Finding an Audience

Rob Thomas and Jewel

At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Sunday, July 2.

Reviewed by Sarah Hammill

jewel_rob.jpgIt was a strange scene Sunday night as Jewel took the stage at the Bowl. The 12-time platinum singer is certainly no stranger to success, having ruled the MTV airwaves with hits like “Who Will Save Your Soul” and “Foolish Games.” So it seemed a fair assumption that the predominately middle-aged crowd, still filtering into their seats a few songs into her set, were there to see her rather than former Matchbox Twenty front man and teen heartthrob Rob Thomas. And yet, launching into “Hands,” her second song of the night and breakout single from her 1998 album Spirit, Jewel stopped the song, puzzled by the lack of response from the audience. “You guys know this song, right?” she joked as she restarted to scattered applause.

Such was Jewel’s battle all night long. What a shame, considering the overall quality of the show. Clad in a stunning yellow sundress and mindfully teetering on four-inch platform wedges, she ruled the stage, rotating in new guitars with nearly every song. For “Love Me, Just Leave Me Alone,” she donned a yellow electric while explaining her guitar player’s recent heartbreak. Bringing her harmonica-playing brother Atz onstage, she instructed her fingerstylist to imagine her brother was his ex and work out his heartache in song and they could “all, like, jam together with the music and be one.”

It became clear midway through the set, however, that no amount of showmanship or goading was going to win the crowd over. But that didn’t seem to bother Jewel, who launched into a beautifully rendered version of “You Were Meant for Me,” a yodeling session straight out of Switzerland, and a guitar and vocal scat session at the back end of the night.

Alas, the audience went wild when Thomas took the stage, who was the clear favorite of the night. Thomas tended toward stripped-down versions of his biggest hits, including “If You’re Gone,” “3am,” and the sublimely rendered flamenco version of his Santana song “Smooth,” holding out the big guns for his recent solo work. And for what it was — a collection of fun, hard-rocking, summertime anthems — Thomas put on a good show, though at times the scrolling lights and dancing backup singers seemed like an excessive amount of bells and whistles. And though Thomas didn’t have nearly the craftsmanship or stage presence that his co-headlining counterpart showcased, he had the most important ingredient of all: a contemporary audience.

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