powerful voices in the city, in any genre. lasantacecilia.com.
Each summer the Levitt Pavilions in Pasadena and MacArthur Park put on free shows; the scene is relaxed, the views are nice, and the lineups are absolutely first-rate. Although a good portion of the musicians are from L.A., they come from all over the world, and include Weekly favorite acts like Dam-Funk, Fool's Gold and Buyepongo. (There's a particular emphasis on Latin alternative music, with a spotlight on new and underappreciated groups.) It's suitable for the whole family but edgy enough for serious music aficionados, there are great food vendors and, hey, did we mention it's free? MacArthur Park: 230 W. Sixth St., Westlake. (213) 384-5701. levittla.org. Pasadena: Memorial Park, between Walnut and Holly on Raymond Avenue, Pasadena. (626) 683-3230, levittpavilionpasadena.org.
South Los Angeles rap collective Black Hippy was assembled by Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, who, via a handwritten sign hanging in their Carson studio, lets them know that they should strive for charisma, personality, swagger, substance, lyrics, uniqueness and work ethic. In an era of one-off dance club hits, it's the "substance" that the group — rappers Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, ScHoolBoy Q and breakout star Kendrick Lamar — seems to take to heart most particularly. Their hard-edged raps pay strict attention to craft and structure, while remaining suitable for car stereos and self-medication time. With members dropping first-rate solo efforts in rapid succession, the collective has linked up with Dr. Dre's Aftermath Records, and a group effort is in the works. So much concentrated talent is a bit dizzying — and supergroups never seem to work — but our money is still on Black Hippy living up to their reputation as this decade's N.W.A. topdawgmusic.com.
Smooth steel curves cut the skyline at unexpected angles and sharp creases, which is partly why no other building in L.A. proclaims "21st century" like Walt Disney Concert Hall. The acoustics and visuals inside are as impressive as the exterior, which makes it easily the best place to hear an orchestra in Southern California. Whether it's symphonic or choral music, an organ recital or a jazz, pop or folk-music show, the sound is detailed and warm. Meanwhile, seating surrounds the stage — something that is rare in the United States. Conducting geeks can sit behind the orchestra, while thrill seekers can purchase a front-row seat in the balcony (or side and rear terraces) for an extra adrenaline rush. Even the parking garage directly below is clean, safe and easy to use. Want to learn more? Take the free, self-guided audio tour narrated by actor John Lithgow, architect Frank Gehry and L.A. Philharmonic conductor laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen. 111 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn. (323) 850-2000, laphil.com/philpedia/about-walt-disney-concert-hall.