MUSICAL ICON-OGRAPHY: By some strange twist of fate and cosmic tour synchronicity, Santa Barbara plays host to three (count ’em) American musical icons in the next week. How is it possible that Bowl-bound Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan and Lobero-bound Brian Wilson descend on the 805 within five days? Is it a cultural conspiracy or a fluke-ish aligning of stars, so to speak? Suffice to say, all three are creatively vital elders who have helped shape American music and haven’t succumbed to complacency or old saw business.
This season, that’s especially true of Wilson, whose new concept album That Lucky Old Sun (Capitol) is one of his strongest solo records to date. Wistful, whistle-able, and bustling with earnest innocence and deceptively simple-sounding musical ideas, Wilson’s new opus is something special. Interestingly, this is also Wilson’s return to his old home base of Capitol Records, which also just released Meet Glen Campbell, the remarkable new return album by the label’s old artful hitmaker (who worked with Wilson in and out of the Beach Boys). Campbell was just in town, at the Chumash Casino. Next Wednesday, Wilson-with a 12-piece band able to make good on the album’s varied sonic canvas-makes a rare and long-awaited return visit to town, and in the intimate quarters of the Lobero Theatre, no less.
Nelson-that’s Willie to you and me-is a frequent visitor to the area, and who’s complaining? His last show here, at Chumash Casino, found him to be as alive and in the moment as always, treating a melody and a song structure-both as singer and guitarist-with the looseness of a jazz musician, and keeping his band on its toes. As for Dylan, he’s been here off and on over the years, at UCSB twice and the Bowl before that. Each visit seems to bring a new musical quirk or three. Last time around, he repeatedly affected a bizarre octave leap which turned old chestnuts into fresh melodic meat (i.e., “just like a woMAN”). At the UCSB show before that, he subjected the most overplayed of his songs (i.e., “The Times They are A- Changin'”) to ear-twistingly dissonant re-workings, worthy of Arnold Schoenberg by way of the Shaggs. Good old Bob. You just never know about that guy.
This is not a story of dinosaurs returning to roam the local earth. It’s the story of artists with songs and gumption left in the old fiddle, songs worth our hearing.
BOWL NOTES, CONT.: The Santa Barbara Bowl season is hardly over, but memories of the 2008 roster are steadily piling up. Curfew defiers of different colors and hairdos : Robert Smith of The Cure and Steve Miller both opted to disregard the Bowl’s strict 10 p.m. curfew and drift over, fines be damned. Miller, otherwise a control-oriented kind of guy, returned to the stage at the stroke of 10 and said, “Now, we’re going to break the law :” John Mellencamp valorously weathered a rare sound glitch at the Bowl, in which the mains went out for two songs. : A game Garrison Keillor opened his Prairie Home Companion show by ambling down the aisles and mock-helping people-some with deer-in-the-headlights gazes-into their seats. : Dancers invaded the Gipsy Kings stage and overwhelmed the security forces, by tradition, and James Taylor showed his respects to his all-star back-up band-including drummer Steve Gadd, guitarist Mike Landau, and keyboardist Larry Goldings-by placing their names in huge letters by each player/singer. Ben Harper struck a truly poignant chord by dedicating his encore of “I Shall Be Released” to the late Rex Marchbanks, the operations manager and general spiritual torch-keeper of the Bowl for years, who died last year.
And the boldest of the boldfaced, Radiohead, granted us audience last week: ’nuff said.
STAGE SPEAK OF THE WEEK: David Olney on playing in Santa Barbara, at the Lobero Theatre, August 23 : “It’s great to be here. We were recently there. It’s nowhere near as good, to me.”