A.L.O. Sends Denver Wild
“The Bluebird smells like vomit even before people get here.”
I wound easily through the open floor of the empty venue and ducked my head below the black velvet curtain to the side, following the small engineer leading me back stage. Later I watched him give short, sharp twists to knobs on the sound board and wondered at what age he got his ear pierced, and when you have to make a conscious decision to keep that piercing in.
Engineer bees tumbled up the stairs from the basement and we headed down, the tight bare ceiling coming low before taking a corner. I waited back a step and listened to the walls as he flashed vague hand signals to the band and motioned me forward. The room I stepped into was no larger than an average kid’s bedroom, counters along the right, the dimensions long and flattened out like a cigarette. Food waited stacked in white plastic bags and I tried to guess what was inside.
I offered to wait, and realized hours later they really probably didn’t want me hanging around during dinner, so we did the interview now. Jenna, the band’s manager, hurriedly cleared the painted counter space behind me and I squeezed into a corner six inches away from Steve; Lebo folded up under the stairs on a couch across to my right, Dave punching mentally away on a laptop in a beanie, and Zach scraping a metal tub out from under the counters to sit on.
This is one of those things that you don’t see as a fan. The tiny back room that great musicians are forced to sit in. The wedding rings on three of the four hands (unless you’re particularly observant at a show); the fact that are twelve, three, two, and one-year-olds at home that very moment doing something with a dad on the road, and I wonder what it must be like to have musicians for parents. I wonder how they’ve done it for the last fourteen years, touring California and across the country. How you make family life balance with the rigors of a band career?
“I think we’re on the slow sustainability train. It seems like it. We just keep chugging away, you know, and it grows a little bit each time” Zach offers up from his spot nearly on the ground. It gives me a quick mental image of they’ve been chugging away from for over a decade: that small perch in a place that smells like beer, a party in a basement they’ve never seen before. Animal Liberation Orchestra (called “ALO” mostly now) has played together in one form or another since high school. All of the members were sunned and grown in Santa Barbara, not straying far at all since …but why would you want to. Together or separately, they all went to UC Santa Barbara and finished—Steve and Lebo have degrees in Ethnomusicology—and live in California still with their families today. Heading north to bigger shows they still love to catch a fast gig at a bar on the coast along the way.
It may feel to them like coming home. They aren’t so far from home anyhow, but it’s a familiar place after gigs at elementary school picnics turned early on into party playing in College, and eventually the right age brought them to playing in those exact kinds of bars. By the time those gigs came around, the band’s M.O. was already well on its way to developing the long and winding jams that they put forth this night, and every other; a style built from the sheer realities of supplying music for cinema-scale nights of fun.
“We’d go for four, five, six hours (Lebo: ‘Play all night’) yeah, you play all night. And so I remember the first time when we were like freshmen and we had our band and we were playing and it was like, “Shit.” We were replaying songs and we didn’t have enough tunes. We already sort of had a lot of covers, so we just kind of opened up and were like, ‘Ok, we’re going to extend these songs and jam.” It was out of necessity…By the time we got to the bars we could fill up the whole night and so it just sort of made sense.”—Zach
Hours later as ALO pushed their set past 1 a.m. I thought back to this moment, and the sheen of sweat and their swinging dully-glassy eyes had the full-stride energy of professional athletes. This is what the band was made for, and as a fan you’re watching a marathon—not a sprint. Partying for the long haul.
I looked around myself at the increasingly wasted crowd. They’re older than I expected, and by now more than one 30-year-smoker yawning on the rails in repose at nine o’ clock has stumbled home with her fattening husband in tow. Still, it did feel like being at a party with friends, and I happily clung to that energy without knowing I had missed it in the first place.
The night hit full-tilt for the first time when the first set ended with “BBQ”. Reaching the end of the jammed-out version, Dave’s usually stoic face was shining. Grinning in a grimace he threw his hair and cracked the ride hub over and over, beating out the ending with a joy that came from somewhere from childhood. The band promised to be back in 5 minutes as Zach encouraged the crowd to “Pace yourselves and be gentle”. In that time, the party vibe of the concert only grew. It was like we weren’t here to see a show, but just hanging out at someone’s house. A bunch of friends, having a good time.
When the band re-entered the stage 30 minutes later, Zach sat and admitted he’d been wrong about the break (“There are just certain things I’m programmed to say to crowds.”), and lifted a light-up toy voice changer to his lips to sing the intro lines to “Cowboys and Chorus Girls”. From here, the music only grew in passion. The band played on into the night; Lebo, ever-fussy about his effects, turned knobs with the outside of his right foot across his body, and the hours under the lights watched the band loosen and grow, creating better and better effervescent jams. If you didn’t know how much work went into this very moment, you’d think the whole thing was easy. Maybe it’s the softness with which they approach the whole thing—the way they’re doing this as much for their own delight as that of the fans. Or that they’ve cracked the code to living a good life as musicians, with both family time and time on the road. Whatever the balance they found, it’s working.
I walked out of the Bluebird with that feeling after you have a really fantastic meal, or really great sex. You’re giddy, and lazy but energized to your bones. Like you just want to say something stupid and kiss someone. The feeling lasted the whole way home, and it hadn’t gone when I woke up the next day. Seeing ALO at the Bluebird was absolutely a night of amazing musical skill, but a damn load of fun as well. Overall, that persistent feeling of joy those four boys from California managed to bring was, in my book, worth the price of any admission on its own.
Photos and video by Brandon Cary and Bradley Wilson. For full concert gallery visit BrandonCaryPhotography.com.
BONUS! Watch HQ video of openers West Water Outlaws’ performance of Led Zeppelin’s “That girl I love she got long wavy black hair” right here