ENLIGHTENMENT PILEUP: Lately, I’ve been sinking, happily and inescapably, into the rich and rapturous musical dimension that is Promethean keyboard poet András Schiff’s take on Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier set on ECM. Over the course of four discs, covering the expanse of Bach’s 48-part opus of preludes and figures, Books 1 and 2, Schiff makes the world go away while creating a compelling world of his own.
Schiff — especially Schiff playing Bach — is one of the modern miracles of the musical world as we know it. For this reason, I will be at the Lobero on Friday night, to hear Schiff delve into Bach’s expansive English Suites for an evening (the finale of another fine CAMA-sponsored concert season), and will have to miss the much-anticipated Santa Barbara debut of the Icelandic atmosphere kings, Sigur Rós, at the Santa Barbara Bowl the same night. Sometimes, the gods of cultural fate and planning aren’t fair: Schiff’s recital could well be Santa Barbara’s classical music highlight of the year; Sigur Rós, in the spacious outdoor sprawl of the Bowl, could be the “thinking person’s” rock event of the season. What’s a hopeless, Sigur Rós cross-genre music fan to do?
The unfortunate timing reminds us of last year, on the April night that the Kronos Quartet was doing its all-Steve Reich show at Campbell Hall while Radiohead was cooking up its deliciously left-of-the-hits concert on a rainy night in the Bowl (I had to opt for the latter).
Sigur Rós’s Bowl show, timed courtesy of their appearance down the road at Coachella, comes on the heels of what is now a handful of Bowl appearances by Thom Yorke of Radiohead, whose well-known and rabid fandom of the Icelanders helped bump them up into the higher reaches of hipness and global acclaim. Celebrating their 20th anniversary next year, and on the brink of June’s release of the new album Kveikur, Sigur Rós has been hypnotizing listeners for years. They are loosely connected with the “post-rock” scene but really exist in a niche or netherworld all its own.
As with Radiohead, the band draws on classical and minimalist elements that have struck a chord with many classical fans and critics who are otherwise disinclined toward the pop world. Lead singer Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson issues his ethereal wail and saunter, singing lyrics we don’t recognize literally, but that we instead feel on some primal level. In short, they should rock the Bowl in high mesmeric fashion, just as Schiff should transport the Lobero to another plane, as he did with his epiphany-coaxing Goldberg Variations recital several years ago.
BUT WAIT … THERE’S MORE DEPT.: As if those Friday-night specials weren’t enough, there are also two intriguing shows at UCSB that night also begging for attention. Blues Night Out features the trio of Taj Mahal (in one of his nearly annual S.B. appearances of late), and impressive blues belter and wooer Shemekia Copeland, son of the late Johnny. Blues Night Out is being presented by Arts & Lectures at Campbell Hall. Also on Friday, over in the always-alluring world-music series at the UCSB MultiCultural Center, there will be a night of Filipino music and dance with Likha.
THE SERIES THAT WAS, AND WILL BE: Speaking of the seemingly semi-exotic, but actually deep in the root system of life here in the region formerly known as Alta California, the eighth and most diverse season of the great Mexican music-oriented ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Bárbara! series came to a saucy close two Sundays back at the Marjorie Luke Theatre, with the conjunto-powered band Los Texmaniacs. The band, led by Max Baca, formerly of — and continuing the saga of — the great band Texas Tornados, raucously and beautifully wrapped up a fertile season of Mexican music, from the expected thrill of Mariachi Sol de Mexico (in a super, and super-sold-out, show) to the unexpected progressive jazz-rock vibrancy of Troker, and other unusual treats. The marvel of a series, organized by UCSB Arts & Lectures and other collaborators around the county, continues to wow, and it reminds us of the great cultural heritage that’s underfoot here in the 805.