Very few people could stand up to Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, least of them Elvis himself. But legendary producer Steve Binder did. It’s a story he loves to tell, and it resulted in one of The King’s shining moments, the famous 1968 comeback special. After years of Hollywood movie musical pablum, the Elvis people saw in ’68 was revitalized, dressed in black leather and — in the section of the special that would become its most beloved — sat down with Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, his original Sun Records band, and jammed. That section influenced every similar acoustic set from MTV Unplugged onward.
Viewers will get a chance to see that special (with 30 minutes cut from original broadcast) in a screening Saturday night at Carpinteria’s Plaza Playhouse Theater, followed by a Q&A with Mr. Binder himself. This follows Mr. Binder’s previous appearance at the theater, where he screened the other famous show he produced, “The T.A.M.I. Show,” which showcased James Brown, The Rolling Stones and The Supremes. That screening, which was also a fundraiser for the theater, was sold out. No wonder they demanded Mr. Binder return.
‘I don’t know the last time we played in Santa Barbara,” says Nerf Herder lead singer Parry Gripp, when asked to lay down some timeline for this very nebulous band. Yes, he says, there was a gig at the Mercury Lounge two years ago, but that was in honor of his wife’s birthday and it was free, so … is that official? Regardless, the Goleta band’s gig at the Mercury Lounge Tuesday is not just official, but is going to see out 2013 and usher in 2014.
The evening will feature two sets by the pop-punk rockers, one early in the evening “because one of the problems of getting old is that none of your friends want to come see you after 10:30” and then another that will blast through midnight with a rocking “Auld Lang Syne” and more. In between, one-time Nerf Herder and sometime manager, music journalist and now DJ Marko DeSantis (aka Marko 72) will spin tunes.
The California Honeydrops return to SOhO for a two-night stay this weekend. Two nights, because as founding member Ben Malament says, “We can spread about and give people a lot of different music. So people who like us for all different reasons can get their Honeydrops fix.”
Pretty good for a band that started with two guys busking at BART stations around Oakland. Mr. Malament played washtub bass — what they called the “soul tub” — and Polish-born singer Lech Wierzynkski played trumpet. They played everything from the Memphis Jug Band to Wilson Pickett, from Arthur Crudup to Big Bill Broonzy. And that continues to this day, with genre-spanning music that reflects the encyclopedic tastes of its founders and its newest members, with nothing off limits.
When Paul Williams turned up on last year’s Daft Punk album a generation of folks now in their forties wondered . . . he’s still around? For the guys in Daft Punk, it was the rock opera “Phantom of the Paradise” that endeared him to them. For others, like this writer, it was watching “Bugsy Malone” and “The Muppet Movie.” For those slightly older than us, it was the hits he wrote for The Carpenters and for his solo career.
But while Mr. Williams did go away – into a haze of addiction, seclusion and then recovery some 24 years ago – he’s been back longer than his fans might know. Oh, and he’s been head of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), the industry leader in performer rights protection, since 2009. He visits Santa Barbara this Monday to kick off a series of three screenings over the course of five months honoring composer Elmer Bernstein.
The series is put on by the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts, which debuted its new programming back in September with a screening of “Bugsy Malone.” Mr. Williams then curated the next three films, starting with this Monday’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” January 26’s screening of “The Great Escape” and March 30’s screening of “The Magnificent Seven.” Completely different genres, stars and directors, but all tied together with a stirring Bernstein score.
“These three are a great cross-section of the work that he did,” he says. “I was on a plane from Paris recently and I watched ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and I swear I cried for two hours and 10 minutes. It is the most remarkable film, there’s some emotional harmonic to it. It’s Gregory Peck’s performance and that fabulous score. So minimal, strong and gentle at the same time.”
If Mr. Williams had to choose two films that sparked his interest in music, he says, one would be “Blackboard Jungle” (which launched “Rock around the Clock” into pop culture) and the Elmer Bernstein-scored “The Man with the Golden Arm.”
“In both those films music is not just the score, but the environment,” he said. “‘Man with the Golden Arm’ is remarkable, and as someone who is 24 years sober, he allowed us to hear what addiction sounds like.”
