ALO & Scott Law 12.5.15

Nectar Lounge
Seattle, WA

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) has been among my favorite bands since I first heard their Roses and Clover album in 2010. For five long years, I waited patiently for the chance to finally experience their live show. This summer, the floodgates came open and I was lucky enough to see the California rockers play three stellar shows in the span of a month. The first was at Seattle’s intimate Nectar Lounge, and the next two were at Qunicy, CA’s legendary High Sierra Music Festival. One of the many highlights came during their late-night set at High Sierra, a 3:45 am performance of their song “Barbeque” that brought sleep-deprived tears of joy to my eyes after a sixteen-hour day of music. These three performances taught me to expect the band to showcase their diverse talents through high-energy improvisation, beautiful songwriting, and inspirational lyrics and banter. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to learn that the band would be returning to Nectar Lounge for another Seattle throwdown, due to be my 4th ALO show of the year.

This sold-out performance saw ALO supported by fellow West-coasters, the Scott Law Band. These old-school rockers did a great job of warming the crowd up with their interesting blend of folk and jam music, which drew on influences from the Grateful Dead, as well as other classic rock legends. The band was composed of Scott Law (guitar and vocals), Keith Lowe (bass guitar), and Mark Griffith (drums). Law is a journeyman musician who has toured religiously for over twenty years. He played in Seattle-based jamband Tough Mama (with the rhythm section of the Living Daylights) during the late 80s and early 90s, and after their dissolution continued to tour heavily with his solo band. He is widely admired for his flatpicking skills on both mandolin and guitar.

This was my first time seeing Scott Law perform, and found him to be quite impressive. His guitar sound ranged from straight-up country twang (using a Gibson hollow-body) to a dubbed-out Jerry Garcia impression (using a Fender Telecaster). His voice was extremely versatile, and I could hear substantial Bob Dylan influence in his bluesier tunes. On higher energy numbers, his voice took on a sound somewhere between Tom Petty (soulful, nasal twang), Bob Weir (sharp, bluesy howling) and Paul Simon (pure high notes and slick, rapid-fire delivery). The band fits in perfectly with his style, and they really enjoy playing together.

By the time ALO was taking the stage, the venue was packed to the brim and heating up quickly on the inside. Luckily, I was able to watch the entire show at a milder temperature from the patio, thanks to Nectar’s open garage door. Guitarist Dan Lebowitz (better known as Lebo) plays a Takamine acoustic guitar with a pickup installed, and he coaxes some impressive tone out of this thing! The first two songs featured huge guitar solo peaks during their jam sections, with the composed sections spearheaded by Zach Gill’s always-strong vocals. The first real change-up of the set was an original song “There Was a Time,” which featured Gill moving from keyboards to the accordion. This gave the tune a klezmer feel, and I was shocked to see this many people grooving to his subtle accordion licks. I love to see artists mix it up with non-traditional instruments, especially when those around me are equally enthusiastic.

The next song, “Sugar,” brought the powerhouse funk that everyone came for. The rhythm section, featuring Steve Adams on bass and David Brogan on drums, really took off at this point. As they locked into a tight groove, Gill added wonderful, Rhodesy accents on his keys as Lebo broke it down on guitar across the stage. The lights showcased the giant tapestry hanging behind the stage, an enlarged version of the album artwork for their latest LP, Tangle of Time. After the dance party had been going for a few minutes, Gill began adding in some spacy delay effects with his other hand, launching the band into a slower, more psychedelic section. This continued for a bit before they deftly wove the melody of “Sugar” back in and reprised it in full.

