Out here in the gilded provinces of paradise, aka Santa Barbara, we take our beloved Bowl seriously. The 4,500-seat capacity Santa Barbara Bowl, really one of the prize outdoor venues in the nation, has similarly taken its role in the community seriously, keeping on the upgrading tip and hosting spring to late fall concert seasons in which appealing to various demographics is part of the charge and part of the challenge.

<b>BEND IT LIKE JÓNSI:</b> Sigur Rós frontman Jón Þór Birgisson unleashed some impressive vocal tricks during the band's show at the Bowl.
Paul Wellman

On Friday night, the 2013 Bowl season ends in a blaze and haze of neo-psychedelic glory, as Oklahoma meets Perth, Australia in the form of the great Flaming Lips, with Aussie band Tame Impala opening. Both bands circulate in the general vicinity of strange yet tasty progressive pop gone spacey, which—when considering the whole of the Bowl season—makes them a strangely balanced and tidy bookend for a series of concerts which opened with Icelandic atmosphere dispensers Sigur Ros last April. (Well, technically, the season opened the night prior, with New Order and Johnny Marr, but for argument’s sake, the Icelanders were the bigger news on the new Bowl season block.)

In related news, our Radiohead-ed man Thom Yorke once again opted to stop at the Bowl (apparently he likes the joint, and who can blame him), with a dance-feverish show by his “side project” Atoms for Peace. The band, with West African juices mixing with Oxford brainiac biz and the artier side of L.A. rock—now sports an actual album, AMOK, a contender for the year’s top ten list, just as the Bowl show was one of the shows to remember this year.

Another hot and special number this season was the arrival of the Postal Service, the concert-readied, ten-year old cult fave project on the shelf with Death Cabbie Ben Gibbard and Santa Barbara-bred electronics magic man James Tamborello, with Jenny Lewis on the side. That show followed on the heels of another alt rock biggie, moody cool and slinky Scottish band Belle and Sebastian, while veteran Canadians Barenaked Ladies graced the stage with their alternately goofy, straight-ish pop and happy rappy sounds.

In another local-ish angle, the “Kings of the Mic” hip hop hoedown featured Chuck D., of Public Enemy fame and Santa Barbaran family man whose articulate speechifying has graced our regional presence, most recently as a speaker at “New Noise.”

KJEE’s Summer Roundup was late this year, at summer’s end instead of the beginning, and the consensus jury wavered between whether headlining punk mid-lifers Blink 182 or fresh-sounding Down Under band Atlas Genius ruled the Roundup. One vote for the Aussies here. More down the middle pop-rock bigness came in the form of a special Labor Day show by Jason Mraz, and another show with the anthem-slinging OneRepublic, with smart-popster Sarah Bareilles opening up–and showing up–the headliners (sez me).

From the ‘70s revisited corner, we were serenaded and amply rocked up by the still hot and relevant Heart, in a special Zep-cenric show with Jason Bonham and a blissful half-hour Led Zeppelin set pummeling and snuggling right up to the 10 o’clock curfew. The sisters Wilson still rock like they mean it. Steely Dan, meanwhile, paid another visit to the Bowl earlier in the summer, still steering one of pop music’s brighter and more clearly and unapologetically jazz-colored and intelligent songbooks into the boomer sunset. (Ironically, or not for this normally jazz-shy venue, the Dan night was the closest thing to a jazz show at the Bowl this year.)

Sting stripped-down (and yet did not strip off his shirt) in a solid and no-frills show nicely reminding us of the strengths of his body of songs and core musicality, and a double header of Cheap Trick and Pat Benatar spiced up the Bowl with classic rock power sauce.

Country music had its day in the double-header show with established country star Gary Allan and Sheryl Crow, on the heels of her first country album, and the forces of twang and rock got all twisted up. While Allan’s music tends to push its tough dirty guitar riffs in a rocking direction, Crow got her C&W on (her Telecaster-blasting guitarist even had a B-string bender in tow). In the niche of folk-veined 21st century acts making their Bowl debuts, we had the hey-ho-ing band The Lumineers followed shortly after by the mighty North Carolinan Avett Brothers. To my ear, the latter out-illumined and out-musicalized the former band.

