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Who are the smartest music consumers in Orange County? The ones who know that in the local scene’s grass-roots clubs and cafes, less than $10, and often no more than $5, can get you up close and personal with talent as good as or better than what’s being heralded at the big venues for $25 and up (often way up).

The Offspring and No Doubt had to start somewhere, and it wasn’t at the Pond, Irvine Meadows, the Bren Events Center or even the Coach House. The acts spotlighted below are among the crop that makes Orange County an abundant garden for grass-roots talent. By club-hopping tonight through Sunday, you could see all five this weekend for a grand total of $17--and come away convinced that some minor-venue talents are major-venue talents who just haven’t caught a break.

Missiles of October: Memo to refugees from the shipwreck of KSCA-FM (101.9), which this week switched from adult-contemporary to a Spanish-language format: Here’s your lifeboat. Led by Poul Finn Pedersen, who consistently creates goose bumps with his intense-yet-nuanced delivery and his pure zeal for singing, and Bob Hawkins, a guitarist whose taste, resourcefulness and creative stamina defy brief description, the Missiles are the epitome of what rock for grown-ups should be. After five years together, the O.C. residents are about to release their first, self-financed CD--but catch the live show for a mix of strong originals and astute, frequently revitalizing covers drawn from the likes of John Prine, Richard Thompson, John Hiatt and Van Morrison.

* 8-midnight tonight and 4-8 p.m. Sunday at the Marine Room Tavern, 214 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach. $3. (714) 494-3027. Also 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday at the Sandpiper, 1183 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. $3. (714) 494-4694.


Twin22: Led by singer-songwriter Matt Walin of Orange, Twin22 made a strong impression last year with its homemade debut album, “LostSoulSuckerPunch” (Bitemark Records). The CD offers modern-rock intensity, a la Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins, combined with a Beatles-inspired sense of melody in an intelligent song-cycle about trying to come to terms with self-doubt and disappointment. The four-member band aims to keep its momentum going with two releases in ’97--one live and unplugged, the other a studio album of new material.

* 9 tonight in the opening slot of a bill with Meadow Suite and 689 at Club 369, 1641 N. Placentia Ave., Fullerton. $5. (714) 572-1816.

Gina Quartaro: This charming mother of three from Yorba Linda could give mainstream country music a push in the right direction if she gets half a chance. With roots in the energetic Bakersfield country sound, but also in the melodic vitality and exuberant harmonies of early Beatles, Quartaro is arming herself with some A-list Nashville and L.A. session players on an upcoming CD that will be the debut release for a new local label, Award Records.

* 9 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Friday at the Renaissance Cafe, 234 Forrest Ave., Laguna Beach. Free. (714) 497-5282.


Walter Trout Band: In nine years covering the O.C. music scene, nothing has stumped me more than why this gifted and determined blues-rocker hasn’t emerged as a familiar name to American roots-music fans. At least Trout has made inroads in Europe, where he has put out six albums and wins accolades while playing major clubs and festivals. He is a torrential, gladiatorial guitar player--the kind the term “guitar hero” was coined to describe--a passionate singer and has a good knack for pop content in his solid, versatile songwriting. Go see him in one of his Huntington Beach hometown haunts, and you’ll wonder why too.

* 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday at Tumbleweeds, 21094 S. Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach. $2. (714) 960-2776.

Burnin’ Groove: Maybe a cameo last night on the Fox TV series “Party of Five” will produce the break this hard-charging Yorba Linda band deserves. Burnin’ Groove’s 1995 debut CD, “In the Gallows,” is packed with the raw-but-catchy punk rock that has made O.C. sort of famous, and more recent-vintage, unreleased songs also meet high standards. Daren Carlson’s memorably deep and husky voice and Andrew Galvez’s biting lead guitar key the attack for one of the local grass-roots alternative scene’s top-drawing bands.

* Saturday, headlining a bill with Primitive Painters, Room Full Nipsex and Exit starting at 9 p.m. at Club 369, 1641 N. Placentia Ave., Fullerton. $7. (714) 572-1816.