ALO, The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA- 5/5
Like fresh blooming flowers in spring, a new season is upon the Animal Liberation Orchestra. The state of California has continued to benefit from the emergence of ALO and it is time for the rest of the country to further experience their colorful blend of funkified blues & jazz, and signature 70’s disco dance riffs. For now, much to the delight of a sellout crowd at The Fillmore, ALO celebrated Cinco de Mayo in San Francisco for a CD release party to highlight their new offering, Roses & Clover. This was their second consecutive sold out show at the Fillmore, following last October’s stellar show dubbed “The Abnormal Formal.”
The evening’s Fiesta commenced with a short and sweet set by singer/songwriter Jesse Baylin originally hailing from New Jersey but now residing in Los Angeles. Baylin warmed the crowd with her earthy voice and a certain vulnerable appeal. Master of Ceremonies and resident Trip Hop artist, Guadalajara Joe performed “Armando Telemundo,” complete with a spoofed male sidekick as Armando; dancing, karate chopping, ripping his shirt off and flinging his mullet through the air.
The main event arrived as ALO took the stage, opening with the title track off the new CD, “Roses & Clover.” The band began each of their two sets and also encored with a song off their new release which certainly shows the group’s comfort and confidence in their new material. And rightfully so. Of the 10 song first set, six were from the new release and it was amazing to see how responsive the audience was to the new material. “Country Camper,” followed as all of a sudden a sea of red and green balloons appeared seemingly out of nowhere and bounced through the air. Keyboardist and lead vocalist Zach Gill commented that “the real thing is better than the dream,” referring to their fulfillment of a dream in playing to a sold-out Fillmore. Guitarist Dan Lebowitz sang lead and led the rhythm & blues charge on “Try,” swirling around the funked up bass lines of Steve “Smootie” Adams.
Later in the first set we were treated to what has become an anthem for ALO fans, “Barbeque,” written with Zach Gill’s sardonic sense of reality and humor as he sings, “Welcome to your barbeque, where we roast all the dreams that never came true, welcome to your barbeque, pig out and dream anew.” Next up was “Sangre,” a mariachi style song which we were told was a project of “Smootie” Adams from his college days at UCSB. The song was sung in Spanish as drummer David Brogan played percussion at center stage on what appeared to be a huge toilet paper holder. At one point, Brogan accidentally knocked off the top of it and as if he rehearsed it all day long, reached in and grabbed a roll of toilet paper and playfully tossed it into the audience; returning the top back on, never missing a beat! Zach introduced the set closer “Maria,” by sharing that this is not just a love song, but “a song of gratitude for someone you really, really love.” The upbeat piano intro and feel good dance beat had the place bopping as if the song had been a recognizable hit for the last thirty years. Much of ALO’s material is just like that. You feel like you have known this music all your life, yet it is current and fresh.
The second set began with another solid and pleasantly melodic new tune “Shine,” then Zach led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to his daughter Jaden and his mother Karen. Zach’s Mom was right in the front of the stage to enjoy it. Tickling the Rhodes keyboards, “Waiting for Jaden,” came next with the apropos line “it was Cinco de Mayo” In planned, but still bizarre timing, they were playing the song at 12:02am; the exact same time of his daughter’s birth. The transition jam was explosive with Dan Lebowitz launching into parts of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun,” while grooving across the stage and wrestling his guitar into “Kolomana,” one of the show’s strongest performances.
Fans were treated to a first time played cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” aided by Jessie Baylin’s sultry Stevie Nicks like lead vocals and Dan’s gorgeous slide lead on the lap steel. The band then brought out “Roses & Clover” co-producer David Simon-Baker to play guitar and sing on “Monday,” as Guadalajara Joe pranced around the stage and donned each musician with a pink sombrero. During “Nacho Monkey,” Zach announced that he was going to “liberate his inner animal” and that he did; with great vocal prowess he scatted & crooned his way through snippets of the Doobie Brothers “Black Water,” the 1962 Gene Chandler hit “Duke of Earl,” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The band came back and encored with “Lady Loop,” from the new CD and with the audience singing the “nah nah’s” they tossed roses into the crowd and left the stage.
ALO’s descriptive phrase on the title of the new cd as “Roses & Clover being the intersection of passion and luck,” may be overly humble. These guys have earned a growing legion of loyal fans with their unique blend of danceable jazz, funkified jams, witty lyrics and a penetrating soul stirring vibe. This is a group that knows how to connect with an audience, and the feeling is mutual.