It was a particularly good week-plus for live music in Santa Barbara, with four rather diverse concerts linked by the distinction of being sold-out shows.
Home & Gardens & Villa
Having just released their new album, Dunes, Santa Barbara-based Gardens & Villa played a sold-out hometown show at the SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on Feb. 8. It was a night of intelligent synth-driven indie pop, with hypnotic pulsing rhythms, cool visuals on screens at the back of the stage and lots of dancing by the masses.
The show kicked off with "Domino," the lead track from Dunes and one that features wooden flute from singer Chris Lynch, giving the band a sound that helps them stand out from the pack. The songs from the new album, recorded in frigid Michigan last winter using Sly Stone's old recording console, were well-received by the crowd, as were the songs from the band's self-titled debut including the show-closing, whacked-out funk workout "Orange Blossom."
The band will be touring North America for the next few weeks, then will hit Europe before coming back for more shows in the states.
There's Something About Johann Sebastian
The music of Johann Sebastian Bach is so exquisitely beautiful that some have claimed that it is proof of the existence of God. I don't think I'd go that far, but still I wouldn't be surprised if the playlist up in heaven is heavy on the Bach.
Bach's music has been played with new instrumentation many times, with some of my personal favorites being Wendy Carlos' interpretations for Moog synthesizer, the California Guitar Trio's acoustic guitar arrangements, and rock guitar adaptations by Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen.
In a new twist, at the Feb. 11 sold-out Lobero Theatre show recorded for possible future broadcast on National Public Radio, Chris Thile, who in another life plays progressive bluegrass with the Punch Brothers and the recently re-formed Nickel Creek, presented masterful mandolin arrangements of Bach's solo violin pieces Sonata No. 1 in G Minor and Sonata No. 1 in B Minor.
But there was much more, with Thile tackling The Louvin Brothers ("Broadminded"), Fiona Apple ("Fast as You Can"), a Civil Wars song ("Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel") and some of his own quirky compositions.
We already knew that Thile's talents aren't limited to one particular genre, but this point was made perhaps more strongly than ever through his amazing Bach-and-other-stuff program.
Do You Matisyahu?
With just five days' notice and very little fanfare, the (formerly Hasidic) Jewish reggae superstar Matisyahu (yes, you read that correctly) announced that he would be presenting "an acoustic evening" at Velvet Jones on Feb. 12. The lucky people who got tickets to the sold-out show, including some who drove many hours to get there, were treated to an intimate performance featuring songs from his forthcoming album Akeda, and more.
Matisyahu (the Hebrew/stage name for Matthew Paul Miller, which means "Gift of God") was joined by two-thirds of the Dub Trio — Dave Holmes on dub-style echoed guitar and Stu Brooks on bass — who laid down cool grooves for his singing, rapping and ample we-don't-need-no-stinking-drums beatboxing. The show included some of Matisyahu's previously released songs such as opener "Crossroads" with a more organic sound than the studio version, and favorites like "One Day." "King Without a Crown" and "Jerusalem."
But the focus of the show was on his new songs, which have the vibe and smarts that have given him success in the past, without pandering to the shake-your-booty-at-the-club crowd.
Furay & Messina
Two pioneers of the country rock genre, Richie Furay and Jim Messina, shared the bill at a sold-out show on Feb. 15 at the Lobero Theatre, delighting the audience with lots of gems from their sometimes-overlapping careers.
Up first was Furay, who has visited these parts a couple of times in recent memory: as part of the reunited Buffalo Springfield at the Santa Barbara Bowl and for a Tales from the Tavern performance in Santa Ynez.
In addition to some fine newer songs, he dipped into the Buffalo Springfield catalog with the hit "For What It's Worth," "Go and Say Goodbye" and his signature tune "Kind Woman," written for his wife and sung beautifully with help from his daughter, Jesse Lynch. Poco, which was co-founded after Buffalo Springfield's demise by Furay and Messina, was also well-represented with songs including "Let's Dance Tonight," "A Good Feelin' to Know" and "Crazy Eyes," the latter a set highlight that required multi-instrumentalist Scott Sellen to rapidly switch among guitar, banjo, lap steel guitar and keyboards.
After an intermission, Messina's set began with him revisiting some classics from his super-successful duo Loggins & Messina: "Watching the River Run," the beautiful "Danny's Song" that Messina dedicated to Loggins, and "Travelin' Blues," which Messina introduced by saying that he wrote it while he was in his 20s and "didn't know what I was talking about," but understands better now that he has kids.
After "Carefree Country Day" nicely reminded us of Messina's membership in Buffalo Springfield for their last album, guest pedal steel guitarist John McFee (and, partway through, Furay) joined in for a reprise of "Kind Woman" followed by "A Child's Claim to Fame" and Loggins & Messina's "Listen to a Country Song."
Messina's band then got a chance to stretch out, delivering some smoking solos as the main set ended. The encore brought Furay back out for Poco's "You Better Think Twice" and Loggins & Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance," showing that some daddies do still rock and roll.
Live music is alive and well in Santa Barbara!
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.