November 6, 2015

Heathers: The Musical ~ November 6, 2015 @ Center Stage Theater

What’s Your Damage?

Oh how teenagers can be so cruel. And being popular in high school can be quite difficult. But can being both become a death sentence?  According to Out Of the Box Theatre Company’s presentation of Heathers: The Musical, the answer is… like, yes.

For those of us who grew up in the 90’s, Heathers was an iconic movie. Unlike the light hearted, almost poppy teenage angst films of John Hughes, Heathers was a dark, cynical look at all that is wrong with high school. Complete with dysfunctional teenage love, hierarchical positions on the popularity ladder, murderous plots to gain power, and an explosive, oddly heroic, sacrificial ending, it was quite the YA of Shakespeare.

A movie like Heathers could not be made now. In 2015, society is overly sensitive to many of its themes. But it could be made into a musical theater production. So that is what creators Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy did, and did splendidly.

Awkwardness meandered on stage, 90’s style, making the audience giggle uncomfortably. The pretty people weren’t showcased first. No, the awkward majority of high school population paraded forth, with character names listed in the brochure as “Stoner Chick,” “Bitter Geek,” “Young Republican,” and “Goth Girl.” It was heartfelt as they sung about how life could be beautiful… Until “The Heathers” burst out on stage, looking perfect and electric, and completely took over the auditorium.

The characters were well cast, and the performances were executed flawlessly. Supported by a live four-piece band, the songs were catchy and hilarious, if not a bit shocking. When the main character, Veronica, thinks her life in the popular crowd is over, she brazenly sneaks into the new guy in town’s room while singing “Dead Girl Walking,” which immediately transitions into a racy sex scene.

There were many racy themes, scenes, and songs
throughout the productions. This show is not for the easily offended. The cast really played into the uncomfortableness of the stories, seemingly unabashed for its hardheartedness. The theatre company reprised many songs throughout the production, using the same song in a different context, thus giving them completely different meaning. This demonstrated how meaning is an individual interpretation of an experience – seen, heard, and felt differently by each individual. Like, totally deep.

Out of the Box Theatre Company continues to bring unique, quality productions to Santa Barbara. I commend them for bravely taking on controversial topics. The uneasiness was a welcome reminder that life isn’t always perfect, we all have a little damage – and it probably stemmed from high school.

(Bonus – they sell all things “Heathers” at the concession stand during intermission – which included jello shots! Real jello shots.) 

September 12, 2015

Lewis Black ~ September 12, 2015 @ The Arlington Theater

Lewis Black Turns Up The Heat

For a city that normally does not have weather, it was a hot one in Santa Barbara on September 12th. A fact that did not escape comedian Lewis Black, stopping by the Arlington Theater on his “The Rant is Due, Part Duex” comedy tour.

Third day into the tour, one could already tell it’s been a rough one. Opening act John Bowman was all piss and vinegar with the Santa Barbara audience, who had been waiting patiently in an historical theater with no air conditioning for the duo to begin. As Bowman started into his material, the heat struck him and he started to strip off his jacket and roll up his sleeves. “It’s lovely you have this show in this quaint historical building… why don’t you get rid of the organ player and GET AN AC UNIT?” It was obvious the opener was as grumpy as the headliner. “I wish Lewis Black was really going to be here – he’s not, IT'S TOO HOT!”

The audience was obviously familiar with Lewis Black, and knew what to expect from one of his live shows – extreme grumpiness emphasized with a bit of screaming and profanity. Bowman’s detour from his pre-planned material to something more topical that was actually affecting the audience at the moment was welcome comic relief from the balmy heat.

As Lewis Black took the stage, it was apparent he too was feeling the heat. Usually a man to dress in a collared shirt and sports jacket, he slowly walked out on stage in a rumpled black t-shirt and jeans. “I had a terrific ensemble to wear… cuz I know how fucking fashion conscious your village is… But I saw John on stage and I said 'FUCK IT!'” 

Coming back from three weeks of vacation, Black pre-warned the audience that he might just “start staring off into space” at any given moment. However, this action never transpired.  Black spoke of his adventures abroad, stating that everyone in the U.S. needed to get the fuck out of here and go to another country, otherwise we all will continue to believe we know what we are doing. “They have solutions, better than ours… and they DON’T EVEN SPEAK ENGLISH,” Black exclaimed, wiggling his pointer finger at the crowd in his signature manner.

As is his practice, Black made the already heated atmosphere more heated by jumping into politics. “I am a Socialist… Don’t applaud – I WON’T have you applaud. I am DISGUSTED that I am.” But the crowd applauded anyway. “When I think of Socialism, the first place I think of is Santa Barbara,” Black teased the audience.  And Santa Barbara took it – it was hard not to, they were paralyzed by the heat.

