After live music pretty much shut down for most of 2020, concerts started coming back in spring 2021.
But one beloved Phoenix band you didn't see was Ali A and the Agency.
"We're focusing on being very selective in terms of the gigs that we pick because of COVID and the Delta variant," says lead singer Ali Adkins.
But when they were asked to open for Black Joe Lewis tonight at Valley Bar, it was a really big deal. Which is why the hard rock band with funk and soul influences are finally coming back to the stage after 17 months.
"Honestly, if it wasn’t the Black Joe Lewis show, we probably wouldn’t be gigging," Adkins says. "It’s an opportunity. It’s going to be our first time opening for a real, legitimate touring act, so we can’t pass that up."
If you're not familiar with the Agency, Adkins describes it as "if Aerosmith, Prince, and Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes had a threesome, we would be the product of that threesome. We’re a rock band first, but like a gumbo pot. That’s what I love about music right now — it’s all multi-genre."
Adkins is the lead singer of the band; she's joined on stage by bassist Pedro Cortes, drummer Reggie Givens, keyboardist Jay White, and their new lead guitarist, Chris Lucas.
Playing a live show is both a source of joy and a source of anxiety for Adkins; she's been extremely careful to stay safe during the pandemic, and while she appreciates last week's statement by a number of independent music venues around Phoenix that vaccination requirements and/or negative COVID tests will soon be required, "I still would love to have seen mask requirements, because that’s the big thing, right? I would hope the audience that attends shows starts bringing their masks with them. I want the mask to be like the cellphone."
But although she's a little nervous about the health aspect of performing, she's looking forward to playing live again.
"Once the pandemic started, it was very rough on me," Adkins says. "Live music is a creative outlet; how you express yourself playing live on stage in front of an audience, it’s a euphoric feeling that cannot be captured in any other way. It’s not something you can replicate. The energy on stage is different, and to go into this reclusive, sheltered-in-place, 'can’t do what you want to do' experience was very hard for me emotionally and psychologically."
Still, she notes, she's grateful that the Agency made it through the pandemic.
"A lot of bands that were together before the pandemic took place are now no longer together," she notes. "The pandemic did two things: It made people realize what they wanted to do, truly, and it made them realize what they didn’t want to do. And the fact that AAA is still continuing to be together and withstand what’s going on with the pandemic — that’s a lot."
In fact, the band has a lot to look forward to in the coming months. The record they recorded with Bob Hoag that was supposed to come out last year will be released this winter; the music video for the rollicking, upbeat track "Take Your Picture," which came out last month, is a hilarious piece of escapism.
And if the band continues to feel safe, there will be more Agency shows, although Adkins says that no matter the state of pandemic affairs, they'll continue to be choosy about their gigs.
"We’re still being selective of shows regardless," she says. "It’s like playing the levels of Guitar Hero. I feel like a lot of artists now are just taking anything and everything just for the sake of saying they could play live, and that’s not what we’re trying to be. We’re trying to continue to grow, elevate, take things to the next level. We want to see how high this kite can fly."
Ali A and the Agency. In support of Black Joe Lewis. 8 p.m. Saturday, August 21. Valley Bar, 130 North Central Avenue. Tickets are $18 plus fees. Visit valleybarphx.com for more info.