It’s official – summer show season is here. Far from the overcrowded shows that characterize the rest of the year, summertime shows tend to be more about open space, fresh air and that certain kind of festival atmosphere that just begs for a cold beer and a hot little sundress. This is when the larger local venues really get a chance to shine, as the Santa Barbara Bowl and Seaside Park in Ventura are transformed from big empty spaces into bustling hubs of hot-weather activity. And, with Seaside Park hosting the venerated Vans Warped Tour on June 30 and the SB Bowl giving us gigs by Gwen Stefani, Incubus, Slightly Stoopid, Diana Krall, Snow Patrol, Wilco, the Beastie Boys and the Pretenders, just to name a few, the summer concert season is shaping up to be nothing short of sensational. In order to start the season off right, Artsweek decided to check out two decidedly different days of music, the KJEE Beachside Ball and the recent show featuring Norah Jones and M. Ward at the SB Bowl.
Matt + Norah = Love
By Mollie Vandor
Nestled in a nook of that idyllic part of downtown Santa Barbara where rolling hills and tree-lined streets make the summertime bustle of State Street seem like an entirely different city, the Santa Barbara Bowl is a peaceful place where the casual luxury of Santa Barbara’s high society meets the best of what the contemporary music industry has to offer. Every night feels like a mini festival in and of itself, with the exorbitant food and drink prices remaining as the only reminder that you are, indeed, still in Santa Barbara. The June 22 performance by jazz giant Norah Jones and indie rock folk hero M. Ward was no exception.
The late afternoon air was warm and clear when Jones and Ward took the stage together to open the show. Clad in jeans and T-shirts, the two made an enchanting but accessible pair as Jones accompanied Ward on a selection of his songs, in addition to some well-known works by the likes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Elmore James. The combination of Ward’s Dylan-esque raspy vocals and bluesy guitar riffs with Jones’ crisp, powerful melodies can only be described as ethereal, as the two singers effortlessly created the kind of hypnotizing harmonies that forged music legends out of another cute couple – Johnny and June Cash. Ward is a talented enough artist to stand alone, and proved his merit as a captivating singer, a thought-provoking songwriter and a powerful performer throughout the evening. But there was just something about the songs that Jones and Ward did together. Sure, the sexual tension between them may have just been something created in my overzealous imagination, but the chemistry they shared onstage and in their music was absolutely undeniable.
You have to give Jones credit for touring with Ward as her opener – the incredibly gifted singer-songwriter is a tough act to follow, and very few artists would have the courage to allow such a technically and creatively talented act to set the stage for their own performance. However, Jones more than made sure that the crowd walked away remembering her act too. Reemerging in a shiny red dress that matched her shiny red guitar, Jones wowed the crowd with the powerful pipes she is deservedly famous for. Playing songs from her entire body of work, as well as some covers by artists such as Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, Jones bounced from poppy jazz to gritty blues to soulful folk and spirited rockabilly. Highlights included her soaring vocals on the Hank Williams hit “Cold Cold Heart,” the wry witticism of her most political piece “My Dear Country,” the mind-blowing bass solos of Jones’ boyfriend Lee Alexander and the thrilling pairing of Jones and Ward for her hit “Creepin’ In,” during which Ward proved his hand-picking prowess with an exhilarating guitar solo that brought to mind gypsy jazz giant Django Reinhardt.
Jones’ casual command of the crowd was evident throughout, as she responded to shouts from the audience, shared a story about a trip to the beach she had taken earlier in the day and even did the wave along with some overly enthusiastic members of the front row. With her good humor, good looks and goose bump-inspiring vocal prowess, she proved that she has the talent to take on an entire stadium and the skills to still make every single member of the crowd feel like she was giving a private concert just for them. Overall, the concert was one of those perfect summer evenings, where the music and the moonlight combine to create something magical. It’s just too bad those beer prices had to kill my buzz.
By Cameron David Smith
Despite the sparse venue, which was essentially an empty parking lot with a beer garden that most closely resembled a POW camp thanks to the lovely chain link fence keeping the drinkers at a safe distance – the KJEE 92.9 FM Seaside Beach Ball was actually worth the trip to Ventura.
The concert featured a diverse lineup of bands, some of which were greeted with great enthusiasm from the crowd and some of which definitely were not. Thanks to a last minute line-up change, the Plain White T’sended up opening the show. While it did not have the most full and enthusiastic crowd, the band did not let that slow it down. Playing with a fiery enthusiasm matched only by the bright red pants the lead singer was sporting, band members proved that they are nothing if not troopers. Despite their can-do attitude, the crowd did not really get into their set until the acoustic guitar came out and the T’s played its hit song “Hey There Delilah.”
After the Plain White T’s, Cold War Kids took over with full force. The Cold War Kids were the most aesthetically and musically pleasing band at the show, with all of the group’s members managing to find an admirable coherence throughout their set. Although they were not well known by the crowd – a few enthusiastic fans singing along could have pushed over the barricade that separated the band from the audience – they definitely won the crowd over anyway with lead singer Nathan Willett switching between playing guitar and piano, and guitarist Jonnie Russell also playing a cymbol and shaker, the Cold War Kids’ sound came across as sharp and pure.
Shiny Toy Guns were next up, starting its set and stopping shortly thereafter due to a combination of set problems and the inability to improvise under the circumstances. Shiny Toy Guns apparently has never heard of the phrase, “the show must go on.” The crowd was getting irritated by the lack of music, and people quickly started yelling. However, once the keyboards were working again, the band played ita set with great success. With an appearance that can only be described as glam rock from hell with a powerful female vocalist, the band was quite entertaining. In the end, Shiny Toy Guns proved it was worth the slight wait.
The last opening band was the Silversun Pickups. With a very pleasing look and feel, the band was fantastic to see in concert. Lead singer and guitarist Brian Aubert was an expert at engaging the crowd, and the band as a whole had a very strong stage presence and an interesting dynamic. However, bassist Nikki Monninger’s vocals did not carry over the parking lot that was the so-called venue.
When all was said and done, the Seaside Beach Ball was way more about the opening bands than the headliner – former frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave, Chris Cornell. While Cornell’s performance may not have been worth sticking around for, the opening bands were well worth spending the sunny afternoon in a glorified parking lot.