Animal Liberation Orchestra + T Sisters: 13 February 2015 - Solana Beach, CA
ALO won’t likely be skipping San Diego again any time soon if the crowd reaction on this night was any indication.
Animal Liberation Orchestra + T SistersCity: Solana Beach, CA
Venue: The Belly Up Tavern
Arist: T Sisters
There was a full house on hand at the Belly Up as Animal Liberation Orchestra’s Tour D’ Amour touched down in the San Diego region on this Friday night, the band’s first visit to the county in two years. The band acknowledged the faux pas of skipping San Diego last year early on, and received an encouraging round of cheers. Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) won’t likely be skipping San Diego again any time soon if the crowd reaction on this night was any indication.
The Belly Up tends to generate a laid back vibe, perhaps in part because the tiny dance floor is usually too crowded for people to really move at the beginning of most shows. But this crowd of animal liberation lovers was active and engaged from the start, making it clear that ALO has a strong fanbase in San Diego. The Bay Area jamrock quartet flies under the radar for many, since they generally don’t tour the eastern half of the country. But the band has been one of California’s best kept secrets for over 15 years now. And with the Northeast being pelted by another historic wave of climate change impacted blizzards, California was feeling like the place to be. ALO clearly felt the same way with the Tour D’Amour, a string of February dates that touched down in 10 of the Golden State’s finest towns.
The annual tour also has an altruistic component, with a portion of the proceeds being donated to non-profit organizations that work to bring music education to children. This year’s tour is slated to benefit the Creative Arts Charter School in San Francisco, which provides an arts-integrated education to students in the San Francisco Unified School District. It’s a great way for working musicians to give something back to their community, something that California rockers have been known for since the Grateful Dead were playing various benefit shows in the late ‘60s.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that guitarist Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz has become a semi-regular jammer with the Dead’s Phil Lesh at the legendary bassist’s Terrapin Crossroads club in San Rafael. Bassist Steve Adams has meanwhile been touring with Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, while keyboardist Zach Gill has been earning extra ducats with Jack Johnson. But when the trio joins together with drummer David Brogan, there’s a groovy California chemistry that’s undeniable.
“Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down” saw the band striking sonic gold early on with the laid back romantic number they recorded with Johnson. The crowd was so into this tune that most were singing along with the chorus, something not seen at the Belly Up in some time. The energy carried over into “Wasting Time”, with Lebowitz dialing in some sweet blues licks on his pedal steel guitar. The song references California pastimes like smoking “the kind” and listening to “Jerry and the Dead", which is all part of what makes seeing ALO feel more like watching your neighborhood pals than rock stars from some elite social stratosphere.
Another of ALO’s endearing qualities is that all four members of the quartet contribute to the lead vocals. Lebowitz took the mic for “Try”, an uplifting tune with a reggae-tinged funk groove that had the party in full swing. The band lifted the vibe higher by smoothly seguing into the Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain”, taking the classic tune for a ride through a deep psychedelic jam before returning to “Try” at the end. “Plastic Bubble” brought the high-energy set to a rousing conclusion, with Gill leading the band through a funky jam about making one’s way through a plastic world.
It was easily one of the best first sets the Belly Up has seen in the past few years, which made for a festive setbreak as fans charged up for another set out on the venue’s back patio area. “Falling Dominoes” kicked the party back into high gear with the band dialed in on a tightly syncopated groove that saw the quartet’s chemistry gelling. Another tune found the band dipping back into Grateful Dead territory with an ethereal jam that seemed to conjure visions of “The Wheel”, especially with Lebowitz delivering the blissful pedal steel licks that recalled the studio version of the classic tune.
Those who missed the opening set from the T Sisters were still rewarded with a chance to check out the Oakland-based ladies when the trio of sirens joined ALO for a surprise bustout of Abba’s “Dancing Queen”. It was a great selection as the ladies’ soaring harmonies mixed with the Belly Up’s disco ball to provide a majestic atmosphere, with the band clearly having a blast (Deadheads will also want to check out the T Sisters' outstanding acapella recording of "Attics of My Life" from their new EP Ready for Love).
A strong feminine energy surged again later in the set when the band threw down an electrifying instrumental rendition of the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” that made it feel like everyone had been transported to a mid-'80s MTV dance party. “Barbecue” was another feel good winner, with Gill singing about the power of dreams on a bouncy jam where he and Lebowitz seemed to solo in unison as the energy level soared to yet another peak.
ALO may never become a nationally known household name, but it seems like the guys in the band are just fine with keeping their liberating musical activities largely confined to the west coast. The fans also seem to enjoy having a band that is something of a homegrown Golden State secret, something special for those initiated into the laid back west coast lifestyle.