Singer-songwriter makes her debut at SB theater with pay-per-view concert event
Known for her energetic live performances and powerful contralto voice, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter KT Tunstall is giving her first performance at the Lobero Theatre in a far different way than she initially planned.
Originally, she was scheduled to play the Santa Barbara venue in January but had to withdraw from performing when she suddenly became ill. The Lobero chose Oct. 1 as the concert’s rescheduled date, but then came COVID-19, wiping out concerts for the remainder of the year and pushing the performance date all the way to April 22, 2021.
While performing at the venue before a live audience may have to wait until next year, Ms. Tunstall will make her debut at the Lobero at noon Saturday with an online pay-per-view event: “Live from the Lobero with KT Tunstall.”
At the start of the year, she would have found it hard to believe that her first Lobero concert would be via live streaming with no live audience. But Ms. Tunstall jumped at the opportunity when the venue approached her about doing it.
Like just about all who perform live music for a living, Ms. Tunstall said being relegated to playing music online is frustrating, since more often than not “it looks crap and it sounds crap.”
“Live from the Lobero” stood out as a chance to perform online in high quality.
“I was really hungry for some opportunities to do this in a really high quality, experiential way that makes people feel that they’re having a night out,” she told the News-Press this week.
Ms. Tunstall’s will be the second pay-per-view concert the venue has done since the pandemic began. Once live performances were canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus, Lobero Theatre Foundation executive director David Asbell met with producer and director Byl Carruthers about setting up pay-per-view events for the venue to make money while it can’t hold live events.
On June 28, famed Montecito singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins played the Lobero’s first pay-per-view show with a few of his bandmates. This was a bit of a deviation from Mr. Asbell and Mr. Carruthers’ original concept of an artist performing solo, but the “Footloose” singer insisted on having a few musicians join him so he could perform whatever songs he wanted.
Ms. Tunstall’s performance, on the other hand, will be in the original spirit of “Live from the Lobero.”
“KT’s concert, we’re excited about because it’s in line with our original concept, and it’s really awesome to be able, on our second one, to have someone come out and take on the artistic challenge of doing a solo performance,” Mr. Carruthers said.
Ms. Tunstall is no stranger to performing solo.
Her concerts frequently feature sections where she takes the stage alone with an acoustic guitar, lays down rhythms with percussion instruments, and generates sound effects by pounding the body of her guitar and clapping her hands. She loops these sounds using pedals so they repeat as she tears into renditions of songs like “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See.”
She told the News-Press this method of playing solo is rewarding for both her and her audience.
“There’s something extremely empowering about playing solo, and I think it sort of delights audiences because often they haven’t seen someone do a one-woman show before,” she said.
That said, she does love having the company of her bandmates.
“I wouldn’t want to choose between the two, because playing solo is a very intimate affair, but rocking out with a band, there’s nothing like it,” she said.
When she takes the stage at the Lobero on Saturday, Ms. Tunstall will play a similar set list to that she would have played had she been able to perform in January.
Mixing songs from her back catalogue with a cover tune and “a few mashups,” the set will feature a considerable number of songs from “Wax,” her sixth and latest studio album released in 2018.
For Ms. Tunstall, her favorite songs to play are her latest material, and her favorite of the bunch is the physically demanding funk of “In This Body.”
“I love to play songs that make me sweat,” she said.
She also highlighted the album’s opening riff rocker “Little Red Thread” as “a really poignant song for this time,” with lyrics about being connected to one another.
“Wax” is the second in a trilogy of albums dedicated to “soul, body, and mind,” a trilogy that started with “Kin” in 2016. With the soul and body records finished, Ms. Tunstall is currently at work on the trilogy’s final album dedicated to mind.
Just as the heavier rock-and-roll feel of “Wax” differs greatly from the laid-back acoustic stylings of “Kin,” the trilogy’s currently untitled third record will differ greatly from its two predecessors. According to Ms. Tunstall, producing a “cerebral” sounding album dedicated to the mind will likely involve string sections.
“We’ve done a string session for one of the first songs, and I think strings are going to play a part in this next album,” she said.
Not only is the next album shaping up to be musically different from her past output, but its creation has been a departure from her usual songwriting process. Whereas she usually works on music and lyrics simultaneously, the next record’s songs are currently fully formed pieces of music missing lyrics. Ms. Tunstall also anticipates the lyrics of her upcoming album will be different from those of its predecessors, as they need to fit into a different unifying theme.
Rather than feeling constrained by this limitation on her lyrics, the singer-songwriter welcomes it. Working within restrictions is an ethos that she brings to making music as a whole.
“I’ve always believed limitation breeds creativity … In general, I don’t really enjoy working in really big, fancy studios,” she said.
When 2020 started, Ms. Tunstall had around 200 live gigs planned including a tour with Hall & Oates, which has been delayed to next year. Reflecting on the scant opportunities for performing live amid the pandemic, Ms. Tunstall said that one silver lining is improved engagement with her fans.
Being at home more has meant she’s had more time to connect online with fans through the website Patreon, and personally answer letters that fans write and send to her P.O. box in Topanga Canyon.
“I feel like the hostess of a really great party and I offer some snacks and some booze and people really get on and have a great time,” she said.