But Lewis Black did come with a message. “If I have one message for you to take home tonight, it would be… go to Tahiti.” To that the crowd gave pause. “Oh, but why would you want to leave Xanadu?” Apparently, the Polynesians don’t give a fuck, and after 14 days, the amount of days required to stay in Tahiti to save your brain according to Black, you won’t either.  Of course, after this lovely message, Black jumped right back in to politics.

Black was intelligent and thought-provoking, as he continued to emphasize his messages by yelling, cursing, and wiggling his fingers as the crowd. No subject was off limits with Mr. Black, ending his night with gratitude and sarcasm, “Thank you for sharing this BRICK OVEN atmosphere.” 

September 2, 2015

Incubus ~ September 2, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

Are You In?

With extra speakers and a professional laser light show, Incubus came to rock the Santa Barbara Bowl in expert style.

Numbers appeared on the stage backdrop amidst a constellation of lights as darkness finally fell on the Santa Barbara Bowl. A 5-minute countdown to the main event began. The final 10 seconds flashed. The anticipation mounted as the crowd shouted the last of the numbers…. three, two, one! Percussion instruments started, creating a tribal communion among the audience. Then with a blaze of lights and a powerful roar, Incubus broke into Wish You Were Here, causing the crowd to erupt with excitement.

One of Santa Barbara’s favorite bands, Incubus, proved to be as great a force today as they were in the ‘90’s when they played shows in Isla Vista. Lead singer Brandon Boyd owned the stage as his pitch-perfect voice rang over the crowd. Backed by the intense talent of the original members, guitarist Mike Einziger, bassist Ben Kenney, drummer Jose Pasillas, and DJ Chris Kilmore, Incubus proved that their music only gets better with age.

“What a beautiful night – thanks for arranging this!” A grateful
Brandon Boyd shouted before launching into their greatest hits. Twenty-five years as a successful rock band showed, as the band craftily blended their hits that spanned across seven albums, including their newest “If Not Now, When?”.  Incubus’ catalog of material included Anna Molly, Nice To Know You, Pardon Me, Drive, and Love Hurts.  A highlight of the show was Megalomaniac with a nice twist of Nirvana’s Come As You Are thrown in for those who were listening, which was just about 4,500 attendees.  

With no opener for the show, it was all Incubus, all night, and that was all right. Santa Barbara was in! 

August 14, 2015

Alabama Shakes ~ August 14, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

Shaking It Down

photo by paul dunkley 
A long line formed in the hot afternoon sun, as people descended upon the Santa Barbara Bowl box office window in a desperate attempt to grab a coveted ticket to see The Alabama Shakes.

The long-sold-out show was highly anticipated as the Alabama Shakes toured on their sophomore album, Sound & Color. The band has shown artistic growth with their second album. It's slightly more eclectic and soulful than their debut album, Boys & Girls. Known for their ecstatic, blues-based rock, this more deliberate sound was mesmerizing.

Brittany Howard emerged on stage decked out in a full-length green gown and a new haircut. The band immediately jumped into “Future People,” a poignant, funky blues song with high-pitch vocals and a catchy hook that pulls you in and then stops abruptly. The Santa Barbara crowd immediately jumped to attention, leaving no space left in the pit. People packed against the stage to get a glimpse of Brittany as the crowd moved as one.

Graciously, Brittany thanked the crowd, then moved onto
photo by paul dunkley
“Always Alright,” an upbeat, honky-tonk, bluesy dance tune, that got the crowd shaking even more. Incorporating songs from their first album into the mix, The Alabama Shakes hit the mark by including “Hang Loose” and “Heartbreak” early in the set. However, it was Brittany’s improved stage presence that really entranced the crowd.

Pushing her guitar aside, Brittany used her body as well as her voice to bring the lively crowd to a church-like silence during “Joe,” a gospel-like blues song. The Alabama Shakes kept the crowd in the moment by following up with the equally deeply emotional “Miss You” and “This Feeling,” until finally breaking the spell with their radio hit “Don’t Wanna Fight,” an easy-flowing blues jam.

The Alabama Shakes were unrelenting as Brittany exclaimed, “I could do this all night!” And so could Santa Barbara, shaking it down until the very last song. 

August 6, 2015

Aretha Franklin ~ August 6, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

An Evening with a Diva
photo by Tanya Wahlquist

A Living Legend. The Queen of Soul. Diva. All appropriate names for Ms. Aretha Franklin. The 73 year old Queen proved to be a timeless wonder as she performed before The Santa Barbara Bowl August 6th.

Adorned in a long shimmering evening gown and pearls, Aretha was as elegant as she was talented. “Maybe a melody on the rocks will explain,” Aretha purred as she slipped into the first song of the evening. Big, bold, and beautiful, Aretha sung a mixture of her own songs and covers, including “Til You Come Back To Me”, “Angel,” and even mixed it up a bit with a re-mix of “I Will Survive” that had an added touch of Destiny’s Child flavor.

