ON the Beat | More than Just a Party Weekend
The Lobero Theatre is a Hot Seat Again on Saturday, with Chubby Checker and a Street Party Goin’ On
This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on May 18, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
This Saturday, the Lobero and its Canon Perdido Street home ‘hood get its energies in a twist, courtesy of Chubby Checker’s presence, and hometown heroes taking it to the street. Checker, of the 1960 mega-hit “The Twist” fame, takes the stage of the esplanade at 8, but the pre-party starts at 3 on the closed-to-traffic avenue, with Glen Phillips, Spencer the Gardener and the La Boheme dancers on public party duty. It’s all part of the Lobero Theatre’s continuing 150th anniversary celebration, and well-deserved.
Come Saturday night, while Checker is shaking outside the Lobero, Spencer (the Gardener) Barnitz will grace the screen and the house over at the New Vic, where the finished product of Robert Redfield’s documentary More than Just a Party Band will have its official premiere. We got a teasing taste of the fine film — in progress — last November, when the band performed at the Lobero, partly for the purpose of providing live concert footage.
Hopes that the film might land at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival were dashed, but it is worth the wait: Redfield’s fascinating, hip, and full-bodied doc pays due tribute to a regional hero who knows how to party, and how to stoke a party. But wait, there’s more to his music, as the film title reminds us. (Caveat: I appear briefly in the film, playing the role of a pundit/voice of reason).
Lobero Matters, Jazz Style
The Lobero love tales continue in the 150-year glow, as happened when longtime Lobero favorite Tierney Sutton paid her first visit since before the COVID cultural freeze last Friday night. On this occasion, the premiere jazz vocalist did double duty, bringing along both her three-decade-old quartet (with pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Kevin Axt, and a newcomer, the subtle and flexible dynamo Gene Coy) as well as her Paris Trio, with her current partner in music and marriage, the supple French guitarist Serge Merlaud. The central duo was sometimes joined by Axt, sometimes leaning into chordal mode to allow Merlaud room to roam, improvisationally.
As always, Sutton was fully in control as a singer and presence, with her tendency to be exacting as well as exploratory with arrangements which inject fresh ideas into songs we thought we knew. She opened with the clever medley of “April in Paris” and Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris,” a highlight of the 2020 Paris Sessions 2 album, and wended through a setlist including the choice “Don’t Go to Strangers,” and, as set capper, the delicious song from Truffaut’s film Stolen Kisses. She’s got things French on her mind these days.
Her quartet covered a variety, and often dipped into its book of revised/revived standards, such as a soul-jazz take on “Caravan,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” and Bob Dorough’s “Devil May Care” as an encore night cap.
All in all, Sutton’s long night out managed to serve as a kind of career-sweeping “this has been my life” show, touching on more than a handful of albums in her large and diverse discography, including tributes to Joni Mitchell, Sting, and the film music focus of Screenplay. Who woulda’ thunk songs from Grease could fold into jazz garb, a trick managed in Jacob’s arrangements? A kinetic 5/4 version of “You Better Shape Up,” anyone?
As a touching and heartwarming subplot to catching Sutton back in this hallowed hall, the singer expressed her deep appreciation for the power of the place and its meaning in her musical story. “The Lobero has been pivotal in many of my adventures,” she shared. In one adventure, I remember seeing her milling outside the Lobero at a 2018 Pat Metheny concert and thinking “that’s nice that she drove up to catch Pat.” But no: she was there for a glittery cameo late in the show, when she gave the premiere of a new song written by Metheny with songwriters Marilyn and Allan Bergman, “Love May Take Awhile.” The Sutton/Lobero adventurism carries on.
On the classical front, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra shows up at the Granada tonight (May 18), hosted by CAMA. Philadelphia’s Curtis Music Institute has been a critical bastion of classical music training and culture for decades, and the concert is part of the orchestra’s first West Coast tour.
It’s always good news for fans of choral/vocal music when the a cappella group Quire of Voyces comes out to play in public — too infrequently, according to some of us. This Saturday and Sunday (May 20-21 at 3 p.m.) marks the spring concert outing for the group boldly led by Nathan Kreitzer for 25+ years now. Hard to imagine Santa Barbara’s musical life without the Quire, and the live experience is greatly enhanced by its venue home, in the tranquil old worldly ambience of St. Anthony’s Chapel.
The Santa Barbara Bowl gets its twang on this weekend, with Brett Young on Friday and the great Brad Paisley on Sunday (see story).
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