ALO’s annual Tour D’Amour is a wintertime love-in up and down the West Coast with the band’s most devoted fans — and one of the best parties of the year in Tahoe. The California jam act wrapped the small venue portion of its 12th “TDA” Saturday night at a sold-out Crystal Bay Crown Room before the tour concludes next month at San Francisco’s Fillmore.
Folk artist John Craigie opened with a quirky set of heartfelt acoustic tunes coupled with anecdotal, ironic and humorous crowdspeak. Craigie, who has opened for the majority of the 13 shows on this tour, and his self-deprecating song intros were mostly well received. He would also join ALO musicians during their second set to lead them through Stealers Wheel hit “Stuck In The Middle With You.” For reasons now unclear to me, that happens to be the very first 45 rpm record I ever bought.
Tour D’Amour always holds a bounty of surprises and this year was no different. Earlier in the tour, the band honored two of its fans as King and Queen of the show by bringing them onstage, getting them a cocktail and serenading them with one of their favorite songs mid-set. Crystal Bay was bestowed its own special surprise in the form of a 40th birthday celebration during the first set for Tea Leaf Green frontman Josh Clark.
Clark would be joined onstage by bandmate Trevor Garrod on ALO’s fitting “Not Old Yet,” after which guitarist Sean Leahy and drummer Scott Rager were added to the ensemble for TLG’s “Freedom.” Leahy, Clark and ALO guitarist Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz had a rocking good time in a semi-circle, exchanging licks and laughs and bringing big smiles to the crowd.
Paying homage to some of their favorite artists has long been a feature of an Animal Liberation Orchestra show and Blondie was the honoree on this night. The cutting edge new wave and punk ’70s artist was featured during “Try” with a “The Tide Is High” interpolation and given full due during the evening’s most killer jams, sandwiching one of Deborah Harry’s most bewitching hits between a pair of ALO fan favs with “Cowboys And Chorus Girls,” “Rapture” and “Plastic Bubble.” Vocalist and keyboard player Zach Gill did the vocal and rap honors justice and both he and Lebowitz added their own ALO-ifying flavor with lengthy solos.
It’s been a bit of a lean 12 months for ALO fans to see their favorite band, with Gill gallivanting around the globe playing keys and melodica for Jack Johnson. Lebo has been out in force, playing continually and elevating his skills between here and the Bay Area. Bassist Steve Adams has played in a few small projects and has regular drummer Dave Brogan around his home in Utah. Brogan, who announced prior to the tour that he would be sitting this one out, was missed, but ably substituted for by Bay Area drummer Ezra Lipp (who also plays with Adams in side project “Magic in the Other.”)
There are rumors of new music and the hardcore fans have what may be the greatest fall festival you’ve never heard of, Camp Deep End, to look forward to. But between now and then, ALO appearances are uncertain at best. Gill said before closing the show that the band doesn’t see the throng before them as a crowd but as a collection of individuals with their own stories, and that they want to know all of them. That’s the kind of love this band and fans share in common, and it’s strong enough to get them through until Tour D’Amour returns to the shores of Lake Tahoe next winter.
– Michael Smyth