ALO (photo: Joshua Huver)
ALO, or Animal Liberation Orchestra, the four-piece funk-jam and feel-good groove machine from the San Francisco Bay Area “blew out the walls” of Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz, CA on Friday night. The two-set deep-dive through their catalog (including brand-new additions) served as an excellent warm-up to their headlining set at the Petaluma Music Festival on Saturday.
While the band came into what it is today while students at UC Santa Barbara, their friendship began as middle schoolers just over the hill from Santa Cruz in Saratoga, CA. Throughout the set they reminisced on growing up around the area and their love for the magic conjured.
They opened the first set with a relic. “Country Camper,” a 2007 iTunes bonus track accompanying the full-length Roses and Clover, was a fun, lighthearted introduction to the evening. After a seven-minute road trip, a gentle transition into “I Love Music” sent the crowd dancing and clapping. Just over three minutes on the 2010 album Man of the World, this version was stretched out to nearly 12.
Dan “LEBO” Lebowitz traded his acoustic for a seat at his pedal steel guitar for the fan and band favorite “Wasting Time.” Also known as the “Isla Vista Song,” the sleepy beach town vibe of the track was a perfect fit for early placement in a Santa Cruz show.
The fourth song of the evening was also one of the band’s newest. “Just a Spark” was recently released on July 19 on the Creatures, Vol. 1 EP. The standalone track brewed excitement in the audience, who were highly supportive of the new tune.
Earlier in the set, keyboardist Zach Gill waxed poetic on the heat of the room, comparing it to practicing in a hot and sweaty basement, making the next choice of “Blew Out The Walls” even better. The track, which appears on 2012’s Sounds Like This is autobiographical, talking about the early days of being in a band and discovering the sound of music. They segued the blistering double-time dance party right into “Dead Still Dance,” another track from the same album.
A first set highlight, the jam slowed down considerably and was left largely up to the rhythm section. Ezra Lipp and bassist Steve Adams more than delivered. Eventually Gill’s keyboards space warped the sound into a quiet cacophony. At first it seemed as if the band was going to segue into “Baba O’Riley” by the Who, but it never materialized.
The second new song of the show, “Heroes,” slowed things down considerably. It humanizes people we’ve put on a pedestal and reminds the listener that things can change. Further, that it’s possible to be a hero to and for yourself. The first track from the new Creatures, Vol. 1 EP then meshed into “Lady Loop.” The crowd leaned into the sing-along call-and-response of the song and the band ended the set on a high note.
The second set started with another sing-along, the 2015 track “Push,” appearing on Tangle of Time. A strange, unique segue and new intro brought the crowd right into the 2004 deep cut “Pobrecito.” ALO took their fans on another 12-minute ride before Gill slowed things down for a moment to really appreciate bassist Adams.
“This is my favorite moment of tonight,” Gill said. “We’ve summoned him. Good Time Stevie is here to make the magic happen! Shower him with love and he’ll shower you with magic — it’s reciprocated back and forth.”
Lebo got back on the pedal steel and they kept a tight and focused groove on “Not Old Yet,” also appearing on Tangle Of Time, ALO’s last full-length studio album from 2015. They followed up with “Blind Spot,” another brand-new song.
“Roses and Clover” was met with a ton of fan appreciation, and the jam took a twist into several verses of the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” LEBO took a hard left into a desperado guitar solo before the audience realized they were ending the set with a rowdy “BBQ” sandwich. The filling this time was a planned movement into U2’s “Where The Streets have No Name” in the middle section.
A 20-minute encore followed, beginning with “Simple Times” from Tangle of Time. As they were exiting the stage a second time, the crowd and LEBO connected. Asking if we wanted a deep cut, he and the rest of ALO quickly figured out what they were going to play.
A fan had responded to LEBO with a request for “Room For Bloomin’,” but didn’t know the song was cut from earlier in the set list. ALO obliged with a 15-minute expansion into the end of the evening.
Animal Liberation Orchestra’s next shows are Labor Day, Monday, September 2, 2019 at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael. They also headline Camp Deep End Music Festival in Navarro, CA, Friday September 20 – Sunday September 22, 2019.