It’s spring, the season of dance, and the fields of March are blooming with the human form in beautiful motion. We’ve had aerial dance at the Lobero, shows from Santa Barbara Dance Arts, visits from Hart Pulse and the world famous Joffrey Ballet. It’s time to finish the month with the first installment of our own homegrown dance festival, HHII.
Devyn Duex is the woman behind this three-day festival taking over the Center Stage Theater this whole weekend, and the name HHII is a sly nod to Ms. Duex’s Nebula Dance Lab company: HHII is a star-forming region in the galaxy. “And star-forming – we thought that was perfect.”
Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes may sound like they grew up playing the beer-soaked barrooms of Memphis, but in reality this group hails from Melbourne, Australia. You’d never know that from their songs, one of which, “Love Letter,” got major play in the U.S. when it became the soundtrack to a clever Heineken commercial two years ago. The song, a mix of Amy Winehouse-style retro soul with nods to Phil Spector and Otis Redding, sounded both modern and straight out of a 1966 jukebox. From Melbourne cabarets to the artistic greenhouse of SXSW, the group has been touring incessantly, and now they arrive in Santa Barbara, to play at Blind Tiger, a most appropriate venue for their glamorous show.
In the early 2000s, Clairy Browne was in a band called Jacket, “a bad version of Black Eyed Peas,” she groans. “It was hip-hop in as far as Australians can do hip-hop. I wasn’t dropping any rhymes, I was always singing.”
But that’s where she met bass player and future collaborator Jules Pascoe. She called on him in 2009 with a special request. A promoter called Hannah Fox was putting on a special night.
“I was thinking I wanted to get back on stage, nothing major, just perform,” she says. Ms. Browne had an idea to form an R&B girl band, sing five (quite obscure) covers, get dressed up in vintage outfits, and deck the stage with candlelight. “It was raucous on stage the minute we did it. It had that hysterical feeling of 1966 television.”
Overnight Ms. Browne had a thing on her hands and a promoter who wanted her and her band to do more.
“I love that cathartic emotive sense that (soul music) songs give you,” she says. “It’s all about celebration and community and politics and heart. All those themes were important to me.”
The band, which at one point featured Clairy’s sister as a back-up singer, became very popular around Australia, but it was the Internet that helped them go international. In 2012 their manager got a late-night call from someone in Europe who not only wanted to use “Love Letter” in a commercial, but wanted to fly Ms. Browne to Prague to be in it. Soon she found herself strapped to a stage and being turned upside down in a production that did not use any computer effects. (Search YouTube for Heineken and “Love Letter” to find the commercial.)
That was 2012 and soon the band was touring internationally, just “dipping our toes in the market,” as she says. Clairy Browne and her music were continuing the work started by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Amy Winehouse, Adele and others in this retro R&B movement.
“I feel like what we’re trying to do is slightly different,” she says. “We have more edge and drama and dirt, you know what I mean? More unpredictability.”
On this tour they’ve taken time to record new material for their follow-up to “Baby Caught the Bus,” their debut album. They did so at Atlanta’s Stankonia Studios, owned by the members of Outkast. “A lot of hits came out of that room,” Ms. Browne says. “And I did get to meet Big Boi. He came into the studio while I was doing vocals, and scared the s— out of me! I was like, okay, now I get to sing in front of you! We don’t have those kind of opportunities in Australia, so this was a big deal.”
The band will end its current tour at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, and then focus on the next album.
Ms. Browne’s dad was a musician too, although he never got as far into the business as his daughter. However, he did have some advice for her. “‘The cream always rises to the top,’ he’d say. You have to have that attitude of — you cannot fail.”
Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Blind Tiger, 409 State St.
Information: clairybrowne.com or 957-4111
This has been a rollercoaster year for comedian George Lopez. He’s already been humbled and made much late-night fun over his drunken fall at a Canadian Casino. And then his latest sitcom “Saint George” on FX got the axe after only 10 episodes (more on that later). All that has turned him back to the one thing that he can do with absolute confidence, with no interference, and that’s stand-up. This Saturday he returns to the Santa Barbara Bowl for an evening of hilarity and soul-baring. While his stand-up has often been about family and culture and the effects of an abusive upbringing — told with devastating humor and honesty of course — Mr. Lopez says that he’s going to get even more personal for this new tour.
“We’re going to deal with the private George, not the public George,” he says. “Which I think is more compelling . . . The thing with the next special is to get more personal and dig deeper.”
