BOWLIN’ FOR ACTS: As The Shins’ endearingly awkward James Mercer spewed his tasty, polysyllabic art pop into the night air at the Bowl recently, a thought crept in: This Bowl season is almost over. Bowl, we hardly knew ye. For all artistic intents and purposes, the triumphant Shins show was the season’s real last hurrah, before a couple of pop tarts wrap things up, including an encore performance by Gwen Stefani. Wasn’t she just here last week? Starting in late June, it was a truncated season, due to the construction of the impressive new pavilion structure, but then dates piled up in a happy, star-studded heap.
It’s a funny thing about Santa Barbarans and the Bowl. Whereas in any larger city, programming of a particular venue is just part of the dense cultural menu, we take the Bowl’s business very personally. That’s partly because the venue is owned by us, the taxpayers, but also due to a deep emotional bond and pride in this remarkable venue, one of the best in the country for its size.
But the “we” issue gets thorny when you’re dealing with a community with necessarily diverse tastes. A varied parade passed through the Bowl portals, show by show, from old-school classic rock types like the Pretenders, the Stray Cats, and Crowded House, pop metalheads like Velvet Revolver, and slightly aging indie rockers like Modest Mouse.
Without a doubt, the 2007 Bowl season’s most stunning week came in August, when two of pop’s greatest artists descended there within days of each other. Wilco is arguably the finest rock band in America at present, and Stevie Wonder’s short-notice Bowl stop was clearly the show of the year here. Both delivered memorable performances, validating their respective creative majesties. Wilco illustrated why their current lineup is their strongest yet, and Wonder showed why his 1970s body of work remains a high watermark of funky, sophisticated, and soul-warming achievement in the history of soul and pop.
For the growing demographic of locals who still harbor a beef about the lack of “serious” music in this serious venue (present company included), we at least got a token taste of jazz and classical this season. The Music Academy of the West’s 60th anniversary shindig in June brought John Williams to conduct the crack young MAW festival orchestra, and Williams’s Violin Concerto, with Gil Shaham as soloist, was a profound encounter with challenging classical music in this glorious space (things got considerably cheesier, and popcornier, during the second half, with Williams conducting film music snippets). Jazz-wise, strong jazz elements were wrapped around singers Diana Krall and Tony Bennett, between increasingly fluid guitarist Anthony Wilson and pianist Krall in the former and pianist Mike Melvoin and nimble guitarist Gray Sargeant in the latter.
Still, the problem of the Bowl’s pop monopoly remains a nagging concern on Santa Barbara’s cultural landscape. With the surfeit of lucre and patronage in the area, one holds high expectations. Does Oprah like jazz? Just wondering. In any case, the show goes on at the Bowl, mostly blissfully.
SQUEEZEBOX ALERT: Fans of the accordion-you know who you are-have had an unusually rich year so far, between Nick Ariondo’s concert at the “Schoolhouse Music Evenings” in Los Olivos last spring, jazz/studio great Frank Marocco’s recent show at SOhO, and now a special concert by the amazing Polish accordion duo of PaweÅ Sulej and Hubert Giziewski, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Sunday at 3 p.m. On the program is a healthy dose of J. S. Bach, George Enescu, and Astor Piazzolla, and Polish music we need to know more about.
TO-DOINGS: UCSB shivers with intriguing sounds this week: Music from the Crooked Road: Mountain Music of Virginia, a touring revue of Appalachian goodies, at Campbell Hall on Sunday; Drita Albanian Folk Orchestra, from Los Angeles, opens the new MultiCultural Center world music series on Saturday; and Germany-based electronic composer Michael Obst presents his quadraphonic electronic works tonight at Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall.