When Brett Dennen played the Santa Barbara Bowl last fall, in bubbly double-header with Jason Mraz, he brought his antic, dance-able Bowl-sized game. Last Friday, he toned things way down, working to suit the intimate Lobero Theatre. The lanky bespectacled redhead slunk his tall frame in a bright red chair, with two acoustic guitars, two bare feet and a nimble, expanding songbook in tow.
Opening with a deceptively simple song with poetic Joni Mitchell-esque moves of chord, sinuous melody, and vocal range, Dennen demonstrated the diversity of his musical palette, from Van Morrison-ish soul gymnastics on “Dance the Night Away” to Cat Stevens-y turns of musical phrase. He served up some hits — the affirmative “Blessing” and “Wild Child” (with the crowd chanting “I am, I am… you can, you can…”), and “Cassidy” to close.
Without a setlist (or a curfew), he drifted across the landscape of his song-ography, lazily bantering with the friendly heckling fans and boisterous song-requesters as if we were all hanging out in an expanded living room. Which, of course, we were. A new father, he seemed in a relaxed, goofy mood this evening out. Then again, when is he not?
In an inspired pairing, Santa Barbara’s own new folk female duo, the Brambles, cooked up an opening set bathed in quirky charm, with originals that were sometimes twisted and tender, simultaneously. Ukulele, tambourine, and occasional kazoo insertions worked in tandem with warmly woven harmonies, winning our hearts on such songs as “I’ll Eat Your Heart,” the poignant “This Room,” and aptly-named “The Humming Song.”