This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on August 24, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
Despite the distracting stimuli of life and music on a weekly basis, my brain is still tickled by the memory of what Father John Misty pulled off at his recent Santa Barbara Bowl show. One interesting impression was venue-related: whereas his 2017 show in the cherished kitsch palace of the Arlington played up his act’s innate theatricality, the grander outdoor Bowl setting expanded his aura into the room of a micro arena performer.
Post-pandemic, Papa John (a k a Josh Tillman) has reemerged with new wrinkles — and silky smooth patches — mixed in with the old rough stuff and ironic patina of his persona. With his new album Chloë and the Next 20th Century, his admitted “fake jazz” obsession, shades of Rufus Wainwright and semi-suave textures both thicken and sweeten the Misty plot quite nicely.
At the Bowl, the double-header context with opening act The Head And The Heart proved to be a study in contrasts. The Pop-crafty band from Seattle serves up a savory platter of pop hooks in three-part harmonies, with a general overlay of easy-to-love emotional sincerity. Their cleverly-designed songs somehow register in the smart pop vein of Supertramp.
Misty, too, has a great knack for creating alluring melodies with just enough twists to keep the sound fresh and surprising, but irony and some essential subversive instinct keeps him poking at pop protocols. Take, for instance, the showbiz sacred cow-avoiding tactic of shutting off his frontman spotlight towards the end of the show. It was a brilliant touch, and in keeping with his general iconoclastic attitude. He occasionally drops to his knees, somewhat arbitrarily, like a dramatic tent preacher or a Vegas showman with a bad sense of timing. And suddenly, he’s directly channeling the spirit of Glen Campbell with his ode to a deceased pet, “Goodbye Mr. Blue.”
Musically, wild lyrics and intellectual asides may be tucked into pretty melodic folds, and he may experiment with radical dynamic shifts, as on his new album’s “The Next 20th Century,” which opened the show. There, the hip loungey section of his nine-piece band laid out a lush bed of sound, only to have loud and punk-noisy guitars trash the place deep into the song. Such are Papa John’s restlessly maverick ways.
Frampton Stays Alive
Speaking of “ways” (warning, bad pun ahead), Peter Frampton fulfilled expectations and some implied crowd-pleasing contract by having his way with such defining hits as “Show Me the Way” and “Baby I Love Your Way” at the Arlington Theatre last Wednesday. But some of us old school Frampton fans — from before he exploded with his mega hit and career plateau album Frampton Comes Alive — made a point to catch the show for reasons beyond his hit parade.
For one, Frampton is suffering from a degenerative condition called inclusion body myositis (IBM), spelling the possible end of his performing life. This “Never Say Never” summer tour is a “post-retirement” extension of his supposedly final tour, after which he found that his fingers and will to rock wouldn’t let him go gently away. But more importantly, Frampton has been one of the under-sung guitar heroes of his rock generation, issuing tasty flights of imagination and dexterity on his electric guitar.
These days, Frampton walks with a cane and sits down on the concert job, as do his musicians, in solidarity. But it was a sit-down gig with a distinctly stand-up energy. His fingers seem to be working as nimbly as ever. He’s also a self-effacing sort, who doesn’t take his rock icon status too seriously. At one point, he cleverly manipulated the audience into giving him a thunderous standing ovation for one of the choice obscurities in the set.
Come encore time, Frampton cranked up the way back machine to pull out a pair of classics by his seminal band Humble Pie, before a poignant finale of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” True, that. His guitar weeps and tastefully soars. The post-retiree left the stage on a cautiously upbeat note: “I’m gonna hope that this thing that I have slows down. The music helps. It keeps my fingers going, that’s for sure.”
The Croz Show that Got Away
Had life worked out as planned, icon David Crosby would have served up a career-toasting feast of a show in the Lobero’s 150th anniversary year, on February 22, but fate intervened and the Santa Barbara–bred and based folk-rock legend passed in January. All the concentrated energy and prep-work for what would have been a Lobero show turned tour didn’t go to waste, resulting in Sunday night’s “Stand and Be Counted.”
The three-hour show, assembled by guitarist-singer Steve Postell and Crosby’s son and collaborator James Raymond, turned into a moving posthumous tribute to Croz and the CSN/CSNY legacies surrounding the Santa Barbara County bred and based legend’s musical life and vision. A dozen-strong ensemble laid down the foundation with special guests Shawn Colvin, Colin Hay, Richard Page, and Chris Stills in fine (and when necessary, rough and rocking, form) up front.
A few highlights to these ears: the swirling, trippy suite of Crosby’s masterful “Déjà Vu,” the resonant four-part harmonies enriching “Helplessly Hoping,” virtually every solo played by the great American guitarist Dean Parks, whose voluminous session work life has made his sound part of the fabric of modern music, although he too rarely plays live, Croz’ granddaughter Grace Raymond’s supple lead on “Guinnevere,” and Raymond’s powerful, poignant original “I Won’t Stay for Long,” the last song on the last album by his father, For Free.
Soulful female singers with deep history in Santa Barbara are making their way into SOhO this month. Last Saturday night, a full house packed in a hearty earful of Lois Mahalia, celebrating the release of her finest recording to date, the Thom Flowers-produced Chasing the Sun (with valued contributions from numerous musical parties in town and from Los Angeles, including ex-Journey man singer Steve Perry). This Monday, August 28, the fine, big-lunged, and heartfelt vocalist Mari Martin, who lent her voice to this and other local haunts before moving to the East Coast and then Hawaii, makes a rare Santa Barbara appearance.
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