Most people outside the confines of the San Francisco and Santa Barbara music scene might not know who the Animal Liberation Orchestra is, however that has nothing to do with a lack of talent or charisma. The boys in the band proved there was no shortage in those areas when they managed to rock downtown NYC with their funky jams at the Knitting Factory on Friday October 5th. Any band capable of making booties shake in the often too cool to groove New York scene is one to take note of.
Contrary to the all too common association, they are not paint-throwing PETA cohorts but a band whose ultimate purpose is to help free the human animal. "Our goal and our hope is that people will come to our show and we’ll start playing and they’ll get liberated" ALO’s lead guitarists informed me. The band consisting of Dan Lebowitz on guitar, Zach Gill on keyboards, accordion, and ukulele, Steve Adams on bass, and the band’s newest edition Dave Brogan on drums. The three core members (Dan, Zach, and Steve) have been together for over 16 years yet this was the band’s first time playing NYC and they mastered the often intimidating place with ease and confidence.
The first set began at what would be considered the wee hour of 8:00 pm for New York standards and the audience basically consisted of family, friends, myself and few others. Even though the crowd was meek the band did not shy away from performing an entertaining set. This being my first time seeing them live I was impressed with their sound and the musical conversations that proceeded before me on stage. The band’s first album Time Expander released in 2002 could not hold a candle to the live performance. A point that would be made even clearer in the rocking second set they would perform later that night.
Their sound is an interesting marriage of funky James Brown, Steely Dan style instrumentals with lyrics and mixed vocals comparative to Phish. Naturally being a jamband in the post-Grateful Dead/Phish era that comparison shouldn’t come as a shock. The 70’s funk influence can be linked to a summer the band spent touring with the James Brown Band, "we came back from that summer and decided that was a path we wanted to go on" Zach Gill, ALO’s keyboard player told me.
Much of the band’s repertoire consists of lyrical narratives such as Kolomona a song played in the first set. The band tells me this is sort of a tiki lounge inspired piece about a crazy man they met at a show. "This guy comes up claiming he is a shaman and that he can take us on this magical journey and where as a lot of people would be like get the hell out of my face we’re like lets see what this guy is all about," Lebowtiz enlightened me. I found this song to be eerily reminiscent of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana.
The second set came at nearly 2:00 in the morning by this point the dynamics of the audience had changed, the crowd had loosened up and the band was prepared to liberate the caged animals of New York City. The band had the entire audience on the dance floor moving to their swinging rhythms. They played a song titled "Aliens" written by the bands drummer Dave a tune with intricate guitar licks reminiscent of Jerry’s acoustic work, with bouncy uncomplicated lyrics, interesting tempo changes and a substantial amount of jamming. In the middle of the set Zach picked up his ukulele to play a new song "Living in a Plastic Bubble." Naturally with the choice of instruments the song had a particular Hawaiian feel, with a catchy chorus complete with "ewes and ahs."
The band plans to release their new album Fly Between Falls on December 4th in San Francisco, CA. The new record features Jack Johnson, the band’s longtime friend from their college days at UCSB. Johnson plays on a Barry White inspired 70’s love song parity "Girl I want to Lay you Down." ALO hopes that having Jack on the album will open up there music to a bigger audience, and has already seen this starting to happen with Zach Gill’s appearances at Jack Johnson’s fall tour dates.
But achieving the kind of commercial success Jack Johnson enjoys is not a priority for this band first and foremost it the personal connection cultivated through lively jams that they enjoy. Zach Gill tells me "maybe I'm not the greatest musician in the world but this is my music, I love what I do and I am going to share it with people." This is what they have been doing and will continue to do in the years to come. It is the element of play that ALO adds to their music that gives them such a vibrant energy and a sound that could fill venues much larger than the Tap Bar of the Knitting Factory and their spirit that's capable of liberating many more animals.