There’s a reason the Dirty Bourbon River Show is not called the Dirty Bourbon River Band. This combination of high-energy traditional New Orleans jazz, Gogol Bordello-level punk rock and circus is all about the live experience, and there’s no way that recordings can really do it justice.
Yet somehow DBRS has cranked out 10 studio albums—and they only started in 2009. It was in 2011 that the members quit their jobs and hit the road for seven months of the year, making the project their full-time gig. It’s been a prolific project ever since.
Remarkably, it’s only now that the group has considered what should have been the most obvious decision from day one: a live album.
“Not sure if it’s going to happen yet, but we’ve been talking about it. Our live show is really our pride,” says bassist Matt Thomas. “Trying to capture that energy is something we’re going to try to do.”
In the meantime, DBRS has made the exact opposite: a slickly produced concept album. The new record, The Flying Musical Circus, was released in April, the group’s first release since 2015’s Important Things Humans Should Know. Previously, they had released nine albums in a shade under seven years. This one took a bit longer.
It’s an entirely different album for the New Orleans five-piece. Still drawing from the same influences—funk, jazz, punk, circus music, blues, big band brass—and utilizing primarily horns, drums and an accordion, the members, for the first time, slowed down and focused on each and every part.
“The producer we worked with, he really pushed us, he pushed our boundaries a bit. We put everything under the microscope,” Thomas says.
The songs bounce around from genre to genre, which has been DBRS’ thing since the beginning. They made the decision to embrace the music of their city, while simultaneously subverting it with a manic energy and irreverence to tradition. Not to mention being the craziest act in town. “You just throw everything into it,” says Thomas. “It was like a raucous crazy party.”
There’s a narrative story on The Flying Musical Circus, which lead singer Noah Adams wrote, and it taps into the sadness of life. He sings from the perspective of a party animal, “a challenging human being,” Thomas says. He searches for meaning and redemption. It gets pretty dark at times. (“All my friends are dead/Or lost their mind from shooting smack/And every woman that I’ve loved/Now hates my guts, won’t call me back.”)
For an ensemble that sees itself as a show, releasing a concept album is an interesting decision. Thomas sees the vibe of the album as a commentary on the progress of the group itself. In the early days, everyone went in so deep that they all moved into a house together and basically only played music, toured and recorded. And in those early sets, they exerted every ounce of themselves every night.
“This is more of an introspective, more reflective kind of album. A lot of our other recordings are about silliness and parties and this big circus-y theatrical aspect to it. This album is taking a step back to reflect on the whole thing,” Thomas says.
The members found the experience of slowing down in the studio and dissecting the music to be refreshing. With all of the touring they’d done, and albums they’d cranked out together, the music had been about chemistry between members. Rarely did anyone get the luxury of isolating their parts, and improving the minutiae of what they were doing.
The process has altered the live show a little bit. Or maybe just getting older and having done this for a little while has changed the live show. But it’s still a show.
“We still have that party aspect to it, but we try to engage the audience a little bit more,” Thomas says. “We’re all getting a little older. We’re trying to find a balance in life. We’re real proud of this album just because of everything it’s taken to get where we are.”
INFO: 9 p.m., July 17, Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $10. 429-6994.