UCSB alumni band, The Fire Department, celebrated the release of their brand new music video and their second EP, “Underwater,” at Velvet Jones in downtown Santa Barbara on Thursday, April 3. The band’s first ever sold-out show featured opening performances by DECORATOR, Freakin’ on Speakers and Strangers You Know, up-and-coming bands that all hail from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

By the time The Fire Department hit the stage at 10:30 p.m., the house was packed and ready for a great time, with ecstatic fans of all ages dancing hand-in-hand and singing along to the tunes. It was an exciting showcase of local talent, with The Fire Department delivering a fun and uplifting performance well-worth the price of admission.

The Fire Department moves between rock, funk, reggae and soul — making every song nearly impossible not to move to.

“We like to switch it up … if you haven’t noticed that already,” saxophonist, vocalist and keyboardist Joe Farey told the audience. Farey’s wild keyboard and sax solos elevated the band’s sound and added a touch of unpredictability and style.

The impressive opening acts offered a fusion of genres, reminiscent of alternative rock bands like My Morning Jacket, Girls, Arcade Fire and Matt & Kim, at times with a funkier or a softer edge. I was particularly impressed with Strangers You Know, who had a fresh and unique sound, emphasizing synth and keyboard. All of the openers helped get the party started and the crowd fired up for the headliner.

After The Fire Department’s commanding opening number, they surprised the audience with a groovy, rock ‘n’ roll cover of MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” and, later, a cranked up reggae version of Radiohead’s “Karma Police.” The band showed off their smoother, sexier R&B side when they performed the first tune off of their new EP. The track, “So High” (“You drive me so insane / When you kiss my neck and do your thing”) along with a slower song, “Groovin’ On,” from their first EP, brought couples close together on the dance floor.

What stood out most about the performance was the group’s energetic stage presence and showmanship. All of the musicians were grinning, moving and constantly feeding off of the audience’s energy. They were clearly being themselves, relaxed and having a great time on stage — especially during the solo “battle” between Farey and guitarist Kevin Harvey. Zeal Levin, the lead singer, not only brought a powerful and melodic voice to the mix, but also engaged the crowd between songs and helped make the show a real performance, rather than just a run-through of a set list.

The Fire Department has come a long way from playing local garages and backyards, to winning UCSB’s “Battle of the Bands” in 2012 (and getting to open for Snoop Dogg at Extravaganza), to releasing a second EP and booking major venues throughout California. Their upbeat, versatile sound and fun, crowd-pleasing performances have made them one of the most beloved and enduring of the Isla Vista bands.

You can check out The Fire Department’s new EP, “Underwater,” on their Facebook page and keep an eye out for upcoming shows at The New Parish in Oakland, SLO Brew in San Luis Obispo and SOhO Music Club in Santa Barbara.


A version of this story appeared on page 10 of Thursday, April 17, 2014′s print edition of the Daily Nexus.