With gratitude in her heart she exclaimed, “Thank you for spending an evening with me. Time has been good to me. 50 years in the business – and it feels like it.” Aretha left to take a short tea break, then returned rejuvenated. Aretha’s vocals didn’t seem like they have lost any range or power, as she sat at the piano, dedicating her cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” “to those friends who care for me.”

Aretha easily slipped between jazz, gospel, and soul, throughout the evening, bringing the crowd once again to their feet for a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” It would be hard not to have the utmost respect for such talent, and it was truly an experience spending the evening with Aretha Franklin. 

July 24, 2015

Jim Gaffigan ~ July 24, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

Food for Thought

A hush fell over the crowd as a single spotlight hit a lone bar stool on the Santa Barbara Bowl stage. Never has the crowd seemed so quiet at the beginning of a concert, but this was no rock show - this was comedy.

Jim Gaffigan, one of America’s most relatable and self-effacing comedians, performed to a full house July 24th. Known for his undeniable love of food that has made him fat (especially hot pockets), his lack of parenting skills to his unusually large family, and his third-person, high-whisper “inner” voice that constantly criticizes his material, Gaffigan brought fresh and familiar material to Santa Barbara.

“Santa Barbara is unbelievable, you lucky bastards – I resent these people.” Gaffigan had the crowd laughing from the start, rightfully joking about the things Santa Barbarians love most about our town. “A cop pulled us over and gave us a bottle of wine….”

Gaffigan, pale and heavy set, is honest about himself, being both self-deprecating and edgy:
·       He hates to hike: “Hiking is a very California thing - we all make mistakes. It’s walking for no reason. There’s no stores or restaurants.”
·        He loves TV: “I’m a tel-athlete…. Yes sir TV… No sir TV…” 
·        He is no good at parenting: “I just want to hear your voice daddy – Buy my album.”
·        He is overweight: “I have fatted out of my clothes. I am curating an exhibit of my weight gain.”
·        And he loves steak: “Let’s eat meat together – like Jesus.”

Throughout his set, his little third-person voice made cutting commentary, alleviating some of the uncomfortable tension of his humor.  “I can’t believe he said that about Jesus...” But the voice could not stop him and Santa Barbara ate it up.


July 22, 2015

Willie Nelson & Family ~ July 22, 2015 @ The Santa Barbara Bowl

An American Story

Country music is an American heritage and Willie Nelson is one of the most recognizable American Icons. At the young age of 82, Willie Nelson & Family performed for a sold out Santa Barbara Bowl. Along with Alison Krauss & Union Station, they successfully brought true American Country music to our fine city.

Country music has a reputation for being sad, with songs usually about your love leaving, your truck breaking down, or your dog dying. It has simple harmonies, played on a variety of stringed instruments, and sung with a bit of a twang. It’s what country life is about. And as Alison Krauss & Union Station kicked off into their set, it was obvious that there wasn’t going to be a dry eye in the house by the end of it.

With a voice of an angel, Alison sung of heartbreak and despair that gripped your heart. Accompanied by her band of talented stringed musicians, Alison Kraus & Union Station exemplified all that is right with Country music. “We don’t want anyone to leave feeling good,” explained Alison, while bantering with the crowd between heartbreaking songs.  The bantering between band members, some of whom have played together for over 20 years, was stand-up worthy and a nice contrast to the melancholy songs.  

The Santa Barbara Bowl begun to fill up as a cool breeze blew in off the ocean, relieving the humidity held in by the day. Near me sat Dorothy, a 91-year old Santa Barbara resident that has seen Willie Nelson fifty times so far. Dorothy explained, “Willie is a wonderful performer. You know his sister Bobby plays the piano and his kids come out and play with him too. Now it’s the Family – it didn’t used to be that way. They’re great.” And Dorothy did not lie.

The Lone-Star State flag flew over a simple set as Willie Nelson & Family took to the Santa Barbara Bowl stage. Willie immediately broke into “Whiskey River,” bringing the older crowd to their feet. At 82, Willie still plays the guitar at a pace most young men could not keep up. His voice strong and stamina high, he took no breaks as he whisked from one song to the next. Crowd participation was required for many of his tunes. As Willie sung “whiskey for my men,” and pointed at the crowd, the crowd replied “beer for my horses” during his rendition of the amply named song “Beer For My Horses.” 

Little Sister, as Willie liked to refer to Bobby, played the piano fiercely. At the age of 84, Bobby slinked over the keys and played speedy solos that brought cheers from the crowd. Willie Nelson & Family quickly played all the hits in an hour and fifteen minutes. Playing classics like “On The Road Again,” Hank William’s “Maybe I Didn’t Love You,” and “Stardust.” “That’s a lovely song,” exclaimed Dorothy as Willie finished a cover of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy For Feeling So Lonely.”

As the evening came to an end, Willie called out more of his family members to the stage, thanking them all. What a great legacy, what a great American story.