Animal Liberation Orchestra Rescues School of Phish Fans in Santa Barbara
ALO knew this was a special night and threw down one funky song after another, as is their trademark, keeping the dance party grooving for some three plus hours on a night that no one wanted to end.
There are certain nights in a band’s touring year that will stand out due to the particular circumstances surrounding the show, whether it be the setting or the timing or sometimes both. Santa Barbara was already bracing for one of the town’s biggest shows in recent memory when Phish announced their fall tour would stop for two nights at the beautiful Santa Barbara Bowl on October 21-22. The ante was upped when it was later announced that Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe would play a matching pair of “official Phish aftershow parties” at the SoHo club downtown.
But the aftershow situation was thrown into flux when ace saxman Denson was suddenly called up to the premier league by none other than the Rolling Stones to sub for an ailing Bobby Keys on the Stones’ fall tour in Australia and New Zealand. What would SoHo do? There were going to be a veritable school of Phish fans in town looking for late night action to keep the party going. Enter the Animal Liberation Orchestra to save the day. The Bay Area band was an appropriate pinch-hitter, having roots in Santa Barbara and being well-known on the West Coast jam rock circuit for their own festive late night parties.
ALO lead guitarist Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz was riding some serious big league mojo of his own, having turned 40 just a week before with a celebratory concert where he played with the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh at Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads club in San Rafael. There was no doubt Lebo was primed to crush it here, because when you’re playing to an audience of notorious party animals there is no other choice. The show was completely sold-out, with fans lining up out the door to try and get into what was clearly the place to be.
There was an extremely festive vibe in the house on the first night due to fallout from a “Human Disco Ball Experiment” that fans had attempted at the Phish show. Attendees had been encouraged to wear silvery sparkleware in an attempt to form a human disco ball of sorts at the show. It didn’t quite reach critical mass at the Santa Barbara Bowl with some 4,500 people in attendance, but it seemed everyone involved was present at SoHo afterward to give the club quite a psychedelic ambiance. ALO appeared to be in on the experiment as well, with the stage adorned in the appropriate sparkle decor and the band in high spirits. Lebo even acknowledged the ongoing mojo by throwing in a hot jam on the Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider” that had the club rocking out.
The second night was at an even higher level, across the board. Phish stepped up their game by delivering a show for the ages (after a rather standard first night), opening with Bob Marley’s “Soul Shakedown Party” and then throwing in an unprecedented “Soul Shakedown” reprise teaser during the stunning “Antelope” encore. It capped a gem of a show where the band’s Jedi mastery of the tonal sciences was at its finest. This set the stage for another festive aftershow party with ALO back at SoHo.
Keyboardist Zach Gill played ringmaster, wearing what looked like some kind of buffalo head as he MC’d throughout the night while laying down big grooves on organ and piano. Bassist Steve Adams was in particularly fine form, helping to generate some deep “hose” jams with drummer David Brogan (suggesting they’ve been studying Phish all these years along with the rest of the audience.) Lebo meanwhile was on fire, tearing up the guitar with scintillating leads all night. “Falling Dominoes” from the band’s 2012 Sounds Like This release was an early highlight, a groovy upbeat jam encapsulating the band’s feel good vibe. Smiles were everywhere and the psychedelic light show made SoHo feel like an intergalactic hotspot.
“Phish came to Santa Barbara, I didn’t think it was gonna happen, they finally pulled it off,” said Gill at one point in cheerful surprise. His sentiments echoed that of the entire Phish community, for it seemed a long shot when the rumors first surfaced. The Santa Barbara Bowl was the smallest venue the jam rock titans have played since returning to the stage in 2009, like a fiery Phoenix out of ancient mythology (following the band’s untimely 2004 breakup). It was also one of the most beautiful venues the band has ever played, with tiered outdoor seating surrounded by trees and featuring a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean from up top.
ALO knew this was a special night and threw down one funky song after another, as is their trademark, keeping the dance party grooving for some three plus hours on a night that no one wanted to end. A deep psychedelic jam on “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things” was a fitting treat, acknowledging the rare and special appearance of Phish at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Another jam touched on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, with Gill tickling the keys in a way that recalled the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”. Like Phish, ALO have mastered the classic rock song book and it gives them the ability to throw in a wide variety of sonic flavors as the mood strikes them.
The show peaked out toward the end with a stellar rendition of Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” that had the entire crowd singing along for a feel-good jam that was oh so fitting on a night like this one. Lebo stepped to the fore once again to shred some deep melodic blues on the classic tune, pushing the surging energy level into the red. When the show ended around 1:30 am, fans spilled out into what was still a gorgeous balmy evening and clear starry night in one of America’s most beautiful cities. Life was good indeed.