The Scene: The light from the large windows on the church turned venue known as eTown Hall poured out into the pitch black Boulder neighborhood Sunday night for a sold out eTown show with ALO and Kate Earl. The fact that the crowd inside was largely made up of gray haired couples and a few families with younger kids came as a bit of a surprise to me. The chairs in the middle of the room filled first and then the wooden church pews along the sides as people came to watch the recording of a radio program that will air on over 300 radio stations nationwide and across the world via Podcast.
The Show: The night began with the usual metering of applause for the recording and information about eTown. After that was out of the way Brushfire recording artist Animal Liberation Orchestra (more commonly referred to as ALO) took to the evenly lit stage littered with microphone stands. The California foursome began playing together in Junior High, and with the exception of changing drummers a few times, have stuck together ever since. Their popularity took off when the band began playing while attending college at UCSB in Santa Monica and has continued to grow in the years since. They kicked the night off with “Dead Still Dance,” the first of many songs from their new album Sounds Like This.
While Dan Lebowitz was a standout the entire evening on an acoustic guitar with a magnetic pick-up, there was nothing acoustic about his tone or the way he played. His driven lead runs made the songs for me. On the second song of the night, “Storms And Hurricanes,” Lebowitz switched to Lap Steel and lead singer Zach Gill took up the Uke. The sound was so crisp it had a “high definition” feel to it. The folks at eTown have obviously put a lot of thought into the acoustics of the room and the sound gear.
After the second song, Gill and Lebowitz stood with smiles as host Nick Forster talked with them about their history and the party nature of their music. Gill said that their goal with their most recent record was to keep the party mood going throughout the entire record and I have to imagine this must have felt a bit odd to say in front of a crowd who was seated and motionless most of the night. Their music was fun, but eTown isn’t ever meant to be a party, and there was nothing they could have done to change that. After a few laughs with Nick, the guys played the third song of the evening from Sounds Like This, “Speed of Dreams.”
After an interview with author Terry Tempest Williams, the Alaskan singer-songwriter Kate Earl and her band started with the title track from her new album Stronger. The song started slow and bare, lead by Earl’s excellent voice, and as it picked up her abilities as a pop singer really shined. This was followed by the much more driven and catchy “One Woman Army” where she invited the eTown house band, The eTones, to join her.
After two songs, Kate sat down with Nick Forster and they discussed her Alaskan upbringing. She shared that “One Woman Army” was written about her two year old son and talked about her “healer” that is a bit of a mentor to her. A standout of the second portion of her set came with a song written by band Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt entitled “Loyalty.” The song, like much of her work, was centered around the singer’s smooth voice with minimum instrumentation. Earl finished her set with the bubblegum pop “California” which honestly left a bit of a stale taste in my mouth but I’m sure there will plenty of people that will find the anthem a favorite.
Following Kate Earl’s set, ALO came back to out to play three more songs beginning with the funky party narrative “Blew Out The Walls.” “Big Appetite” followed and they wrapped up with Gill standing up and flipping on a toy disco ball on his keyboard for a spirited “Barbecue.” The crowd clapped along and bobbed their heads during what was the high point of the evening.
As is customary, the last song of the evening was a collaboration featuring both guest artists and The eTones. It wasn’t evident at first but, as soon as the words “Left a good job in the city…” left Kate Earl’s mouth, everyone knew we were hearing a killer rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.”
Stage Presence: B
Set/Light Show: B