Guster, Ben Folds Five And Barenaked Ladies At The Santa Barbara Bowl

They say that politics makes for strange bedfellows… Then what the heck would they say about concerts?  Especially at the Santa Barbara Bowl.  The venue always seems to be a mix of the stunning and the confounding.  And while much of the audience seems to be there for the right reasons… for the bands and the music… too many folks seem to be there to be seen… or because of the social status…

Set in the mountains up on the top of Milpas Street, it is like a mini Hollywood Bowl meets the Greek theatre.  The setting is serene and beautiful, as one, assuming you are sitting high enough, stares out at the Pacific Ocean.  Yet they are the most unaccommodating venue I think I have ever encountered.  The last time I was there was for My Morning Jacket… and great seats directly behind the sound board were hampered by a cameraman who was standing squarely in front of me for the first four or five songs.  I took a picture on my cell phone to share with the manager of the venue, but he was unmoved and assured me it was only for the first two songs.  I suggested that an opportunity to come back might be in order.  He suggested what seems to be the venue’s favorite word… no.

On this go round we asked if we could shift our seats to an aisle or be moved to a section that did not involve as many stairs, as my buddy Rob was less than a week out from knee surgery.  Even though there were plenty of seats left unsold, they only offered an upgrade for a fee.  We declined.  Upon taking the shuttle up to the plaza level, we asked again.  A manager came over and said there was nothing she could do, and while she was very nice, it just seemed like most of the staff had little desire to “accommodate”… a key word in any good customer service.

They also told us Guster would take the stage at PRECISELY 6 pm, which had us rushing inside and leaving our most delicious dinner from Bell Street Farm in Los Alamos in the car… Contrary to popular belief, you CANNOT bring in outside food or drink.  They begrudgingly let us eat our bananas on the shuttle bus.

The opener for the opener was Boothby Graffoe, who I had never heard of, and to be honest was a bit pissed at seeing take the stage (See above paragraph).  He is an English comedian, singer/songwriter and was quite funny… so that made us feel a bit better, and  at various points Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn and Ed Robertson came out to join him.  His sense of humor is quite warped!

As the huge full moon rose in the still day lit sky, with crates and equipment piled on either side of the stage (odd… and definitely kills some of the serenity and magic), Guster came out to a small but raucous crowd… at least on the floor.  One particular blonde in a red blouse lead the charge, her arms and fists pumping in the air for every song… her body jumping up and down… She had the band looking to her for cues on how they were doing… and they were quite happy she was there.  That was the counterpoint to the couple sitting with their arms crossed in the very back, prompting Ryan Miller to shout out that he was dedicating the rest of the show to making them happy and get them on their feet with their arms in the air.  By the end of their set, a crowd gathered around the couple trying to get them up and dancing.  The woman did… the dude… not so much.  Guster was fantastic and deserves a lot more listening.  Their energy and vocals are infectious.  My brother Dan got me into them a while ago, but I will admit I dropped the ball a bit.  A Guster listening Renaissance is most definitely called for.

During the first break, Rob and I moved to a section that had an entire row open.  We finally found a very cool usher, who let us move.  It was a good thing, as the seats are super narrow and the very large dude to my right was practically in my lap.  On top of that, a couple arriving late sat right next to us… and another large dude would have been next to me.  In addition to being squished like a wine grape, I was nervous at the Baby Bjorn and newborn he had on his chest.  I love kids, of course… but not necessarily at a concert.

The only issue with these seats, would be the two complete odd ball guys a few rows down, who felt the need to stand for every single song.  They genuinely seemed to be into the music, knew most of the songs from BFF and BNL… and while I love to see anyone, especially dudes, moving and dancing with full abandon, these two just seemed like they were doing it more to be seen and to call attention to themselves.  With their hands flailing, odd surf moves and steps they might have learned from a Jane Fonda workout video, they roamed their row, and seemed to annoy almost all of us around them.  A kid in the row in front of me was even mocking their “dance” routine… and while they gave us all a laugh and many, many shakes of the head, it got to be super annoying, as it went on… all… night… long.

I will also say I was a bit sad and felt guilty leaving our original row, mostly because of the bond I made with the gentleman and his wife in front of me.  It is cool and odd and wonderful at how perfect strangers can come together and share some of life’s most precious moments within minutes of meeting… and over the course of a few hours and some great music.  That is why I will always say that music is the yarn that binds us all together, the fabric that envelops us… the stitches that keep us together and strong!

When he stood up to stretch Rob and I jokingly yelled “down in front”, prompting him to put his hand behind his back and flip us off, which lead to a round of fist pumps and laughs.

But then shortly after that, he pulled out a small spiral pad and starting writing… He turned to me, with tears in his eyes, and told me he was writing a eulogy.  I put my hand on his shoulder, gave his back a rub and told him to let the music and the beauty around him be his guide.  Another fist pump… a genuine and heartfelt thanks… but seeing his shoulders heave and lurch a bit as he turned back really moved me.  We did not even know each other’s names, but I felt like I actually gave him some genuine comfort.  Fucking cool… Being a human being is fucking cool.

Ben Folds Five, who Rob and I had seen back in January at The Wiltern seemed way off… as if they were just going through the motions.  Granted the crowd was light, and it was pretty clear that most folks were there to see Barenaked Ladies… but still.  The only time Ben really let loose was before walking off stage on their last song, when he lifted the piano set and through it at the keys of his piano.  Yes, the January show was with BFF headlining… and the crowd was way more into it, but we both felt disappointed.

I had not seen Barenaked Ladies live in 15 years… and while I most definitely miss Steven Page’s voice and the balance it gave the band, they were a lot of fun and great to see.  Hard to believe… almost impossible, in fact… that they have been together for 25 years… That means the band started the year I graduated from Northwestern (Go Cats!)… Damn, I feel old and unaccomplished right now.

I remember seeing them play in the courtyard of Warner Brothers Records in Burbank… Won a contest from the sadly defunct 101.9… Yeah… I said the courtyard… Amazing!

They have witty and wicked senses of humor, which finds its way into some stunningly beautiful tunes… and live includes some seemingly improvised raps and songs.  Aside from the great tunes you have been singing along to for years, their pure bliss and joy on stage makes the concert something more than just a performance.

We both dug the hockey jersey they were selling, celebrating this 25-year milestone, but at $150 a pop we both passed.  Ah, if I had a million dollars I’d be rich.

But then again, I am.  Rich with life and humanity.  Listening to the music was more than enough… and if push comes to shove, I can always eat Kraft dinner!

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Filed under Life... Plain and Not So Simple, Live Music Reviews, Marc's Mixed Bag - A Little Of Everything, Marc's Playlist - Music That Moves Me

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