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Jeff Moehlis: Here’s To Headless Household (and the Heimlich Maneuver)

Tracks from eclectic band's new album Basemento featured at SOhO show

English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley is credited with the following quote: “Reviewers, with some rare exceptions, are a most stupid and malignant race.”

Composer/guitarist/bandleader Frank Zappa was perhaps even more harsh about rock journalism, defining it as “People who can’t write, doing interviews with people who can’t think, in order to prepare articles for people who can’t read.”

Indeed, there is often a testy relationship between the people who produce art and the people who critique it.

But there are people who do both, and do both well. Case in point: longtime Santa Barbara music critic Joe Woodard, who is also the guitarist for the eclectic “etcetera-ist” Santa Barbara band Headless Household.

At SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, Headless Household continued its celebration of the band’s 25th year on June 23, a celebration that also brought them to the Lobero Theatre a few months ago. Actually this is its 27th year — Woodard blamed the numerical discrepancy on “timing issues” — and the SOhO show was billed as “Spring Sing ‘10”, ironically, considering it occurred shortly after the official solstice kickoff of summer. They are also celebrating the recent release of their eighth album — a double — called Basemento, whose songs were heavily featured at both the SOhO and Lobero shows.

Wednesday night’s show had core Headless Household bandmembers Woodard on guitar and sometimes vocals, Dick Dunlap on keyboards, and Tom Lackner on drums, plus Tom Buckner on saxophone, Sally Barr on violin, Julie Christensen on vocals, Kenny Edwards on mandolin and vocals, Tom Ball on harmonicas of various sizes, and first-timer Steve Nelson on bass. This is quite a lineup of local talent — perhaps most notably Edwards, who was a co-founder with Linda Ronstadt of the Stone Poneys in 1964, and Christensen, who has performed background vocals for Leonard Cohen and others.

Special mention must also be made of Ball, whose tasty fills are a true delight, whether on a regular harmonica or one much bigger than any I’ve ever seen before.

If one had to put Headless Household into one genre, it would have to be jazz. But, of course, this label covers a lot of territory, which the band is not afraid to explore. Personally, I prefer when they let their hair down — figuratively, of course — and do it more free-form, as for the songs “Blur Joan” and “Basemento,” but all songs are worth a close listen and are enjoyable in their own ways.

Notably, some of the band’s most memorable songs are comfortably outside of jazz, which reminds us that for this band “eclectic” is more than just PR. One is the moving “(At the) Mercy of the Wind,” which was inspired by the Tea Fire that almost burned down their studio and delayed the album for about a year. This was sung with great conviction by Edwards, as was the case when it was sung at the Lobero by sometimes collaborator Glen Phillips from Toad the Wet Sprocket and WPA. Another is the hysterical twisted polka, “Here’s to the Heimlich Maneuver,” sung in delightfully animated fashion by Christensen.

Let’s hope that Headless Household continues to celebrate its 25th anniversary like this for at least a few more years.

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. He tries to write about music without being stupid or malignant, for people who actually know how to read. In his younger days, he recorded some of his own music. Check it out at music-illuminati.com.

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