ALO | 12.31.08 | San Francisco

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Josh Miller

ALO :: 12.31.08 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA

ALO :: 12.31 :: San Francisco
There's so much ontological weight hanging on New Year's Eve that it's hard to step outside of the expectations and backward glancing and just have a good time. Sure, it's an artificial construct, a turn of the calendar page, a night like any other. Except it isn't and pretending it is will just set you up for a cranky night while others revel around you. So, I long ago figured out that the best strategy was to focus on having some fun and on being surrounded by human beings that don't make me regret our ancestors ever crawled from the oceans and became the iPod using, automobile driving creatures we are today. If a splash of newness could also be had well all the better. These criteria in mind, I found myself a cozy stranger amongst ALO's faithful at The Independent, a man almost completely unfamiliar with their work but bitten by a smile bug each time I'd seen them perform. It was their mesmerizing, elastic exploration at this year's Las Tortugas Festival (read the review here) that brought me fully on board and made me sense that a New Year's Eve in their company might be a lovely thing. Turns out it is and then some.

While I may not know ALO I do know Dan Lebowitz (guitar, vocals) and Steve Adams (bass, vocals) through their work with Big Light and many others, and what I've found is an unshakeable, ever-stimulating musical sense in both guys. They play totally pro but also flip the script on rock and pop in a really winning way. Rarely showy and always enjoyable, their music making made me want to check out the company they keep in ALO. What I found, in very broad terms, is a band with a crazy amount of hooks, buckets of charm and talent and a slightly loopy P.O.V. that gifts their tunes with a nifty weirdo undercurrent. Take opener "Shapeshifter," for example. Ostensibly, a groovy love song but this lover's invitation exhorts, "Every now and then/ I get the feeling I'm a piece of clay/ I'm so supple/ Bend my legs anyway you want." Gumby as Romeo is just odd but no less radio ready or positively infectious than more orthodox pathways to the heart. And again and again on this auspicious night, ALO exhibited similar sleight of hand, a knowing dexterity with the mechanics of pure pop songwriting and lively, fluid jamming. Where a cut began it rarely ended and, at least for a neophyte like me, I rarely saw the twists coming. Simply put, it's exciting stuff that's not remotely hard to get into.

T. Garrod w/ ALO :: 12.31
Dressed as sharp as prosperous Prohibition-era smooths in suits and ties, the quartet – rounded out by Dave Brogan (drums, vocals) and Zach Gill (keys, lead vocals) – radiated an air of joviality that warmed and raised the room, a space just perfect for letting one know they're out at a show but not so vast they feel lost, a delightful clubhouse with great sound and lighting that's understandably becoming a fave for both local and touring acts when they hit S.F. And the place was stuffed with smiling faces, kind souls that fetched drinks from the open bar for you and said, "Excuse me" like they meant it when they stepped on your foot. The spark of this niceness clearly stems from the guys onstage, and something about their music manages to hold this light without succumbing to the sticky clichés and syrupy sentiments of so much so called "feel good music."

Some of the credit goes to their active engagement with a wide range of sounds, able to work in '70s jazz-fusion, one-drop reggae, honky tonk bop and more into what are ostensibly rock ditties. Right away, I was struck by the unforced nature of their improvisations and instrumental tangents, which moved like water on the ground, finding a way that didn't force anything, riding the natural ridges of the music, rising and falling with easy gravity. I know many tunes ran in excess of 7-10 minutes but you'd never know it by feel. Never once did I find myself looking at a clock or wondering if they'd get on with it (a feeling I inevitably experience at least a few times at most "jam" heavy events).

Such is their ease of play that guests Trevor Garrod (Tea Leaf Green), Bo Carper (New Monsoon) and Sean Leahy slid into the mix like they were lubricated – no resistance as they got into stroke. Later, the horns and guest vocalists that came up for the witching hour cover charge of "Auld Lang Syne," "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," "Baby Baby" and "Midnight Hour" (a fully understandable assortment that fit the occasion but ultimately felt a little flat by comparison to their own material and its handling) were equally excellent, but it was the chemistry and naked camaraderie of the quartet that was most compelling. It's not a dig against their visitors, who all acquitted themselves very well, but what holds the ear with ALO is how these four dudes pass the potato, moving from Gill's rough silk voice to Lebo's high wire slide work to Adams' subtle bass curves and around to Brogan's embracing beats. There's solos aplenty but it's ultimately a shared texture, a collective vibe one walks away with, a feeling of togetherness marbled into the music as a whole.

ALO :: 12.31 :: San Francisco
That said, during second set opener "Feel It," I found myself staring all moon-eyed at Lebo as notes just rolled and rolled off his guitar as long as he damn well pleased. There's something cellularly satisfying about his tone and his skill at editing and altering the flow with his nimble fingers. And really, the other three guys possess similar skill and acumen on their own instruments, but like any red blooded American boy raised on rock 'n' roll I can't help but genuflect before guitarists. I'm not proud of that, but that takes nothing away from Lebowitz's ability to knock my dick in the dirt every time I see him play, and I was right dusty after three sets on NYE.

