Getting Close with the Tearaways

By Steven Libowitz   |   June 25, 2024
The Tearaways open the Concerts in the Park series on June 27 (courtesy photo)

Concerts in the Park is a long-cherished Santa Barbara institution, a summertime frolic featuring free live music on the Great Meadow in Chase Palm Park along Santa Barbara’s waterfront on Cabrillo Blvd. The gently-sloping hill facing the permanent concrete stage (often the setting for weddings and other private functions) provides sensational sightlines and surroundings with palm trees and ocean views, and there’s even a designated dancing area in front of the stage. 

No wonder thousands show up for each show in the annual series that began back in 2000. 

But despite its longevity and popularity, the concert series isn’t nearly as established as the first act appearing this summer. That would be the Tearaways, the power popsters who have been making music together in town since the early 1980s, and still play many of their gigs locally despite an international reputation. The truth is, their sound – a high-energy, harmony-filled double dose of vocals with twin guitars, bass, and drums, described as British Invasion meets the California Sound with a touch of the Ramones, Clash, and Blondie – hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years, although perhaps the subject matter has matured along with the band.

“We play with this youthful vibe, the angst of a young person,” said John Finseth, aka Fin, who has spearheaded the band with fellow locals Greg Brallier and David Hekhouse since 1989. “We still sing hard, and hit the strings hard. But I think our songwriting has improved, we’re not still singing about our first girlfriends in high school.”

What has also changed is the drummer, when, after a hand injury sidelined the band’s original drummer, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Clem Burke, the longtime stick-man of Blondie, signed on in 1997 after hearing the Tearaways when they were both on a bill at a club in Malibu. 

“He told us, ‘You guys (Fin and Greg) sing unbelievably! How do you do that? I’ve never been in a band where guys can sing like that. If you want me, I’m in,” Finseth recalled, adding “It’s always been that way ever since we first sang together. It just comes out of our mouths.” 

Burke’s first gig was in Liverpool at the annual Beatles Week celebration, where the Tearaways were inducted into the event’s Hall of Fame in the mid-2000s. His first stateside show with the Tearaways came when the band last played Chase Palm for Concerts in the Park in 2018. 

The band has long counted other luminaries from the entertainment field as fans, including Tom Hanks, who Finseth said has hired the Tearaways for about 20 private gigs, and media personalities Arsenio Hall and Piers Morgan. They’ve performed and received radio airplay all over the world. But there’s something special about playing at home in front of a big hometown crowd, who likely haven’t heard a lot of tracks from their new album, And for our Next Trick. Produced by Ed Stasium (Ramones, Talking Heads, Smithereens, etc.), the album features Burke, and Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench on keyboards.

“We’re over the moon to play for all our friends in our hometown,” Finseth said. “We’ll play stuff from the new album, and songs that are going to be on a new retrospective record. There’s something from the Beatles catalog, some Hollies, and other songs that are very pop oriented. We’re just going to have a lot of fun and party.” 

Concerts in the Park used to be a full evening affair, with the bands playing two sets between 6-8:30 pm every Thursday for a full two months. For a few years, things scaled back to just a single 90-minute set over just four weeks of shows. But a fifth week has been added to the 2024 schedule, as well as a new aspect of as-yet unnamed opening acts taking the stage around 5 pm to warm up the crowd for the headliners’ 6-7:30 pm sets. 

In an all-local lineup, the Tearaways June 27 show is followed by Ventura cover band Brittney & The B-Sides (July 11), Santa Barbara’s party band perennials Area 51 (July 18), Latin jazz band Mezcal Martini (July 25) and ‘80s hard rock cover band Echoswitch (August 8). 

Blankets and chairs reserving space may be set out once staff have completed set up, usually by 11 am. Outside food and drinks are allowed and will also be available for purchase, but alcohol is prohibited. As with all public parks, Chase Palm is smoke- and vape-free. Please also leave pets at home.  



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