When alt-rockers World Party were scheduled to play in Santa Barbara two years ago, I eagerly showed up but was disappointed to learn that the concert was canceled due to illness. Fortunately, there was no such problem last Saturday night when the band consisting of a Welshman, an Englishman and an Irishman gave an absolutely smashing performance at the SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, one that was well worth the wait.
Appropriately, the show kicked off with "Waiting Such a Long, Long Time," a song that saw the light of day in World Party's recent five-CD box set of previously unreleased songs called Arkeology. This was followed by the wonderful "Put the Message in the Box," the first of many songs off what is widely regarded as the finest World Party album, 1990's Goodbye Jumbo. This one had a good portion of the crowd singing along.
Next up was "Is It Like Today?," which frontman/singer/songwriter Karl Wallinger described as "a four-verse precis of Bertrand Russell's 'A History of Western Philosophy.'" Not the most obvious source material for rock and roll, that, but Wallinger's clever songwriting makes it work.
With "Hercules," Wallinger switched from acoustic guitar to keyboards, and this part of the set included "She's the One," a song that became a No. 1 hit in the United Kingdom with its cover version by Robbie Williams.
A highlight of the keyboard set was "What Is Love All About?", which included some scat-ish singing by guitarist John Turnbull.
Speaking of Turnbull, wow! And same for violinist David Duffy. These guys are the dog's bollocks! That's a good thing, by the way. Their instrumental skills and background/harmonizing vocals were spot on all night long.
The keyboard set closed with "Call Me Up," which Wallinger cryptically described as being about "staying in Alaska with a team of huskies, waiting for the world to become a place where you feel like going back to joining in again." This has a bit of a "Lady Madonna" groove, one of many enjoyable spot-the-influence moments of the night. Wallinger then took a short break, and Duffy played a smoking Irish gig.
The main set closed strong with "Who Are You?," a newer song that sounds like an outtake from Bob Dylan's early electric era, "Ship of Fools," which was a minor hit dating back to the first World Party album, and the bluesy stomp "Is It Too Late?," which kicks off the aforementioned Goodbye Jumbo masterwork. The encore started with another song from Arkeology, "Mystery Girl," and then came my personal favorite World Party song, "Way Down Now," a song that shoulda-been-huge and has a cute nod to the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil."
It must be mentioned that we're lucky that World Party is even around at all, considering that Wallinger had a brain aneurysm back in 2001 that took him five years to (mostly) recover from. Good for him, and for us, that he's out there sharing his music with the world.
Let's hope that Santa Barbara is on the list for their next trip across the pond.
Waiting Such a Long Long Time
Put the Message in the Box
Is It Like Today?
When the Rainbow Comes
She's the One
What Is Love All About?
God on My Side
Call Me Up
Sweet Soul Dream
Who Are You?
Ship of Fools
Is It Too Late?
Way Down Now
— 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.