ALO :: 07.29.04 :: Wild Wild West Gambling Hall and Hotel :: Las Vegas, NV

ALO rolled through Las Vegas like a flaming tumbleweed on July 29, ripping off a fiery-hot poolside show at the Wild Wild West Gambling Hall and Hotel, followed two nights later by a sweet and lowdown acoustic get-together at the Mercury Lounge in Goleta, California. The close-knit quartet of Steve Adams (bass), David Brogan (drums), Zach Gill (keys-vocals), and Dan Lebowitz (guitar), masterfully and playfully cranked out two creatively diverse and eclectically effective performances, showcasing a vast repertoire of original material and an energetic passion rarely seen on the mainstream music scene.

David Brogan
After completing a successful run of dates in the untapped musical hotbed of Utah, ALO strutted into Vegas to play their trademark grooves free of charge for one and all. Once the sun disappeared, the round moon rose above the desert palms and temperatures finally dipped below 100 degrees. Further proving that night time is the right time; ALO squeezed out two jam-packed sets from the confines of a tiny outdoor stage in a fashion that certifies their evolution as a band to watch closely.

The night rang with funkified, uplifting, danceable songs, full of tales true and tall, with lyrics that are accessible, honest, emotional, and hilariously true to life. A mellower-than-usual "Valentine's Day" kicked things off, a cynical rap about the benefits of being stranded with your best friends while wannabe couples endure a meaningless holiday. The opener built to an explosive ending, and ALO cruised into "Country Camper," a redneck-flavored harmony that tells us "sometimes the dream is better than the real thing." This is a fairly new song that has come a great way in recent performances, with all four members of the band doing an improvised multipart harmony that punctuated the end of the song.

Steve Adams
As smoke rose from the oil barrel grills behind the cloverleaf-shaped pool, a spiritual "BBQ" was underway, and the fan favorite about the sacrificial burning of unfulfilled dreams was perfectly suited for the city in which it was played. Lebowitz infused this and every number with prototype guitar licks from his personally customized Takamine six-string, laying down some jazzy, funky, electric licks. Lebowitz can also sit pretty with his lap steel guitar--another homemade creation--though it was a rare sight in Vegas as the guitar craftsman was often tapping on a set of bongos that he had next to him. The tandem of Lebowitz and keyboardist Gill provided incredible melodies to each song, and Gill often busted out his trusty ukulele, finding a nice contrast to his wildly effusive work on the keys. Gill smoothly handled the majority of the lead vocals, though all four members of ALO can belt. Drummer Brogan soulfully led the way on the life anthem "Walls of Jericho," the cosmic kidnapping of "Aliens," and the college romp of "Isla Vista Song," letting his rhythm shine through his voice as it echoed from his drums. As usual, bassist Adams was content to stand as the rhythmic backbone for his three friends, connecting their mad creations with pulsing bass lines and finding plenty of spots to bump out some solo jams.

With hardly any sound check, playing from a tiny, makeshift stage, ALO treated Vegas to the majority of their remarkable Time Expander CD. They mixed well-known grooves with fresh material like the effervescent "Plastic Bubble," an infectious song that blends bouncy rhythms with catchy string work from Lebowitz and Gill (on the ukulele). ALO's seize-the-day mantra "Time Is of the Essence," was clearly a highlight of the first set as this Vegas version was tightly paced with an incredibly climactic finish.

As the show wound toward a vivid ending, the tricked-out "Sexo y Drogas" was offered for encore number one, and they quickly stoked it into an erotic, intoxicating frenzy. The last song of the evening may have been the most entertaining: a soaring rendition of "Las Vegas" floated from the stage directly into the starry sky, paying tribute to the setting, a "city of dreams." After a hard night of sticky-hot work, the Animal Liberation Orchestra gathered in front of the stage and began to follow one another into the pool, the very same way they had just followed one another on an impressive musical journey.

ALO :: 07.31.04 :: Mercury Lounge :: Goleta, CA

Steve Adams & Zach Gill
After a cameo appearance Friday at Baja Bash, ALO switched gears and played a one-of-a-kind acoustic gig July 31 at Goleta's Mercury Lounge, just outside of Santa Barbara. As the finale to the July leg of an ongoing summer tour, this performance really gave the band a chance to stretch their creative legs in ways few have been lucky enough to see. ALO again brought big-time sound from a tiny stage that crammed in a bare-bones drum set for Brogan and a fretless upright bass for Adams. With no room for keyboards, Gill strapped on a sparkly red accordion to satisfy his ivory jones and worked in the sweet sounds of the ukulele from time to time. Lebowitz sat on the precipice of it all, perched on a stool, guitar in hand and sonic surprises on his mind.

