The audience for Friday night’s show was a great cross-section of the Santa Barbara art and music scene, and their reward for waiting a whole extra year for Headless Household’s 25th anniversary concert was the group’s best live performance in recent memory. Drawing primarily on material from their brand new double CD release, Basemento, the Household played 21 numbers over the course of two long sets, and earned a stormy standing ovation at the end of the night.
The opening three numbers—“Why Joey Can’t Read,” “Hey, Hey Brazil,” and “Blur Joan”—demonstrated both the impressive depth of the band as instrumentalists and the sophisticated songwriting and arranging of guitarist Joe Woodard. The rhythm section of Tom Lackner (percussion), Chris Symer (bass), and Dick Dunlap (keyboards) consistently transcended the category, with Lackner contributing not only a pounding beat, but also a melodic counterpoint to the ensemble, and Dunlap adding layers of funk and groove to even the polkas and waltzes.
The first set reached its climax on two new numbers, “(At the) Mercy of the Wind,” which was dedicated to the victims and all who were affected by last year’s big fires in Santa Barbara, and “I Never Wanted You,” a blue-eyed soul workout by Woodard that featured Tom Ball on harmonica. Glen Phillips delivered “Mercy of the Wind” beautifully, packing his voice with emotion and making a direct connection with the audience. Joined by Julie Christensen for “I Never Wanted You,” the band made an instant classic out of this recent composition. In a just musical world, the extended dance-floor remix of “I Never Wanted You” would be the soundtrack to thousands of fist pumpers from here to the Jersey Shore this summer.
After an extended jazz section, the band returned to one of their mainstay genres to end the first set with “Here’s to the Heimlich Maneuver,” a fast and funny original polka number that found Christensen showing a particular flair for hand gestures. It’s not the macarena—it’s even better!
The short intermission, during which it seemed all of artistic Santa Barbara was mingling on the bricks in front of the theater, was followed by the Household returning to the stage for another powerful set. This time, the opening was a piano solo, or, more properly, a multi-faceted Dick Dunlap keyboard composition called “Face Up,” which careened from straight-ahead jazz through several genres before finally coming to rest in something like contemporary electronica. Highlights of the second set included another new Woodard number, “Not Me,” and the funky title track by Tom Lackner, “Basemento.” Overall the vibe was great and the music eclectic enough to satisfy any head, household member or not.