For each of the three evenings, Mr. Williams is bringing along a composer to join him in the discussion. For the first, Santa Barbara resident Richard Bellis (“Stephen King’s It”) to talk about Bernstein’s methods; for the “Magnificent Seven” he will bring Bruce Broughton, who scored “Silverado” and “Tombstone.” (The third is unannounced). Mr. Williams’ own journey to scoring film was convoluted. He was a musician first, but he says after his father’s death in a car crash, the 13-year-old became obsessed with film and becoming an actor. But music kept calling and his successful string of hits – for The Carpenters, Three Dog Night – led to soundtrack work. When it first came out, “Phantom of the Paradise” was unpopular, a “film even my family didn’t go to see,” he says, but its fans over the years included the two French men behind the helmets of Daft Punk and horror movie director Guillermo del Toro, who hired Mr. Williams to write songs for the recent animated feature “Book of Life” and an upcoming musical based on “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
“The big lesson is that you can’t write something off too quickly,” he says. “Because 40 years later it may deliver success.”
Bernstein Memorial Series: “To Kill a Mockingbird”
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Granada Theatre, 1214 State St.
Information: www.granadasb.org, (805) 899-2222
It takes a set of cojones for a singer-songwriter to name his latest album “Balls,” especially when that singer is Griffin House, who is best known for love songs and introspection and not joking around.
“Certain people have ideas about what a musician is and isn’t supposed to do,” he says. “If you want people to take you seriously, you’re supposed to create this intrigue, almost not be yourself. And there’s no title that could explain my personality or sense of humor other than ‘Balls.’ ” (Actually, the name comes from his childhood, in a story too convoluted for this article.)
This is the tour that never ends,” says singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter of her current tour supporting “Songs from the Movie,” her January 2014 album of greatest hits arranged for the singer and a full orchestra. Because it involves arranging a different orchestra for each city, whether it’s Los Angeles, Pensacola or Glasgow, Scotland, it’s not the usual round of bus and plane rides from city to city.
“I see the (orchestral tour) as having a life that goes on … past the horizon. It’s not timed to anything. It exists as long as orchestras invite us to come and present it.”
Just over a year ago, Ella Yelich-O’Connor, the 17-year-old New Zealander known as Lorde, dropped her first single, “Royals,” into the swirling maelstrom of pop culture. Maybe it was the song’s minimal aesthetic matched with its gospel-like chorus, maybe it was the critique of pop music itself contained in the lyrics, or maybe it was because it was so damn catchy — using the most basic of chord progressions — but overnight Lorde was everywhere, and she hasn’t really misstepped yet. She appears at the Santa Barbara Bowl this Thursday, and if audience videos of her tour are an indication, the scene will be one of teen hysteria. In lieu of that, let’s quickly examine how Lorde dominated the charts and pop culture in the short span of a little over a year, while hovering above the excesses of the Mileys, Iggys and the Nickis out there.
Her manager Scott Maclachlan discovered her at age 12, covering Duffy’s “Warwick Avenue” at a school talent show, and started to work with her on material. Four years later, this thoughtful, well-read goth team had produced “The Love Club EP,” a collection that came out fully formed, with no fumbling around trying to find an identity or in thrall to obvious influences.
Thurston Moore is tireless. Since the end of his marriage to Kim Gordon and by extension the end of Sonic Youth, he’s just as busy as he ever was, forming and disbanding experimental bands, guest appearing on several records, including a black metal band’s, and working on a new album that just came out, “The Best Day.” He’s touring with the band that made that album, which includes Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley on drums, Nought’s James Sedwards on guitar, and Deb Googe of My Bloody Valentine on bass, and they’ll be coming to SOhO on Thursday, along with another classic ’90s band, Sebadoh.
For those surprised by the acoustic chamber music of 2010’s Beck-produced “Demolished Thoughts,” this is a return to the explorations of drone, Krautrock repetition and noise of Mr. Moore’s other works.
Just a few weeks after the Eighteenth Street Lounge club opened in Washington D.C., Rob Garza walked through its doors to the sounds of “¡guas de MarÁo” by Antonio Carlos Jobim coming from the DJ booth, and he knew he had found his new home. He also found the lounge’s co-owner Eric Hilton, whom he would soon team up with to DJ and make music under the moniker Thievery Corporation. On their new album “Saudade” (released in April on ESL Music, the duo’s label), they return to the bossa nova rhythms of their early days and have produced what is for the band a very straight-ahead album filled with songs. They’ll be bringing this new work and their dub-heavy back catalog to the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday.
“We feel this album is a kind of palate-cleanser before our next sonic expedition,” Mr. Garza says. “It started with me and Eric in the studio trying to make a few songs in this genre and then at one point we thought, ‘Why don’t we just make a whole record that goes back to our bossa nova and Brazilian influences?’
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