As New Noise Music Festival came to a close Sunday night, many of Santa Barbara’s most colorful personalities wormed their way back into the woodwork, leaving us with thoughts of what a Santa Barbara music scene can and should be. The yearly festival, which loudly sprawls out across various venues throughout the city, has quickly become a staple for Santa Barbarians. There were many highlights, and many more that I didn’t see due to a severe lack of readily available teleportation and/or cloning technology, but a few seemed to stand taller than the rest.
It should be noted that I missed a severe chunk of the block party (including Gardens & Villa and Run the Jewels) because I was down in Ventura seeing the incredible Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Either or both of those groups would have more than likely made it on my list had I been present for their almost assuredly face-melting performances.
Scores of fans all across the world have lost their metaphorical marbles watching Chris Baio take the stage as Vampire Weekend’s bassist, but as of yet few have even seen him as Baio, his DJ alter ego. That’s a shame because he hands down delivered the set of the festival.
Baio is a professional performer through and through. Within seconds of walking onto SoHo’s small (and rather high) stage, the crowd is eating out of the palm of his hand. In between doling out lines of lyrical wisdom, Baio leans in, giving the crowd a profile view in the vein of Presley. He commits to a shtick of quirks and obscurities, playing an 8 feet tall imaginary xylophone that put Bill and Ted’s impromptu air guitar solos to shame. His knees are in a constant swaying motion, hinting at the mashed potato, but never quite getting there. Baio creates a character so fun to watch, that you can’t help but laugh with him when he occasionally breaks it to flash a smile.
Second only to the performance is the music. Bridging two worlds previously kept at arm’s length, the melodies and intonation of Baio scream Rick Astley while the supporting arrangements play out like frenetic and progressive electronic music. With glitches, pops and a healthy dose of funk – Baio was absolutely magical. One of the best live shows I have ever seen.
If you haven’t seen Beta Play, either under their new name or as Tommy and the High Pilots, you have been kept in the dark for far too long. With a sound so explosive, sharp and radio friendly that you thank your lucky stars that they haven’t moved on to bigger and better things just yet. We all know (half begrudgingly because we don’t want to share them with the world) that they will someday be headlining festivals across the country.
Saturday night at the Blind Tiger was no exception. Beta Play channeled a beautiful concoction consisting of 1 part Fun. to two parts The Killers. Not bad company to keep. The vocal harmonies were as perfect as they come, and the supporting instrumentals were nothing to scoff at either.
There was a brief moment during “Electric 22” that I considered leaving it all behind to become a professional groupie. I’ve since decided against it, but I’m not 100% sure I’ve made the right decision.
I have been a huge fan of Penguin Prison ever since he exploded onto the scene with “Don’t F*ck With My Money” back in 2011. The 80s synth revival speaks to me in a way that shouldn’t speak to anyone born in 1991, but there it is. Everything about that song is absolute perfection.
I am usually more than a little nervous about seeing DJ sets for acts that offer full instrumentation, but Penguin Prison put those fears to bed with a heavy dose of vocal reverb. It sounds frustratingly simple, but he treated the set like a DJ set. He wasn’t trying to recreate a live sound, he was spinning the greatest dance party of all time. Every arrangement was fine tuned with the express goal of getting your feet moving and your hands in the air (like you just don’t care). Each song lay witness to boosted synths that spiked and cut through heat and humidity that Santa Barbara wasn’t made to handle. Each drum beat shook the walls before reverberating into your chest cavity and making a home for itself.
The true highlight of the night came at the very end of the set. After the college crowd had thinned out, the real fans were left to boogie the night away with the man of the hour himself. The set closed with a scorching rendition of “Don’t F*ck With My Money,” which saw Chris jumping into the crowd to sing along as people made it rain a smattering of crinkled dollar bills.