Twenty-four. That’s how many hours are in a day. It’s the name of one of television’s most popular dramas. For the historically inclined, it’s notable as the year that King Yuri ascended to the Silla Throne. And 24 was also the number of attendees at Peter Case’s solo concert in Santa Paula last weekend.

A quick background on Mr. Case: He’s probably best-known as the front man and chief songwriter for L.A. new-wavers the Plimsouls, an underappreciated power-pop band who made a cameo in the ’80s classic teen flick Valley Girl, and had a minor hit with “Million Miles Away.” Before that, he was in another underappreciated pop band, the Nerves, and after both bands broke up, he launched a solo career that’s now more than 20 years strong.

Over the years, though, Case has moved further away from his pop material and released a string of impressive acoustic albums, two of which were nominated for Grammys, including last year’s stellar Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John. To top it off, he was once plugged in Rolling Stone magazine by one of the biggest names in music, Bruce Springsteen. All of which factored into Saturday’s turnout being extra depressing.

Perhaps it was the location. Santa Paula, with all its hidden charm, isn’t a B or secondary market for touring artists, it’s more like a D and E market, as in Doesn’t Exist. That certainly has something to do with the night’s draw and it’s a shame because the venue, the Santa Paula Theater Center, is exceptionally cool.  Nestled off Main Street between a park, a bank and an actual neighborhood, the venue has been around in one form or another since 1917. This may explain why the building, with its vaudevillian turn-of-the-century feel, pretty much screams out to you … haunted.  My suspicions on the ghost matter were confirmed in no time when reading in the connecting lobby/make-shift pub that it’s a stop on the Haunted Santa Paula Tour. This by no means made me feel good about sitting alone in the upstairs balcony surrounded by dusty stage props usually reserved for the community theater that inhabits the venue.

The night started with a short but colorful set from Crosby Tyler, who looks a lot like ACDC’s Brian Johnson but played a set similar to Case’s about sad clowns, lost relatives and the classic balladeer’s subject-rambling. After a short intermission in the lobby area, Case took the stage with that ever-popular former rocker, now cool, old man look: jeans, black hat, suit jacket, goatee and boots.

Case played a loose set touching on all aspects of his career but relying heavily on more recent blues-based beat folk. He took requests for his older pop material, played a gorgeous, reverb-heavy cover of Hendrix’s “May This Be Love,” did some folky blues standards and regaled the audience with a few stories, including a touching reading from his recently published memoirs, As Far As You Can Get Without A Passport.

It was as inspiring a set as one can get when staring down a quarter-full room in the middle of nowhere, and his between-songs obligatory “It’s good to be back in Santa Paula” statement got the laugh of the night. Despite Case’s engaging show and how cool the venue was, it all made for a bittersweet night. Perhaps if it were in a more populated town in a more prominent location, like Zoey’s in Ventura, it would have been a different story turnout wise, and to be fair a $25 ticket in these economic times is tough to justify. Still, with a four-decade career, countless great records, a critically acclaimed book and Grammy nods, Case deserved better than this. He played it off like the pro that he is, but you could tell he was aware of it as much as the audience was. The real winners of the night were the 24 appreciative audience members who got to see an evening of what local singer-songwriter and audience member Frank Barajas summed up as, “Peter Case playing in a David Lynch movie.” 

chris@armyoffreshmen.com