Hometown followings are a tricky thing. On the one hand, a community is naturally inclined to celebrate their own; on the other, a band risks getting too comfortable at the same venues and may end up with clipped wings. Enter Tommy & the High Pilots, four S.B.-bred pop-rockers who have done the holiday homecoming thing so well over the past three years, they were all but forced to upgrade to the comfortably mid-sized Lobero Theatre for this season’s gathering. With a fully decorated stage at their disposal, the area aviators enlisted the help of a Santa-clad brass section and a menagerie of celebs to supplement their hometown swagger. After a year of cross-country tours in support of their latest effort, Sawhorse Sessions, last Friday was quite the victory lap for Santa Barbara’s favorite flyboys.
Of course, no reunion is complete without proper lubrication. To this end, an opening set of acoustic jams, courtesy of J.R. Richards and Tim Lopez (of Dishwalla and The Plain White T’s, respectively), worked handsomely with an open bar to warm up the engine before Tommy and friends took over. With a bassist, percussionist, and backup vocalist Shawn Dailey of Hole in tow, the quintet formed a supergroup of sorts to show off their favorite ‘90s jams, as well as material from their respective solo catalogues. Covers of Oasis, U2, and Dishwalla’s “Counting Blue Cars” — undoubtedly a mainstay tune for our town — rekindled an era out of sight but never quite out of mind.
With flight gear checked, tray tables up, and the engine oiled by another trip or two to the bar, the Lobero was ready for take-off. After an official word from KEYT anchor John Palminteri, the curtain dropped to reveal Tommy & Co. underneath a huge candy cane arch, instruments in hand, ready to dish out a few blistering Christmas covers before getting into the thick of the High Pilots’ songbook. Although their career together spans only two albums and an EP, the boys brought a rambunctiousness to the stage well beyond their years. It is, perhaps, unsurprising that Tommy & the High Pilots have found a following in the Midwest, given the electrifying, almost gospel-like quality of songs like “Round n’ Round” and the newer “Lorraine,” with it’s simple yet uplifting chorus. Still, their music still retains something ineffably, acoustically Californian. Appropriately enough, the High Pilots were soon joined onstage by the sultan of soft rock himself, Kenny Loggins, who sang a rendition of “Celebrate Me Home” over an extended, saxophone-soused jam before relinquishing the mike. With that, the boys charged ahead full-throttle until a closing cover of Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” followed by a brief encore, before bidding adieu to what might be their most successful year to date.