Animal Liberation Orchestra | SoHo | Santa Barbara, CA | 4.04.03

Photo by Jessica Scheeter
It was one of those days where I just couldn’t find any spring in my step. The kind of day where you wonder, “What would it take to get me going?” It was Friday, April 4th and the answer lie just around the corner at SoHo, where I was about to see Animal Liberation Orchestra.

I’ve seen ALO several times over the course of my four years in Santa Barbara. They’ve always been one of the staples of our music scene, since they have a lot of roots in this town. Their performances have been consistently enjoyable every time but had yet to strike the chord of greatness as far as I was concerned. As Friday night’s show approached, I could sense that things were about to change.

ALO consists of Zach Gill on keys, Dan Liebowitz on guitar, Steve Adams on bass, and the newest member, Dave Brogan on drums. Right from the get-go it was apparent that they came to play. The second song of the show was a cover of the Eddie Harris masterpiece “Freedom Jazz Dance,” an amazing composition covered by a range of groups including Miles Davis, Legion of Mary, String Cheese Incident and countless others. ALO absolutely owned it, injecting this classic with a sprightly swing that made the dance floor bounce and barriers shatter. The interplay during this song made it clear why this night was destined to explode and why the band has taken a big leap forward: these guys are really listening to each other!

I was impressed with how all four band-members have their roles so down. Steve Adams is a solid anchor, always keeping the groove firmly grounded. His enthusiasm never fails to bring a smile to my face. Dave Brogan possesses a sweet blend of finesse, power, and instinct. He adds nice little flares here and there and brings his strong vocal abilities to a few songs, really stretching the band’s sound. Dan Liebowitz has evolved into a monster guitar player. He plays a Takamine acoustic which is rigged to sound like an electric hollow-body. Dan lets the music flow right through him, bringing a dynamic quality to ALO by balancing his approach between funky rhythms and psychedelic jazz inflections to full-on rock meltdowns. Last but certainly not least is Zach Gill, the musical leader of the band. He is a star with the instrumental and vocal talents to help carry this band to lofty heights. Zach specializes in the funk, milking various synth effects like old-school Herbie Hancock (even piloting a couple minutes of “Chameleon” during their calypso-fusion highlight “Karma Police”). He is very versatile though, as we were shown by his use of SoHo’s baby grand which he played beautifully and integrated nicely into several songs. What I feel makes Zach extra special, though, is his compellingly unique voice accompanied with impressive songwriting. This combination, along with the instrumental prowess of the whole band, yields a unit with a hell of a lot of potential.

One of the best measures I find for judging the impact of a particular show is how many times the force of the music leaves me no choice but to thrust my hands straight to the sky. This phenomenon occurred several times at SoHo, largely thanks to Dan’s soaring solos which were truly epic, oozing with spontaneity. Everyone on stage was clearly feeling every note and their exuberance spilled onto the audience as the vibe in the room totally caught fire. People were utterly throwing down on the dance floor. The jams were so hot at points that I literally felt like ripping my clothes off!

The peak of the show happened near the end of the first set when ALO played a triumphantly mind-blowing version of “Time is of the Essence,” the first track on their latest album Time Expander. The jam traversed tantalizingly trancey terrain, gaining momentum until culminating in a bone-rattling orgasmic climax. When I landed back on Earth I felt like I had just been plugged directly into “the source.” I couldn’t even communicate for most of the set break.

ALO recently returned from an extensive tour in the Hawaiian Islands, and it is obvious that it paid off huge. Thanks to their extraordinary manager/booking agent/promoter Jenna, Animal Liberation Orchestra has been creating vortexes in more and more beautiful locales lately. Most of the band is based in the Bay Area, so I’m sure those of you up there will have an opportunity to see them soon, if you haven’t yet. Fortunately for those of us in Santa Barbara they are playing on Saturday, April 19th in Isla Vista’s Anisqu’Oyo Park, a free performance in honor of Earth Day. Also look out for Animal Liberation appearances around JazzFest and High Sierra. They are a fresh breath for the jam scene, with the crossover abilities to go as far as they want. Thank goodness for all this spectacular music in our lives.

Peace and Love,

Tyler Blue
JamBase | Santa Barbara
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 4/22/03]

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