Whether or not Congress succeeds in passing the Sunshine Protection Act to make daylight saving time permanent, one thing’s certain — that extra hour of daylight we added the Sunday before last means it’s time for concerts at the Santa Barbara Bowl. It’s been two long years since the Bowl has been able to offer sunset shows in spring, and bands and fans alike can’t wait to get back on track.
In 2022 you can forget FOMO (fear of missing out). With 34 shows already announced and plenty more still to come, there’s something to please everyone at this most excellent outdoor music venue. Starting on Saturday, March 26, dozens of concerts representing virtually every type of popular music, from rock and reggae to bluegrass and New Orleans funk, come streaming through the Bowl’s gates on Milpas Street. The schedule stands among the most adventurous the Bowl has ever programmed. What’s more, it does so without sacrificing any familiar favorites, such as Jack Johnson (Oct. 4 and 5), Bonnie Raitt (Sept. 22), Rod Stewart (with Cheap Trick opening on June 18), and Jackson Browne (Sept. 7).
The excitement starts with a double dose of a double show. Alternative stars Portugal. The Man and alt-J will co-headline on consecutive Saturday nights, March 26 and April 2. L.A. rockers Cherry Glazerr will open both shows.
For those about to rock, this creative booking salutes you hard. These two bands can rev up a party as fast as anyone in music, and they have embarked on this co-headlining tour in a competitive spirit, with each group striving to outdo the other in terms of big-room crowd hype. Portugal. The Man (PTM) had one of the biggest singles of the last decade with “Feel It Still.” They have perfected a relentless approach to live performances that will have people on their feet from their first note until their final encore.
When I spoke by phone recently with Eric Howk of PTM, he expressed full enthusiasm for the tour. He said that he and the other band members love working with alt-J and enjoy traveling the country in tour buses to play all kinds of great venues like Red Rocks in Colorado and, of course, the Santa Barbara Bowl.
Howk is a charismatic and inspirational figure to many. When he joined Portugal. The Man in 2015, Howk had already spent eight years in a manual wheelchair as a result of a 2007 spinal injury. In 2020, after searching for an ADA-compliant facility, Howk checked into a residential program for alcohol abuse. Now two years in recovery, he’s an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities seeking sobriety.
Howk is also an architect of the band’s certifiably wild approach to performance. He cites the fact that “we don’t fit the profile of a band with a lead singer who’s the obvious frontman” as part of the motivation for PTM’s performance style, which weaves multiple dynamic covers into a free-flowing, nonstop medley format along with the band’s own hits.
Sign up for Indy Today to receive fresh news from Independent.com, in your inbox, every morning.
Tour partners alt-J have their first number-one single on the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay chart this month, and it’s a banger. “U&ME” starts out celebrating what we’re all going to the Bowl for —“Summer holiday, having fun / Happiness is between two buns.” Through multiple singalong choruses and exotic instrumental rave-ups, “U&ME” takes listeners on a journey to inner space, alt-J style. The video for the song shows the band cavorting in a skate park until tornadoes appear, the asphalt crumbles, and automobiles float like helium balloons. And those are the coherent bits. The song’s massive hook guarantees that hundreds of thousands of smiling partiers will dance and sing along with a love letter to tripping balls at music festivals for the rest of the summer.
Talking with alt-J’s keyboardist, Gus Unger-Hamilton, I learned that the band wrote the core of “U&ME” on the road. “We polished the lyrics a bit when we got into the studio,” he said, “but the riff was something that Joe [Newman, the band’s guitarist and lead vocalist] came up with during a soundcheck, and everyone locked into it. Fortunately, one of our techs recorded it.” A third single, “Hard Drive Gold,” from alt-J’s new album, The Dream, is also climbing the charts. As for the album’s title, Unger-Hamilton says it could refer to “many kinds of dreams — dreams come true, broken dreams, pipe dreams — you name it.” The band only came up with the album title after the recording session. Now it’s on what many critics have said is the band’s best record yet. Expect to hear most of The Dream, plus plenty of other hits going back to 2012’s breakthrough, An Awesome Wave, in what promises to be a thrilling alt-J set.
Depending on where you go to discover new music, some of the other concerts on the Bowl schedule may either delight or mystify you. When things shut down in March 2020, it would have been hard to predict that Billy Strings, for instance, would have the drawing power to book two nights as he has for April 9 and 10.
Many of us got our first taste of Billy Strings and his psychedelic jam-band-influenced bluegrass guitar when he kicked off the UCSB Arts & Lectures House Calls virtual concert series in fall 2020. Since then, he’s become a live-show phenomenon, placing second in Pollstar’s year-end Live 75 chart, which measures the speed and volume of artists’ ticket sales. He’s up for a couple of Grammys — Best Bluegrass Album (for Renewal) and Best Americana Roots Performance (for “Love and Regret”). If you happen to run into Strings at La Super-Rica or Mony’s while he’s in town, ask him about fishing. He’s an expert.
Other fresh names on the schedule include Rainbow Kitten Surprise (May 27) and Rex Orange County (June 1). There are plenty of great women coming too, starting with Lorde (May 7), then Olivia Rodrigo (May 21), Brandi Carlile (June 21 — Summer Solstice night), The Chicks with Jenny Lewis (July 29), and Maren Morris (Sept. 15). Regardless of whether you love Josh Groban (July 30), Slightly Stoopid (July 17), or Rise Against (July 16), there’s something for you this season at the Santa Barbara Bowl.
Visit sbbowl.com for the complete schedule and information about attending the concerts.