A Triple Threat of Concerts Showcases the Club’s Coming of Age
Maybe Santa Barbara’s allure as a West Coast concert stop is exploding. Maybe the broader music biz is trusting SOhO to throw successful shows. Or maybe the live music club’s shot-callers are boldly taking risks in hopes of bringing much-needed diversity to our town’s live music scene. But whatever the reason — and it’s likely a combo of all three — SOhO is shining like never before, opening its stage to rappers, indie rockers, and fringe jazzmen while keeping the rock, straight-ahead jazz, and jam-band roots that made it many people’s favorite venue in the first place. And there’s no better example than this coming week, when Digital Underground gets hip-hopped on Sunday, August 27; Matt Costa and The Watson Twins drop their up-and-coming singer/songwriter gems on Monday, August 28; and the Karl Denson Trio delivers its mind-bending, danceable jazz on Thursday, August 31.
Digital Underground’s Money B
by Matt Kettmann
The emerging world of 1990s rap was blessed by the presence of Oakland’s Digital Underground, a hip-hop group that blended social commentary and humor with Parliament Funkadelic beats and the notion that rap could be fun. Thanks to the efforts of main members Shock G and Money B, a whole generation of rappers grew up to “Doowutchyalike,” “Freaks of the Industry,” “Same Song,” and “Kiss You Back,” songs that inspired an exponential number of bands. And there was “The Humpty Dance” too, arguably one of the most popular songs from the ’90s. (They also launched the career of the late Tupac Shakur, but that’s another tale.) I recently rapped with Money B.
Was there any reason that you decided not to go the gangsta route in the mid ’90s, when that was the fad? Being from Oakland, you guys had the street cred. We had to be ourselves. If you know us, we aren’t robbing people and shit like that. We hung out with porn stars, partied, got high, and kicked it. … I’ll still shoot you, but I ain’t gonna rap about it.
I read you’ve been working the last couple years on this Sex and the Studio DVD project, which shows the intersection of the rap and porn industries. Why the connection? Adult stars and rock stars, we keep the same hours. We stay up all night and party. And every porn star wants to be a rapper and every rapper wants to be a porn star. We have common interests.
Back in 1991, you guys did an anti-Gulf War song called “Time 4 Peace,” where you talked about the disproportionate number of blacks on the front lines. Is that still the case? Definitely, but I don’t think it’s just blacks. It’s minorities, but even more so it’s poor people, people who don’t have any way to get out from where they’re at. So they join the military to get out or get a scholarship or to make some money, not so much because they have pride in the country. If you got money or your father is a senator, you get an office job or get to run the radio station.
Since hip-hop has gone mainstream, is it still the CNN for the black community? I have to say that it’s something different, with the popularity of rap and the technology of the Internet, because before, if you hadn’t been to Atlanta, you didn’t know anything about Atlanta. So you got these records and you told your story about what was going on. But now you can go to MySpace and say, “Hey, I wanna meet someone in Philadelphia.” Rap still is [the CNN], but it’s not the only way you can find out. Like you said, it’s so mainstream, it’s corporate and people push it to be what they want it to be.
Do you ever get sick of doing “The Humpty Dance”? Nah. When we’re doing a show, I love it. I would say the only time I’m not so much into it is if I’m at a club and I’m hanging out and it comes on and everyone starts looking at me, it feels like I’m working. When you’re not working you don’t want to work. If I’m just hanging out at a bar, and someone goes, “That’s ‘The Humpty Dance’ — come on, man!” I’m like, “Yeah, humpty this.”
The Watson Twins
by Brett Leigh Dicks
A lot of things in life come by chance, but for The Watson Twins music isn’t one of them. After graduating from college, Leigh and Chandra Watson took to the road and the Kentucky natives were soon performing as Slydell and calling Los Angeles home. A one-time performance with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis evolved into a collaboration that yielded one of this year’s most enchanting recordings along with six months of touring. Leigh recently talked about their musical evolution.
When I think of Kentucky, images of rolling hills and bluegrass music and church choirs and horses and Emmylou Harris spring to mind. Was that your experience of growing up in Kentucky or did you spend your youth hidden in your room listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana? The roots of our musical experience definitely started with a church choir! But we also grew up listening to Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, and all those other amazing singers. Our mom listened to Pearl Jam and Nirvana and she paved the way for us appreciating all different types of music. And I am definitely influenced by the beauty of the place, with its rolling hills and horse farms. So you weren’t too far off. The only thing you missed was bourbon!
I was raised in a musical prison of Andy Williams and Ray Conniff, so I’m deeply impressed with your mother’s libertarianism! My mom has a really wide musical taste, but she did shield us a little too. I remember getting into the car once and she was listening to the Violent Femmes and when a song that had some profanity in it came on she kept turning it down. It was “Add It Up,” which has that line “why can’t I get just one fuck,” and my mom would turn it down every time the line with the f-word came around!
You make music with your twin sister and surround yourselves with your musical friends. That bond seems to be an important part of your musical experience. It always has been. I feel so lucky to be able to play music with my sister, who is also my best friend, and to have created a record with two other close friends. It’s a dream come true. This is really a family affair and that’s how it feels when we play. It’s a lot more fun to play your songs with people you know so well.
by Ethan Stewart Saxophone wizard Karl Denson makes his way back to Santa Barbara for the first time in more than a decade next Thursday, August 31. Finding fame as an acid jazz pioneer with DJ Greyboy and the Greyboy All-Stars in the mid ’90s, Denson has been blowing minds and making people shake their money-makers for the past seven years as the lead horn and vocalist in the Tiny Universe band. But as they wrap up a studio album, the Universe is not currently touring, giving Denson time to “clear my head and unfreeze my mind.”
During the hiatus, Denson has gone back to his roots in classical jazz and formed his own trio, much in the same vein as the jazz band Blackened Red Snapper, a quintet that he once called home. Joined by organ maestro Anthony Smith from the Global Funk Council and drummer Brett Sanders (big brother of current Universe drummer John Statten), Denson characterizes the new direction as a “balance between the real sit-down, intricate stuff — you know, classical jazz — and the occasional feel-good dance tune.”
The trio invades SOhO for what Denson anticipates will be an assigned-seat jazz experience, heavy with original songs penned by Denson and Smith as well as a smattering of covers. For Tiny Universe and Greyboy fans worried that they may not dig on the current Karl incarnation, Denson offered this preview of the upcoming show: “It’s going to be fun, man. … Sure it’s more classic material but the dance stuff is there too. It’s just a more heady Universe.”
As for the future of that beloved Universe, Karl said they will definitely realign to produce even more impressively soulful tunes than ever. “We have been trying to do the Santa Barbara thing for a while,” explained Denson, a San Diego native, “but just have never worked it out until now. It would be nice to have something that was in a close proximity to home that we could hit every few months.” Quite frankly, S.B. jazz fans should be so lucky.