Once the band announced that they were about to dive deeply into some musical experimentation, a dense crowd packed the front half of the room in anticipation of something special. Watching and listening to the first set was like taking a trip into the history of the Animal Liberation Orchestra. "Red Headed Schoolgirl" served as a sultry opener, seductively perking up the ears of those in the back who thought they were just going to chill and have a few drinks with their friends. This song was highlighted by some amazing vocal harmony from each member of ALO, and one can only hope it stays in their rotation.

"Michael Was a Man" was next, an unforgettable yarn about a true country bumpkin who "drinks moonshine, sniffs glue, and forgets to poo;" you know you've always wanted to write a song like that. The straightforward bluegrass cover "Rocky Top" showed just how far and wide the band's influences range, as the tune was filled with Smoky Mountain flair. More craziness ensued as the boys busted out with an epic and youthful composition called "The Garden Suite," written by Adams, Gill, and Lebowitz (aka LAG) when they were in high school. The band spun out an oddly effective collection of musical stories about magical and resilient household insects ("Spin Spider Spin," "Ants," "Camilla (The Golden Worm)," and "The Gardener") with childishly psychedelic instrumentals on the front and back ends. The audience took it all in with wide eyes, bright smiles, and a few chuckles. A completely unexpected acoustic cover of "Immigrant Song" crept out, with each ALO member enjoying the enviable opportunity to wail like Robert Plant in front of a live audience. After such a mesmerizing moment--for themselves and for the Mercury crowd--ALO wrapped up their first set with "Plastic Bubble," and sure enough, every head in the room was bouncing in rhythm to this pleasure-inducing acoustic treatment.

Using the first-set closer as foreshadowing, Animal Liberation Orchestra moved into their newer and more recognizable material in the second set, and these songs were practically reinvented in this acoustic setting. Familiar songs such as "Hot Tub," "Valentine's Day," "Time Is of the Essence," and "Sexo y Drogas" were performed in unfamiliar ways, with Lebowitz and Gill often playing notes and filling pockets that normally emanated from the absent keyboards. This was true musical versatility in action, and the rhythm section was filling in mightily as well. Brogan's stripped-down drum kit gave him room to play with his alternative percussive playthings, and he even grabbed an acoustic guitar when the time was right.

The house got quiet for another out-of-the-blue cover, as ALO began to channel Van Morrison for "Into the Mystic," which was met with zealous appreciation from the audience. Before the crowd could catch their breath, Lebowitz settled down with his lap steel guitar and stepped through a letter-perfect "Sleepwalk," a haunting instrumental made famous by the late Ritchie Valens. Soon enough, Gill whispered lyrics from "La Bamba" into his microphone, Brogan chimed in with the chorus of "Oh Donna" and Adams began the wolfish cries of "Ritchie!"--a nod more to Esai Morales the actor than to Valens the dearly departed rock star.

This highly entertaining interplay led to a fantastic bit of vocal improvisation from ALO. Starting with a bluesy rendition of "16 Tons" from Lebowitz, they began a medley of several songs, using their voices as instruments in a whirlwind sampling of tunes including; "Proud Mary," "How Bizarre," and "Dream On," to name a few. This was quite a strange spectacle, something one could picture the band doing on the many long road trips they make from city to city.

As 1:00 a.m. passed and 2:00 a.m. lurked, the band had achieved much-needed acoustic freedom and decided to let things unravel a bit. Gill and his mates talked about the experience they had just shared onstage, the recent tour of Utah and their rocking Vegas show. "Las Vegas" was immediately requested, and instead of rehashing it, ALO allowed the audience to participate with some of their own one-word descriptions of Sin City. "Cha-Ching," "Fantastic" and "Supercalifragilistic" were laced into a nice vocal jam in the middle of the song, and Gill jumped the tracks and ran away with the full chorus of the "Mary Poppins" theme to the delight of the exhausted crowd. Quickly segueing back into "Las Vegas," the band pushed their energy limits into the red before finally stopping as they broke curfew and satiated the crowd.

Animal Liberation Orchestra will be picking up their summer tour Friday, August 6, at Henfling's Tavern near Santa Cruz, with stops at Sustainable Grassfest in Tahoe and Solfest in August. At the end of the month they will do a post-Jack Johnson show at Shattuck Down Low in Berkeley, and since Johnson is a guest on ALO's new CD, a few surprises could be in store that night. If you happen to live in Colorado don't miss ALO on Labor Day weekend at Jazz Aspen, which will also feature David Byrne and Soulive.

Jason Head
JamBase | California
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[Published on: 8/5/04]

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