You know things are going well when you find yourself at a sold-out SOhO on a Friday among a crowd that has the dance floor bowing and bouncing with nary enough wiggle room for the hula-hoop harem to do their thing. Such was the case last week when a couple of branches from the Brushfire Records family tree (and one with some deep S.B. roots), got together to make some genre-blurring, soul-nourishing sounds.
Backed up by the sweet melodies of the Mike Love Trio, Hawaiian soul empress Paula Fuga opened the show up with a set’s worth of ukulele-fueled “roots” music. (You might remember Fuga from her regular gig alongside Jack Johnson, or from her failed American Idol bid a few years back.) At her best, Fuga is the undoubted link between the late, great Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and the future of traditional Hawaiian music. Lucky for those who showed up early on Friday night, that heady and critical role was on full display for all to enjoy.
But the main event was Santa Barbara’s own Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO), the grooved-out four-piece jam band that grew up in the party ghettos of Isla Vista during Bill Clinton’s scandalous years. These days comprising ringleader Zach Gill on keys, Steve Adams on bass, Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz on guitar, and drummer Dave Brogan, ALO rolled into SOhO at the tail end of a spring- and summer-long U.S. tour. The band’s first set began with the head-bopping beats of “Empty Vessel,” which made even the oldest jam-band weasels bounce up and down in gravity-defying springiness. From the get-go, it was clear that the crowd of groovers, shakers, and noodle lovers were more than happy to have ALO back in the 805, and that, after a long time on the road, the band was happy to be back, as well. Early on, Gill raised a toast to an audience that included his mother and friends old and new, acknowledging that many of them probably needed to get babysitters in order to make it out. “You guys are great,” he said, “I know it’s not as easy to get to shows these days. Thank you. This one’s for you.”
And from there, with a rollicking hoe-down inspired version of “Waiting for Jaden,” the show took off like a blissed-out barefoot peach eater running wild across new, lush, and ass-shaking sonic landscapes. Disco balls were deployed and toy voice-changers busted out as ALO mixed a heavy dose of songs from their new album, Sounds Like This (“Speed of Dreams,” “Storms and Hurricanes”), with older ones and a truly cosmic cover of “Fly Like an Eagle.” The band took a brief break to “freshen up,” but came back on just a few minutes shy of midnight and kept the groove until last call, even sharing the stage with Fuga and company for a full family freak-out before all was said and done.