ALO, SOhO, Santa Barbara, CA- 10/31
SOhO on Halloween was quite the scene. The tin man dropped in from Wizard of Oz, a motley crew of minstrels performed musical sorcery and a mysterious Zorro stayed just long enough to leave his smoldering mark. The sold out audience wasn’t too shabby either.
Setting a festive tone for the evening was opener Matt McAvene and his band. Known for his highly imaginative set and costume designs, the local troubadour contributed remarkable stage dr including a huge floating pumpkin, skull with moving eye, motorized bats and fake flames. Dressed in a professional-caliber tin man outfit, McAvene was already a hit before note one. His brief set of eclectic songs covered ground from lush Americana to a psycho-billy hoedown. Closing with the irresistible “Brighter,” McAvene’s potential mainstream appeal is undeniable.
Every time ALO rolls into town, the freaks seem to come out of the woodwork. Throw Halloween into the mix and it’s a full on party. Dressed like they walked through a wacky wardrobe-assembling machine, the masters of ceremony uncorked the fun with a spirited romp through their flagship tune, “BBQ.” The temperature began to soar as guitarist Dan Lebowitz swung the ship into an aggressive “Honeydripper.” Afterwards he dedicated the fantastically funky instrumental to a fan dressed as a honeydripper.
Keyboardist Zach Gill, the band’s only member still living in Santa Barbara, shined throughout the night under his ghoulish guise. Following the debut of a new song, “All Alone,” Gill flaunted his vocal range on a passionate version of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.” ALO displayed their improvisational maturity, gently coaxing waves of sensual lounge musings from their instruments.
Providing a virtual knockout blow at the end of the first set was the pairing of “Reality Police” and “Chilly Chile.” The former highlighted drummer Dave Brogan’s stunning rhythmic precision along with the relentless low end assertiveness of bassist Steve Adams. Gill continued to up the ante, slicing through with deliciously dissonant keyboard cascades. On the latter, Lebowitz and his guitar took center stage yet again, reaching deep within a sonic cauldron to unleash a solo perhaps haunting enough to raise the dead.
Giving an encore on his recent appearance with the band at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium, Jack Johnson swooped in as Zorro to share in the occasion. The quintet cleverly transformed the happy, go-lucky “Girl” into a sinister, minor-key spook. Johnson then sang his appropriately-dark “Rodeo Clowns” before adding percussion to a soulful cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.” Riding high on the energy in the room, ALO treated their faithful to a thrilling experiment which saw them seamlessly weave back and forth between, “The Gardener” and “Shapeshifter.” It was one of those nights where just about anything seemed possible.