Sometimes a band isn’t meant to perform live. Sometimes otherwise-talented musicians just don’t do so well at holding an audience’s attention for a whole headlining set. Sometimes a concert’s headliners don’t turn out to be the best act on the bill. Such was the case last week, when Slightly Stoopid’s Summer Haze Tour descended upon Santa Barbara’s very own Bowl – the venue, not the thing you put in your pipe, although there was plenty of the other kind of bowl in attendance at the concert as well.
The lineup featured Santa Cruz reggae rockers the Expendables, eclectic Latin-infused rockers Ozomatli, stoner surf-rock gods Slightly Stoopid and the jam-rock infused rap stylings of G. Love & Special Sauce. As Ozomatli wrapped up its set by parading through the crowd of the Bowl, instruments in hand and adoring fans at the members’ heels, it was clear that the crowd’s energy was high – and the energy wasn’t the only thing. Of course, with every good high, there’s an equally potent low, and unfortunately the come down hit about halfway through Slightly Stoopid’s set.
The poster boys for SoCal stoner culture started off strong, playing hits like “Sensimilla” and “Officer” – complete with sax and trumpet to accompany the usual bass, guitar and percussion formula – with an easy musical depth that was unexpected to say the least. Clearly, the band is at its best when it brings out its horns section, and it is well aware of this. With the rest of the guys in baggy shorts and backwards baseball caps, and the horns section spiffily dressed in well-tailored suits, it was obvious Slightly Stoopid knows where it gets its cred from, music technique-wise. The horn-heavy jazz riffs on some classic reggae-rock chord formations were nothing short of transcendent, as they lifted what would otherwise have been merely good background noise for some amateur moshers in the front into the territory of real musical talent. Aside from counting the number of times the band’s various vocalists yelled out “What’s up?” watching De La on sax and C-Money on trumpet provided the best entertainment of Slightly Stoopid’s whole set – complete with classy wardrobes and ska-inspired dance moves.
Of course, anyone familiar with Slightly Stoopid knows that the horn section is just a small facet of the band’s repertoire, and indeed, the band manages to switch as seamlessly from reggae to rock to ska to pop-punk as its two frontmen Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald managed to switch instruments and vocal responsibilities – not even pausing when Doughty hit a joint proffered by an audience member – during their set. Unfortunately, all the seamless transitioning combined with the sheer similarity of the band’s more punk-infused offerings made it hard to tell where one song ended and another one began. About halfway through, as the fans in the crowd were clearly coming down from all their pre-show sessions, the similarity between songs made the set seem almost interminable. People were clearly getting restless, and even the hardcore fans in the front lost a good deal of gusto in their arm-waving. Bringing back the horns section to close out the show, Slightly Stoopid did end on a bit more of an upbeat note. But, it was a note that could have resonated much more powerfully had the band played half as many songs with twice the musical experimentation and artistry. Clearly, the band is very good at what it does. If the band ratcheted up its use of horns and its willingness to experiment with something a little more interesting than the standard pop-punk stuff, the band could be great.
After Slightly Stoopid, G. Love closed out the show with the kind of high-energy, jazz-infused rap-rock he’s best known for. Pausing only to bust out the acoustic guitar for hits like “Rodeo Clowns,” he was clearly the high point of the evening, at least energy-wise. His staccato delivery, lively harmonic and lyrical narrativity infused the end of the evening with the kind of musical magic that seems to only come out after dark at the Bowl. Sending a “strong shout-out” to local hero Jack Johnson, G. Love made it clear that his unique sound has deep roots here in Santa Barbara. And, as he pulled off feats like seamlessly transitioning his own irreverent hit “Booty Call” into a purely McCartney-esque, bluesy rendition of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” it was clear the crowd was with him every step of the way.
Unlike Slightly Stoopid, G. Love had no problem capturing and captivating the crowd for the entirety of his performance, and while there may be something to the theory that everything is better after dark at the Bowl, much of this can only be credited to his own mastery of the mic, the guitar, the harmonica and the stage. True to his name, G. Love’s performance was perfect for a summer evening in Santa Barbara – in fact, he fit the packed venue like a glove.