Those three sets are worth noting because the first contained just seven selections, the second only six and the final a kingly ten. I think it may be my age (I'm officially middle aged as of a few days ago) but I have less and less patience for noodling. I want my musicians to have solid ideas and get on with executing them. I don't mind lengthy pieces but they have to do something throughout or the connection is lost for me. So, ALO managed to present a modest number of songs but imbued each with character and genuine flavor. On the surface, ALO is a touch poppier than I usually go these days but they're so damn good at snappy verses, clever bridges and all the other nuts 'n' bolts of great songwriting that they kept me tuned in despite not knowing a single song in any substantive way before this gig. It was the merits of the music and the men making it that did the job.

Sometimes we all say things we don't mean/ But that don't mean we ain't family.

In my early days with JamBase I wrote a real asshole review of ALO's Time Expander album. It was something I'd forgotten about until recently. If the guys are even aware that small, petty press came from me they've never mentioned it. But, I wanted to note it because after this NYE show I'm officially an ALO fan, and they earned that position – not an easy one to obtain I tell you – through the merits of their music. They also happen to be real sweethearts and honest freaks, which is some pretty nice icing on the cake. The sound they make was a happiness harbinger on an evening when one needs it most. I may not know all the titles but give me a little time and I'll put them to memory. And I was more than happy to eat the words my younger self coughed up as my older self welcomed in 2009. The taste was nicer than I'd imagined it would be.

ALO :: 12.31.08 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA
Set I: Shapeshifter, Stuff, Waiting for Jaden (w/ Bo Carper acoustic guitar, Lebo pedal steel), Wasting Time (Isla Vista Song), Gardener (Trevor Garrod on keys, Zach on uke), Spectrum, Walls of Jericho
Set II: Feel It (Lebo vocal), Family, Past (Brogan vocal), All Alone, Country Camper (w/ Sean Leahy), Kolomana
Set III: Auld Lang Syne, Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, Baby Baby (Rashida vocal), Midnight Hour, BBQ, Valentines Day, Faded (new Lebo tune), Oh, What a Night > Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down, Lady Loop
Encore: Water Song, Try (with a vocal song by Lebo in the jam, possibly Death Cab's "I Will Follow"), Animal Lib

Continue reading for pics of ALO and Big Light on 12/30...

Images by: Susan J. Weiand

Big Light

ALO

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Comments

pornofunk starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/9/2009 05:34PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

pornofunk

these guys are fuckin ill,

jalew Fri 1/9/2009 05:46PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

jalew

Dennis..Sue..you are killing it! Great review. Beautiful shots. Nice work.

moephishH2O starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/9/2009 06:36PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

moephishH2O

Saw ALO last year for NYE @ The Independent. I'm sure this show was equally SICK. Hope they come visit Oregon soon!

Larry Narachi Fri 1/9/2009 06:56PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Larry Narachi

Sue is the digital master of light

Falcor starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/9/2009 07:06PM
+6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Falcor

i've said it before and I will be saying it till the day that I die...I heart ALO...

iwantstogetfunkedup Fri 1/9/2009 07:37PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Great review. Great pics. Looks like a rockin ALO time to me!

OaksterDan starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/9/2009 10:03PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

OaksterDan

Dennis welcome to ALO family. I have to admit when I read your Las Tortugas review I was pissed you talked about everyone else but ALO. In my opinion ALO at Las Tortugas may be the greatest ALO shows I've seen. I too was late to the scene when it comes to ALO. My first ALO show was Moe's Alley april 2006 at the time I only liked Walls of Jericho & Wasting Time. That show at Moe's they opened up with Possible Drown, Plastic Bubble & Country Camper and after that I was hooked. I've now seen them live 18 times. This band is four very skilled musicians. I to as most american love the lead guitar I've seen some great guitarist play live like Jerry Garcia, Steve Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen, Trey Anastasio, Derek Trucks, Steve Via & Steve Kimock. Lebo can play regular guitar or sit down a blown your mind playing the slide. Dave Brogan not just a drummer he's a singer songwriter who plays guitar in his own band and just released a kick ass new album. He sings about 40% of ALO songs and the man has soul. Zach Gil not just keyboard player/singer. He plays the ukulele, accordian, melodica and the clavinet. Zach also is a singer songwriter who just released his own new killer album. I will argue that ALO hiatus has produced more good music than Phish hiatus did. Zach & Dave also have a way of personalizing the lyrics like the song Walls of Jericho for instants when were at Soho were The Santa Barbara freaks who just rolled in to town, at Yosemite were Las Tortugas freaks and at independent were San Francisco freaks. Steve Adams rocks the bass every time I see them I'm more impressed with his unique sound. He's not an in your face bass player like a Les Claypool but more of a fill in the sound and lay the backbone groove player like Phil Lesh but funkier. Steve also plays the flute on occasions. ALO incorporates allot of different styles of music jam, funk, soul, electronica, rock, blues, trance, dance, R&B & reggae it's like a musical orgy to your ears. There jams don't last 40 minutes with killer light shows and that what i like about them they can stretch good songs without killing them. Songs that last 8 to 18 minutes I like anything more is over noodling. ALO is the most fun you can have on the west coast.