The band saved an absolute gem to close out their first set of music. They began the segment with the aforementioned “Barbeque,” an inspirational tune that tells the listener never to let their defeats stop them from continuing to dream. The intro to this song sparked lots of revelry in the audience, and I was happy to see that I wasn’t alone in considering it a favorite. After one verse, Gill brought back his spacy delay effects. This paved the way for an epic full-band transition into a cover of the Johnny Cash classic, “Ring of Fire.” I am a sucker for clever setlist pairings, and as such was totally bowled over by the fire trend in these two songs, which was perfect for the hot venue. One verse into this song, the band made their way back into “Barbeque,” and settled into a quiet jam that saw them tease back to “Ring of Fire” multiple times. As they made their way into the final verse of “Barbeque,” the whole audience sang along wildly. It was a perfect ending to the first set.

The second set saw Gill don his signature ship captain’s hat as the band played “Shapeshifter.” This original track saw a heavy funk jam, propelled by Brogan’s drum work. After a few minutes, Lebo could be heard teasing “My Favorite Things,” from The Sound of Music. This tease developed into a full-band jam and the musicians toyed with the audience by going back and forth between “Shapeshifter” and “My Favorite Things” several times before allowing the jam to finally unleash its massive peak. Lebo’s guitar work here was both expressive and poignant, with tastefully applied reverb. It was interesting to see them draw out their teases so extensively. The group definitely has a unique way of paying tribute to other artists, toeing the line between teasing and covering, and always keeping the audience guessing as to what will come next.

Following this odyssey, Scott Law and Paul M. (keys) were invited to sit-in. Gill moved from his keyboard to the front of the stage to handle vocal duties and his melodica. After a quick “Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down,” the band moved onto the meat of the sit-in, a rousing cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha.” The audience absolutely lost it for the Dead cover, and Law was given the perfect context in which to put his Jerry Garcia impersonation skills to work. Their version was both authentic and heartfelt, and will go down as one of many outstanding Grateful Dead covers played in 2015 to honor their 50th Anniversary.

The next song saw the sit-ins remain onstage as Gill donned his beloved ukulele in an unconventional way. Attached to the headstock, where one might normally place a tuner, he had a clip-on green laser pointer. As he strummed the opening to their popular tune, “Plastic Bubble,” the beam cut through the fog in the room, collimating perfectly in a way that resembled a green lightsaber, waving above throughout the song. As Lebo took his solo, I noticed that he makes a point of playing once through it only outlining chords without the melody, making the listener wait to hear the notes they know are coming on the second time through.

As the sit-ins left the stage, Gill spoke to the crowd at length about how the venue was warm and cozy, and felt like a womb. He continued with his coherent ramblings, saying the word "womb" at every opportunity, for about three minutes. This had me expecting to see the band play their oddest track, “The Womb,” off 2002’s Time Expander. Gill’s speech was actually only clever misdirection, as the band instead played “Kolomana,” another track from the same album. This song was probably the most enjoyable of the entire show, with its smooth, danceable bassline and keys. As the improvisation began, you could see that the band remained energized by the sit-in. At one point they all (except Brogan) went down to their knees while playing, and Gill now sported a Russian-style fur hat. Lebo’s solo saw him detune his guitar until it roared like a dragon onstage.

This performance took ALO to another level, at least in my book. After the first three shows I saw this year, I was starting to think I had the band mostly figured out, and that the shows would get more predictable as I continued on. This idea was clearly disproven here, and I am left utterly clueless as to the specifics of what to expect for next time. I am happy to report that ALO is a band that has the variety to engage an active listener well beyond their first four shows, and I cannot wait for my fifth.

Set One: Speed of Dreams, Undertow, There Was a Time, Sugar, Wasting Time, ?, Barbeque > Ring of Fire > Barbeque

Set Two: Ticket, Shapeshifter > My Favorite Things > Shapeshifter, Girl I Wanna Lay You Down*, Bertha*, Plastic Bubble*, Kolomana

Encore: Walls of Jericho

*With Scott Law (guitar) and Paul M. (keys)

Scott's Photo Gallery


Popular posts from this blog

Livetronica Sampler 3.22.11

Billy Strings 4.18.19

Buckethead: Gimmick or Guitar God?