As a frequent attendee at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Forum Lounge” over the years, it would be fair to say the events — every First Thursday at 7 p.m. — were unpredictable and just as often brilliant as they were half-baked. Sometimes there were short bursts of stunning performance, clocking in at a friendly 20 minutes; sometimes audiences found they had signed up for two hours. It was an experiment that had run its course in a way, but it was also pointing to something bigger, more consistent, and better defined. The On Edge Festival opens this Thursday, and promises the best of the performance art scene.
In its four days, the Festival, curated by Forum Lounge’s Heather Jeno Silva, will put on productions at MCA, as well as at Center Stage Theater, Municipal Winemakers, the Courthouse Sunken Gardens, and a gallery/event space on Canon Perdido.
Stand-up comedian, game-show host, and actor Ben Gleib has just returned from Burning Man and is holed up for an extra night in his Reno hotel room, nursing something that sounds like a cold.
“It was amazing, very, very cool,” he says of his week on the playa. “Very introspective, very survivalist, and I’m so, so tired. Hopefully I can sleep, get this dust off of me, and wake up a new man, because I’ve got a special to record.”
Samuel Simon calls it his “fourth career.” Now a playwright and performer in his late sixties, it took him a full career to find his calling. After decades of being a lawyer, advocate and businessman, it was his wife’s brush with breast cancer and mortality that pushed him in semi-retirement out from behind a desk and conference calls to standing alone on stage for “The Actual Dance,” coming to Center Stage Theater this Thursday. How did this happen?
“I’m an actor and a playwright,” he says. “And that is such an incredible thing to hear myself say.” Right out of law school he worked for Ralph Nader, then joined the Army, then worked in D.C. and at the Federal Trade Commission. He then created a public relations firm at the dawn of the Internet, which turned out to be nicely profitable, enough to retire. In 2000 Mr. Simon started to take improv classes in New York City for personal development, taught by veterans from The Second City and the Groundlings. Around the same time, his wife Susan was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
Scott Montoya may not be a comedian but he knows his comedy. From helping his dad hand out pamphlets for the United Farmworkers to organizing festivals, Mr. Montoya has been bringing unheard voices to the masses. Starting this coming Tuesday, the Santa Barbara Laugh Out Loud Comedy Festival opens its doors for six days of stand-up comedy and more. A majority of the evenings are being filmed for broadcast, showing that Santa Barbara isn’t just being used as a practice run.
“Comedy is what is driving everything online right now,” Mr. Montoya says. “This is the best time to be in the comedy world. Even up to three years ago there was only Showtime and Comedy Central. Now it’s all over the place: there’s Netflix and we have our own channel on Hulu.”
Comedian Russell Peters may have never been to Santa Barbara before — “I remember the soap opera” — but he’s starting his world tour here as part of the opening of LOLFest.
“An actual world tour!” he adds. “Not like when some comics say ‘world tour’ and they mean USA and Canada.” He means it. The Canadian-Indian standup started his career in Canada, found success in Britain and now performs in any country that shows interest. In 2010 his show in Australia attracted the largest-ever audience for a stand-up in that country. He’s set similar records in London, and has found himself playing sets in South Africa and Thailand and beyond. And his wanderlust has added to his routine, where he affectionately pokes fun at the culture and behavior of various nations.
The new season of Arts & Lectures is a few months away. Plenty of familiar faces return for this season — David Sedaris rounds it out in May as usual — but there are also a lot of new acts rolling through to get excited about. As UCSB’s arts series expands its venues to downtown, there’s a sort of delicate balance between campus and downtown.
“Much of our audience is community oriented, so it often makes sense to have it downtown,” says Roman Baratiak, Director Celeste Billeci’s second in command. The organization has its eyes on using The New Vic more too. And dance usually does better downtown.
One of the highlights of last year’s Coachella music festival was the reunion of Jurassic 5, the well loved (and six-member) hip hop outfit that was totally West Coast in all the best ways: laid back yet totally tight and in control of their craft, individually as well as a team. They had cited artistic differences when they quit in 2007, but none of that was apparent when they got back together last year. Now they’re heading to the Santa Barbara Bowl this Sunday and they recently dropped an ace new single, “The Way We Do It,” which chops up the White Stripes’ “My Doorbell” to devastating effect.
But here’s the thing: they weren’t broken up that long, only by hip-hop standards. And the new single is really from 2006, part of a set of as-yet unreleased songs produced by Heavy D just before his death.
“I remember Heavy D saying, ‘Now I wanna make a hit for you guys,'” says Marc7, one of J5’s four vocalists, along with baritone Chali2na, Akil and Zaakir. “That’s the main thing he kept saying. That particular song was one of the last sessions we did. We had already recorded four or five songs with Heavy D. And on the last day of recording, he had that beat waiting for us. And we just wrote it right then and there … It was one of those songs that was just sitting in the vault.”