May 18, 2007
There’s been a resurgence of late: San Francisco is cranking out bands are making great music once again.
In the 60s and 70s, you had the Grateful Dead, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Today, there’s Tea Leaf Green, New Monsoon, Hot Buttered Rum, and Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO).
ALO recently made its first trip to Memphis, and made a great impression from the start.
This is a band that oozes California cool; maybe it’s the easy, breezy lyrics, or their laid back rhythms, but something about ALO just screams Golden State. There’s just something about their syrupy-sweet music that makes you want to grab a cold beer (or maybe something stronger) and chill.
The band picks up where Jack Johnson, whose label the band is on, leaves off – they bridge the gap between his singer/songwriter style and the jamband world. They’re a positive force in a day and age when things aren’t always so rosy. They’re almost refreshingly simplistic – Their songs aren’t complicated; they talk of happiness, friends, and partying.
Make no mistake – ALO clearly has the chops to stretch out musically, but often just doesn’t – instead, they get on stage and nail their songs. Some may call that "playing it safe," but that’s not always a bad thing.
When ALO takes the stage, they clearly enjoy the hell out of playing their music for an appreciative crowd.
Most bands play to few faces on their first jaunt through a market, but the audience at Newby’s, tucked just a block away from the University of Memphis, was pretty strong for the band’s Memphis debut – ALO had a crowd. Touring behind then three week-old Roses & Clover, the band kicked the show off with the album’s title track, and from there, the audience was whisked away to a happy place, filled with sun, sand, and good vibrations.
As the band (and fans) celebrated keyboard/vocalist Zach Gill’s birthday, the crowd was treated a heaping portion of tracks from R&C, and while the crowd loved "Empty Vessel" and "All Alone," the energy in the room really took off when ALO started in with the stuff from 2006’s Fly Between Falls.
It was a mild shock to hear Memphis sing along to "Girl I Wanna Lay You Down," and Dan Lebowitz’s great lap steel work on "Wasting Time" was cheered enthusiastically. ALO just isn’t well known in Memphis, and for the band to get crowd participation – well, that’s great on many levels.
As ALO started to run through their cover of the Band’s "Opheila" that appeared on the tribute album Endless Highway, the crowd began to chant for Barbeque, appropo given Memphis’ unofficial claim as the BBQ capital of the world.
The band promptly obliged, and followed it up with the lead-off track from R&C, "Maria," before getting into one of the few extended jams of the night with "Shapeshifter."
"Shapeshifter" is an interesting track for the band – it’s the one time where they sound dark – the jam mid-song is pheomenal and it really puts the band’s musical prowess on display, but at times it just sounds moody and very anti-ALO. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – just an observation.
The one-set show closed with a groove "Walls of Jericho, and after the band returned from their encore break, they gave a deliberate shout-out to Memphis.
While the band threw "Waiting for Jaden" in as the first "official" song, it was wrapped in city and state lore, from "Rocky Top" and Paul Simon’s "Graceland" to Johnny Cash’s "Ring of Fire." The audience especially ate up "Rocky Top," singing along like they were at a University of Tennessee Football game.
After "Country Camper" and "Beast of Burden," the band thanked the crowd and rolled out of Memphis.
Memphis tends to be fickle with concert attendance – especially on a band’s first trip to the Bluff City. However, the venue was crowded and excited, and the band responded, making for a special show.
Roses & Clover, Empty Vessel, All Alone, Wasting Time, Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down, Try, Ophelia, Shine, Barbeque, Maria, Shapeshifter, Plastic Bubble, Lady Loop, Walls of Jericho
E: Rocky Top > Waiting for Jaden > Rocky Top > Graceland > Ring of Fire, Country Camper, Beast of Burden
photos by Josh Mintz / photosbyjosh.com