Years ago, when I was trying to decide where I wanted to go to college, I took one look at UC Santa Barbara and said, “This isn’t going to work.” How on earth would I get any studying done when I could sit in a lecture hall and be within spitting distance of the beach? I just knew I would end up dropping out to play guitar in some jam band with eight-minute songs and lyrics such as “You’re smooth and creamy, like peanut butter/ Girl, I wanna lay you down.” In short, I thought I would end up playing in a band exactly like Animal Liberation Orchestra.
ALO formed around the turn of the millennium while bassist Steve Adams, keyboardist Zach Gill, and guitarist Dan Lebowitz were students at — you guessed it — UC Santa Barbara. They built a following in the Santa Barbara area, and things really took off when their friend Jack Johnson signed them to his Brushfire label. (Gill also plays in Johnson’s band, and Johnson often shows up onstage at ALO gigs.) Soon they were opening for the likes of Dave Matthews and touring the worldwide jam-band circuit.
These days, ALO calls the Bay Area home. Their songs are a little shorter and tighter than they used to be, but they still convey that sun-baked feeling of their alma mater. That feeling frightened me when I was looking at colleges; today I wonder what I was so afraid of. I mean, jam bands aren’t really my thing, but when Lebowitz really gets going on one of his guitar solos, I could see myself being a dropout in Santa Barbara and loving every minute of it.
Animal Liberation Orchestra, Belly Up Tavern, Thursday, February 12, 9 p.m. 858-481-8140. $15.