Although I managed to get to most of the good stuff this year, my “one that got away” evening was the night Robert Plant (another artist apparently fond of the Bowl) came to town in June. People regale me with their cockles-warmed memories of the show, even as I continue to kick myself for being out of town then. As a consolation, the fact that Plant has seemingly caught Bowl fever makes it a good bet that we haven’t seen the last of him on that property with a view.

Post-Lips, the Bowl takes its annual winter’s nap, only to thaw out next spring and continue the process of making us happy to have a serious, badass concert venue just down Garden and just up Milpas street.

JAZZ AHEAD, HEAD’S UP: For the hopelessly jazz-hungry among us, suffering through a bleak season for the goods in town, recent news of the “Jazz at the Lobero” series headed this way was like a blissful message from a musical deity. The Lobero, of course, has been sadly missing in action for several months, while in renovation mode, but this beloved local cultural hot house is picking up where it left off and making up for lost time, bringing four strong jazz shows in as many months. Come to think of it, that would be a good model for frequency of solid jazz shows in town: one a month. Perchance to dream.

As a more than suitable how-do-you-do redux to re-initiate the “Jazz at the Lobero” series, February 18 brings to town three of the major names on the jazz scene–eminent and ever-young drummer Jack DeJohnette, master tenor saxist Joe Lovano and bassist Esperanza Spalding, who, with the inclusion of Argentine pianist Leo Genovese, make up the Spring Quartet. On March 14, a handful-and-change of jazz musicians come together in a road show called Newport Jazz Festival at 60, with Anat Cohen in the musical director role of a group also including vocalist Karrin Allyson (in a long-awaited return to town she used to play often), trumpeter Randy Brecker, bassist Larry Grenadier (who we heard and greatly admired at the Lobero in May, with the Brad Mehldau Trio), and drummer Clarence Penn.

Thinking person’s jazz vocalist du jour Tierney Sutton, who has thankfully been a regular visitor to the Lobero over the last few years, returns with the program “After Blue,” on March 22. Joined by drummer Peter Erskine and the always sturdy pianist-organist Larry Goldings, Sutton will delve into her Joni Mitchell project, recently gone public on an album with the Turtle Island String Quartet.

Branford Marsalis, the tenor saxman who remains one of the stronger voices on his instrument of his 50-ish generation, caps off the series, on May 7. He’ll be in house with his excellent quartet—longtime pianist ally Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and the sensational young drummer Justin Faulkner fitting in beautifully in the chair formerly long occupied by Jeff “Tain” Watts.

TO-DOINGS: Meanwhile, jazz of note—of local and extra-local origins—does pass through SOhO from time to time, reminding us that this is a great room for jazz. During the summer, trumpeter Etienne Charles, a fascinating Trinidadian in NYC who seamlessly blends musical worlds he has been part of, stopped at SOhO and gave us the jazz show of the summer. On Monday, November 11, we’ll get the chance to hear 24-year-old Armenian-born, Los Angeles-based pianist Tigran Hamasyan, the well-respected prodigy going evermore public these days. Hamasyan put out a solo piano album, A Fable, in 2011, and will be releasing a new band effort, Shadow Theater, soon. Last year, Hamasyan could be heard as the eloquent pianistic voice on Swedish bassist Lars Daniellsson’s album Liberetto, on the ACT label, and also featuring Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen, the lyrical wizard of ethereal jazz expression on his instrument.

A well-and-widely-versed player, at home with jazz, classical, rock and Armenian musical flavors, he arrives with the impressive imprimatur of praises by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. That, and other factors, makes the pianist’s SOhO show a calendar-marker for Santa Barbara’s jazz fans, and other music-loving beings.


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