THE LIVE LOCAL YEAR THAT WAS: Even amid the glum pusses and gritted teeth of life in post-fiscal meltdown America, some good has come. We sense, for one, some solidarity and compassion cutting across classes, even in Santa Barbara, where the disparate dance of haves and have-nots is so clumsy-footed. More to the point, this town has been bursting with live musical options, demonstrating that when the going gets tough, folks plunge into cultural escape routes.
Long blessed with a great music scene-for its size-Santa Barbara enjoyed a particularly hearty 2009 musical bounty, and from different perspectives, with the real stars presently being classical music and indie rock. For this columnist, out four or five nights a week by professional and neurotic personal necessity, certain highlights leap out: some sublime encounters with Bach, a visit from Sonny “Newk” Rollins, Indie Rock goodness mostly presented by Club Mercy, and Shelby Lynne’s stunning solo show at the Maverick.
This year, the Santa Barbara Bowl season seemed meek. What can we expect, the year after godhead Radiohead played the Bowl? To these ears, the best Bowl shows of this season came from Kings of Leon and Katy Perry-the utterly charming post-modern ear-candy maker, and Santa Barbara-bred! Perry is clearly the year’s Local/Global Hero, whose three-pack of tasty #1 hits make her, by far, the biggest pop sensation with local roots.
CLASSICAL AND JAZZ: World class jazz had a near-drought year, unfortunately, quantity-wise. Still, it’s hard to complain about any season that includes a visit from the indisputably great Rollins, and memorable shows by the Blue Note 7 and Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
In classical music, the year was framed by profound visitations of beautifully realized Bach, between the Academy of Ancient Music’s period-minded reading of the Brandenburg Concertos and Yo-Yo Ma’s staggeringly fine Cello Suite recital, both in the grand Granada. Provocative, new-ish Chinese music also figured into the mix, in Camerata Pacifica’s dramatic reading of Huang Ruo’s To the Four Corners, and the Shanghai Symphony’s Paris-based Chinese composer Qigang Chen’s fascinating culture-blender work Iris Devoilee (Iris Unveiled). The Santa Barbara Symphony, with the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, wowed with Sergio Assad’s new “Interchange for Four Guitars and Orchestra.”
OJAI NEWS: As always, the finest classical programming in our midst came courtesy of organizations identified by four-letter words: CAMA (aka the Community Arts and Music Association) and Ojai (the Ojai Music Festival). Came summertime, the Music Academy of the West kept our minds and ears buzzing, another blithely predictable phenomenon here. This year’s Ojai festival-number 63-offered plenty to crow about, with America’s bright, audience-friendly contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird as resident ensemble and “music director,” and the venturesome premiere of Steven Mackey’s SLIDE (Calendar markers beware: next June, the festival promises to be something extra special, with the West-Coast debut of Ensemble Modern, the world’s finest new music ensemble).
JOE’S LIST: Here, then, one obsessive culture reporter’s list of high points-cutting across genres-in Santa Barbara’s 2009 year in live music, in descending chronological order.
Monsters of Folk, Granada Theatre
Band of Skulls, Velvet Jones
Renee Fleming, Granada Theatre
Yo-Yo Ma, Bach Cello Suites, Granada Theatre
Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, Muddy Waters
Shelby Lynne, Maverick Saloon (Tales from the Tavern)
Chris Smither, Lobero Theatre (Sings Like Hell)
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, SOhO (part of New Noise Santa Barbara)
Vince Gill, Chumash Casino
Katy Perry, Santa Barbara Bowl
Deerhoof, Velvet Jones
Music Academy of the West, L’Histoire du Soldat (sans narration), Lobero Theatre
Eagles of Death Metal, Velvet Jones
Kings of Leon, Santa Barbara Bowl
Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, Gordon Chin, Romance for Cello and Orchestra, with Felix Fan, Lobero Theatre
Sonny Rollins, Campbell Hall
Fleet Foxes, UCSB Hub
Santa Barbara Symphony, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, with H¥kan Rosengren, Granada Theatre
Movses Pogossian, Tony Arnold, and Gyrgy Kurt¡g, Kafka Fragments, Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall
Academy of Ancient Music, Brandenburg Concertos, Granada Theatre
The Bird and the Bee, SOhO
Tyva Kyzy, UCSB MultiCultural Center
Blue Note 7, Campbell Hall
Lastly, we extend warm wishes for New Year’s happiness to all, fiscal picture aside, where it belongs.