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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 7:46 am | A Few Clouds 49º


Jeff Moehlis: Santa Barbara’s oso Bids Farewell For Now

SOhO performance showcases tracks off their new album on the eve of their hiatus

After the challenging modern classical chamber music of The Brad Dutz Quartet and the groovy Ethiopian jazz jams of The Rob Wallace Memorial Band, local gypsy-prog-folk band oso took the stage at Santa Barbara’s SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on June 10 and played a concert for the ages.

Oso’s performance marked their last live performance for who knows how long as the band members — Phil Taylor on guitar and vocals, Tim Beutler on drums, Andrew Fedders on bass guitar and Nick Coventry on violin — take an extended hiatus. Simultaneously, it celebrated the release of their outstanding new album, Harm Reduction. Indeed, the concert showcased many of the tracks off this album, a stirring document of oso’s collective instrumental prowess that is well known to anyone who has seen them perform live.

The band began their show with “Kuno Esama,” a mini-epic “oso classic” with complex instrumental passages and impassioned singing, a song that continues to build in intensity until hitting its climax.  What a way to kick things off!

Next was a string of songs off the new album, starting with “D’carl,” a cool instrumental that shifts in style from folk to symphonic to jazz fusion. This was followed by “Fuerza Abrazos,” which has a fast gypsy-music feel before mellowing for some singing, then hitting full-on prog rock with menacing descending and ascending runs.

The next song was “Dembo Jobarteh,” named after a guitar player Taylor met in Africa in 2005, a “praise song to him for everything he taught me and showed me.” To my ears, parts of it sounded like a cousin to King Crimson’s “Thela Hun Jinjeet,” which is a very high compliment in my world.

Beutler then switched from drums to accordion for the beginning of “Gazelle Laments,” which starts slow with harmonized vocals by Taylor and Beutler leading into a playful outro. The next song, “This Is Tambora,” featured yet more impassioned singing before going classic prog, and ultimately kicking into a flurry of instrumental intensity before ending abruptly. Then came “Disobedience,” a short but sweet taste of complex time-signature prog rock.

The band next visited old song “Playgadenza,” replete with hyperspeed arpeggios. Although wowed by the new material, the crowd of fans enjoyed hearing a familiar song, and loudly sang along with the closing lyrics “You say these days are ending / hold on our fences need mending.” After some jamming, this segued into “Noxalmouu Wayhill,” another familiar track that the audience enthusiastically sang along to. The gypsies-on-speed “Impact Falconry” came next, with powerful riffing by guitar and violin.

The main set ended with a stunning medley of sorts, including the moody “Battleground. Tehran/Tel Aviv Ping Pong Summit” and “Heart Troubles and Bike Wrecks.” A concert highlight was the crowd singing the lyrics “No home” over and over at the end, including spontaneously after the band had left the stage.

For an encore, the band set up in the middle of SOhO, with Taylor on acoustic guitar and his trademark unicycle for the first song, the spirited “Invisible Mountain.” This was followed by the earnest “Uneasy Truce This Family Brings” and solemn “Blot Out These Days.”

The band then played an extended gypsy jazz instrumental, which inspired impromptu folk dancing and merriment a la an Eastern European late-night alcohol-fueled party, at least what I imagine that would be like. The evening ended with a truly stomping “Everything Is Possible.”

Oso’s music has progressively gotten more and more progressive, but it still retains its folk and gypsy sensibilities to give a unique blend that is hugely appealing both intellectually and emotionally. The energy they bring to the stages and streets of Santa Barbara will be missed, but some solace can be found in the closing lyrics of the new album: “So thankful I met ya / See you again in 2011.”

MP3s of the songs from oso’s album Harm Reduction can be downloaded from iTunes and Amazon.

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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