ALO & Scott Law 12.5.15
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 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 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.
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.
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