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Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 2:15 am | Fair 44º


Juana Molina Mesmerizes SOhO Crowd

Looped music by the Argentinean actress/comedian ropes them in in her Santa Barbara debut

Several comedians have tried their hand at making music, sometimes even with success.

Take acoustic-metal band Tenacious D, which features actor/comedian
Jack Black bombastically singing about topics such as gentle lovemaking and Ronnie James Dio. Crudely funny stuff, that.

Or take Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand’s “fourth most popular folk parody duo,” stars of their own HBO television series, and eagerly anticipated visitors to the Santa Barbara Bowl in May. They sing about Caribbean ladies, Parisian ladies, Bolivian ladies, Namibian ladies, Eastern Indochinian ladies, Republic of Dominican ladies, amphibian ladies and Presbyterian ladies, among other things. Not as crude as Tenacious D, but at least as funny.

And let’s not forget the uber-80s anthem “Party All the Time” by Saturday Night Live alum and movie star Eddie Murphy, with help from super-freaky Rick James. OK, this song may have been a hit, but Murphy’s attempt at a “serious” music career is now viewed mostly with bemusement and embarrassment.

On Sunday night at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, the music of another comedian made its Santa Barbara live debut: Argentinean actress/comedian (that sounds like an outtake from a Flight of the Conchords song, doesn’t it?) Juana Molina treated the mesmerized audience to a set of her atmospheric, pulsing, hypnotic songs. Unlike Tenacious D and Flight of the Conchords, Molina leaves the comedy at home — hers is serious music that enraptures the listener.

The defining characteristic of Molina’s sound is the use of a delay pedal to loop (repeat over-and-over) her finger-picked acoustic guitar motifs, simple electric keyboard sounds, and airy singing to build a wall-of-looped-sound in which different parts come in and out as the songs evolve. Typically she performs alone, but here she was joined by a bass player and a drummer, who added tasteful rhythmic, un-looped textures.

Molina’s use of looping is not a gimmick: it is a real-time performance tool that lets her realize her artistic vision on the fly. It differs from other familiar examples of looping such as Brian Eno’s ambient soundscapes or Robert Fripp’s electronic drones and angular electric guitar soloing. Molina’s sound is more rhythmic, organic, ethereal and feminine.

Molina is facile with the technology she uses, although she often seemed frustrated as evidenced by her ongoing conversation with the soundboard operator between songs. We learned later that it was a “stupid cable” that was causing her grief, although the effect of this on her sound was not apparent to me.

Her singing is mostly in Spanish, and I’ll confess that, probably like much of the audience, I had no idea what her lyrics are about. But somehow that didn’t matter. Rather than trying to decipher them, it was more enjoyable just to let the sound wash over you.

Before Molina’s set, folk musician Laura Gibson from Portland kept the audience spellbound with her tentative, haunting voice, delicate acoustic guitar, and backing by theremin-esque musical saw, banjo and percussion.

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB.

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