crescentvale starstarstarstarstar Sat 1/10/2009 02:05AM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

crescentvale

ALO is consistently throwing down big new years out west. It would be such a mind blowing experience if they played a show like this in the midwest. The setlist looks stacked, great review & pictures.

brotherreed starstarstarstarstar Sat 1/10/2009 06:46AM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

brotherreed

Why do I love ALO?

Uh...pretty much because they're super badass, that's why!

"Everybody in the world today has got an animal you've got to liberate!!"

Wild Turkey starstarstarstarstar Sat 1/10/2009 08:29AM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Wild Turkey

Thanks for the review, very deserved. If I didn't live in Denver (stayed close to home for obvious reasons) I would have been at the independant! boy do i miss me some ALO, lets see a tour!!!!!!!!!

CoreyBauer Sat 1/10/2009 09:10AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

show was fun..

but open bar not so fun ....

in the end i mean ...

left me hurtin

echo tribe Sat 1/10/2009 10:29AM
Show -5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
cbean59630 Sat 1/10/2009 10:43AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

why won't ALO come out east....

BGA1 starstarstarstarstar Sat 1/10/2009 11:05AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Don't feel bad Dennis I never cared for these guys. Until that fateful night I found myself talking with Falcor over at the 12 Galaxies for the Golden Gate Gramble. Even though ALO didn't play that night(just Lebo) I decided to check these guys out. So over to archives I went to discover that these guys rock. I remember these guys opening for Vinyl at Palookaville in Santa Cruz back in 99 or 2000. Boy they have come a long way. I too would like to go to more of there gigs. Great fan base. So for 2009 I would have to put my money on The mother Hips,ALO, Big Light and Tea Leaf Green as being the scene for me.

Chaloupka starstarstarstar Sun 1/11/2009 08:40AM
-2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Chaloupka

Don't care much for ALO, but Big Light writes some pretty cool music.

BrewCrew420 Sun 1/11/2009 12:00PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

BrewCrew420

ALO is the deal

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} Mon 1/12/2009 04:18AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

very nice. feel good band.

I have never seen them, but I do love the albums..

sometimes they remind me of Trey.. just they way some of it is sung.

Conjugal Burning Mon 1/12/2009 10:37AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Conjugal Burning

So Boston Dan, "songs that last 8 to 18 minutes i like anything more is over noodling." Not sure what you meant there, but I am pretty sure Frank, Miles, Jerry, Omar, PHiSh, and hoards of other tremendous talents push your set time limit that defines what is a 'jam' and what constitutes as 'noodling.' Some would venture to say (myself included) that those who know how to jam are just getting warmed up at the 18 minute mark.

Smittea starstarstarstarstar Mon 1/12/2009 10:40AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Smittea

I know these words are wasted here, but..... ALO PLEASE COME BACK EAST!!!!

Laurel starstarstarstar Mon 1/12/2009 12:34PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Laurel

I love ALO wish I coulda been there - looking forward to their SoCal appearances coming up!

Way to go Dennis for your honesty about that asshole review!

Natey starstarstarstarstar Mon 1/12/2009 02:06PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Natey

Nice review.....Dennis, I was wondering if you liked these guys (after Tortugas)??? I am very glad. Susan, I was standing RIGHT next to you....well captured!!! I have been seeing these guys for a while now, but recently, after their time off, this band is hitting on all cylinders....super good shit. Wasn't at NYE, but the 30th was great....Big Light is fresh as well!!!

PooDolla Mon 1/12/2009 02:49PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

PooDolla

Not one negative post. I like that.

MyFavBandIsTheBestYoursSucks Tue 1/13/2009 01:22PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

MyFavBandIsTheBestYoursSucks

I dont really know much about this band beside the mentions on Jambase.

Time to head to the archive!

Falcor Wed 1/14/2009 10:41AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Falcor

if you are headed to the archive, might I suggest:

mayflowers 1 5-28-05

mayflowers 2 5-28-06

Mountain House NYE 12-31-06

JJBoys star Wed 1/14/2009 11:58AM
Show -3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
OttoVonC Thu 1/15/2009 01:16PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Guess Cook didn't like your band, huh JJ?